Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Post - Author Interview with Michelle Fayard

Picture this: You realize one fateful day that you want to be a writer. And then you realize that you have this awesome idea that really needs to be written and shown to the adoring public. So you write it. But as you're writing, you realize that it's hard! Finding time to write is hard! Getting your idea on paper is hard! Staying focused on it is hard! Getting it ready to be sent out is hard! It's all so hard! What's a writer to do?

Michelle Fayard, the mastermind of Bird’s-eye View and author of The Underground Gift has been kind enough and awesome enough to stop by and talk about her journey as a writer and what it’s been like to conceive of an idea and hold on to it long enough for it to be ready for publication. So let’s give her our undivided attention as she tells us her story.

To begin, how did you come up with the idea for The Underground Gift?  Was it a slow-burning idea or did inspiration hit you suddenly one day?

It was very serendipitous. In July 2006, my husband and I were house hunting in Kansas City, Kansas, when our Realtor, in an apparent non sequitur, turned around from looking up MLSs on her computer to ask, “Did you know coded quilts might have played a role in the Underground Railroad? Now, you said you wanted a two bedroom, one bath, right?”

Umm, no to the first, and yes, to the rest. So with 30 days to kill before closing escrow and way too much time on my hands for once, I headed to the local library to check out a few books on the subject. I was hooked. I was so hooked that when, half a year later, I returned to college to study the art and business of fiction writing, my husband suggested that I use this research as the inspiration for my first book. (Marcelo, you’re my inspiration; thank you!)

Did you go through a lot of rewrites/format changes before you settled on your final product or was it mostly the same as it is now?

I’d love to say I allow myself to sit down at the computer and just write, but that would be so not true. :) As a result, I do a lot of thinking beforehand, so when I start writing, the essence of what I first put down often remains. I got into the habit of writing like this when I was a news journalist.

Having said that, I initially wrote a few chapters from the antagonist’s point of view, so I could better understand why someone like Benjamin Michaelson would take pleasure in being a sadistic slave catcher.

Did you always enjoy writing this book, or were there times when you just wanted to give up and put it away and not see it again? (Warning: Sensitive information/spoiler ahead.)

Writing Gift, for the most part, was a complete mind blow. Could it really be possible for a former journalist, who measures articles in column inches, to write something with tens of thousands of words? In addition to being a bit length phobic, I did go though a very rough time when I knew the next scene I needed to write is the one in which the main protagonist, Josepha, a slave, is gang raped. For 17 months I stopped writing, partly because I realize some readers will be extremely uncomfortable with this historical fact and partly because of having been date raped. Once I allowed myself to write the truth, I finished the remaining 50,000 words in three months.

Were you writing with the intention of publishing, or was publishing something you didn't think about for a while until later?

I’ve always written Gift with publication in mind, as it’s a goal that inspired me to keep on writing. I wasn’t always sure I’d be able to actually write an entire book though.

How did you edit The Underground Gift? Did you do it on your own, or did you make use of resources available online and such?

I am very fortunate to have worked as a writer and editor in my day jobs and to have learned from some incredibly gifted mentors in my 25-year career. I could hear their words of wisdom each time I wrote and tightened an arc.

But I could never have written Gift without what I call my Underground team. In particular, author Elizabeth Varadan provided insightful critiques of my first draft, while author/reader-in-progress Stephen Barnett is the most outstanding content and line editor imaginable.

What have you learned about the querying process during your journey? Are there certain things (wording of query letters, for example) that you've learned work better than others?

I started querying gift this summer, five years to the day our Realtor first planted the book’s seed in my mind. The crazy thing is I’ve tried longer, synopsis-based queries, a three-sentence query, a query that led with the setting and a query that led with the characters, and all have resulted in requests for either a partial or a full.

The takeaway message to me is that while queries always will be tricky beasts to write, we really do have some latitude in how we craft them. Just be sure to have a great story and talk about it briefly and compellingly.

And finally, how excited are you that you're almost ready to be published?

I’m excited, nervous and grateful in almost equal measure. If The Underground Gift could inspire even one person to stand up and make a difference against hate crimes, I will consider this journey a success.

Thank you very much, Marlena, for inviting me to your blog today. Yours is a Top 20 must-visit site, and I’m glad we’ll always be able to say that you were the first person to do an author interview for Gift.

You can find Michelle at Bird's-eye View, on Facebook and on Twitter. Her blog is awesome, so you
should all check it out and give her some much deserved love.

