Today I'm interviewing Eowyn Ivey, an author whose literary debut, The Snow Child, comes out via Little, Brown Feb. 1. I first met Eowyn in person last spring, but have known about her for years through mutual friends. (And yes, her name comes from that Eowyn in LOTR.) We also have daughters the same age, with the same name and some of the same talents so we run into each other performing mom-duties occasionally. She lives with her family north of town, semi-off-the-grid, and is a life-long Alaskan. Last summer she spent rafting down the Copper River, writing her second novel and doing subsistence stuff like berrying, hunting and gardening. She is sooo generous with her time, and sooo very talented, I'm always a bit in awe of her whenever we meet. I know you'll feel the same after reading her words, and will rush out to put in your order for her book ASAP. (BTW, isn't that a great photo? That was taken by another mutual friend. I'm surrounded by talented people!! When will that rub off? *taps foot*)
1. You found your agent in an unusual way. Please share!
I was attending the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in Homer several years ago. I know a lot of writers go to conferences hoping to pitch to an editor or an agent, but that wasn’t my goal. I went to learn more about the craft and meet other writers. I was there with my mom, Julie LeMay, who is a poet. Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management was the presenting literary agent, andI was impressed with the titles he represented. But my novel wasn’t finished, and I wouldn’t have signed up to speak with him if my mom hadn’t kept prodding me. What did I have to lose? At least I could get a feel for how the novel might be received if and when I was ready to query agents. I described my concept to Jeff, and he asked to read the first 100 pages. Since I wasn’t there to pitch, I hadn’t even brought my manuscript! Thankfully, I was able to get the pages to him; he read them there at the conference and offered to represent it.
Isn't that a great story? I had no idea how lucky she was until I joined the query trenches a few weeks ago. It's like Eowyn got one of those Amazing Race fast-forward passes.
2. From your blurb, The Snow Child appears to have elements of a re-telling, magical realism and historical. What's its genre and how did it get classified?
It’s general fiction. Although it has a fantastical element and is set in the past, it isn’t a genre novel. You’ll see it described as “literary fiction” by some bookstores and websites, but it’s a label I’m uncomfortable using myself because it seems to be a value claim. “Literary” to me is something that has stood the test of time. But The Snow Child would be shelved in the fiction section of a bookstore or library.
3. You did research prior to writing this book. Talk about how important the research was to your plotting.
The research provided more inspiration than facts. I was working a shift at Fireside Books when I stumbled on a children’s picture book called The Snow Child, illustrated by Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee. That’s when I first learned of the Snegurochka fairy tale. Right then I knew this was the storyline I had been looking for. As I began writing the novel, I continued to learn more about the fairy tale. I discovered that over the centuries it has been retold in many versions and media– Russian lacquer paintings, Arthur Ransome’s translations. There’s even an opera and a ballet based on the fairy tale. All of this fueled my imagination.
Fireside Books is our local bookstore. I spend a regular chunk of Christmas dough there each year. So do my kids.
4. How important are beta writers or critique partners to you?
My family is my primary source of writing support. As I wrote each night, I would come downstairs and read sections aloud to my husband and older daughter. At the same time, my mom and I had an ongoing arrangement – each week she would give me a poem and I would give her a chapter. The rule was that, because these were first drafts, we could only say what we liked about them. It was really about having a deadline and encouraging each other. I was also fortunate to have other people who were willing to read finished drafts of it, including my dad, fellow authors and booksellers, and former coworkers from the newspaper business.
5. What authors inspire you with their style? Or, if you had to compare your book to others out there, what are they?
I could write pages and pages about the authors who have inspired me. My writing was born out of my love of reading. When I was a little girl, I devoured books such as Little House in the Big Woods, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, andThe Boxcar Children. As a teenager I read everything from David Eddings to Lois Lowry to Stephen King. It was in college and later that I discovered authors such as Louise Erdrich, Larry McMurtry, Annie Dillard, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and Charles Frazier. I am a member of a book club, and we’ve read a lot of classics over the years -- Frankenstein, As I Lay Dying,Middlemarch, Crime and Punishment. I read Austen, Nabokov, Hemingway, Melville, Joyce, Chekov, Woolf. I also read a lot of modern fiction such as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Tinkers, Everything is Illuminated, The Green Age of Asher Witherow, The Ice-Shirt. As a bookseller, I’m in constant contact with the fabulous new books hitting the shelves. I just finished Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, The Detour, and The Marriage Plot. Now I’m reading Pure by Julianna Baggott. As you can see my taste runs from westerns to fantasy, literary fiction to classics. And I would love to think that what I read influences my own writing.
