MV: Tell us about your book.
JE: The Little Red Boat is the story of two friends, Jamie and Angel, who come from a small town in northern Minnesota. Jamie is the star of his high school basketball team with a scholarship to play for a major university. He seems to have a bright future ahead of him. His best friend is a troubled young man with an academic scholarship and a knack for finding problems. He’s hoping a change of scenery will help him move on from a past that he very much wants to forget. They drive cross-country in Jamie’s mint green Impala to the unforgiving city of Los Angeles. When they get there, college life takes over. But before they know it, they find themselves fighting the same demons they did when they were back home, only now the stakes are much higher.
MV: Talk about your writing process.
JE: When a story comes to me, it usually comes to me all in one piece; a tightly wound ball that already contains a beginning, an end, and all things in between, but it’s just a feeling, an idea. The faces are blurry; the details are fuzzy. The writing process for me is when I start to peel away the layers and look inside. When I begin a story, I usually know what the ending is, but I’m not necessarily bound to it. In a way, I feel like I’m telling the story to myself, if that makes sense.
MV: Does writing about something you enjoy, like basketball, make it easier to come back to the desk, or did you have challenges in representing the sport as you wished?
JE: The basketball scenes were actually some of the more challenging scenes to write. I’m a huge sports fan, but basketball has never been one of my favorite sports. I did play some when I was very young. I certainly am familiar enough with the sport that I was comfortable writing about it, but I wouldn’t say that it was a driving force for me by any means. Honestly, the casino scenes felt much more natural.
The most challenging part of writing the basketball scenes was to not make it be all about the basketball. Jamie’s motivations weren’t typical of how you might write a sports scene. There weren’t a lot of “Rah! Rah!” moments. At times, there were. That in itself was a challenge, to balance all of that.
MV: Your book has some wild turns of events. Did you set out to create a thriller or did it evolve with the story?
JE: I don’t think I set out to write a thriller per se, I think a lot of the tension in the story evolved organically. As a matter of fact, the climax of the story actually changed drastically as I was writing it. I think that happens a lot to other writers as well. I’ve read interviews with Stephen King when he talks about how his stories tend to go in different directions. I love when that happens. It makes me feel like I am being more true to the story when the characters get more of a say in what happens.
MV: The mental tension suffered by Jamie, the main character, at times is intense! What informed your writing about the competitive athlete’s mindset?
JE: That’s a great question. I guess I’ve been a sports fan long enough to understand the intensity of it all, but I also work a very stressful job, which can be overwhelming at times. I wonder how much I drew from those experiences and emotions.
MV: What made you decide to self-publish your book?
JE: I think a big part of it was I didn’t want to wait through the process of trying to get published. I knew that no matter what, I would need to promote the book myself anyway, even if a publisher were to pick up my book. There are so many avenues for self-publishing these days.
I still plan on trying to reach out to literary agents at some point, but I really wanted something tangible. I wanted to be able to say, “Hey “¦ I wrote a novel. Don’t believe me? Here it is.”
I know it’s not going to be an easy journey, but the process of promotion will allow me to build my presence; to reach out to people; to let my readers and potential readers get to know me. I’ve started a blog. It’s been a great experience, albeit a scary one at times, letting people see behind the curtain. But definitely a positive experience.
MV: As your editor I was impressed how you really committed to making your revisions immediately, and dove right in. What advice do you have for writers trying to tackle the sometimes daunting task of revising?
JE: Don’t wait. Stay in the moment. I found that making revisions was pretty easy for me because I was still inside the story. I feel if I would have let too much time lapse, I might have slipped out of the make-believe world that I had created. Also, I didn’t view it as a chore. I think that was important. If you trust your editorwhich I think is tremendously importantthe revisions become an exciting endeavor rather than an assignment.
MV: Do you have any other tips or knowledge to share with writers looking to move forward on making their book a reality?
JE: For me, I think about the stories I am working on almost every night before I go to sleep. I don’t think about the words. I used to do that. I found that to be very bad. Whenever I jot down lines that I think are good, they always seem disconnected, contrived. Instead, I find that by thinking about the events, the obstacles the characters face, their reactions, the emotions they feel, the story comes alive. I trust myself to think of the words later, when I’m at the computer. I found that if I could make the story real enough inside my head, I felt almost compelled to finish it.
When you’re finished writing, find a good editor. That is so, so, so important. When I finished writing The Little Red Boat, I felt like I had accomplished something. When it was finished being edited, I felt like I had a book.
MARIE VALENTINE has edited diverse writers, from poets to romance novelists to engineers; her clients are often first-time authors and include mystery authors, Air Force pilots, family historians, and even a self-published congressman. Her experience as a business journalist and small press editor influences her professional work.