Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Traci Borum, author of "Painting the Moon"

Today we're pleased to feature our KBoards interview with Traci Borum, author of the newly-released novel Painting the Moon.

This book is really worth adding to your reading list! As one reviewer said, this novel will "break and mend your heart over and over." Here's the book's blurb:

When Noelle Cooke inherits a quaint English cottage and an art gallery from her famous Aunt Joy, she welcomes a departure from her San Diego routine. But the lure of the Cotswolds, combined with a locked cottage room and a revealing journal, entice her to stay and discover more, including a way to save the gallery from financial ruin. And that means remaining in England.

When her childhood sweetheart, Adam Spencer, begins work on a restoration project in Noelle’s village, their friendship blossoms. But as her feelings for Adam deepen, she struggles with memories of what might have been and yearns for a future once thought lost. Faced with a life-altering revelation Aunt Joy took to her grave and a wrenching choice regarding the man she loves, Noelle could lose far more than her heart.


The blog tour for Painting the Moon is underway now -- and you can enter for prizes with the form at the bottom of this post. Now, on to our conversation with Traci!

Welcome, and congratulations on your book! In a few words, how would you describe your novel for our readers?

Thanks for having me! PAINTING THE MOON is about first love, second chances, old family secrets, a famous reclusive artist, and the charms of an English village.

Painting the Moon is based in the English countryside, which you describe in loving and vivid prose. With your main character, Noelle, being an American, we readers get to view and appreciate the setting from her eyes. Have you ever lived in or traveled through that area? What inspired the setting for you?

When I was seventeen, my grandmother took me on a three-week tour of the British Isles and I fell in love with everything—the castles and cathedrals, the patchwork countryside, the weather, the culture, the accents. I was captivated by the rich history everywhere we went. By seventeen, I had already studied and adored Shakespeare and Jane Austen, so visiting where they lived and grew up only magnified the experience for me.

Interesting! The story revolves around Noelle's dealing with her great-aunt's estate. It's a rich premise for a story filled with layers of secrets and very personal discoveries. How did you come up with that scenario for the novel?

The mysteries and suspense elements didn’t actually occur until later revisions. The seeds were always there, but they blossomed in future edits. My initial brainstorming focused more on the love story, and on England as a setting for the main character to rediscover her roots. Later, the idea came, to add some suspense. I liked the idea of buried secrets and mystery journals, peeling back the layers, making discoveries. That was interesting to me, as a writer, so I hoped it would be interesting to readers, too.

Many reviewers have commented on how your main characters have resonated with them. How do you go about creating "real" people on your pages?

Neat question! This sounds odd, but I find myself playing a role when I write, like an actor. I try to put myself inside the characters’ skin, seeing what they see, experiencing what they experience as I’m writing a scene. And then based on the personality traits and backgrounds I’ve given a specific character, I have him or her react accordingly. Another trick I use is to always ask myself, “Would/could that happen in real life? Would this reaction be realistic? Is that situation too outlandish?” I’m always trying to watch out for eye-rolling coincidences or clich├ęs that wouldn’t happen in real life to a real person. In the end, my goal is to let the characters and the circumstances ring true. I don’t always achieve it, but that’s always my goal.

Speaking of characters, your secondary players like Jill add a lot to the story even though their screen time is limited. Tell us about your approach with writing in these supporting roles.

I approach supporting characters by seeing them as important. They shouldn’t be disposable characters. In fact, I’ve cut supporting roles in past stories, either because they were too boring or they didn’t add anything to the main storyline. So, for me, a good supporting character has to have a significant role in some way, even though it’s a small role. Perhaps their function is to give the protagonist a sounding board, or to be that voice of reason, or even to become a catalyst for a specific part of the main plot. As long as the minor characters are important in some way, they can be a vital part of the story.

Noelle's love for Adam seems to be an impossible yearning, and charges the story with an intriguing tension. What was your writing technique for creating the chemistry between the two?

I think the yearning stems directly from the “what if” question that a lot of people have in real life, looking back on their own lives. With the perspective of time and distance, people tend to question past decisions—made by themselves, made by others—that have created certain forks in their life’s road. The road not taken becomes more evident. And I think the Noelle/Adam chemistry grew directly from that sometimes-painful “what if” question. Also what’s driving the tension in their relationship is that it’s undefined. As teenagers, they were best friends, but we only get Noelle’s perspective—she had deep feelings for Adam, but never knew if he felt the same. So when they’re adults and reconnect years later, those same questions become the elephant in the room—how did Adam feel about Noelle back then, and how does he feel about her now?

British dialogue is a tricky thing. How did you -- a self-proclaimed Texas girl -- go about creating realistic voices for your English characters?

By binge-watching “Downton Abbey” episodes! Okay, that’s not totally true. But I am a huge fan of British TV and movies and have been watching them for about twenty years. I just love them. And over time, I think the British lingo has started to become easier for me, more natural. Not that I actually use it in my own life (ha, imagine the strange looks I’d be getting from my fellow Texans if I did!). But there were certain things about the British dialogue I already knew when I wrote PAINTING THE MOON. For instance, I already knew what words like “gobsmacked,” “trousers,” “Aga,” and “fortnight” meant, without having to look them up. At the same time, I’m writing for a mostly American audience (I presume) and so I also didn’t want the British dialogue to dominate or weigh down readers who hadn’t gorged themselves on two decades of Masterpiece Theater, like I had. So I tried to create a balance for my British characters and go easy on the uniquely British colloquialisms. To British readers, in fact, the dialogue might even feel a bit watered down.

