Interview and an Excerpt is a weekly feature that explores the process of writing and indie publishing through interviews with self published authors. The aim is to demystify the process for those who are aspiring to become indie publishers themselves. This week’s guest is Leanne Beattie.
1.) How long have you been an indie author?
I published Cage of Bone on May 16, 2011.
2.) How many books have you self published?
This is my first self-published book.
3.) Are you a pantser or a plotter?
A bit of both. I write a very loose outline but then my characters take a life of their own and things happen that I didn’t expect.
4.) