Welcome to another very special installment of Virtual Napkins. This week, we will be chatting with author Gina West whose novel, The Long Way Home, has just been released by Pandamoon Publishing. I met Gina about a year ago when she was running a flash-fiction contest on her blog. One of my stories won second-prize in one of those contests. I’ve kept up with Gina and her journey to publication over the last several months, and it is a very interesting story that I’ve invited her to share with us.
GW: Craaaazy busy! I’ve got way too many irons in the fire right now, but much of it is with an eye toward the future, so it’s worth it. I’m hoping it’ll settle some now that the book is out.
SW: Speaking of which, you’re here promoting the release of that novel. It’s called The Long Way Home. Why don’t you tell us a little about that?
GW: The Long Way Home is about a 42-year-old woman named Twilah who lives in Los Angeles and has a snazzy job in the advertising industry, until one day, all in the same day, she finds out that her father is dead AND her fiance has been cheating on her with her best friend. She almost welcomes the return to her tiny hometown in North Carolina to tidy up her father’s affairs. However, when sets foot on her father’s once-thriving horse ranch, it threatens to draw her in. Then she meets Aidan Perry, a sexy cowboy, who complicates everything. Will she stay and get the ranch up and running or sell it and return to her broken life in California? You’ll have to read it to find out.
SW: A sexy cowboy? Confession: I haven’t REALLY been looking for sexy cowboy books, so I don’t know how popular they are. Did you come across that kind of love interest often while you were reading and preparing to write this character?
GW: Sexy cowboys are quite common in romance novels, actually.
SW: That’s obviously a huge oversight in my research for this interview. I will be sure to read more sexy cowboy books…especially The Long Way Home! Moving ahead, discussions of genre and labeling fascinate me. Can you talk a little bit about the Romance label? Is it something that you knew you were writing all along? How did you know?
GW: I love reading romance novels, so it didn’t surprise me that that’s what I ended up writing. However, this book didn’t start out that way.
This novel was borne from my own complicated relationship with my father. Just before I began writing it, I found out that my father had been diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma. He owned quite a bit of land, and I found myself wondering if I wanted to inherit it. I should say here that I knew I wouldn’t inherit the land. It went to my stepmother who cared for him every day of his long illness, just as it should have. My thoughts about the land had everything to do with “home” for me. Where is home? Why? Is the house I grew up in still home? Is that home representative of my father more so than me? These were the questions I was asking myself. So, I created a character that was around my age, handed her my dilemma, and let her run with it. 130,000 words later, and Twilah had taken on a life of her own.
In the initial draft, there was a lot more introspection about their relationship. She discovered things about him that healed her turbulent past, but after writing a few chapters, it morphed into a romance. I ultimately cut out a lot of her internal journey because the depth didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book, but there’s still quite a bit of it in there.
The title comes from her search (and mine) for home.
SW: These questions of “home” are really interesting. I did my graduate thesis on nomads and how they create a sense of Self without the benefit of a place called home. But I also like this idea very much. Sometimes it’s hard to define home, and because of that, it can be hard to define who we are. You’re an author who has moved around–you lived in North Carolina and then you went out west (Colorado?). What has that transition been like? Are you a Rockie Mountain girl now?
GW: I grew up in the same house all my life, went to the school with the same people, and my neighbors were my dad’s family. I can’t fully express how ready I was to get out of there, but I was afraid to do it on my own. I’m a big fan of security and creature comforts.
Then I married a Navy man! We’re divorced now, but in the span of ten years, I got to live in Pensacola, Florida; Honolulu, Hawaii; San Diego, California; and now Denver, Colorado. I loved moving around. I really did. And so I can relate to the nomads you mentioned. My home went from being one town to being the four walls that housed my stuff, wherever those walls might be, and I became adept at settling in on short notice. That said, there is a part of me that will forever be a Southern girl.
SW: I’ve read elsewhere about push-back from your publisher on length. At one point you were debating cutting a lot of this story or dividing this story into a series of books. Where did you finally land on that decision? And how did you make the call?
GW: Initially, I agreed to split the story into two parts. There are two main characters with full, complete stories, but there are several ancillary characters as well, each with his or her own small story arcs. I just didn’t want to pare down the world I’d created.
But I had serious concerns about annoying my readers who would have to buy two books to get one story. And I really didn’t want to market two books.
Eventually my worries got the best of me, and I had a long chat with my editor. We decided that if I could cut some words, he would adjust the formatting, and we could condense it into one paperback. He enlisted Pandamoon’s substantive editor, who noted quite a few places where I could cut words without losing much story. She even suggested eliminating altogether my least developed character.
In the end, I took most of her advice. I made some really difficult decisions, but I ultimately managed to cut over 28k words, and, in all honesty, I think the story is better for it.
During this process, I realized what a wonderful thing I had in Pandamoon. They are a small but growing press that is willing to work with its authors. Few editors would have bothered having this discussion with me, but mine did, and I even got extra help when I needed it. There is a lot to be said for that.
SW: As a bit of a follow-up, how does it feel when you start sharing your art with someone and they just want to hack it up? Certainly they know best, but I imagine I would find that initial “King Solomon says cut the baby in half” judgment to be a bit traumatic. How did you feel?
GW: As a fellow author once said, “writing is an art, but publishing is a business.” It’s expensive for publishers to produce thick paperbacks. Plus, in order to recoup the cost, they have to charge more for the book. Readers don’t want to pay a lot for a paperback by an unknown writer, and I don’t blame them. So shorter is cheaper and better.
I didn’t necessarily like it, but I understood it completely.
On the plus side, the books I write from here on out can be much shorter. Somehow that lessens the pressure.
I want to thank Gina for stopping by the blog and spending some time talking to us about her book. You can find Gina all over the internet–on Twitter, Facebook, and her personal website. Also, check out Gina’s book, The Long Way Home.