Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Diane Chamberlain and The Midwife's Confession

By Julie

How lucky am I? Already in 2011, I've had the privilege of interviewing two of the authors who have had a major influence on who I am as a writer today. One of them is Diane Chamberlain, our special guest today. (The other, you might remember, is Barbara O'Neal.)

Diane's fabulous latest, The Midwife's Confession, released Tuesday, April 26. Congratulations, Diane, on your TWENTIETH published novel! (Wow!)

About The Midwife's Confession, from the publisher:

Dear Anna,

What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I'm so sorry. . .

The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle's suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle-her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family-described a woman who embraced life.

Yet there was so much they didn't know.

With the discovery of the letter and its heartbreaking secret, Noelle's friends begin to uncover the truth about this complex woman who touched each of their lives--and the life of a desperate stranger--with love and betrayal, compassion and deceit.

And about Diane:

Diane Chamberlain is the bestselling author of 20 novels. Her books, frequently set in the southeastern United States, are complex stories about love, compassion and forgiveness with a touch of mystery and suspense.

Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker and a psychotherapist in private practice, working primarily with adolescents. Diane’s background in psychology and her work in hospitals have given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create real, living, breathing characters.

More than a decade ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed the way she works: She sometimes types using voice recognition software. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she is able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy work and travel schedule.

Diane has three married stepdaughters, three grandchildren, and two shelties. She lives with photographer John Pagliuca in North Carolina where she's at work on her 21st novel.

I (Julie) started reading Diane's books almost by accident several years back when I rescued Keeper of the Light from a stack of books my mom had collected to give away. (Please don't take that personally, Diane--my mom doesn't save books!) I set it aside for a while, then read it and enjoyed it so much, I looked for more. And the rest, as they say, is history. I became involved with Diane's very active blog crowd long before Facebook became popular, and now I enjoy reading and posting comments on her status as much as the next fan. She is one of the most genuine, generous, down-to-earth writers I know, and I've learned so much not only from her blog posts on the craft of writing, but her character. She is truly a role model to me.

And guess what? I got my very first book acknowledgment from Diane. No, it wasn't for all the wisdom I shared with her on some topic. It wasn't for supporting and encouraging her through thick and thin. It wasn't for being her agent or her first reader or her amazing photographer.

Nope. I'd forgotten until I cracked open Diane's 2010 release (The Lies We Told--LOVE this book!) that one day a few years ago, she put out a call on Facebook for suggestions: What kind of small tattoo on a finger knuckle could be seen from across a room? So. That tiny black star on a bad guy's knuckle near the start of The Lies We Told? Uh-huh. That's my star. The one I came up with. And yes, I did get an acknowledgment for it. I was delighted to read it out loud to my daughters, whom I tracked down in my excitement.

That was a long intro. I hope you hung in long enough to get to the best part of this post--our fun conversation about writing and The Midwife's Confession!

www: Welcome, Diane! Thank so much for joining us on What Women Write! Let’s start with a less than unique question I usually refrain from asking for that very reason, but I know you have an unusual answer! How did you come up with the idea for The Midwife’s Confession?

DC: In a dream. If only that would happen more often! I took an afternoon nap and had a dream in which a couple of friends learned something that would have a devastating impact on a third friend if she knew about it. In my dream, the friends tried to decide if they should tell her or not. What was the moral and kindest thing to do? That became the seedling of the idea for The Midwife's Confession, although my imagination took me to places I never anticipated going once I began writing.

www: I think that's awesome. I'm going to be thinking a lot harder about my dreams now. :) We know that life experience influences writer voice and writer choice. How do your particular life experiences influence how you write or the subjects and characters you choose to explore? How about for The Midwife’s Confession?

DC: My background was as a medical social worker and psychotherapist--a great foundation for a fiction writer! I worked in a maternity unit, an ER and an adolescent unit, and my private practice was with teens, so teenagers are frequently an important part of my stories, as they are in The Midwife's Confession. Obviously the maternity unit gave me fodder for this book--oh, the stories I could tell! What happens in Midwife is completely made up, I hasten to add. I often have a medical element in my stories and I know that's from my background in hospital work. I've been lucky to have two careers that have been very rewarding.

www: You have a lot of teen readers, too, which just goes to show how well you capture the teen voice. And speaking of teens ... one of the characters in The Midwife’s Confession has childhood leukemia. I know researching this disease had a big emotional impact on you. Would you be willing to share about this?

DC: I am teary-eyed just reading your question. I followed many blogs about children with leukemia during the research portion of Midwife. I was moved by all of them, but one in particular drew me in. It was written by the English-speaking Dad of a ten-year-old European girl. I followed the blog as she battled leukemia, received her transplant, went home, came back, went home, came back, fought infections, lost her hair, grew it back, etc. Her father shared lots of pictures and I began corresponding with him both on and off the blog, something which continues to this day. The little girl was such a fighter, but she ultimately lost the battle and my heart still breaks for her family. I've dedicated the book to her.

www: It's amazing how writing takes you places you'd never have gone otherwise and introduces you to people you never would have met--even when it breaks your heart. Diane, I also know that even multi-published authors deal with disappointment sometimes. As a longtime reader of your blog, I remember how the timing of writing The Midwife’s Confession was tricky—it didn’t exactly follow your “preferred” schedule.

