Allie Larkin is a blogger and the co-founder of The Greenists. She’s also a friend of mine in that sort of odd, social media generation, never actually met her sort of way.
More auspiciously, however, her debut novel “STAY” is being released this week by Dutton.
I got my review copy last week but before I could get into it, Dr. O’C snatched it up and devoured it over the weekend. She declared it an ideal beach book, so good timing for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere.
Once I got my turn, I read a bit more slowly, I like to savour my books. And while Dr. O’C is right in a sense – I think there’s a lot more to it than, say, the latest Sophie Kinsella effort. (Not that I know too much about the genre. What?)
Allie writes with a precision and a dedication to detail that sucks the reader into her world. She’s got a gift for dialogue and bringing her characters to life. The musical references that pepper the book really add to it for me, almost like a soundtrack for the story. And if you’re a dog lover, or like me a dog lover temporarily without a dog, it’s an absolutely heart warming story. Makes me think it’s time to get another dog.
Most of all, however, it’s a ripping good yarn.
In short, if you’re looking for a great summer read then STAY would be a great place to start. It’s out Thursday, but you can pre-order by clicking the little ad over there on the right.
Allie was also kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for me, largely about the craft of writing:
AFM: I would be willing to bet that a majority of my readers – including myself if I’m being honest – would love to be sitting where you are. First novel finished, picked up by a major publisher. So, how do you do it? How do you decide to write a book and then carry it out?
AL: The characters and the story really kept me going. STAY started as a short story, and I hadn’t originally intended to write it as a novel, but I kept wanting to know more about the characters. Not finishing the book would have been like watching half of a movie you’re completely enjoying. I needed that sense of completion to the story.
AFM: I was talking to another author friend of mine the other day about the ritual (or lack thereof) of writing. Do you have a special place where you write? Pen or computer? Music or silence?
AL: I go through phases and rotate through work stations (my desk, couch, reading chair, kitchen table, lawn chair, bed) depending on my mood. I write on a computer for the majority of what I do, although, if I’m doing writing exercises, I like to write in pencil on paper.
I set up playlists for my main characters when I write. The playlists are a combination of music my character would like, and music that somehow makes me think of the story. It’s a great way to snap into writing mode and put myself in the right mindset for my character. When I first heard the song On Your Side by Pete Yorn, it made me think of Van’s relationship with Peter, so it went on the playlist. When I worked on some of the Van/Peter scenes I would listen to the song to put things in context for me. But in the last few rounds of revisions, I couldn’t listen to anything (and neighbourhood noises drove me nuts). Even the smallest change that I made had to be carried out through the entire storyline, so it’s like doing a 300+ page word puzzle. Anything that pulled my mind away from the process was hard to manage. I wish I had a sound proof room for that stage of the game.
AFM: For you, is blogging helpful for ‘proper’ writing or a distraction?
AL: Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are so helpful. I don’t have coworkers in the traditional sense. There’s no one to chat with in the break room. Being able to have a sense of community and a way to reach out to people on a daily basis while I’m working by myself is amazing. Of course it’s easy to procrastinate and get sucked in to spending too much time in the wrong direction, so I have to be disciplined about how I spend my time. But I think the chance to connect with people like you and the other Greenists and bloggers I’ve been following for years, adds so much to my life, and I really appreciate that connection.
AFM: One piece of advice for a fledgling author with a book in his or her head?
AL: Get your butt in the chair and start writing. Little deadlines are best. I work with a writing group. The first few drafts of STAY were written at a rate of eight pages a week that were due for my group meetings. That writing rate was a very good pace for me at that stage in the game. It was doable, even with work and other responsibilities that took up a lot of time. And I think that’s a stumbling block for a lot of writers. The blank page is scary and the idea of writing a whole entire book gets overwhelming very quickly. Don’t sit down and expect to write your book in a week. Allow yourself to outline, or write badly, or storyboard, or whatever you need to do to sketch out a first draft. Then go back and edit. Know that you will need to go through many drafts. Know that it will take you time. And make sure you like your characters enough to spend that much time with them.
BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott is an amazing book about the writing process, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to write. I read it several times while I was writing STAY, and found helpful advice at every stage of the process.
After you have a solid, polished draft, start doing research on how to submit work and how the publishing industry works. I found AgentQuery.com particularly helpful. But don’t get ahead of yourself. You can’t submit until you have finished work anyway, so finish something before you clog your head with all that other stuff.
AFM: Who is your favourite living author? Who most inspired your writing style?
AL: Oh wow! Hard question! I have many favoured authors. And one of the coolest things for me about this whole process is the authors who have come through with advice, support, and kind words about my book. They are people I’ve admired for a long time as a reader, and I am in awe of their kindness.
I’ve always loved women’s fiction. From Willa Cather to Claire Cook, I love stories about strong women who are trying to figure out who they are and what choices they need to make in their lives. And I’ve always read those stories voraciously. I also grew up reading any Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and Pat Conroy book I could get my hands on, and I know that sense of story and a love of complex characters influences my work as well.
AFM: And finally, the obvious one: what’s next? Have you started working on your second book? Any hints as to what we can expect?
AL: I am working on something new with completely new characters. It’s still in the early stages, so I don’t want to say too much. I’d also love to revisit the characters from STAY some day. Van is one of my favourite imaginary people.
Allie Larkin’s debut novel STAY is out Thursday and available at a bookstore near you, or from Amazon.
Belly was Throwing Muse Tanya Donelly’s brief solo project in the early 90’s. I had almost completely forgotten about Belly until stumbling on “Star” while browsing through eMusic a wee while back. Listening to”Star” after more than a decade was good fun. It’s not the best album of that period of time, not even the best dreamy girl rock band album of that period of time, but there are a few good tracks on “Star”. This is why I like eMusic, you can find albums that you may not want to pay iTunes or CD prices for, but would be willing to shell out a few bucks for on a whim.