Sometimes, uprooting the thorn-filled past is the only way we bloom.
Author interview with Rachel ~
Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.
The Blue Iris was born from a personal crisis. A rare benign orbital tumour, successfully removed years ago, resurfaced out of the blue (at less than one percent odds). Suddenly my writing dream felt very now-or-never.
I put my corporate career on hold and enrolled in creative writing classes, thinking if nothing else it would distract from the “what ifs.” I planned to work on a collection of essays, maybe some poetry—a novel was nowhere on the horizon! But writing fiction was magic. It was like hypnosis. I kept at it every day and night; I never wanted to work on anything else.
Months later, I learned the tumour had stabilized--in fact, it appeared to be shrinking. The Blue Iris stopped feeling like a decision; no matter how many rewrites, revisions or queries it took, I was never turning my back on the thing that had given me so much.
Is there anything major that changed in this novel from when you first plotted it out?
Oh, just, you know, minor things like . . . an entire main arc and the climax scene!
My developmental editor flagged that neither were working at all. I remember feeling completely defeated; deep down, I knew she was right, but tackling it seemed impossible.
Someone told me not to attempt any changes right away, but to give it a few days--ideally a week. That advice was GOLD. Sure enough, the longer I sat with it, the more time I spent walking outside, the clearer the path through the changes became.
What was the original title of this book?
The Blue Iris had THREE titles before this one! Originally, it was called All Ways Will, because the book revolved mainly around Tessa and Will’s arc. As rewrites progressed, the secondary characters grew more central, so it no longer fit.
Then it was Deeply Rooted Lies, because everyone is carrying their own stubborn secrets, then Deeply Rooted Goodbyes, because the characters learn to let go of their past traumas. I liked both, but they didn’t match the book’s tone (which is much more uplifting than either suggests).
When I stood back, I realized that as the drafts had evolved, the flower market became the piece tying everything together. It was the heartbeat of the whole thing. Aha moment! The Blue Iris was the obvious choice, and it’s the sort of title that takes on new layers as the story progresses, too, which I always enjoy as a reader.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting this book published?
That road was so bumpy, I’m not sure those bruises will ever heal!
It was a six-year process from start to finish. I queried it over 150 times (an estimate, because I’d stopped counting after 100), pausing in between to rework and reassess.
The pitch and opening chapter were the biggest problems, I knew that. But I’d revised both to death, and for the life of me, couldn’t figure out how to fix them. I just kept making them worse! I reached a point where I felt good about the rest, but of course, it didn’t matter; if those first pages aren’t on point, you’ve lost your chance. Nobody is reading past them.
At the urging of my writer friends, I ended up workshopping both the pitch and the opening chapter through the WFWA, which allowed me to test out different versions with a broad set of fresh eyes. Finally, I was able to break out of the revision rut! Next time out with the submission package, I had much more traction.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?
I wouldn’t start each editing pass at the beginning--you lose more and more objectivity each time!
I wouldn’t spend so much time on line edits and polishing (for me, the most fun part) until I was sure the bones were solid--a ton of well-polished scenes ended up being slashed and cut!
Above all, I’d put myself out there earlier with fellow writers. I’m very shy at first, and I had this idea that writing should be a solitary venture, anyway. Just me and the page. But that got really lonely after awhile, and I was second-guessing myself in circles. Finding my tribe of writers changed everything–I learned from them, listened to their stories and discovered that everything I’d been experiencing was a normal part of the journey, and that was immensely encouraging.
Starting out, I didn’t know just how much I didn’t yet know; I’d have saved years of time and energy had I made those connections sooner. The people of the WFWA were so willing to share their insights and lessons learned, and so encouraging at every step. It brings me great satisfaction now when I can do the same. I always tell writers, find your people! No, seriously, do it now! Yes, writing is a solo activity, and putting yourself out there when you’re new at it is SO scary. But we’ve all been there, and it’s infinitely easier (and a lot more fun) when we’re all in it together.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Be obsessed with your characters and ruthless about doing them justice. Obsessed and ruthless carry this negative connotation, but in this context they shouldn’t. The road to publication is so arduous, the revisions and rejections so exhaustive, that I really do believe some degree of both are necessary to keep at it.
Be in love with your book, because you’re going to spend WAY more time inside of it than you can possibly imagine. Write the story that keeps you up at night and kicks you out of bed in the morning. The one you cannot get out of your head no matter how hard you try.
Then, keep doing whatever it takes–whether that’s restructuring the whole thing, or rewriting an arc or a character (or five!). Life will tell you there are more worthy priorities. The world will tell you to move on, and try something else. But when you’re in love with your book and obsessed with its characters, you’ll find that ruthlessness you need to see it through. And once you’re in that headspace, there’s just no way you won’t get there eventually.
To connect with Rachel ~
Facebook: Rachel Stone