Interview by Halie Rosenberg
Meet Ernessa T Carter, an awesome writing pad alum and as of June 22, 2010 a published author!! While we wait for our pre-ordered copy of her new book, 32 Candles, to arrive, we asked Ernessa about her book and how she got where she is today.
Halie: Can you give me a brief synopsis of your upcoming book, 32 Candles?
Ernessa: When Davie Jones, an aggressively unpopular girl, growing up in Mississippi, lays eyes on James Farrell, the most popular guy in school, she dreams of having a Sixteen Candles sort of ending with him. It so doesn’t work out that way. She runs away to Los Angeles, recreates herself — only to have James Farrell show up on her doorstep fifteen years later. Much drama ensues.
H- When did you take your first WP class? How did you use WP classes to work on your book?
E- I had just finished the rough draft of 32 CANDLES and was feeling overwhelmed, because I knew it was in need of a huge rewrite. Then one day after a class at Silver Lake Yoga, I saw a sign advertising something called “Finishing School” at Writing Pad, a place that offered “gourmet writing classes.” It felt like a message from God. The class was beyond anything I’d expected. It was so nice to get so much encouragement and feedback. I had been toiling away on 32 CANDLES alone for so long, it just felt fantastic to finally find a community that was saying, “Keep going!”
H- What have you learned at WP that has influenced your work?
E- To keep on writing. The reason that it took me so long to write 32 Candles is
because I kept getting discouraged while writing the rough draft. I wondered who would want to read about about a really nerdy girl with a John Hughes obsession. I wondered if I was putting a lot of hard work into something that wouldn’t sell. WP made writing a lot more fun than that, and it taught me to keep the pen moving no matter what. In fact, that’s one of the things Marilyn told us during the first class, “Just keep your pen moving.”
H-What was the process of getting your work published?
E- Well, I finished that second draft and sent it off to a manuscript editor, Karin Gutuman. Then I rewrote it based on her notes, and sent it to a copy editor, Emily Farrell. Then I declared it finished, and sent it around to 16 agents, happily ending up with Sarah Jane Freymann at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. Sarah Jane sent it around to publishing houses, and we were ecstatic when Dawn Davis (ed. WENCH, KNOWN WORLD, BLACK WATER RISING, ACT LIKE A LADY THINK LIKE A MAN, PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS) from HarperCollins/Amistad made an offer. It took me a little over two years to write 32 CANDLES and a little over four months to get an agent and a book deal.
H-What is your daily writing routine like? Or what was it like when you were writing this book?
E- I’ve gone through a few writing routines. When I was working on the drafts of 32 CANDLES, I had a beyond full time job as a radio writer, so I made myself work on my novel for 20 minutes a day, every day. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish if you give even 20 minutes to your practice every day. I started out writing casually, when I could find time and it took me almost a year to get even halfway through the novel . But after I instituted my 20-minute-a-day rule, I finished the rough draft in no time.
Now that I’m a write-at-home mom, I treat my writing practice like a part-time job, and I write for three hours every weekday. I didn’t automatically start at three hours a day though. First I did 20 minutes a day for a month. Then I did 40 minutes a day for a month. Then I did 80 minutes a day for a month. Then I did two hours a day. And finally I worked my way up to three. Though, I’m still happy on the days that I can only manage two hours.
I have a basement office, and I write on the couch with my feet up. Lately I’ve begun not taking my power cord downstairs, that way I don’t procrastinate with the internet so much, b/c I have to turn off my Airport Wireless in order to conserve enough battery power to get me through three hours. Hey, it works…
H-What is your favorite treat you’ve ever eaten at Writing Pad?
E- It’s a toss up between the salted caramel cupcakes and the macaroni and cheese with truffle oil. But really I wouldn’t kick anything Adel made off my plate.
Ernessa T. Carter blogs weekly at http://www.32candles.com/ and daily at her community blog, http://www.fierceandnerdy.com/. You can pre-order her book here.