As I learn more about writing and publishing, I meet some truly wonderful people. Authors, artists, editors, and publishers–we all work together to bring books that teach, inspire, thrill, and entertain. One of the most delightful people I’ve had the privilege to “meet” is Tess Hardwick, the author of Riversong. Tess agreed to answer a few questions so you can all get to know her.
As my husband always says, “What’s your book about?”
Riversong is about a woman, Lee Tucker, who must salvage the remnants of her life to begin again. When her husband commits suicide, he leaves her pregnant and one million dollars in debt to a loan shark. Out of options, she escapes to her deceased mother’s dilapidated house located in a small Oregon town that, like her, is financially ruined, heartbroken and in desperate need of a fresh start. Lee’s resilience leads to a plan for a destination restaurant named Riversong, to new chances for passion and love, and to danger from her dead husband’s debt as her business blooms.
A mix of romance, humor, friendship, intrigue and gourmet food, Riversong entertains while reminding you of life’s greatest gifts.
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote? Can you tell us about it?
I wrote a story in 4th grade (and illustrated it horribly) called Priscilla’s Pizza Parlor. It was about an orphan who inherited her parent’s pizza place and had to run it by herself. Which, if you think about it, is strange, given the restaurant theme in Riversong. I’m obsessed with food, apparently.
Do you prefer plaid or stripes?
Stripes for sure!
Was choosing to publish independently something you always wanted, or an option you hadn’t considered before?
I’d dreamt of a big publisher, of course. However, when one didn’t magically appear, declaring me the next big talent, I went with a small publisher here in Seattle called Booktrope. In hindsight, I’m so happy I did – it was meant to be – because I get so much attention from them. They’ve been instrumental in developing a marketing strategy, which I most likely would not have gotten at a big house. They worry about figuring out how to sell it while I get to write another book. Plus, they are wonderful, generous people that make me feel like a rock star even though I’m not.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Riversong took so long to find a publisher that I actually had another entire manuscript almost finished by the time it came out. My new novel is an historical fiction, set in the 1930’s in Alabama and Georgia, called Duet For Three Hands. Although still in the women’s fiction genre, it is told from five perspectives, three of which are male. The story was inspired by a germ of an idea in one of my great-grandmother’s letters from that time, along with stories I’d heard about her. Duet For Three Hands will be out in November 2011 and is in the editing process right now. While I’m waiting for feedback from my editor, I’m working on a third novel about an actress, a cop and an adoption ring!
Do you have any rituals before writing? Music or silence? Coffee or tea? Twizzlers or M&Ms?
If I’m in my office I always say a prayer, thanking God for giving me the gift of time to work and then I light a candle. But sometimes, I sneak a little work while the kids are watching television or playing and then I’m usually upstairs on my bed with my computer on my lap. I think of that time as stolen, so don’t take the time for my rituals.
Have you ever based a character on someone you know?
Yes. The character of Linus in Riversong is my best guy friend and has been since we were in college together. He recognized himself right away. There is also a minor character based on someone I know which I can’t reveal! But in general, as David Mamet says, the rest are all elements of my own personality.
What color is your umbrella?
Leopard print. I know. My eight year old daughter picked it out. Awful.
Who is your favorite author and why?
This a hard question for me because I love so many authors. I’ll go back to my standby though, if I have to pick one, and say Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird is my all time favorite. I just wish she’d given us more novels. But maybe after you write a masterpiece you say, yeah, I can retire now, sit on the front porch and watch the bee’s drink pollen from a magnolia bloom and sip sweet iced tea. This is how I imagine Harper, you see. And yes, I call her by her first name in my imagination. However, if I actually met her I wouldn’t be able to utter a word from awe and fright.
What was the last book you read?
I just read a manuscript by a talented writer named Jesse James Freeman. We found each other on twitter and have developed a mutual admiration for one another’s work. His novel, Billy Purgatory is a sci-fi meets vampires with a time zombie thrown in for good measure – not the kind of genre I ever read. However, as is true of all good books, if a story is based in emotional truth and the characters feel real, you are drawn into the story no matter the genre, as I was with Billy.
Do you write about locations you’ve visited, or do you rely on research? Or do you make up entire settings in your head?
Riversong is a composite of my hometown in southern Oregon and my husband’s hometown in eastern Oregon. They are both small towns, under 5,000 people and very much like the description of the town in Riversong. For my new book I’ve made up several places, based on research and my great-grandmother’s letters.
After the last word is written, then what? Do you have pre-readers and editors who take over? Do you begin query letters immediately?
I write the first draft fast, 2500 words a day. After it is finished, I write a second draft, where I tighten, move paragraphs and chapters around, and often add more depth and detail. Stephen King says you’re either a putter-inner or a taker-outer. I’m definitely a putter-inner. After the second draft is done to my satisfaction, then I give it to my first group of trusted beta readers. There are four or five of them (not including my husband). I get their feedback and go back in for another round. Now that I have a publisher, I then send it to my main point person there and she and my editor read it and we go in for one more round.
What song would be on the soundtrack for your book?
The River Knows Your Name by John Hiatt
Where can people find your book?
Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com – both Kindle and Nook
Can we read a little excerpt?
She slept fitfully that night and woke late the next morning, hot under her bed covers. The air reeked of smoke. Her sunburned skin stung. She threw back the covers, longing for the feel of water on her scorched arms and legs. She dressed in a ratty pair of shorts and t-shirt. On her way down the hall she paused in front of her mother’s room, leaning for a moment on the closed door. A bird’s summer song drifted in through the open hall window. Her mother snored softly inside the room. She put her hand on the doorknob to go in like she did every morning but then hesitated. The familiar sadness crept in but she forced the feelings inside, scratching her sunburned arms with her fingernails, drawing blood. The river beckoned to her, as if it called her name. She withdrew her hand from the door and walked away, down the hall and the creaky stairs, all the while hearing a call to the river, knowing that she would not look back again.
In the yard the sky felt long and hazy, different than the day before. She knew it would be a scorcher, unusual for June. She walked the path towards the swimming hole. At the swing, she paused, holding the rough rope between her fingers, wondering what it felt like to fly over the river and then plunge into the mystery of its waters without fear or hesitation. She took the worn path to the water, slipping several times but going on anyway, determined to be brave. At the river’s edge, she inched in, her overheated skin shocked at the cold. When the water reached her shoulders she moved her arms in a circular motion, pretending to swim, keeping her feet anchored to the sandy floor. Then she bent her knees, closing her eyes and submerging her head under the water. She stayed like that with her eyes scrunched closed until the coolness seeped in through her skin and reached the place inside her where hope and despair lived side by side. She imagined the pain of her childhood diminishing to flecks of ice. Her feet came off the ground and she opened her eyes. She was floating. Her hair streamed out in front of her as her t-shirt ballooned around her body like a safety device, bubbles escaping from her shorts. The gray floor of the river hosted several red crawfish and a school of minnows swam around her. Infinitesimal specks of fluorescent algae drifted through the water, illuminated by the pelting sunlight. She felt triumphant. She was refreshed, cool at last.
Tess will also feature in a guest blog post in the coming weeks. You should keep an eye out, because she’s kind, insightful, and a lot of fun! In the meantime, you can check out her GoodReads profile, follow her on Twitter, and read more about her book on her website.