I am so thrilled to have sci-fi fantasty author Elizabeth Fountain here today at The Writer’s Life. Liz is here to talk about how she got her book published, writing tips and more.
Elizabeth left a demanding job as a university administrator in Seattle to move to the small town of Ellensburg, Washington, and pursue her dream of writing novels. She started writing in grade school; fortunately, most of her tortured high school poetry and song lyrics are lost to posterity. Her first book was five years in the making, and offered lots of opportunities to give up along the way; that might be why it’s a tale of people, aliens, and dogs who face the impossible, and do it anyway. An independent publishing house in Calgary, Champagne Book Group, released the novel in April. Now Liz has three more novels in progress. She takes breaks from writing to teach university courses, spend time with family and friends, and take long walks while leaning into the diabolical Kittitas valley wind. She holds degrees in philosophy, psychology, and leadership, which contribute to a gently humorous view of humanity well suited to tales of aliens and angels, love and death, friendship and dogs. Liz strives to live according to a line from British singer-songwriter Chris Rea: “Every day, good luck comes in the strangest of ways.”
Her latest book is An Alien’s Guide to World Domination.
Visit her blog at www.lizfountain.wordpress.com or become her friend at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethFountainAuthor.
Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life! Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process. Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning? Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?
This book took five years from start to publication. Back in 2008, I’d been struggling, trying to write a serious and realistic story about a woman who works too much. Writing it bored even me. Then, after an inspiring late-night conversation with a friend, I fell asleep and dreamt about two people talking on a bridge, discovering one of them is from another planet. When I woke up, somehow the entire plot of An Alien’s Guide to World Domination took form in my head. I knew it had to be set in a world like ours, but with one important difference: the aliens we sometimes imagine all around us had to be real.After that, the humorous elements spilled out: the boss whose alien form is the color of lime Jell-O gone wrong, the bat-bird alien reconnaissance scouts who are especially sensitive to slights, and the blind min-Schnauzer who really is from Mars. More slowly I realized what the book needed to be about, its central theme: that no matter how absurd or seemingly impossible life appears, we have to try, anyway. And if we let our friends and chosen family help us, there’s truly nothing we can’t do.
Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?
Over the three and a half years that followed the dream and the initial burst of creativity, I worked diligently on the manuscript. Well, except for the many, many times I became convinced I couldn’t do it, couldn’t write anything well, couldn’t find the words, couldn’t construct sentences, couldn’t create plots or characters or scenes or anything. I gave up more times than I can count, only to find some way back to the story, some new inspiration or energy. Life also intervened: I divorced, left a high-pressure job, and relocated to a small town to devote my time to teaching university classes for a living, and writing novels for my soul.I’m not sure there is any way to make the journey of writing a novel easier. It consists of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. You must cling to the joyous parts and let the elation of creating something beautiful carry you through what I call the “sloggy parts” – low motivation, painstaking revision, or just plain exhaustion.The journey of publication? Well, thanks to a generous acquisitions editor (Judy Griffith Gill) who took a flyer on this book, and the terrific team at Champagne Book Group, this part of the journey’s been a great deal of fun. Just like they tell you, though, in this business you have to submit often and put up with a lot of rejection to find that one person who will roll the dice and take a chance on your work. Hang in there until you do. Then just keep working your a** off until your editor says it’s ready for final release!
Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?
BURST!, an imprint of Champagne Book Group (CBG), published An Alien’s Guide to World Domination in April of this year. I think how it came about is a funny story. At the 2011 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association conference, I attended a workshop on writing query letters. I’d never written one before in my life, so the night before, I looked online, found some web site or other with advice, and threw a letter together. At the workshop, they drew our letters at random to read out loud, without names, just the “guts” of the query, and asked a panel of agents and editors to critique them.I sat there, half hoping mine wouldn’t be selected, and then it was. I heard the workshop facilitator read my words out loud, and felt my cheeks burn. I knew my query was awful, and three of the four members of the panel confirmed it. Then J. Ellen Smith, the owner of Champagne Books, said something like, “Yeah, it’s a pretty bad query. But there’s something about this story I like. It’s piqued my interest.”Thank god, I thought, because I had an individual pitch session with her the next day, and nightmare visions of pitching a novel she already hated based on my bad query! I stumbled through my five-minute pitch, and then reminded her she’d heard my lousy query letter the day before. That made her giggle, and she invited me to send a synopsis and three chapters.Six months after I submitted, Judy Griffith Gill, CBG’s acquisitions editor at the time, emailed me: “Would you be willing to send the whole manuscript?” I’d very nearly put it away for good just the week before. I pulled it up on my computer, wrote to Judy that I’d be thrilled, and spent five manic days re-polishing the manuscript before I hit “send.”
Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?
