In my three million part series on writing, I’ve interviewed Ann Griffin, a writer of historical fiction. Her recent novel is a fictional version of real life events, inspired by her mother. The more author interviews I do, the more comforted I am by the idea that we’re all different. None of our paths are exactly the same and we have varied ways of existing because there is no one way to be a writer.
When did you decide you wanted to be published?
I wanted to be published very early while I was writing my novel, although I had at that time no idea what the process was. Once the book was finished, edited professionally by a developmental editor, I began querying. I signed up for Query Tracker, which provides information and a relatively easy way to query agents and keep track of who, when, and where. I participated in workshops on writing query letters and synopses and continued to modify them as I sent my queries and received feedback.
But despite a positive response (twelve requests for full manuscipts out of about 50 queries) it dawned on me how slow the process is. Not only that, I’m not a young person. Waiting two years after getting a contract to have a book for sale was just too long for me, so I refocused on self-publishing.
That turned out to be a steep learning curve, but thanks to a number of helpful websites (janefriedman.com, joelfriedlander.com) I boosted my knowledge and my confidence, and dove in. I hired a cover designer. I hired a copyeditor. Within four months of making the decision, my book was launched. Looking back, I should have taken more time before launching to send out ARCs and get some reviews, but in spite of that, my sales have gone quite well.
My most recent (my only) book is Another Ocean to Cross, which is WWII historical fiction. It took about seven years to write, partly because I had no idea how to write a novel when I started. It all began when my last living uncle died in 2002. In his safety deposit box was a letter from a daughter no-one in the family knew existed. My curiosity demanded I look into this “family skeleton in the closet,” so eventually I met this cousin, who told me the story of her parents’ romance, marriage, and subsequent divorce. It was such a compelling, outrageous story, that I decided it needed to be written. Seeing no other suitable candidates, I volunteered myself for the job.
My first draft was fairly close to the true story, but my developmental editor (Kathryn Craft) helped me realize that sometimes, truth is too strange for readers of fiction, so I had to modify the story considerably to meet the demands of fiction. For example, in real life, the main character did not change much and did not seem to learn from her experience. In my book, she does learn and grow.
The story is of a gutsy young German Jewish girl, who tackles all kinds of dangers and hardships to save her parents, her child, and her battle-injured husband. The book follows Renata from Germany through Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, to Egypt. From there, later, she must go to London, and finally, she heads to Canada where, eventually, she reunites with her husband. Hence the title, “Another Ocean to Cross.”
What inspires you?
I am inspired by stories of people in my family history, or someone else’s, who must deal with difficulty, danger, isolation, fear, in a world that is different from what we know in the twenty-first century. Strong women particularly inspire me.
What do you do if you get stuck?
I’ll switch to writing prompts sometimes. Or take up a totally different project. Sometimes I’m stuck because I need to do more research, and in that case, off I go to the library or wherever I need to get the information.
What is the biggest challenge of being published?
The marketing. It consumes my life and makes it hard to continue working on my next book. I don’t have money to spend on a publicist or other pricey methods of marketing, so I have focused on speaking to book clubs, libraries, and other groups where I have a connection. I have participated in two book festivals and am registered for a third in April. Next I’ll be contacting service clubs which often want guest speakers and permit the speaker to sell their products. I have entered several book contests but am still awaiting results. I hope to be named a finalist and would be thrilled to win, because that phrase, “award-winning author,” and a pretty gold sticker to put on the book does help sales.
What’s the best part?
As a published author, I encounter immediate respect from other writers and even more so from the general public as I meet them. The sense of achievement, a book in my hand that I created, is as good as the thrill of new motherhood.
What is your next project?
I am working on two new books, and am still not sure which one I will complete first. One is a sequel to Another Ocean to Cross that begins in 1960. The other begins in 1880, and follows a boy, Walter, and his sister, Emily, who are taken from their parents and sent to Canada to be labourers, but in separate cities. Their determination to find each other forms the main part of the plot.
You can find out more about Ann on her website.