It’s been a while since I interviewed a fellow author on my blog, but today, I had the opportunity to interview Laina Villeneuve, a first-time author with Bella, who’s already hard at work on book number two and three. You can find her first book, Take Only Pictures, here and read an excerpt of it here.
Welcome, Laina. Let’s start with some warm-up questions:
Chocolate or cookies?
Definitely chocolate. One of my earliest memories is of me pouring over a box of See’s chocolates and skipping over the chocolate covered cherry. When my mom commented on my choice, I pointed out that I was the only one who ate them; thus, they would be there until the end. Strategy!
E-books or paperbacks?
This is tough since I do have a Kindle and have recently reaped the benefits of Whispersync on a trip to San Francisco, enjoying the audio while I drove and the book in the hotel (not to mention the added benefit of being able to read in the dark while my children fall asleep…) But none of that replaces the feel of my favorite book in my hand or the smell of the binding on an old hardcover. When push comes to shove, I prefer paper.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Beach or mountains?
In California, I have easy access to and enjoy both. I lived on the coast for nearly eight years and loved walking on the beach, but I hate the sand and long sun exposure. Ultimately, I’d much rather spend my time in the mountains, especially on horseback. I’ve been across the Silver Divide and have taken a string of mules through the San Joaquin River. The mountains are much more exciting to me (and have so much more shade!)
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do when you’re not writing?
First, I’m a mother of three, so much of my time includes answering various demands for food, help, or entertainment. We enjoy our local parks, spend a lot of time in the pool and love a good movie night. I’m also a full-time professor of English at a community college which means I spend many of my nights grading. Once, my daughter grumped at me when I gave her a blank piece of paper and demanded paper with writing on it, “Like Mama.” All three have scrawled on my students’ work, too, “helping” me catch up on my work.
Please tell us about your journey in becoming a published writer. What challenges did you face when you published your first book? How did you come to publish with Bella Books?
I tried to publish a novella straight out of grad school more than 15 years ago. After several rejections, I dedicated all my energy to teaching. My wife encouraged me to write for years, and we began this novel around the start of 2012. We submitted to Bella Valentine’s Day the following year, and they called us in the spring to say they were interested in the book. My greatest challenge lay in the continued revising. My editor asked core questions that were difficult to answer, and our final edits came during my finals week at school. I had my first panic attack during that stretch of revisions.
We chose Bella because we are such huge fans of so many of their writers. I nearly fainted when I saw Karin Kallmaker’s signature on the first email we got back from them, and my wife insisted on joining me on the line when we first spoke.
How did you come up with the idea for Take Only Pictures?
Years ago on Facebook, some friends of mine asked their friends to post stories of how we DIDN’T meet. I slammed out something that went like this: “I was a cowgirl riding the trails, and you were working for the Forest Service. Although our professional worlds clashed, you admired my ass.” That was the seed idea for the story—two professional women whose jobs would put them in conflict with each other, the Forest Service employee having a problem with the impact of the Pack Outfit’s animals on the backcountry. As it turned out, I had to change Gloria’s profession to give her more freedom in the backcountry, but her position still puts her into professional conflict with Kristine, which adds a nice texture to whether the two women are well suited for each other.
How did you come up with the title for your novel?
There’s a sign that reads “Take Only Pictures; Leave Only Footprints” as you enter the backcountry in California. One of Kristine’s conflicts is whether to follow her natural talent raising and working with mules or pursue a career in photography. Initially, I liked the emphasis on photography. Working on the book, I liked how Gloria used it to describe relationships that leave no permanent mark. Now that I’m answering this question, I realize it’s also Kristine’s greatest desire, to walk away from her father’s ranch and spend her time taking pictures.
What would you say are the main themes in Take Only Pictures? What personal meaning do those themes have for you?
The driving force of this book is making a choice for yourself. In the opening chapter, Kristine’s father reminds her that there are two ways off a horse. She knows: when it’s their idea and when it’s yours. Kristine is in the position of figuring out how to make her own decision, first in trying to choose between the life goals her father has versus her own desires. Just as she’s figuring that out, she has to factor love in. I love Kristine’s dedication to her family and admire her quest to find out who she is an individual.
Years ago, my mom and talked about my decision to move five hundred miles away to attend a community college. What she observed struck me. She said that she didn’t think I would have become who I am today if I hadn’t made the decision to move away from my family. So how one discovers her identity is important to me.
How long did it take you to write Take Only Pictures?
From brainstorming the idea to sending in the “final draft,” I think about fourteen months, but at least half of that was spent on two major overhauls. I like to talk to my students about how I’m an okay writer, but I’m a really good reviser. I had an okay first draft and amazing advice input from a colleague that completely reshaped the conflict and pushed the story in a more action-oriented direction. When I finished a draft for him, my wife said, “This isn’t a romance anymore!” so I was thrown back into revision. Once I’d made her happy, we were ready to submit.
How do you find enough time to write, even though you have a day job? Any tips for how to be productive as a writer who can’t write full time?
Habit and sacrifice. I got about four or five chapters written during my winter break between semesters, and once the semester started, I gave myself one evening and one weekend morning to write. That usually means I get between two and three hours of writing time, minimum, a week. I made that part of my budget and balance it like anything else. Research papers took away my hour this week, I’ll take two weekday hours next week. The hardest part has been sacrificing snuggle time on the couch with my wife. I cut out a lot of TV to increase my writing hours when I really got into a writing groove. No-matter what, though, the consistency is key. The mornings I just wanted to sleep, I’d tell myself, “You’re a writer. Writers get up and turn on the computer.” And then I would.
What’s your favorite scene in Take Only Pictures?
When Gloria has returns from Fish Creek and offers Kristine an apple. There is so much sensory detail in what Kristine smells and feels when she puts the apple up to her lips, and I love her willpower when she puts it down and says she doesn’t want to spoil her supper. I love that she says supper, too.
Which scene in Take Only Pictures was hardest for you to write?
The final scene with the bear was the hardest to write. The only real-life experience I have with a bear was chasing a yearling away from my camp. I struggled to make the scene feel authentic, getting caught up in what that specific place in the backcountry looks like. My wife kept on saying, “It’s fiction! Just make it up!” A friend told me that Steven Spielberg says write first; research later. I find that advice very useful but also very difficult to follow. I get caught up in the research, wanting the details to be right.
What sort of Starbuck’s coffee would Kristine, the main character in Take Only Pictures, order? Black coffee? Soy-sugar-free-non-fat-vanilla latte? Double chocolate chip Frappuccino with whipped cream and chocolate sauce? Something else?
If, and that is a huge if, Kristine set foot in a Starbucks, she would get a small, black coffee and drink it just like that, piping hot. She’s a bigger fan of campfire coffee in a tin cup, the kind you bring to a boil before settling the grounds with a cup of cold spring water.
What projects are you working on right now? Any upcoming releases?
I’m wrapping up my first draft of my third book. My wife says the last six chapters need a lot of work, but the arc of the story is there. My second book, The Right Thing Easy is due for a Valentine’s Day 2015 release which I am really excited to hear. I figure I’m looking at edits for that book pretty soon, so I’ll most likely be juggling polishing the third book for submission with editing the second one for publication. Oh, and my wife is pestering me to get started sketching out the fourth…
Thank you, Laina, for taking some time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. Best of luck with your new books, and I hope to find some time to read Take Only Pictures soon!
Readers, has anyone read it? If yes, what did you think? Please leave a comment or send Laina an e-mail at: lainavilleneuve @gmail.com (please remove the space before the @).
Fellow authors, if you want to be interviewed on my blog, let me know.
Have a good week, everyone!