“Isolation isn’t an excuse to give up.” ~~Carolyn Howard Johnson
“Be generous to others and it will come back to you.” ~~ B. Lynn Goodwin
“Whenever I try to engineer a story too much, it ends up feeling forced and obvious.” –Eliza Jane Brazier
Note: More interviews coming soon.
Another Project, Another Dream
An interview with Eliza Jane Brazier by B. Lynn Goodwin
Ready to read a scary book with a narrator who’s slightly off center? Eliza Jane Brazier’s If I Disappear is the book for you. The daring and off-kilter world of Sera will grab and hold you as it twists and turns through missing people, a rough working environment, and the bad reputation of those who run the ranch where podcaster Rachel lived. Rachel’s podcast about women who disappear has caught Sera’s fancy and she is determined to follow all leads.
Single women who disappear are popular in TV crime dramas. In real life many are never found and some are never even missed. How does that happen and why don’t families look for them? Reality and paranoia blend in this story of an obsessed and isolated woman seeking the best friend she has never met. Readers may wonder if Sera’s story is as skewed as her life or if there’s more on the ranch than she can see.
They may wonder what is true in Rachel’s world and what’s a fabrication. They may even look at isolation in a brand new way and connect with others to protect their own mental health. If you like disquieting and/or unconventional stories, this is for you.
Still unsure? Here’s a chance to virtually meet the author through our e-mail interview. Dive into her approach to writing and her wise advice.
BLG: Tell us about your writing journey. When did you decide you wanted to write and what did you do to turn yourself into a writer?
EJB: I have always been a voracious reader and created stories in my head. But when I was probably 12 or so, I decided it was time to pursue publication—or at least, fame. So, I wrote a super dark book about a boy who was basically bullied to death. I was convinced it was a meaningful, moving story. I found a random Hollywood address online (I assumed, of course, that ‘Hollywood’ was all one place where all the moviemakers hung out, waiting for 12-year-olds to send their works of genius). I sent my story to this random address via UPS. I then said to my late friend Hortensia, “I can’t give you details yet, but my life is about to change!” Then I waited.
About a month later, whomever received this very dark and disturbing work of fiction was kind enough to send it back. Of course, I took that as a grievous, personal rejection and gave up on writing for about twenty years.
All joking aside, publishing just felt so inaccessible. But the rise of Twitter and sites like this one changed that. Suddenly, I could research and learn what I had to do to *actually* become a writer. So, I dedicated all my free time to learning everything I could and getting better. I found the correct addresses. And eventually I broke through.
BLG: Where were you published before you began this book?
EJB: I have actually written YA books under my late husband’s name, Eliza Wass. I also worked as a journalist in the UK. My favorite piece was an interview with actor Regé-Jean Page. It was in 2016 and we discussed the limited roles for black actors. He was committed to changing that. He literally said, “We need stories of the powerful, glamourous black nobility of Europe.” Four years later, he is playing the Duke of Hastings—the lead role—in Bridgerton. Literally, glamourous, black nobility. He made that happen. He was so inspiring.
BLG: If I Disappear has a wonderful narrator. How did you discover and develop these characters?
EJB: When I started writing If I Disappear, I had recently lost my husband and moved back to America after living in London for nearly a decade. I was totally alone in a country I barely remembered. I was single again but older. I put into Sera all the anxieties of being a single woman in the America today—am I ugly? Am I weird? Am I crazy? Where do I fit? Do I even deserve to exist? Basically, I spent too much time on Tinder and Sera was born.
BLG: I am so sorry for your loss, but I’ll bet your husband would be proud of what came out of it. The plot twists and turns in unexpected ways—maybe because it is filtered through the mind of this narrator. Did you figure it out first or discover the twists as you went along?
EJB: With If I Disappear, I definitely just wrote with my eyes closed and my fingers crossed. I rewrote the second half of the novel three or four times with different villains, so I think that may have helped muddy the waters. It certainly confused me!
BLG: How do you keep readers guessing?
EJB: I think honestly, I try not to overthink things. Whenever I try to engineer a story too much, it ends up feeling forced and obvious. So, I’ll just let my imagination and impulse collide and write whatever. The more I try to be unique, the more I sound like everyone else. We are all naturally so different, I think the more we allow ourselves to just be weird, the fresher we become.
BLG: What do you look for when you edit?
EJB: Whether anything makes sense. Usually, I write fast so by the time I’m done, I don’t know if I have something reasonable or just a pile of nonsense. The most important part is probably taking time away so I can return with a fresh, more objective view.