6. What was going out on sub like? How did you fill the waiting?
It is a torturous process, especially having worked in journalism for nearly a decade. I was used to a fast turn over, same-day praise or rejection. In book publishing we’re talking months or even years. But I tried to put that nervous energy to good use. I wrote short stories, I began working on the next novel, and I read a lot.
7. Now that TSC has been on shelves in other countries and is doing well, talk about your expectations for the US debut. What advice have any publishing experts given you?
I don’t think anyone can give me advice on this one. The truth is no one – not the editor, the agent, the publisher, the bookseller, and certainly not the author – can predict how a book is going to do. We all just follow our guts, write and read what we love, and it can be surprising which books hit the bestseller list and which ones never see the light of day. I’m not talking about quality as much as theme and subject and approach. I believe a lot of different factors in society influence what books become well-loved at a certain time. So instead of trying to play that impossible guessing game, I’m just grateful for each email or tweet I get from a reader in Oslo or London or Orlando who has enjoyed it.
When I say 'doing well' I really mean it's a bestseller. Like, in Norway. And possibly in other countries by now.
8. You landed a grant to help fund research for your next novel. Talk about that process, including any tips for grant writing or research you may have learned.
It’s true what they say – try, try again. I’ve applied for grants before and not received them. I think a few things helped me this time with the Rasmuson Foundation. I had a very concrete project that would clearly help me write my next novel. I had a polished excerpt from the novel in progress. I had improved my resume with short story publications and the acquisition of my novel by Little, Brown & Co. And I had attended a fabulous session at Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Denver that was all about how to write a grant proposal. I highly recommend to anyone who wants to write and publish and apply for grants to attend conferences like these. You can get a tremendous amount of helpful information!
9. Your debut is coming right up. How will you balance publicity for this book with writing on your next?
We’re planning a book release part in conjunction with Fireside Books at the Inn Café in Palmer that evening. As for balancing everything, my goal is to enjoy the incredible ride. I write because I love to, and I always find the time when I set my mind to it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find The Snow Child opening new doors for me to publish essays and short stories. But however much writing I do, or don’t do, I know that publicity opportunities for The Snow Child are once-in-a-lifetime -- never again will I have a debut novel.
10. I've heard it said that landing the second contract can be harder than the first. What's your opinion on that?
I have no idea. I guess when I finish my next novel, I’ll find out.
Well, dang. I was hoping you'd dispel that as an urban (or literary) legend. Sometimes the literary life seems like a climb up Lazy Mountain - just when you think you've hit the summit, you see another peak to climb...and then another...and another....
Alaskan fast five
|caribou and Mt. McKinley|
Do you prefer moose or caribou?
Caribou, but I’ll never turn down a moose.
Dip-netting record? (or gill-netting if that's how you roll)
Only four. I’m lacking as a dip-netter. Lucky for me, my husband Sam is a natural and fills our permit almost every time he goes out.
Oh, we're tied! I caught four last summer...but I had my son's help. That net is gigantic and I kept slipping and getting stuck in the mud. And the salmon we caught averaged 15 lbs., which didn't help matters when we had to haul them onto shore as the creek rose. Bleck.
Cords of wood it takes you to get through the winter?
Six. And for those who don’t know the measurement, a cord is wood stacked 4 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long. So about six of those.
Also, Eowyn chops that herself. You should see her arms. (Kidding. Or am I....)
Gallons of water you must haul each week?
300. And we do laundry in town. We used to make do with just 50 gallons at a time, but we recently got a larger holding tank so we’re getting spoiled with hot baths and everything.
Luxury item you can't live without? (Mine is Oregon Chai Tea. Mmmmm.)
Thanks, Eowyn! She'll be popping by to answer any questions periodically, so fire away!