Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Author: Colleen Oakes Interview + Giveaway!

Brought to you by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours...

I'd like to welcome chick-lit author, Colleen Oakes, to the blog today to celebrate her debut novel! Welcome to Books à la Mode, Colleen! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?

Colleen Oakes was born in Denver, Colorado to her parents, Ronald and Tricia. She was soon joined by a little sister Cynthia, who she quickly decided was her arch nemesis. When she was in 4th grade at her public elementary school, Colleen told her teacher, Ms. Brown, that she wanted to be a writer. Ms. Brown agreed and began giving her special writing projects. Out of this came the brilliant four page novel, Why I Hate Casey, complete with illustrations. It has yet to be published.

One day, Colleen opened up a document on her computer that she had written long ago, so long ago that she can’t remember exactly when it was for this bio. It was the first chapter of Elly in Bloom, and she decided that it was time to finish the book and begin her career as a novelist. Elly in Bloom debuted in September 2012.

Colleen and her husband, Ryan live in North Denver and are awaiting their first child through adoption. They have two naughty dogs and are pop culture nerds.

What is your new book, Elly in Bloom, about?

Surrounded by lush flowers and neurotic brides, 32-year old Elly Jordan has carved out a sweet little life for herself as the owner of Posies, a boutique wedding florist in St. Louis. It’s not bad for a woman who drove away from her entire life just two years ago when she found her husband entwined with a red-headed artist. Sure, Elly has an embarrassingly beautiful best friend, a terribly behaved sheepdog and a sarcastic assistant who she simply calls “Snarky Teenager”, but overall her days are pleasantly uneventful. As a bonus, her new next door neighbor just happens to be an unnervingly handsome musician who has an eye for curvy Elly.

Just when she feels that she is finally moving on from her past, she discovers that an extravagant wedding contract, one that could change her financial future, is more than she bargained for. With the help of her friends, staff and the occasional well-made sandwich, Elly bravely agrees to take on the event that threatens to merge her painful history with her bright new life, and finds herself blooming in a direction she never imagined.

Elly’s voice, both charming and hilarious, will appeal to those readers who have been looking for a new voice in chick-lit, and will give women of all sizes the plus-size heroine they’ve been waiting for.

How did you arrive at writing chick-lit?

I always wanted to be a writer‚ in fact, in 4th grade I declared to my parents that I was going to write books. Though I’d been blogging for about seven years prior, it wasn’t until 2010 that I really put my passion into practice. It was New Year’s Eve—post-wild-bunco party—and over a glass of wine I confided to one of my best friends that I had started a book called Elly in Bloom in 2007, and that the first chapter was in a drawer somewhere. She looked at me and said “I want to write a book too!” From there on, we met once or twice a week to work on our respective novels. A year later, Elly in Bloom was finished. Her book, Serenade, will be arriving in about two months. Writing is what I should have always been doing, but like any true writer, I dragged my feet—and my pen—for years. As a huge fan of chick-lit, I always knew that my first book would be of that variety. I’d been worshipping Jennifer Weiner for years before I started!

Are there any other genres you’d like to tackle in the future, or any you want to stay away from?

The next book I release will be in the epic fantasy/fairytale retelling genre, and then I will return to the Elly in Bloom series, so I’m versatile!

I would probably stay away from any sort of non-fiction historical series, since I have a shaky grasp of history at best.

What was the spark of inspiration for Elly in Bloom?

When I lived in St. Louis, I worked at an insanely busy florist's. One night, after working late, I was driving home and jamming to some tunes of the radio. An idea came to me as I drove and sang, the wind unattractively tossing my hair in the spring breeze. The idea was simple: What if someone was hired to design their lover’s wedding? How would they express that frustration in floral design? Would they do it? What if the wedding was extremely profitable? Would they turn it down? The idea was intriguing, and as soon as I got home, I sat down at my computer and wrote the opening scene to Elly in Bloom. As per the question above, Elly sadly sat in a drawer for a few years after that. But that was how the plot originally came together. It almost wrote itself.

That premise is an amazing "what if" question that I'm sure you tackle well in the book. I can't wait to read it! Tell us about your journey in self-publishing—the hardships, benefits, and things you picked up along the way.