After time away, and this is huge: everything is on the table. I have made many stories worse by clinging to a good thing in a bad book. Many times, it is your favorite scene or even a favorite line that stops your book from working. I try to be totally ruthless and kill my darlings all day long.
BLG: How did you find your agent and what tips do you have for fiction writers seeking an agent?
EJB: Once I had finished a draft of If I Disappear with the right villain, I kind of just gave up and sent it out. I was working seven days a week at that time, running horse camps, and I just got to the point where I was like “I can’t keep doing this.” Then, of course, the universe jumped in with my dream agent, who said, “Let’s do three rounds of edits in two weeks, then send it out!” But of course, it was a pleasure and totally worth it. Once you have someone who believes in you, everything changes. It’s my favorite part of writing: the feeling that I am part of a team, fighting this battle toward publication together.
My advice for getting an agent is to learn everything you possibly can about the business side of publishing—you’ve come to the right place, keep reading Writer Advice! Be professional and respectful and understand it will take many, many books to get to the point of representation and maybe even more to get published. Commit to getting better with each book, and eventually you will be the best you there is. Your story is special and deserves to be heard. You can do it.
BLG: Thank you for your kind words about Writer Advice. How are you overcoming the challenges of promoting your book in the time of COVID?
EJB: I am so fortunate to have a great team at Berkley who have set up live events with Vroman’s Bookstore in LA, Murder by the Book in Houston and Books Inc in San Francisco. Details of these events are available through the bookstores or feel free to reach out to me directly on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram). I would love to have you there.
BLG: What are you working on now and where can we learn more about you?
EJB: I am currently writing the pilot script of a television show based on If I Disappear. So, I guess my promise to Hortensia did come true, I reached Hollywood—it just took a little longer than I thought!
I am also doing edits on a brutal-but-fun thriller about horrible rich people. I think it’s becoming more and more apparent how immoral wealth is. I wanted to speak to that, and speak to my own experiences living below the poverty line versus my experiences with the uber wealthy. Hopefully it entertains you and makes you think.
And then of course, I’m starting another book, which I will hopefully sell. But if not, there is always another project, another dream. The great thing about writing is that it’s a personal journey you take with yourself. We meet people along the way, we learn from them, we keep climbing. There is always room to grow and something new to learn, and that’s where the joy is—in the journey.
BLG: Congratulations on your book launch and thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. You can learn more about Ms. Brazier at https://elizajanebrazier.blogspot.com
Rita Chapman’s Interview with Writer and Editor B. Lynn Goodwin
Originally posted on Ms. Chapman’s website, http://www.ritaleechapman.com.
An inteview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson by B. Lynn Goodwin
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series for writers. She’s taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally series have won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books, and the coveted Irwin award among others.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s prestigious Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing and Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen.” Her website is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.
I am not sure how she and I met, but we’ve supported each other’s work for at least fifteen years—maybe longer. She’s skilled, talented, and hard-working, which is a winning combination. She was a winner in one of the Writer Advice’s Scintillating Starts Contest, which is judged by the previous years winners, and as far as I can tell, she’s never strayed from her course of helping authors and doing the next right thing.
BLG: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how it led you to write The Frugal Book Promoter.
CHJ: Lynn, several careers prepared me for promoting my own books and those of others. I was the youngest person ever hired as a staff writer for the The Salt Lake Tribune—“A Great Pulitzer Prize Winning Newspaper”—where I wrote features for what was then called the society page and a column under the name of Debra Paige. That gave me insight into the needs of editors, the very people authors must work with to get free ink. Being familiar with the way news is handled helps me see how different books fit into different news cycles.
Later, in New York, I was editorial assistant at Good Housekeeping Magazine. I handled accounts for fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert who instituted the first Ten Best Dressed List. There I moved from reading effective media releases (then called press releases) to writing them for celebrity designers of the day including Christian Dior and producing photo shoots for clients.
I also worked as columnist, reviewer, and staff writer for the Pasadena Star-News, Home Décor Buyer, the Glendale News-Press (an affiliate of the LA Times), Myshelf.com, and others, and I learned marketing skills both in college (University of Utah, and University of Southern California) and as founder and operator of a chain of retail stores. When I wrote my first novel, I realized that my whole life had contributed in one way or another to helping other authors do the platform-building that we must do this new millennium—things that are very different from what the publishing industry required of them before that.
BLG: That’s an amazing background. You’ve picked an excellent title. How important are titles in selling books?
CHJ: It is more important than ever before. And that includes subtitles for nonfiction. The web practically operates on the concept of keywords. That’s why subtitles have gotten longer in the last couple decades. But a title is just as important for fiction. In a well-titled book of fiction, readers can usually sense the genre by the title alone. Of course, covers and the artwork (and graphics!) are important, too. And the more the author knows about that, the more control she has over the future of her own books. That may be a topic I will cover in a next book.