DC: When I came up with the idea for The Midwife’s Confession, I wrote my proposal and submitted it to my editor who flipped over it and gave me the go-ahead to start working on the book. Writing a proposal takes me about a month, so I’d put a lot of work into the project already. I was thrilled with my editor’s response and got down to business.

About a week later, I heard from her again. She’d discussed my proposal at an editorial meeting and learned that another author at the publishing house was already in the middle of writing a book with a similar “hook” as Midwife. Therefore, I could not write this book at that time and would have to very quickly come up with a new idea.

To say I was upset is an understatement, but the publisher couldn’t be budged. I somehow managed to come up with a new proposal and wrote The Lies We Told, a book I ended up loving, but I can tell you, this was not a fun experience. Ultimately, The Midwife’s Confession turned out to be absolutely nothing like the other author’s book and the hook is completely different. Maybe this falls into the “all things happen for a reason” category? I hope so.

www: Well, as much as I adored The Lies We Told, I am thankful you wrote it. Maybe you wouldn't have without this bump in the road. But this wasn't the only tricky part about delivering The Midwife's Confession, right? (I'm feeling like a slightly cruel interrogator by now, but Diane is just this transparent. That's so much a part of why I love her!)

DC: I only had about nine months to write TMC. (Hmm ... I just realized the irony in that.) I wasn't completely happy with it when I turned it in. I knew there was something missing. It was my editor who helped me see what it was: the midwife herself. But the midwife, Noelle, is dead, which was why I hadn't initially thought of adding her point of view to the story. I realized my editor was right, though, so I added eleven chapters from Noelle's point of view. Wow, what a difference that made! It brought her to life and added many new dimensions to the story. Noelle told me things I had no idea had gone on in her life. This is the value of a wonderful editor!

www: And speaking of transparency, how have the Internet and social networking changed your writing life?

DC: In both good and bad ways. The bad is that Facebook and corresponding with readers is a terrible time sink. The fact that I'm a Facebook addict doesn't help. But I get so much joy out of my contact with readers, something that was limited in the past. This morning, for example, I was overwhelmed by all I had to do but when I checked in on Facebook and saw all my "friends" and what they were up to, it lifted my spirits. Kind of crazy. Maybe it has to do with how isolating writing is. I still have that need for social contact. There's also the fact that I can alert people to the publication of new books and where I'll be touring, but honestly, that's become secondary to the fun of getting to know so many wonderful readers. Please join me on Facebook here!

www: You’ve made extensive use of e-publishing with your backlist in recent years. How has this process worked for you? What kind of impact do you find this makes on sales, publicity, or marketing in general?

DC: I have seven books that are out of print, meaning I have the rights back to them and can do anything I like with them. So as an experiment, I put my personal favorite, Secret Lives, up as an e-book to see what would happen. It was a steep learning curve, preparing the book for the various e-book formats, and I said some bad words as I worked with the document and created a new cover for it. But wow, it was so worth it! Not only has e-publishing brought in extra income, it's helped me find new readers and satisfied the need of my long-time readers to be able to read older books they'd been unable to find. I now have five books available and hope to put the final two up in the next few months. Here's the page on my website where I describe these backlist books. Of course all my in-print books are available as e-books as well.

www: One of these, Reflection, was the very first ebook I purchased for my brand new Nook in January, and I'm so thrilled I got to read it! And another interesting note: I got to read my advance copy of The Midwife's Confession as an e-galley, also on my Nook!

Okay. I admit I know the answer to this next question, but I think our readers will enjoy it, so I have to ask: What is this Opium Den you so frequently speak of in blog posts and Facebook statuses?

DC: About ten years ago, I was doing the dating thing and the guys would often suggest meeting at Starbucks. I'd never been in a Starbucks before then, but I loved the cushy chairs and the sense of having a little "home away from home." (The men are a whole other story…) I began taking my work there in the mornings and became so addicted to the place that I started calling it the Opium Den. (This is the second time I've mentioned being an addict in this Q and A. Wonder what that's about?). So for ten years now, I've been taking my writing to Starbucks in the mornings. I've met other writers and many readers and it's nice to see the regulars there each day, but everyone knows I'm there to work and once I turn on my laptop, I'm in my own little caffeinated world.

www: And it's amazing how many of us writers actually met our significant others on ... errrr ... at the Opium Den. (Ahem, yep, including me!) And because we like to keep it unique here at What Women Write, I have one final question. What is one fun fact about Diane Chamberlain that nobody else has heard about on the worldwide web?

DC: I MUST play Scrabble on my iPad in bed at night. It's become something of a ritual. I tell myself I'm learning new words, but if I'm being honest with myself, I guess I have yet another addiction! :)

www: Readers, I suspect if you start reading Diane Chamberlain, you'll find yourself with a new addiction, too! Diane, thanks SO much for coming by What Women Write today. Big, huge congrats on your twentieth release, and best wishes for continued success!

The Midwife's Confession is available now at all major booksellers! But hey, why not try your local independent bookseller first?

Photo credit: John Pagliuca

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