Nov 10, 2011

Alicia Bessette and A Pinch of Love

 My introduction to Alicia came a few years ago, when I read Simply from Scratch, a novel about a grieving young widow who enters a baking contest. I loved the book and kept watching the library for Alicia's name to reappear in the New Books shelves.

Two years later, I was researching the guy who wrote Sorta Like A Rock Star, which I'd read an ARC of in 2009 and really, REALLY liked. I'd never written to an author before (cross my heart) and vowed at the time to send the author a note. I never did until one day, I was commenting on a blog that requested favorite YA reads and I wanted to recommend SLARS. Turns out that author is Matthew Quick, who is married to Alicia Bessette. *huge eyes*   Matthew's blog mentioned A Pinch of Love. I read the blurb and thought - HOLY COW! I remember this book but it wasn't called A Pinch of Love. (It's been renamed for the paperback version.)  The writing was soooo good. And Matthew is Alicia's husband?! How did so much awesomeness get in one family? (So that's where all the awesomeness went. I was wondering...) Anyway, I won a copy to re-read in about two days (still love it!), which encouraged me to cyberstalk request an interview on the off-chance Alicia was as gracious and classy as the characters in her book.
I'm not giving you my copy, which is autographed *holds onto it jealously* but I promise that if you buy APOL you will LOVE it. (Or you can send it to me for free.)

An article on your site suggests your husband's first sale was fuel for a total life-change - a move not only to a new community, but to becoming a full-time writer yourself. Talk about your thought processes then, and where you found the courage to quit your day job.

Yes, my husband and I have embraced several big life-changes. The first was in 2004, and it required the most courage. We quit our jobs, sold our home, and moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts, all in the name of becoming published novelists.
What fueled that change? Dissatisfaction. We were disappointed in our jobs and had no spare energy to fully pursue our shared dream of writing fiction. We decided that nothing would change if we didn't change it. Many people told us we were taking a risky and illogical step backward by forsaking our then-careers and moving in with my parents. But at the time there seemed to be no other alternative. While we both wanted to write, we couldn't afford for both of us to do that at the same time. So Matt entered an MFA program while I became a reporter for my hometown newspaper. Our plan was to switch places in a few years.
Which leads to the second big life-change in 2007, when Matt sold his first novel, THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. We had enough money to move out of my parents' house, and I could join him in writing full time. At that point, no courage was required to quit my day job! Matt's success was all the impetus I needed. We missed Philly, so we returned to that area and rented a small apartment. My "office" was a desk and chair in the corner of the living room. It was there that I wrote A PINCH OF LOVE.
Our third big change came this year, when we moved back to Massachusetts, to be closer to woods and mountains, which fuel our creativity. We're homeowners now, and I have my own office -- a real room -- bliss!

Yay! I always pictured you in New England because the world you create in APOL is so vivid.
How did you snag your agent?

I found my agent with the help of It's a very useful and informative website that I recommend to anyone seeking advice on querying, which can be a grueling process. (The first novel I wrote was not published, and was rejected by more than one hundred agents.) To any writers out there entering the agent search, stay hopeful; don't despair. Keep writing. Remember that every rejection gets you closer to the person who will become your agent. And, read this:

AgentQuery is awesome! So is QueryTracker...but I'm preaching to the choir.

Describe your writing relationship with your husband. Do you two talk about your work, or prefer to keep your professional lives as separate as possible?

We've built our marriage around fulfilling personal potential, so topics related to myth and reality, success and failure, meaning and meaninglessness, writing and editing, character development and plot, movies and books, frequently work their way into our daily conversations. Our professional lives and our personal lives are closely linked.

Your site mentions you're an accomplished pianist. Does your music encourage creativity at the computer keyboard? If so, how?

A friend participating in NaNoWriMo this month told me she wrote more than 2,000 words while listening to one of my CDs. I was so happy to hear that!
I usually listen to music when I write -- but I never listen to my own music, because all I hear are mistakes, places where I could have been either more or less subtle, both in performance and in songwriting. My mind becomes so preoccupied with my own perceived shortcomings that I can't focus on anything else. (For the same reason, I've never read A PINCH OF LOVE beginning to end in book form.) I'm very self-critical. That quality can be crippling, but it also can be a boon, especially when it comes to revision -- at the piano and at the computer.
That said, my writing breaks frequently feature me at the piano!

How do you balance life as a professional musician with life as a writer? Do you set practice time limits on both or set whole days aside to pursue one or the other?

