Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Interview with Deanna Raybourn: In Which She Discusses Balance and Boundaries

Two years ago when I was attending RWA's National Conference in San Francisco, I was lucky enough to receive in my goody bag a copy of a book called Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn. It was just the sort of book that hit all my hot spots; great voice, great characters, dripping with atmosphere and historical detail, and an intriguing plot. I was hooked. Unfortunately, she'd written only one other book, but I inhaled that one immediately and then had to wait impatiently for the third book to come out. She's recently come out with a fourth book, a stand alone gothic, The Dead Travel Fast. Color me happy!

While I was waiting, I stumbled across her blog and was delighted to find that it was every bit as witty and charming as her books. However, the more I got to know her through her blog, the more I began to suspect she was an introvert--a charming one, to be sure, and one with killer social skills, but an introvert, nonetheless. This was confirmed for me when in response to a reader's question, she mentioned how much she loved talking with booksellers and readers, but even with as much as she adored it, she usually had to recharge in her hotel room after that. I was also hugely impressed with the boundaries she'd drawn in her life and how well she balanced all the elements of her writing life. I thought she had a lot of wisdom to share, so I invited her to pay a visit to SVP and share it with all of us!




SVP: You have such a fascinating story of your path to publication, especially the unusual step you took just before you wrote your first published book. Would you share that with our readers?

My agent and I had not had a great deal of success after several years, and she came up with a radical idea: she told me to stop writing for a year and simply read. She pinpointed that I had not yet developed my own voice, and she felt that a year of just reading would help me to figure out what I wanted to say as a writer and how I wanted to say it. So for a year I did precisely as she suggested. I took all of the pressure off and just read—and I only read things I loved. At the end of the year, I looked at the books and started jotting down what they had in common. They were almost all historical, British, dryly funny; they had a touch of romance and were structurally mysteries. And that was the blueprint for the book I needed to write. It took me two more years to write it, but when I was done, my agent said, “This is the one,” and it was. That was Silent in the Grave, the first book in the Lady Julia Grey series.

SVP: You have an incredible, unique voice. Do you think your year’s hiatus is part of what helped you find your voice? If so, in what way?

Absolutely! It was, and will always be, the single most important event in my evolution as a writer. My agent knew it would be terrifying for me, but she also knew that we had to do something drastic if I was ever going to develop a voice of my own. The irony is, my writing voice is very similar to my own thought processes—I just got in my own way when I tried to put it on paper! Learning how to use that authentic voice was the most significant lesson of my writing life.

SVP: You also have an amazing blog voice, very chatty and intimate and entertaining. How did you find that “sweet spot”?

By default! I like to say that my blog is me at about 80%. I don’t swear on the blog—usually--and I am nicer there than in person, simply because I refuse to say anything derogatory about anybody else out in a public forum. In private, I may share that I did not care for a particular book, but I would never post that on the blog for about a dozen reasons, the most important of which is that I think nice matters. So my blog is me, just with company manners! I made the decision very early on just to chatter on the blog as if I were visiting with readers, so people who come to see me at events find that I really am exactly like that.

SVP: How do you balance the needs of an introverted creative process with the extroverted needs of the promotion and marketing required of authors these days?

It takes a great deal of thought and care. The obvious halves of the coin—writing vs. making appearances—do not give me any trouble at all. Those parts of my life are completely separate. I do not write when I travel, and I do not travel when I am writing. It is the more subtle issues that I find myself constantly reassessing and tweaking. There are times when the volume of reader emails gets to be too much or the questions are really repetitive and I have to shift the responsibility to someone else, particularly if I am on a deadline. People will drop a line, say, to ask about the next book—information that I try very hard to make sure is on my website—and that’s fine; it’s just one email. But if that happens thirty times in a week, it gets a little overwhelming to try to answer them all on top of all the other emails and commitments. So if it is a simple query that doesn’t require a personal response, it gets passed along. I also handed off my newsletter to my publicist, so I no longer manage the subscription list. I think the trick is in knowing when something is just about to become too much for me to handle and getting something done about it before it is entirely overwhelming.

SVP: How much time do you spend on writing versus promoting? Do you have any tricks you use to keep the promotional demands from leaking into your creative process?

It varies tremendously because of course promotion kicks into a higher gear around the time of a release. There is always a lull several months after when the interview requests and appearances slow down a bit, and that’s my breathing time and time to write. If I have obligations while I am writing, they always wait until afternoon. I write in the morning, always, and everything else waits for that. I am a morning person, so that is the best time for me to write. If I leave it until afternoon, it is flat and I just have to rewrite it, so it’s simpler to work with my own rhythms instead of fighting them.

SVP: What are your favorite promotional activities? Least favorite?

I do not like to do readings simply because readers can do that for themselves. While I am with them, I would far rather answer whatever questions they have about the books or me or the writing process. I adore Q&A, but I think that puts me in the minority of writers! I am quick on my feet and I love the interaction with readers, so for me it is not at all stressful.

SVP: How do you replenish your creative well? How often?

All the time! I think you have to be extremely protective of your alone time when you have a creative occupation. My editor told me—very early on—that I should never allow the business of being an author to interfere with the business of being a writer, and it is excellent advice. Luckily, I enjoy both roles immensely, and that makes it all a great deal of fun.

