Amy Bourret. Amy and I connected on Facebook and I quickly queued up to get a review copy and interview her about Mothers & Other Liars, releasing tomorrow.Several months ago I interviewed an attorney for an article I was writing. Our conversation drifted to books and writing and she mentioned a friend of hers was publishing a book soon. That friend was
Her story asks the question: How far will a mother go to save her child?
Ten years ago, Ruby Leander was a drifting nineteen-year-old who made a split-second decision at an Oklahoma rest stop. Fast forward nine years: Ruby and her daughter Lark live in New Mexico. Lark is a precocious, animal loving imp, and Ruby has built a family for them with a wonderful community of friends and her boyfriend of three years. Life is good. Until the day Ruby reads a magazine article about parents searching for an infant kidnapped by car-jackers. Then Ruby faces a choice no mother should have to make. A choice that will change both her and Lark’s lives forever.
Amy takes a moment out of her busy schedule to tell us more about her story.
Pamela: Can you share with us an overview of your publishing journey?
Amy: I was lucky to sign with the very first agent who read my manuscript, the fabulous Jenny Bent. But, wait, don’t hate me—in between submission and signing, I gathered about 50 really lovely rejection letters from other agents. I was feeling the frustration that so many writers feel—this one liked the writing but not the plot; that one liked the plot but not the characters—when Jenny, freshly back from maternity leave, emailed me and said she couldn’t get Ruby’s story out of her head.
After that, the rest was easy. Jenny submitted the manuscript to several editors, and within the week, St. Martin’s came back with an offer. I was excited about the opportunity to work with Jen Weiss, a senior editor with a terrific track record.
Writers hear all the time in rejection letters that an agent doesn’t feel the work is a good fit for her, or that she doesn’t have the right contacts to make it work. Believe it. Getting your manuscript in front of the right editor is critical.
Pamela: Certainly, they're thinking the same thing about finding you as well! You’ve enjoyed success as an attorney. Did you always think of yourself as a writer/novelist as well or did this story just demand you tell it?
Amy: Both. I’ve always been a writer. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when my parents moved a few years ago, I went home to clean out my “stuff” and found notebooks full of my old writing. There were these journals entries from when I was eight and nine where I wrote dreck like “I am a writer. It is who I am. It is the destiny of my soul.” I asked my mother if she had seen that stuff, and when she said she had, I asked her why she didn’t get me into therapy!
I wrote for high school and college yearbooks and newspapers, and of course lots of legal documents. Then, when I had the opportunity to take some time off work, this story, which had been simmering for I’m not sure how long, just burbled to the surface. Ruby wouldn’t quit shouting in my head until I told her story.
Pamela: That's the way great characters are; they're like disobedient children who won't be still until you pay attention to them! How did you come up with the title?
Amy: Credit for the title goes to Jen and her team at St. Martin’s. My working title was “Nurture,” taken from the story’s exploration of nature vs. nurture. “Mothers and Other Liars” is certainly more eye-catching! I get asked all the time “Oh, dear, what does your mother think of that?” I’m not quite sure what she would have thought if it had been my title to begin with, but she’s had fun with it, too.
Pamela: It's a memorable title and the cover is amazing. I immediately fell in love with it. Did you have a similar reaction or have others to choose from?
Amy: I do love the cover. And like you, other people have reacted so positively to it. This was the second cover St. Martin’s sent to me. I liked the first one, but they decided it was too similar to some other novels. I’m glad for that, because I think this one is much more evocative of the tone of the novel.
Pamela: You certainly get a feel for the closeness of Ruby and Lark from the cover. We at What Women Write are a conglomeration of plotters and pants-ers. Do you have a method you find works best for you?
Amy: I have to admit, I am not the most disciplined writer. I try to stick to a schedule of writing first thing in the morning. When I wrote MAOL, I did so in marathon sessions—the story was all there; it was just a matter of going for long walks while the words coalesced then sitting down at the computer and letting them spew out. That’s not an option now. I have some health issues that have put me on an energy “budget.” The long walks and marathon sessions are out of the question, so I’ve had to find different ways to tap into my creativity and learn to write in spurts. However it happens, I believe the trick is to manage to get yourself out of the way of the story.
Pamela: Do you find critique or writing groups helpful?
Amy: I do. I am so blessed to be part of a great group in Dallas that has been together for over ten years. When I’m in Aspen, I attend an open group run by the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. Writing itself is such a solitary process; for me it is important to get together with other writers—and get outside my own head.
