Indie Interview: Alice Longaker

Before you read this week’s Indie Interview, I wanted to say thank you for your continued support. I love reading about other writers’ experiences and the hurdles they’ve managed to overcome to get their book published, and your likes and comments and patience is just the icing on a cake that’s already pretty awesome.

This week, Alice Longaker stopped by to talk about her new book WREN.

Hi, Alice. Welcome to Read A Lot.

Thanks for letting me share about my book and writing.

Q: Had you always planned on becoming a published author?

A:  Oh, no. I wanted to be a veterinarian, an archaeologist, and play the banjo; however, my careers were book-related. I majored in history, switched to Elementary Education, and received a master’s degree in Literature.

I worked in libraries for many years before returning to school, so I could teach composition, research, and literature to college students. While I loved reading and “Language Arts” as a child, I was thirty before I heard “the call of stories.” I am a late bloomer.

Q: What inspired you to write WREN ?

A:  Two contrasting situations were most responsible. As a child, I spent summers in the Arkansas Ozarks visiting my grandparents, and the region is dear to me. Long after their deaths, I delighted in residencies at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The scents, and green, and nature of the region is such a contrast to where I live, and there is a forceful impact.

In 2004, I hit a less-idyllic place in my life-I was trying to recover from chemotherapy after a breast cancer diagnosis and surgery. I had pneumonia, I fell and broke my arm, and so on. I packed up belongings and headed to recuperate at a friend’s home.

In spite of my gracious hosts, I was weak, lonely, and felt separated from all that was Alice. It was then that I began the story of a young girl on her own journey to recovery.

Q: What made you choose the genre?

A: The story that grew in my imagination did not fit other genres. It is a simple, straightforward tale. Some gentle twists but not mystery. Some fear but not horror. There is love but not romance. And it needed to be a children’s book.

Q: What is the book about?

A: When her mother is diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer, Wren scraps her own summer plans to go stay with her non-traditional grandparents in the Ozark Mountains.

Told through 13-year-old Wren’s journal entries, she crosses thresholds of womanhood, faces fears, and learns that life “doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.”

The novel is written for an audience of middle-grade girls. Since most days are ordinary, it captures how love, change, and hope can make such days extraordinary. Middle-grade girls often experience emotional highs and lows, and Wren offers some wisdom, opportunities for discussion, and a companion for those times.


Q: Did you find it easiest to write with a schedule or with no time restrictions?

Well, I use both approaches, and neither is easy for me. Even though Wren is a small book, it was many years in the making. When I began, I was working full time, so some of the story built in small pieces. In the past couple of years, I have been able to write full time. I formed an online writing community, and focused on finishing Wren, and that time was more structured. I do have a schedule to my day, write every day, and have several projects going on at the same time.

Q: Can you choose a favourite character?

A: I love them all like family. After trying to see the world through Wren’s eyes for so long, I came to feel her reactions. I adore the grandparents. I am glad for Wren’s friendships. I shudder at Aunt Char.

Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing your book when you wanted to give up?

A: Several times. The first draft was horrible. I could pinpoint what was wrong but had difficulty making the rewrite flow. I deleted the first two drafts–saving only a paragraph or two. I changed the narrator’s point of view three times. I do not see myself as a writer of books, and it is strange and new territory.

Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?

A: For me, the very last stage is proofreading, and I sometimes make more errors in trying to correct something. Like most people, I read what I meant to say rather than what I actually typed. After 13 or 14 drafts, I still found formatting errors, wandering commas, and amusing typos. It helps me to let the manuscript rest for some time–months–and then come back. Of course, various computer programs are helpful and careful editors/readers are essential.

Q: How much of your stories do you plan, or do you find it easier to make them up as you go along?

A: I had a list of events, an outline of plot, a story timeline, as well as character biographies and descriptions. Much of that never made it into the book because it did not contribute to the direction of the story in some way. It was critical that the story was not a memoir, not my story, but that Wren told it. In that way, I was not forceful about the story, but let Wren take over. The book is more character-driven than plot-driven, and I think that made a difference in my approach as well.

Q: Do you have a favourite piece of writing advice?

A: Revision IS writing. And typing pages and page of words is not all there is to writing.

Q: Where can people learn more about your books?

A: They can order print copies of Wren through Black Rose Writing or order eBooks at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If readers live in Northern Colorado, some of the bookstores carry copies as well. Wren has a Facebook page, and my author site on Facebook informs readers about Wren’s news and events.

Q: What have you learned since you started writing?

A:  I have written essays, short stories, plays, song lyrics, poetry, and research papers. Of all the writing I have done, writing for children is most challenging. The language needs to be precise like poetry. It needs to be well-researched like academic writing. There needs to be a child’s sense of naivete and wonder without the jaded views of adulthood. The plot needs to move. The author has a responsibility to scrutinize the writing for anything harmful or inappropriate.

One cannot succumb to laziness or the mentality that it is “just a children’s story.”

As C. S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Q: What’s next for you?

I have several ongoing projects–a collection of short stories, gathering poetry for collections, and always writing fresh blog posts. I am not sure if I have another novel in me-certainly not one that took as long as Wren to write.

Grandma and Grandpa live on an acreage of rural land outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The-not-so-typical grandparents are aging hippies with goats, chickens, and alpacas as companions. Wren finds adventure in excursions to an art museum, local caves, and a Civil War battlefield as well as ordinary days on trails and porches. Happiness comes with finding new friends, increased independence, and acres of woods to explore. She feels a tie to the land Grandpa so loves. Wren tries to discover what she wants to do when she is grown—an archaeologist, or ranger, perhaps a writer or a singer?

Worries collide with joys. Mama loses her hair and undergoes hospitalizations for chemotherapy. Wren’s own unmanageable hair frizzes in the Ozark humidity. Her first pimple and first period arrive without Mama’s calming voice. Without cell phone reception and internet access, Wren feels separated from those back home.

Chiggers bite. Spiders lurk.  Wren’s nemesis Aunt Char returns. Old Tom, the cat, curls up to sleep and never awakens. An owl calls outside of Wren’s window. Do razorback pigs lurk in the woods? Sometimes Wren gets scared, but when she really should be alarmed, she instead befriends a man with cruel intentions. Late summer turns tragic.

Yet even bleak sorrow and loss is no match for family, friendship, and laughter. Arkansas teaches harshly and gently, and Wren learns about womanhood and healing.


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