BLG: You’re in your fourth publishing, right? What makes this book so successful?
CHJ: “The Frugal Book Promoter” is in its third edition. Bookbaby called it a “classic” and offered it as a free download. It cracked all records for them. They gave away more than 37,000 ebooks! Now it is published traditionally (Modern History Press, and it is reaching an even wider audience. MHP is publishing all the books in my #HowToDoItFrugally series in their 2nd, 3rd, (or first!) editions.
BLG: How has marketing changed since COVID? Any recommendations for having a successful launch in 2020 or 2021?
CHJ: Well, it’s obviously more online stuff. And it’s more online-INSTEAD of. I just did a Zoom and Power Point writer’s conference keynote for UPPAA (Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association) in Michigan. I really missed a live audience, but I liked it so well, I watched some of the other presentations on YouTube at my leisure later on. By leisure, I mean “in my isolation.” Ahem!
Not only that, but many writer’s conferences aren’t charging for their zoom conferences, thus presenters reach incrementally more people than they could have in person because, I think it is fair to say most conferences record presentations and sell them after the conference. This conference was scheduled for spring in the upper peninsula and ended up on Zoom in September. It now shares my presentation at http://tinyurl.com/frugal2020 on YouTube! Please like and comment while you are there! Better, comment with an additional tip or question and use the signature I urge you to use before you click on “post!”
Here’s the thing. Isolation isn’t an excuse to give up. The web has always been a boon for writers wiling to learn enough to do their book marketing there. We can reach such a huge audience so much faster than any other medium, including TV. To prove my point, there is a chapter on ways to reach millions the stay-at-home way in my “The Frugal Book Promoter” and its first edition came out in 2004! It is now in its third edition from Modern History Press at https://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromoIII.
BLG: How does a good writer find a balance between writing and marketing?
CHJ: I don’t know that anyone ever does. We are all critical of ourselves. Our expectations get in the way. The most we can hope for is to get comfortable with the idea that we aren’t alone.
BLG: What is your favorite—or one of your favorite—passages in The Frugal Book Promoter? And why?
CHJ: “Oh, to remember all those who have been instrumental in the birth of a book! Once, at a writer’s seminar, I overheard a well known author deride writers who include many thank-yous to mentors and helpmates in their acknowledgements. He thought the process a ridiculous name-dropping tradition. He is a wonderful writer, but he must have an inflated opinion of his own abilities if he believes he writes book by himself…”
I love this excerpt from my acknowledgement because I know it has affected at least a few of my readers, including one publisher who mentioned it in a blurb she wrote for me.
BLG: Classic! What are some of the things you do to help authors?
CHJ: My favorites are, of course, my books. I often think how much better it would be for my readers if they read them before they spent a lot of money unnecessarily and then got discouraged from pursuing a writing career. But I also like one of my blogs, The New Book Review. I started it to help authors who often have trouble getting their first reviews. It’s at https://TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com. There are Google “pages” at the top of the homepage that will explain all the free services it offers. Or your readers can get my book on “How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically” where I give them everything (truly!) they need to get—and use—credible, free reviews. It even gives authors what they need to manage their reader reviews at Amazon. And it includes more information on how The New Book Review works. It’s like a two-fer available at https://bit.ly/GreatBkReviews.
BLG: What’s your best tip for being a good literary citizen?
CLH: Is the obvious okay? Respond to email and blog and website comments. And write thank you notes. A little less obvious apparently because few do it: When you respond online, sign your message. You wouldn’t think of sending a letter without signing it, right? Better still, install an autosignature. You will be doing your correspondents the courtesy of making it easy for them to add you to their contact lists, quote from your email and figure out how to credit you. It usually should have your most important metadata in it.
BLG: What else would you like writers to know and where can they learn more about you?
CHJ: This makes me laugh because it is sooo related to your question above and it’s perfect for the end of your interview!. So here is my most recent email signature with what I would like “writers to know and where they can learn more” about me. Obviously it makes it easy for people to learn anything else they would like to know EASILY! And it was frugal. No special signature services. Do-it-myself iPhone photo. Use the email feature that probably comes with your email account. And don’t be afraid to do your own thing or to change it out as new things come up in your life.
Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers, 2nd Edition
Released on 9/1 and now available on Amazon as ebook, hard cover, or paperback: https://bit.ly/LastMinuteEditsII
Published by Modern History Press
Amazon Profile: http://bit.ly/CarolynsAmznProfile