Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Songs from the Ashes by Megan Whitson Lee

Megan Whitson Lee grew up in Tennessee but moved to the Washington, D.C. area as a teenager.  her self-published first novel All That is Right and Holy won second place in the 2009 Christian Choice Book Awards. Today Megan is answering a few questions about her latest book.

1. Welcome to my blog, Megan. Please can you describe Songs from the Ashes in twenty words? 

A story of past wounds, present desires, and the decision between faithfulness, sacrifice and commitment, or desire, lust, and betrayal. 

2. What is your writing process, are you a plotter, or do you start with an idea and see where the story takes you as you write?

I do a little of both. I usually start with an idea—and I might even write out the first chapter or so and see where it goes—then I plot. I keep a spiral notebook in which I outline all the main characters’ traits, their background, their goals and motivations. Every day when I’m finished writing, I outline what plot points I’ll cover in the next day’s writing.

3. You describe Songs from the Ashes as a modern retelling of the classic Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence, exploring the dilemma between the pursuit of dreams and personal happiness versus contentment in God’s plan for marriage and love. Can you tell us your inspiration behind this book?
I’ve always loved “tortured love” stories. Edith Wharton’s novel fascinated me because there was this great passion between these two people, but there was also an immense amount of restraint. That’s not something people are too familiar with nowadays, so the challenge for me was to modernize the story in a way that made sense.  So in my novel, these are people wrestling with a moral dilemma—whether to fulfil commitments and make sacrifices  and work towards a future of lasting happiness, or to throw off all restraint and seek after something temporal that seems more exciting and less binding. I also really wanted to write a story set in my hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee and incorporate a country music “Nashville” element into the book, so it worked well that Ella was involved in the music scene.   

4.  What do you think was the most valuable thing you learnt from your time working as a Literary Assistant in London?

Well, first of all I learned that I LOVE London. I really, really love the UK in general, but at that time—I was twenty-five years old, and London was an exciting, culturally rich city that offered all of the opportunity I was looking for. And I really wanted to make my home in London. I tried a couple of different times to stay. When I first arrived, I was looking for a job in the music industry, but I ended up working as a literary assistant, and through that opportunity, I learned literature, theatre, and writing were my true passions. At Soho Theatre Company, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do—working in a theatre with wonderful people, reading interesting manuscripts, viewing plays I never would have seen otherwise—I was really a part of something I cared about. This experience was instrumental in my subsequent pursuit of a degree in Creative Writing once I returned to the US. 

5.  Your self-published first novel, All that is Right and Holy, won second place in the 2009 Christian Choice Book Awards, which must have been incredibly exciting. Can you tell us a little about it the awards?

Well, at the time the excitement of the award was usurped by the fact that I’d just gotten an agent for the book and had pulled it from the self-publishing company because she was shopping it around to publishing houses. So I won this award, which might have increased sales for me, but no one could buy it because it wasn’t available. And then after two years, we thought we had a publisher interested in taking on the book, but then they decided not to do it. So now it’s available again. The timing on all of that was unfortunate, but I still think it’s a great novel. It deals with the subject of sex trafficking, which is a cause I’m quite passionate about.

6. What was your journey to being a published author?

After things didn’t work out with the first book (in terms of traditional publishing), I went back to the drawing board, and started writing again. A friend I work with submitted her YA novel to a small publishing house and they wanted to publish it, so it occurred to me that I might be able to do this without an agent. After I finished Song from the Ashes, I began aggressively submitting it to smaller publishers that would look at manuscripts without an agent. In February of this past year, eLectio contacted me and wanted to publish it. It was one of the best days of my life!

7.  What’s the most important advice you would give to someone who might be considering writing their own book?
I honestly think determination and perseverance are the most important traits for anyone who wants to be published. I know those terms sound clichéd, but this is not a business where someone can just sit back and dabble at the process. It really needs to be viewed as a second job (if you have a first one) and there needs to be a plan for pursuing the desired outcome. Then you have to ignore rejections and keep pushing forward.

8. What are you working on at the moment?

My current work in progress is a contemporary Gothic novel set in Virginia wine country. The story is narrated by a woman who has lived much of her young life in a cult, and now, newly married to a vineyard owner, she is experiencing all sorts of strange people and phenomena. Terrifying events unfold both inside and outside the house as she discovers her husband’s past with a wife who was involved with witchcraft and strange occult groups, and who mysteriously disappeared four years earlier. It will be a spooky one.

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