Pamela: We agree. It's important to have similar souls around to inspire you. You mention Dallas and Aspen, but the story of Ruby and Lark is set primarily in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and you’ve done a wonderful job of taking the reader to this unique place. Can you tell us why you chose this locale?
Amy: I lived in Santa Fe for several years and started writing this novel there, so it was an obvious choice. But it seemed to be the right setting because of its stark contrast to a California beach, where Ruby thought she wanted to be. Santa Fe is unique, and I enjoyed making the locale itself almost its own character, so I’m glad it resonated with you.
Pamela: It did! It seemed fitting for the characters, particularly Ruby's artistic nature. The mother/daughter relationship between Ruby and Lark is particularly close since there is no father, no surviving relatives, no siblings for either. Do you think that bond influenced Ruby’s decisions?
Amy: Absolutely. As Ruby says, she lost her grandmother and found Lark. Although I think the fierce Mama-lion love that makes a mother protect her child at any cost would be a part of Ruby no matter how many other relatives she had.
Pamela: It’s hard to ask you questions about the story without giving too much away, but there were quite a few directions the story could have taken. Did you ever find yourself surprised at how the story played out as you wrote it?
Amy: That’s the fun part—when you’re sitting there with your fingers on the keyboard and look up and are hit with a “Whoa!” or “Wow!” when you see where your characters just took you. When I say the story was all there when I started, I don’t mean that I knew the story. I had no clue about some of the choices Ruby would face and didn’t know what decisions she would make until she actually made them.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I did write one plot piece concerning Chaz (Ruby’s boyfriend) in a couple of different ways. I wrote it one way but it didn’t seem to ring true to the story, so I wrote it a different way, but then it seemed to be too convenient, kind of a sell-out. Ultimately, with my editor’s feedback and some tweaking here and there, I went back to the original version.
Pamela: That's the way it usually works, isn't it? Your first instincts are usually spot on. Are there particular authors you feel have contributed to your writing style?
Amy: I hope my writing doesn’t seem derivative of anyone else. I am a voracious reader and had some incredible teachers along the way. But I don’t try to write in any particular style, other than well. A few people have compared my writing style to Pat Conroy, which I take as a huge compliment even if at least one of those people didn’t mean it that way.
My hope would be that readers find my work well written, compelling and resonating. And that every now and then, a particular clump of words would jump off the page and make the reader feel something deeply. Being invited into readers’ homes, having them give you a chunk of their own limited time, is a true privilege. I’m honored when they feel that their reading time was well spent, and when the story sticks with them after they finish the book.
Pamela: Well, I know I can relate to Jenny in that regard. As the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, I certainly felt for Ruby and Lark and all they endured. What can you tell us about your next book?
Amy: I don’t mean to be coy, but I really don’t like to talk about what I’m writing while I’m writing. I won’t even take my work to my critique group until I feel it is far enough along —I want to feel that the characters’ voices I am hearing are solid before I let anyone else’s voices into my head. I can tell you that St. Martin’s has picked it up, and I will again have the pleasure of working with the incomparable Jen Weiss and her team.
Pamela: Congratulations. You'll have to come back and tell us more when you can. Mothers & Other Liars is creating quite an early buzz. And there’s a hint of Hollywood in your acknowledgments’ page. Any news you’d like to share?
Amy: I am so thrilled and flattered at the response the book has received. I’ve recently learned that it was selected as a Target Stores Breakout Book, which is very exciting. The book is officially released tomorrow. Who knows what’s going to happen. I’m just going to enjoy the ride and see where it takes me.
Pamela: Well, we're thrilled to be included in your release. Anything else you would like to share?
Just thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today. And if your followers have further questions, I’d be happy to respond either here or through my website, AmyBourret.com. I have a special love for book clubs, and there is a tab on the site where you can ask me to visit your club by various channels of communication. I’ll try to accommodate any request.
You're very welcome. We are pleased to be a part of your experience. For those of you in the Dallas area, Amy will be at Legacy Books Thursday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m., talking about Mothers & Other Liars and signing her books. Be sure to stop by and look for us there too!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I requested and received an advanced copy of the book mentioned above gratis in the hope that I would mention it on this blog. Regardless, I only recommend books I've read and believe will appeal to our readers. In accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” I am making this statement.