We're impressed with the volume of reviews that your book has attracted from readers and book bloggers. That says a lot about the book's appeal and its strong writing. What's your secret for attracting reviews for your book?

When the first book came out and only my friends and family knew about it, they were incredibly supportive, and several of them decided to review the book after reading it. But then, through word-of-mouth, others started reviewing the book, people I didn’t personally know. As well, some book review blogs online have been incredibly helpful, agreeing to read and review the book (these are also people I don’t know personally). I also took a chance and approached some “biggie” newspapers and popular specialty internet sites that deal with Britain or art. I’ve had solid responses from those, as well. The thrill for me has been the connections I’ve made—with other writers, book reviewers, bloggers. I really feel like my online “world” has expanded greatly, through the book’s publication and reviews it’s received. I’ve been really amazed by the response, and very grateful.

Speaking of reviews, your novel has been described as "rare and beautifully written," "charming," and "heart-wrenching." Are there any reviews that have surprised you or that stand out for you?

My favorites are the reviews that mention thinking about the characters days later, after finishing the book, wondering what the characters are doing now, wondering what’s happening to them. To me, that’s a nice indication that the book got to their heart, went below surface level. That a connection was made between the reader and those characters. I love that!

In addition to being a novelist, you're a writing teacher. How do you go about bringing out the "author" in your students? Do you think that most people have the potential to create a novel? Or do you have to be born with the gift?

Great questions! I hope that my students sense how much I genuinely love writing. That I’ve loved it all my life. And I hope that it rubs off on them, inspires them as writers. I do approach my freshman writers knowing that many of them either don’t like to write or are a little fearful of it when they first walk into my classroom. And my goal is to help them like it more, and to help them improve. I’m also honest with them. I let them know about my own publishing struggles, and I tell them there’s no such thing as a perfect writer and that, even though I’m a writing teacher, I will never stop learning and growing, never quit studying the craft. And I think that relaxes the students, makes them feel less intimidated by the process. As for whether most people have the potential to create a novel, I’m not actually sure. I think some people believe writing a novel is easier than it really is. They only see the finished product and assume it happened easily. They don’t see the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, struggling, stressing, brainstorming, writing, rewriting. So, in that sense, I think a lot of people want to write novels without realizing the amount of work and dedication involved. Also, I think the desire to write a novel has to start with an honest passion for reading and for writing. If a person doesn’t have those two ingredients, I’m not certain that he/she has a novel in them. And I do think there are some people born with artistic gifts. But I think people can also learn from scratch, if they have enough drive and enough self-discipline and a willingness to learn. Absolutely.

The cover is really memorable, with its pastel colors and idyllic countryside scene. Tell us a bit about how the cover came to be.

I love my cover! I specifically have to thank Michelle Rever and Glendon Haddix for their work on it. I had a few conversations with Michelle, which she took to Glendon and his Streetlight Graphics company. I knew I wanted the cover to reflect England—the coziness of the countryside—and also to reflect the genre—romance, women’s fiction. And I think the cover achieves both of those things brilliantly. Also, I believe it was Michelle and Glendon’s idea to add that big beautiful moon in the left-hand corner—subtle but stunning. When I saw the first cover draft, I was thrilled. The whole cover looked like a painting. Like something I wanted to step inside and live in for a while.

You submitted your book through various agents before it was accepted by a publisher. What encouragement or advice would you give to authors who are trying to get their stories published?

I would encourage them to keep submitting and to keep writing. Both are critical, if you want to get published. When the rejections for PAINTING first came in (a LOT of rejections), I didn’t quit. I started writing Book 2 in the series. And then I revised and submitted PAINTING again. I never stopped trying. And I never stopped writing, either. As with any author, the more you write, the better you get. So as I was biding my time waiting to hear from agents and publishers, I was improving my craft by writing. Another piece of advice I would give is to listen carefully to agents or publishers who offer suggestions. Three different literary agents showed interest in the novel early on and gave suggestions for revisions—a stronger hook, softening the main character, blending the “art” and the “Adam” storylines more closely together. And although these agents didn’t end up offering a contract, I listened to them and revised the story with their suggestions in mind. I truly believe that if I had ignored their expertise, the book wouldn’t be what it is today and it might not have gotten published.

Aunt Joy's painting becomes a touchpoint in the story, a kind of symbolic connection between Noelle and her aunt. We're curious: do you have a background in the arts?

I have no talent for art whatsoever. But I have a strong appreciation for it because I’ve grown up around it. My mother and my grandmother are both artists, beautiful oil painters. They really were born with that natural gift. But they also both went to school and studied art, studied technique. I did not get that particular artistic gift. I can barely draw a stick figure. I think I’ll stick with the “art” of novel-writing.

We'll certainly support that! And speaking of more novel-writing, we understand that there are more books coming up in the Chilton Crosse series. Can you tell us a bit about what to expect?

Yes! This is a “stand alone” series, where each new novel has a different main character, but all the books take place in the same Cotswold village. I envision it almost as a spotlight that shines on Primrose Cottage in one book (and its inhabitants) and then shines on Hideaway Cottage in the next book (and its inhabitants), and so on. All of the minor village characters—Mrs. Pickering, Joe and Lizzie, Frank, Mac—will continue to make appearances in all future books, to keep the series cohesive.

We look forward to those future novels! Thanks so much for talking with us today, Traci! And congratulations on writing such a wonderful novel!

Thank you, Harvey! I had a great time with the interview!

Painting the Moon is available now to download to your Kindle! And be sure to check out the Painting the Moon blog tour celebrating the book's release - for interviews, reviews, and a chance to win SWAG from the book's publisher, Red Adept Publishing.




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