I'm a hobbyist musician and a professional writer, and the two pursuits seem to balance each other out naturally. I made my two full-length CDs (with the help of an old friend who is a hobbyist music producer) during times when I wasn't writing much fiction. After Big Life Change #2 described above, I was separated from my piano -- it didn't fit in the apartment. That's when I really dove into fiction. Now, in our home in Massachusetts, I'm reunited with my piano. I'm playing and writing. It's a gift.

BTW, you can listen to some of Alicia's recordings here.

Your MC in APOL is a widow. I'm guessing you had to imagine yourself as a widow to get into her head. Was that hard? Did it make you view life any differently?

Instead of imagining myself as a widow, I imagined Zell, my narrator, as a widow. I got to know her entire personal history, from birth to now, in order to get inside her head as much as possible -- and out of my own. What about the grieving process is difficult for Zell in particular? Which of Zell's personality traits help her to cope, and which of her personality traits sabotage her healing? Those were my guiding questions in creating her voice and her world.
Writing a book -- especially a book that centers around grief and recovery -- is an emotional journey. I do view life differently after having written it, in the sense that perhaps I'm generally less judgmental of other peoples' complaints. Life is hard for everyone. No one is immune to pain.

What's the most surprising thing about being a published author?
How many people have participated in getting me here. No book is the result of one person working in solitude. So many people helped create A PINCH OF LOVE: first readers, agents, agents' colleagues, editors, editors' assistants, proofreaders, copy editors, publicists, marketing professionals, artists, and the list goes on. Not to mention my mother, who gave me a lined journal to write in for my eighth birthday; my fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Moran, who made reading absolutely magical for me; and my creative writing teacher in high school, Mrs. Rubenstein, who took a special interest in me during a vulnerable time in my life.

Where are you headed in your next WIP - a sequel, a new setting or genre?? (hint: SEQUEL.)Many readers have asked if I'm working on a sequel to A PINCH OF LOVE. Right now, I'm not ... but that doesn't mean I won't ever be! Regarding my current work in progress, I'm too superstitious to discuss it in detail. But I have high hopes.

Hmmm...future blog post alert. What is up with super-secret WIPs? Foment your brains, people, and come back Monday to share your reasons for staying undercover.

Fast five ...
Cat or dog?
Dog. (Cat is a close second.)

Ocean or mountains?
Mountains. (Ocean is a close second.)

Favorite swear word and time/place you use it most often.
 The F-bomb. I use it all over the place.

Mine is g.d. I use it in the car all the time, ALL the time.  Each of my kids' first word was dammit which they said in the car.  (Not my finest mom moment. Dammit.)

First thing on your Christmas wish list

World peace. (Second thing: a red Le Creuset skillet.)

I'd like another pair of fuzzy socks. The kind with aloe vera in them?? They rock.

Thing you do that you know is annoying but you just can't stop.

Thanks for stopping by, Alicia!


Peggy Eddleman said...

Wow! That must have taken so much bravery to follow a writing dream like that! I'm impressed.

Carrie Butler said...

This was a great interview! I loved it. :)

P.S. Writing star(s), indeed!

Alicia said...

Thanks Peggy and Carrie (and Melodie!).

The link to that article about rejection seems to be busted ... here is the same story but at a different site: Inspiring!

kent said...

I am a guy that listens to loud punk rock and watches horror films like it's a religion. I got to know Alicia's work (both music and writing) after reading her husband Matthew Quick's wonderful novels. I really didn't think a novel with a pink cover called Simply From Scratch (now Pinch Of Love) would interest me as a reader. However, I was proved totally wrong. Alicia's voice throughout is so unique and funny and kind - I really fell in love with all the characters and the town itself! Great job, Alicia! And great interview!

E.R. King said...

Fun interview! It was great to get to know Alicia and hear about how she wrote her book and found her agent. I think it's funny that she wants a skillet for Christmas, after world peace, of course.

Scott Humfeld said...

Great interview. I'm a big fan of both Alicia's writing and her music. A Pinch of Love is a wonderful book that will touch anyone that reads it - and I encourage everyone to do so. I am also a big fan of her husband's work. As Melodie says, so that's where all the awesomeness went. I'm very much looking forward to reading her next book and listening to her next CD.

Jolene Perry said...

Awesome interview. I still look at everyone who helped me get my book published, and have helped me since that time, and I'm sort of amazed. I hope I'm able to repay that in some way.