Let's also give some love to:

Elizabeth Vardan's Fourth Wish blog


Stephen Barnett's The Road to Makokota  


  1. What an interesting, useful and insightful peek into the life of another writer. Thanks Marlena and Michelle!

  2. So interesting. Great Q&A! :)

  3. Hi Between The Lines, Kelley! Thanks for stopping by! Isn't Michelle just wonderful? I'm glad you both enjoyed the interview. (:

  4. Marlena, my apologies for being late to the party; this is what happens when you live on the West Coast. :)

    Thank you again for hosting me on your blog for the first-ever Underground Gift interview. I might be the author, but it is the protagonists, Josepha and Reeca, that this journey is really all about. Both truly are the embodiment of the phrase "From adversity comes strength."

  5. @Between the Lines, I am like you in that I enjoy knowing the story behind the story. :)

    @Kelley, I agree; Marlena asks great questions!

  6. this is great gives me hope that anyone who has a gift such as Michelle, can write and publihs their books! great job well done.

  7. @Marlena, thank you very much for giving a shout out to Elizabeth and Steve. Elizabeth has just announced that by the end of this week her book The Fourth Wish will be available on Kindle. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for her subsequent posts, as a giveaway contest might be in the future. And I've just been fortunate enough to read a draft of Steve's next book; what an incredible mind blow it will be!

    @Rebecca, I agree that if we believe in ourselves, everything and anything is possible.

  8. Very interesting to read about the problems with the rape scene. I can relate. I liked learning about how the book came to be, also.

  9. @Sheila, it added a complexity to the situation in that I was given a date rape drug, so I don't know how the act feels, just how you feel afterward. I've been working with another rape survivor, who unfortunately was conscious for the entire act, to help me write this scene. How you handled the potential sexual abuse elements in your new book, The Girl in the Box, was a perfect balance between reality and sensitivity.

  10. Hi Michelle, Hello Marlena.

    It's so powerful. Reading through I got emotional at some points. It was great reading how the Gift came into existence but I can also relate to why you stopped writing there for a bit, I'm proud that you finally managed to get those words out on paper. Must have felt so good.

    Marlena, thanks for letting us meet the person behind the writer.

  11. This was a wonderful interview, Marlena. Thank you for interviewing Michelle. I have always admired her writing and always thought the story was a compelling one that needed to be told. But I'm more impressed than ever seeing how the book evolved. Yes, I can imagine that would be a difficult scene to write. I read a similar scene once and literally felt pain reading it. And yet it is so important to bring the realities like these to the surface for the reader, so that hate crimes and abuse are not just phrases that belong to some unkown stranger. I'm cheering for this book!

    By the way, thanks for the shout out, Michelle, and thanks for passing it on, Marlena.

  12. I'm in awe that you could write a gang rape into your novel with enough sensibilities that you don't lose your reader. This is extremely controversial and also brave. I'm going to have to examine this book for myself because I'm curious at how to handle something of this magnitude.

  13. Hi everyone! Im sorry I havent been around all day (and apparently the quotation key on this computer is broken, great), but responsibilities took over for a little bit. But Im here now! (Without a quote key.)

    Rebecca: I cant wait to see The Underground Gift in print. Itll be so awesome when that happens.

    Sheila: Thanks for stopping by! And Im so sorry that you too had to experience something so horrific. Im waiting on pins and needles to read The Girl in the Box.

    Nas: Id like to thank Michelle too for coming by and answering all of my questions so wonderfully. I love her honestly and determination, and Im glad she resonated with you as well.

    Elizabeth: Thanks! And no problem. Im always happy to help. I too found it interesting to read how The Underground Gift matured into what it is now and think that its and Michelles journey are both inspirational.

    Michael: I agree. Its a very risky move, but a very true one as well.

    And finally, thank you again Michelle for stopping by and for taking the time to respond to comments! We all love having you here and hope that youll come by again some time!

  14. I love reading about the writer's journey, especially about a nice person like Michelle. It will be terrific to see Gift in print -- soon I hope. Thanks for the great interview.

  15. Hi Michelle,

    Great to "meet" you! The inspiration behind "The Underground Gift" is an inspiration in itself! Shows that a story gets written in the way it wants to be :)

    Congrats for your release and hoping everyone who reads it, loves the "Gift" !

  16. Hi Rosi, Anju! Michelle is just awesome and so very inspirational, and I wish her the best. And I will definitely be picking up a copy of Gift when it becomes available.