After I finished Elly in Bloom, I was signed with an agency in New York. I was beyond thrilled. We went out and celebrated, and I assumed that once I had an agent that everything would fall into place. I was wrong. My agent, the one who adored my book, was surprised when publishers told her that while the book was good, that “no one was buying chick-lit.” Then my agent disappeared. She took a leave of absence and her clients were scooped up by the bigger agency. It was obvious that the other agents didn’t have the time or dedication to their huge load of new clients, and so our books just sat around gathering dust. After some soul-searching, I decided to cut my ties with the agency that I was so unhappy with and reclaim my book. They released it to me, and after a year of wasted time, I finally began to pursue publishing it on my own through Amazon. Two months later, it was ready for publication, and it launched on September 1st, 2012. It has done very well, and I’m so satisfied with both my experience with Amazon and how I’ve been able to have the same career that I always dreamed of, only I now hold the reins to my novel—and the lion’s share of the royalties. It’s a great feeling.

Very detailed, very insightful explanation of what could have been—but what ended up better! Self-publishing definitely has its perks. Are the characters from your book based off anyone you know in real life? How much else of your actual life gets written into your novels?

Elly is absolutely an embodiment of my own heart, my own insecurities, and a colorful collage of several extraordinary women in my life. Her struggles with weight, food, and men are very personal to me. She’s not a carbon copy in any sense of the word, but those fears that she overcomes are all something that I, or those I know, have conquered in their own lives. The only other character in the book who comes from someone I know in real life is the character of Kim, who is one of my best friends. I have written her almost directly into the novel, right down to her sea glass eyes. She is pretty much exactly the same, minus the urologist husband.

I like how you put so much of yourself into your writing—it adds an incredible personal touch. No one can write something like you do if you personalize it like that! What do you consider your biggest strengths and weaknesses as an author?

That’s a hard question—it’s like that job interview question where you want to respond “Biggest weakness... I’ve been told that I work TOO hard.

I would say that my biggest strengths are in my characters, descriptions, plot and pacing. I would say that my biggest weaknesses are in editing, getting too lengthy in those said descriptions and that sometimes my characters can feel—and emote—more than they need to.

LOL it was supposed to be toughie, but you answered it perfectly! Brevity is hard when you have so much to pour out in characters' emotions! Name the top five novels that have made the biggest impact on your life or on your writing.
  1. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner. To me, this is the pinnacle of chick-lit, and the first time I read a book for women that featured an actually recognizable woman.
  2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I read it every year, and I’m amazed at how much more deep and disturbing the characters become with each reading. Africa, in that book, is its own ruthless character!
  3. A Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin. He taught me to think on a grand and epic scale.
  4. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Enger taught me that a good book can leave you at once both completely undone and grateful.
  5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger. I realized when I read that particular novel that the best endings aren’t always the happiest ones, and it was executed so perfectly that I was blown away.
The Poisonwood Bible and The Time Traveler's Wife are two of my favorite books as well! I have Good in Bed but haven't gotten around to reading it yet (thanks for the nudge!), have heard SO much about Martin's series, and just added Enger's book to my to-read shelf. They all are marvelous! What's the greatest thing you ever learned?

I really want to say here, “To love and be loved in return!” (Love Moulin Rouge!) But actually, it’s that great love, the greatest love, requires sacrifice. My faith reinforces this for me, and those around me teach me that as well. It’s a lesson I need reminding of constantly.

I can't help but agree. Any type of love requires sacrifice, whether it be spiritual, romantic, or familial. How do you react to negative or harsh reviews?

Not well! Well, not at first anyways.

I was warned by other authors about how terrible your first negative review would feel, and yet it still seemed like a boulder had been dropped on my chest. However, after that first terrible one, I was able to take any negative reviews or handle constructive criticism with a certain begrudging grace. While I might not take each suggestion to my book, I do take and consider each one in my heart. It’s never easy to hear, but criticism ultimately can make you a better writer, and a more introspective reader. It’s an honor that they have taken time to read your book, and as an author, you have to be grateful either way.

Also, a glass of Moscato helps.

