First off, how did you come up with the idea for THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN and where did you draw inspiration for the characters and plot?
Originally, I wanted to take the material at hand -- my bland Midwestern upbringing -- and turn it into something magical. I grew up in a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, and by the time I was in high school, I couldn't wait to get out of there. One of my teachers told us that one day we would realize what a great place we lived in. I didn't believe him then, but after I'd left, I did start to feel nostalgic for everything I'd left behind - the dunes, the lake that was as vast as a sea, the musical fountain, the summer Coast Guard festival, and the iconic lighthouse. I guess I started with the setting. The characters are loosely based upon people that I knew, but it's not an autobiographical book.
I tend to throw everything I'm interested in at the time into the story or novel that I'm writing. I've always had an interest in mermaids, for instance. While on foreign study in France, I became fascinated with the Rom women who tried to read my palm in front of the train station in Avignon, and the communities of Rom in Camargue. Later, I was excited to read about female wreck divers on the Great Lakes, so I found a way to incorporate one into the story.
For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.
I started writing stories as a child, as a lot of us do, and never grew out of it. I wrote for my high school newspaper, took a creative writing class in college, and wrote a couple of never-to-be-published romance novels in my spare time. After I studied literature in college, my writing became more "literary." I didn't really start sending out my work until I found myself living in rural Japan. I'd come here to teach English "for one year," and then I fell in love with a local guy. Before I could commit to living on a relatively remote island in the Pacific, I decided that I had to figure out whether or not I could somehow have the literary life I'd always dreamed of. I started a literary journal for expats in Japan, wrote and published my own short stories, and started writing for English-language newspapers and magazines in Japan.
What has your experience been like after finding an agent (shopping to publishers, dealing with contracts, etc.)?
Having an agent allows me to concentrate on writing. I also really, really appreciate your editorial feedback! Also, I'm basically a non-confrontational kind of person, so it's good to have someone else on my side who's willing to follow up on things and deal with contracts.
What was the hardest part of getting your book published that most people don't realize? Also tell us a bit about your publisher!
I actually wrote the first draft of this book before the publisher, Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, even existed! When I thought it was finished, I sent it out to a bunch of agents and regional publishers. I got a lot of encouragement, and helpful feedback, but I didn't really know how to revise it at the time. Every now and then, I would dig it out of the drawer, slash some pages, and add some more. Still, it took a while for the perfect publisher to show up. Nancy Cleary, at Wyatt-Mackenzie, acquired and published a nonfiction anthology on multicultural mothering that I put together a while ago. At the time, she wasn't publishing fiction, but over the past few years she's published some interesting novels with touches of magical realism, such as Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri, and Piper, Once and Again by Caroline E. Zani. As it turned out, The Mermaids of Lake Michigan fit right in! Nancy is really fun to work with because she has a lot of energy (like you, Carrie!) and is always pursuing interesting publicity opportunities. Thanks to her efforts, my anthology was featured as a movie prop!
What kind of marketing have you done for THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN?
I reached out to maritime and historical museum gift shops and some bookstores in Michigan, and I've also set up a blog tour. I presented the book in Tokyo at an SCBWI event earlier this month, and I expect to do more talks, and hopefully a bit of a tour to brick and mortar stores this summer.
Do you have any quirks when it comes to your writing process (e.g. do you have to write at night or while wearing lucky socks)?
Not really. I used to think I needed an entire day of peace and quiet to write, but after having kids, I can write just about anywhere, and in any situation.
Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences?
Well, if I can get published while living on an island in Japan where hardly anyone speaks English, you can, too! Be persistent! Read and write a lot! Believe in yourself! And connect with other writers. In the early days, before there was Internet access in Japan, I connected to other writers via the literary journal I started. Now, I meet up with writers on-line and at conferences.