  17. @Nas, now that I understand no one makes it through life without at least a little rain to make the flowers grow, I can put those blustery days into perspective. As long as I can spin something around to its bright side, I'm grateful for the strength that adversity brings.

    @Elizabeth, you must have been peeking over my shoulder this last week. :) I've been putting together a marketing plan for Gift, and some of the special groups I'd like to reach out to include those that are advocates for victims of hate crimes.

    @Michael, I'm glad you instantly got to the heart of the challenges of writing such a scene--do you tell the truth of what really happened to so many slaves, or do you leave it out, knowing not everyone will be comfortable reading this? It's only seven out of 311 pages, but it contains clues that tie in with the book's mystery, which readers will miss if they skip this section. I have the first five chapters of my book posted on my blog, but hopefully I'll have a contract soon, so you can read the rest. (She writes this with crossed fingers!)

  18. @Rosi, I'm like you in that I love to read the story behind the story. :)

    @Ju, it's very nice to "meet" you too! You're so right that a story gets written in the way it wants to be, which in itself it a pretty intense concept.

  19. Thanks for the response Michelle. I'm going to check out your book.

  20. Great interview! Michelle, I think you and that realtor knew each other in a past life. Perhaps during the time of the Underground Railroad? Marlena, I'm happy to see we travel in the same cyber circles!

    Also, Michelle, I appreciate what you said here about queries.

  21. Excellent interview!

    It sounds like an interesting story--I've heard of coded quilts before, but never read anything about them.

    It was great to be able to read about how The Underground Gift was written.

  22. @Katie, it certainly makes you wonder, doesn't it, as my husband, Marcelo, and I both immediately felt comfortable with Nancy, our Realtor. She would have made an outstanding Underground Railroad conductor!

    @The Golden Eagle, although it remains controversial whether quilts were used as signals on the Underground Railroad, as Barbara Brackman wrote in her book Quilts from the Civil War: “Secret signals are by definition not to be published or spoken of. Those who took the Underground Railroad may have chosen not to reveal their secrets, because they feared such persecution might happen again—similar to fears shared by Jewish people that Hitler persecuted.” It certainly is an intriguing and still quite-debated topic.

  23. Hi Katie, thanks for stopping by! And we do. It's a very small world of links and blogs. I'm glad you enjoyed Michelle's interview and found it helpful.

    And Hi, The Golden Eagle! I hadn't heard of them either until I was reading Gift, but they're so interesting and complex that I'm surprised there isn't more written about them.

    Thanks again, Michelle, for dropping by and answering to comments. I hope you had fun!

  24. Inspiration does come from just about anywhere and yes, the idea of a quilt being part of the underground railroad is fascinating.

    Thanks to both of you for an interesting interview.

  25. I love when inspiration comes that way, out of the blue and from left field. The mind just grabs hold and won't let go, doesn't it?


  26. Thanks so much for hosting my friend Michelle, Marlena. I'm very much looking forward to reading this book!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  27. @J.L., the great thing about being a writer is even if something hasn't happened, it could have or it still might ...

    @Tirzah, you're so right that when an idea grabs hold without letting go, you truly do have to let it come to life.

    @Alex, thanks so much for stopping by!

    @Ann, reading your memoir, In the Mirror helped give me the confidence to shop a manuscript that contains intense themes. Thank you!

  28. Hi everyone, sorry I'm late!

    J.L.: Thank you for dropping by! I agree that the quilts are an incredible anecdote int he Underground Railroad's history. I'm glad Michelle is bringing them to life in her novel.

    Alex: It does, doesn't it? Can't wait for it to be out!

    TirzahLaughs: That's the best kind of inspiration!

    Ann: I am too! I loved having Michelle here, and I hope that she comes by again soon! Thanks for the comment!

    Michelle: You're awesome!

  29. Hey, Marlena, you don't have your email linked to your blogger profile, but I wanted to tell you you won Kelley's Giveaway of Glittering Ashes. Congrats!

  30. YAY, congratulations! Email me so I can get my book to you :) writtled(at)gmail(dot)com

  31. And I have an award, so it's like twice the fun. ^^ http://brookerbusse.blogspot.com/2011/08/decapitated-teddies-and-crit-partners.html

  32. Yeah for you, Michelle! Thanks for the interview, Marlena! Michelle, thanks for the awesome advice. I really relate to spending a lot of time thinking and plotting before writing one word. I'm exactly the same way.


Thank you for dropping by!