I'm glad you are able to recognize criticism as a good thing (in the long-run) but are honest in how you feel about it. Nobody likes it when people thumb down their written babies! Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

Writing the book is the fun part; the hard part begins after you type “The End.” Enjoy the process of writing. Being absorbed in your own world and simultaneously creating and producing is one of the most glorious spots of life.

Now give us your best personal advice—something you wish you had known when you were younger and would offer to your own kids.

All the memories that you treasure in your heart will not include any of the following: watching TV, talking on the phone, sitting in class, surfing the net, or wallowing in self-pity or anger. Memories are made out in the world, with friends and family around you. Memories usually do not find you when you are alone or self-absorbed, as we can all fall so easily into.

That's beautiful, and its truth value is astounding. What’s a question you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer it?

What was your most embarrassing moment?

When I was in college and dove into a blow-up obstacle course tube, and my pants remained on the outside of the tube. Then I was naked, inside essentially a blow-up bouncy castle, and the pants were more than a few bounces away.

LOL!! Ahhhh college. What would you say are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

Discipline. Not in the way you suppose, but in terms of setting goals for yourself and accomplishing them. You can’t have an unrealistic timeline for your books—that will only lead to self-loathing.

Also, having people around you that believe in your talent and career choice. If there are people around you that act like it’s an adorable hobby and pat you on the head, you need some new people to hang around.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?

People either tend to be really interested in your career, or they sort of look at you weird when you say “I’m an author.” You can tell they are thinking in their head Have I heard of you? Are you famous? Should I be excited or edging away from this conversation?

Another occupational hazard of being a writer is that you spend way too much on coffee or caffeinated drinks.

Oh, I know what you mean! Writing as a career choice can either be hit or miss. LOL about the caffeine—I only relate with you because I'm a student ;) What’s the most interesting comment you have ever received about your books?

One person said: “Reading Elly in Bloom was a great push to getting my life back together. My husband cheated on me and I found so much inspiration that she was able to pack up her life and start a new one somewhere else. What I loved about the book was that she still was dealing with those issues later. And I am too, so thank you.” When I got that email, I was walking on clouds for weeks! I never imagined that my little chick-lit book would be able to impact someone in that way.

You never know the magic of books! It must be a great feeling knowing you've been so influential in someone's life—all the power to writers, I say! What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?

I was able to dedicate my first novel to my parents, and that was a lifelong goal of mine that was achieved. When they opened up the proof and saw their names on the first page, they both cried. It was a wonderful moment.

Awww, that's so sweet. I'm sure your parents were proud, and you even prouder, for having accomplished that. What’s next for you?

Fans of Elly in Bloom will be glad to know that I have returned to Wydown Street, and that Elly in Love is about three-fourths finished.

Besides debuting Elly in Bloom, I spent most of my year finishing my first venture into the fantasy genre with an epic book called Queen of Hearts. The book is a fresh twist on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. It’s big, it’s whimsical and it’s a bloody dark fairy tale. It will be released, I hope, at the end of summer.

My husband and I are also in the process of adopting an infant, so we pray there are many more lovely, messy, and tired adventures coming our way soon.

An exciting future ahead of you—I'm so happy for your career and for your family! What is the message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

That it is possible not just to grow in your life, but to bloom. You can bloom everywhere you are planted, even if your entire life is messily uprooted  

Where can you be found on the web?

It was a real treat having you over at the blog today, Colleen! Thank you so much for joining us, and good luck with the rest of the tour.


One lucky reader will win a copy of Elly in Bloom. A huge thanks to Colleen for providing the prize—you're the best, darling! To enter, answer Colleen's question:
What are your favorite summer reads and why? I’m going to Hawaii in June and I need some book recommendations!
Please make it MEANINGFUL—comments consisting of just a book title or "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry!!!!

You don't have to comment to enter the giveaway. Instead, you can opt to follow Colleen or me in some way. Keep track of all your entries through the Rafflecopter form here:
Rules and Disclosure:
Giveaway ends 24 April 2013 at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open internationally! Woohooo! However, only US residents are eligible for a print copy. Everyone outside the US will be entering for a Kindle copy.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their prizes will be forfeited.
Although I do select winners via Rafflecopter (Random.org), I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤ Plus you get extra entries ;)
Good luck!