SVP: You won the Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA for your first book, quite an achievement! I imagine that would make some things easier, but others harder. Have you found that to be the case? How has it affected your creative process? Your promotional activities?

The only challenging aspect to come out of winning the RITA was that my production schedule was bumped up from twelve months to nine, meaning I suddenly had to step up my pace. It’s a good thing, really, because I don’t like having too much time off between books. Nine months suits me perfectly because just as I am turning in a book, it is time to travel and promote the previous one!

SVP: When did you first realize you were an introvert? A writer?

I am more an introvert in a flamboyant extrovert slipcover! My personality profile results show me as being balanced, which I think is extraordinarily lucky considering that my work demands two very different personas and two very different types of energy. When I need to recharge and replenish, I am alone and creative and contemplative. When I need a rush of energy, I get to make appearances and visit with readers, and that satisfies the other side of me. As far back as I can remember, I have always been that way—needing equal parts company and solitude—and I have always been a storyteller.

SVP: What would other introverts be surprised to know about you?
That I think the best way to get over your own nerves about promotion is to stop thinking about yourself. Before I step up to the microphone for an appearance, I take a minute to remind myself that I am there for the readers, not the other way around. It sounds bizarre to say that I am serving them, but in a way, I am. I am incredibly appreciative to even have readers, and if they are gracious enough to take the time to come and see me, the least I can do is give them my best. So I focus entirely on them, and any anxiety I might have had just melts away.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
I love that last part especially. It's not about us, it's about our readers! It really is surprising how much difference that slight shift in perspective can make.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Deanna! In honor of Deanna's visit today, we are going to be giving away a copy of her newest book, The Dead Travel Fast. To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment and tell us one historical fact about Deanna.

12 comments:

tanita davis said...

Okay, this is a great big SQUEE moment -- Leila (Bookshelves of Doom) got me started on these. Yay that Deanna is a successful Violet!

I love that she read only what she loved for a year -- that is really the secret to opening up the imagination, isn't it?

R.L. LaFevers said...

I know, don't you just love that she did that? It makes me want to try taking a year off, too, just to see what might develop. :-)

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This is a great post! I have not read Deanna Raybourn but it looks like I need to.

Mary Hershey said...

Man, wish I could be in the raffle! I'd love a chance to win her book. :-)

I love the idea of just reading for a year, too, as a means to find one's voice. So often you hear people trying "not* to read others for fear of losing their own voice.

Deanna, thanks so much for all you've shared here and congrats on all your great success!

Mary Hershey

Irene Latham said...

Wow. I love this interview. I love anyone who believes Nice Matters. And to be brave enough to take a year off from writing... when we are as a species so consumed by time... inspiring. And look how it paid off! Also, I am turning this "write when you don't travel, travel when you don't write" thing over in my brain.... thanks for the gem(s)!

liz said...

This is my first time leaving a comment on your blog, and I'm lured out of the shadows by Deanna. Her books sound fabulous and her blog is awesome! I love that spring reminds her of Paris....

kathrynjankowski said...

Great interview. Thanks to you both!

Anonymous said...

Hello! Great interview. And yes, agree heartily with Irene that it was immensely brave to take a year off from writing. I wonder if Deanna, you journalled at all?

An historical fact; strangely, I remember that Deanna is a Gemini. And she convinced her husband to take her to smell a Moor as research for a book. Does that count?!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Sheila, I really enjoy her books!

Mary, I'll happily lend a copy to my bff, then you'll be hooked.

Irene, yeah I love that she thinks nice matters, too. We just don't hear that enough these days...

So glad Deanna's interview lured you out of the shadows, Liz!

Your welcome, Kathryn.

Yes, anonymous! That absolutely counts! Just be sure and check back next Monday to see if you won because we don't have any way of hunting you down. :-)

deanna said...

Thanks so much for the warm welcome!

I do keep a journal from time to time, but almost always to process something rather than record it. By that, I mean I don't tend to just write entries as a way to remember what happened; I write to clarify my own thinking. Once I have something sorted, I tend to let the journal slide until I need to work something else out. It might be a problem, a bit of philosophy I want to incorporate into my life--that sort of thing. I've found that an oversized spiral notebook is the best way for me to organize myself. I keep my to-do list on the right hand page and journal entries on the left. It's interesting for me to see what I was doing when I was noodling away at a particular thought.

Jennifer J. said...

Thank you, Deanna Raybourn, for that reminder to play nice.

Like you, I decided a long time ago, that if I didn't like a book, I wouldn't review it, but if I do like it, I'll tell everyone how much I like it and why.

I am trying to figure out if the two hemispheres of your brain are separate processors, because it seems you manage to both do the hermit stuff (sitting on your you-know-what in your office, typing madly) and the get out and talk about yourself and your books enthusiastically. That's a neat trick!

Best wishes,
Jennifer J.

Christina M. said...

The post on Deanna's blog led me here. Great interview! Historical fact- Deanna's birth flower is the rose. (Which I discovered when she did a post on a fabulous site called The Perfumed Court. I'm now in love with them!)