Don’t be so stuck on one course of action that you miss crucial opportunities to advance your career.
The Only Constant in Publishing is Change
An Interview with Camille Pagan by B. Lynn Goodwin
Do you ever want out of the drill and tedium of your daily life? I sure did when I was Penelope Ruiz-Kar’s age. The pressure she feels in the opening of I’m Fine and Neither Are You with her fund-raising job, her rowdy kids and her unproductive husband is only the beginning though. When her best friend Jenny goes through an unbelievable crisis, everything shifts, intensifies, and rearranges itself. Or is life only rearranging itself in Penny’s head? Courageously (?) she and her husband, Sanjay make honest suggestions about changes they’d like to see in the other person. No spoiler alerts here, but this is such a strong story of suburban life, wishes for perfection, and being careful what you work for.
Pagan tells this story with a mixture of pathos, humor, and details that make the pages sing. In the interview below she talks about her writing process and the growth of her career as well as giving advice to writers on their own journeys.
BLG: Tell us how you became a novelist and how journalism helped prepare you for it.
CP: I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I realized the books I loved to read were written by another person. Even so, I went into journalism because I love to write and wanted to find a practical way to make that my living. That was a good course of action, as I spent ten years as a health journalist and editor before I sat down to write my first book. (I needed to live a little before writing about life, to be honest.)
Journalism prepared me in so many ways. It taught me that persistence is the only way to get the story right. It taught me to always meet deadlines (even when they’re self-created), and though writing is a one-person endeavor, editing is a collaborative process with the power to strengthen a story in a way that the writer alone can rarely accomplish. In many ways, I think journalism was a necessary prerequisite for my fiction career.
BLG: I love the title. How did you come up with a title that works so well with the story?
CP: For me, my titles greatly influence the tone and even the plot of my books; I usually come up with them after writing the first one to three chapters. My latest was no exception; though the scene in which the protagonist, Penny, tells her husband, “I’m fine—and neither are you,” occurs much later in the book, I thought of it while writing one of their first scenes together.
BLG: In what ways is Penelope like you and how is she different? What advice would you give her at the end of this story?
CP: Well, she’s around my age, has two small children (as I do), and works full time (as I also do). I understand her struggle, but as people, we’re quite different—and that was deliberate on my part. Because I was writing a story that was so close to the circumstances of my life, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t writing something autobiographical. Most of my stories aren’t about people like me, so I don’t usually have to think as hard about writing away from myself.
BLG: In what order did you discover the events and how did you decide what the first scene should be?
CP: It really came to me organically; I wrote a synopsis (as I do for all my books), and then sat down to begin the draft. The first scene was the first scene from the minute I began writing. Other scenes were moved around or compressed or elaborated on, however. For example, the thread about Penelope’s best friend’s daughter, Cecily, became much more prominent during edits.
BLG: How did your editors help you change/revise/polish your work?
CP: I always wish I could write one perfectly good draft, but the truth is, I often don’t realize the true heart of my story until it’s been through at least one thorough edit. I’ve worked with Tiffany Yates Martin on the last five novels I’ve written, and she has a really unique way of helping me deepen my characters and shape the plot in a way that’s ultimately true to the story and who I am as a writer.
BLG: Lake Union is a fairly new imprint from Amazon. What can you tell readers about Lake Union and about being published by Amazon?
CP: New in the greater scheme of publishing, perhaps, but I’ve been with them since 2014. At the time, I’d just recently heard of Lake Union, but the minute I spoke with my editor—who said to me, “Where do you want to take your career?”—I knew that they were right for me. In my experience, they approach publishing very collaboratively. I have input on editorial direction, covers, marketing—the entire process. I think it has made every one of my books much stronger than it would have been.
BLG: What is the best piece of advice you ever got from an editor? From an agent? From a publicist?
CP: Gosh, since you asked me that, of course I can’t think of anything! I will say, when I met with my publishing team in Seattle last year, one member told me I should “give lessons” on being an easy-to-work-with author. I laughed, because I’m not a marketing guru or etiquette expert. Afterward, though, I realized that what this person was praising me for was essentially the skills I use in journalism—meeting deadlines, viewing writing as collaborative, picking up the phone, etc.
BLG: Those are very accessible skills for many people. What can you tell us about getting published in today’s market? What steps do you recommend to those who are new to the business?
CP: I talk to a lot of aspiring writers—and am often struck by the rigidity of their publishing plans. Many say things like, “I have to be published by a big 5 publisher,” or, “I’ll only sell my book for more than $25,000.” To which I say: know your destination, but use the whole map.
The only constant in publishing (like most things) is change. Don’t be so stuck on one course of action that you miss crucial opportunities to advance your career.
BLG: What are you working on now?
CP: I just wrapped up edits on a new novel called This Won’t End Well, which comes out next February. It’s about a cynical scientist who swears off new people after her fiancé takes off to Paris without her—only to get entangled with the amateur detective investigating her glamorous new neighbor.
Author Camille Pagan has flair and insight. Woman’s Worldsays, “An apt and moving look at how the truth makes love stronger.” There are many more positive reviews on Camille Pagan’s website, http://camillepagan.com/books/im-fine-and-neither-are-you/.
This is a heartfelt novel of the unexpected twists and turns that life can take and how the events of another’s life can help us re-evaluate our lives. Learn more at and be sure to get a copy of this book.