You mean other than the fact that someone wanted to publish it at all? Honestly, when CBG wrote to offer me a contract, I melted into a puddle of tears. The idea that an experienced publisher saw merit in my storytelling, and wanted to help it connect with an audience, surprised me more than anything that’s happened since.
Q: Can you describe the feeling when you saw your published book for the first time?
The final editing round became a mess of my own creation. I received my ARC (advanced reader copy) and a form to document errata. Wanting to do a stellar job of final proofing, I printed out the entire ARC – 280 pages. I settled in with a blue highlighter to mark any errors I found.By page ten, the ARC was bleeding blue ink. Nearly in tears again, I wondered what could have happened. Letters like “z” or “x” would simply be missing. Capitals were gone. I plodded through, increasingly panicked, to meet the quick turnaround deadline. After days of intense line editing, I sent my enormous errata list to my editor.Almost immediately, I received a puzzled query in response: “Where are all these errors you documented? They aren’t in the ARC we’re reviewing here.”I grabbed my hard copy, and saw all the blue. Then I pulled the e-copy of the ARC back up on my computer screen. Sure enough, nearly all the errors I “found” weren’t there.I hadn’t “found” them at all – I’d created them when I’d sent the ARC to my inexpensive printer, which didn’t recognize the font, and so decided to spit out this dreadful error-ridden print copy. (A good friend who does a lot of graphic design laughed unmercifully at me, as she says this is a well-known phenomenon in design circles, and why they always proof on screen rather than hard copy.)This is a long answer to the question, but it helps explain why my feeling at the first sight of the final published e-book consisted of relief mixed with terror that I’d missed something, followed by the stunned realization that this book was finally “real.”
Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?
I’ve sent a second manuscript to my editor at CBG and to an agent. It’s the tale of Jane Margaret Blake, whose ability to write stories that come true in the real world creates havoc for her friends and her love life. In her stories, animals, humans, spirits, angels, and even the Universe itself conspire to destroy Jane’s last chance to be with her old love, or, just maybe, to bring her an opportunity for new love. As her writing and her drinking spiral out of control, Jane must face reality about herself and her relationships, and discover her ability to write her own happy ending. I’m waiting to hear if either CBG or the agent is interested.And, I’m finishing the manuscript I started in 2012’s National Novel Writing Month. This is my first try at a novel-length work for middle-grade readers. It’s about Amy June Pilgrim, who is halfway through her twelfth year and desperate to prove she’s not a little kid anymore; and her Grandpa Marq, who leads a crack team of misfit computer and math geeks on the hunt for the mathematical formula for immediate forgiveness. If they find it, the world will be freed from war, violence, and suffering, so it’s no wonder so many people want to stop them. Amy June finds herself on a cross-country trek with her Grandpa, facing enemies real and imagined, longing to be reunited with her father who disappeared five years earlier, and finding the unconditional love of a black Lab whose well-timed dog fart helps foil Amy June’s kidnapping. Together they discover the true formula for forgiveness, triggered by the love of a dog. An agent is interested in reading the first three chapters of this one, too, as soon as it’s ready.Meanwhile, my short story Heaven, about a renegade angel and the human woman he falls in love with, will be published in a compilation from Champagne Books later this summer. There’s romance, and even a little sex, in that one!
Q: Fun question: How does your book contribute to making this world a better place?
This one stumped me for a long time. I hope the book does help make the world a better place, but how? Some readers have told me it made them laugh. I firmly believe the more laughter we create, the better. So maybe that’s how it works?
Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?
I like to say this book is dedicated to everyone who’s ever looked at their boss and thought: you must be from another planet. But it’s also for everyone who’s looked the impossible straight in the eye, and done it anyway. So many things in life seem impossible until we do them. And I mean “we” – we never accomplish much alone; it always takes our friends, family (biological and chosen families, both), and of course, at least one fiercely loyal dog (or cat) to pull it off.
Q: Thank you again for this interview! Do you have any final words?
I love writing science fiction and fantasy because it gives me a chance to explore all the crazy, improbable, deeper truths about what it means to be human. I love doing interviews because they are yet another way to engage with my fellow readers as we try to figure this human life out together.
About the Book:
Louise Armstrong Holliday is the last person on Earth you’d expect to save the human race. But when she uncovers proof that her boss is an alien the color of lime jelly gone horribly wrong, and is at the center of a plot to destroy humanity, Louie decides to do exactly that. She begins a journey from her company’s suburban Seattle office park to the old cities and castles of Eastern Europe. Along the way, Louie is attacked by flying books, overly-sensitive bat-crow monsters, and her own self-doubts. She must learn the truth about her closest friend, stand up to her boss, confront her oldest enemy, and make peace with her Aunt Emma, who annoys her in the way only true family can. She also has to rely on Buddy, the little blind mini-Schnauzer who saves her life twice – and really is from Mars.
Purchase your copy at AMAZON.