Interview with Literary Fiction Author Linda Merlino

Life is our daily teacher. One lesson begets another and then another.

Once-upon-a-time life kicked me off my writer's path and led me to pursue a more practical profession. My childhood dream of becoming a journalist was silenced.

Years later, I became a single parent, not by choice but by necessity, and my most trustworthy partner became a ballpoint. The fiction in my head turned into words on yellow legal pad. I wrote anywhere, any time, on my dining room table, and on my lunch hour. No place was my sacred space. I wrote in my car during soccer practices, under an umbrella on rain drenched sid
elines, in fast food restaurants and in chain hotels. I wrote during championship after championship in cities and states, from Jersey to Phoenix.

The quieted yearning to be a writer reawakened onto the pages of a novel. My first was self-published after five years of juggling work, kids and day-to-day. A flawed but beautiful story emerged onto paper and "Swan Boat Souvenir" enjoyed local acclaim and success.

I knew there was more to do, more to write and that the next book would be published traditionally, that the next manuscript would have the benefit of an editor and the advice of professionals. After months of writing, Belly of the Whale went from paper, to computer, to draft after draft and finally into the arms of Kunati Publishers.

My children are grown. My passion to write remains a constant. Each book I complete is dedicated to the magic of believing in my dream, to my son and to my daughters.

You can visit Linda's website at www.lindamerlino.com.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Linda. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

My Bio page describes me as a writer and a lined paper junkie. This means I write no matter where I am. When raising my kids I spent an enormous amount of time in the car, driving and waiting. I am a person who gets bored easily so I always had pens and legal pad with me. An idea became a page and then ten and then a hundred and so on. Belly of the Whale began in long hand. This habit of writing reaches back into my childhood. I honestly can’t remember not writing. Although I pursued a different path for a time, writing has always been my first love. I guess you could tag me persistent in believing, blessed to have come so far in my life and to finally be able to say: I am author.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Belly of the Whale is the story of a young woman, wife and mother with breast cancer. Twenty-four hours in her life, the day she gives up hope of surviving and the day she is taken hostage in an all-night market by a killer more deadly than her disease. Why did I write the story? Because I had to, that’s the only answer I can give. As a writer you are propelled by unseen hands that guide you and push you along when you are discouraged. The story is not autobiographical, not in the sense of my having cancer, but in other ways that life has taken me into its dark places.

What kind of research was involved in writing “Belly of the Whale”?

I spent the first year (of three) thinking about the story and doing research. My ideas were fragments that had to be pulled together. If I was going to write about a woman with breast cancer I had to have my facts correct. Since the story is so emotional I wanted to know more about the disease not only medically but from the prospective of the person and her family. I gathered articles and clippings, talked to cancer survivors their families and doctors and spent days churning all the talk and information over and over in my head. The results are what make up the heartbeat of Belly of the Whale.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

As a debut novelist you have very little input. Kam Wai Yu of Kunati, Inc. is the genius behind my cover and my book trailer. He is all about titillating the senses and his cover stands out on the bookshelf next to the less compelling covers.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Bumpy ride, yes…thank heaven for seat belts. I did my share of querying and my share of pounding the pillow at night. Life got in my way and forced me to stop what I was doing…tested me in so many ways, as if to say “Do you really want this?” I did. I got back on the roller coaster, strapped myself in and after three months a portal opened in the universe and everything came together.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

On December 18, 2006 I received the proposal from Kunati to sign Belly of the Whale for a spring 2008 release. I used an agent to negotiate the terms of the contract and signed in May of 2007. The book went through the editing process in the summer of 2007 and was released in hardcover by Kunati, Inc. on April 1, 2008. For reader information I would like to add that my publisher, Kunati, Inc, was just honored by Foreward Magazine as the Best Independent Publisher of 2007. You can’t get better than that.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I do feel that the services of an agent are very important. My manuscript was in the hands of a Connecticut agent at the time Kunati made its offer. Talcott Notch Literary Services negotiated my contract with Kunati, and were extremely helpful in so many other ways. Having an agent is an absolute.

Do you plan subsequent books?

I am at the tail end of year one of what I deem my three year process…My next project is finally coming together. I have been blessed (again) to meet an individual who has given me extensive information and the inspiration to follow through on my next book.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

Morning. Birds tweeting, sun coming up the whole early-early routine, that’s when I do my best writing.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Money, did you say money? A publicist, a well known-been-there-done-that kind of publicist that would knock down those dead bolted doors to television, radio, Oprah, the New York Times, and the like.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is essential. At the end of the day you can grow weary from talking about yourself. The mouth gets dry and you feel like you are selling cars and not books, but you go out there with bookmarks and promo material and a smile and a ready hand-shake because you believe in yourself. No one else can do that effectively but you.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Being published is an incredible achievement. You have been recognized by other people that are not related to you. Someone, in my case Kunati, Inc, has deemed you worthy of investing time and money.

With this feather in my cap and just out of the gate I feel the need to play-it-forward. If you want to be published do not give up…ever. Just because one person says no, doesn’t mean another won’t embrace your words with a big, yes. Hold on to hope, believe in yourself, and keep writing…

Thank you for coming, Linda! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

Belly of the Whale is available at Borders, Barnes and Noble, Independent bookstores and on Amazon.

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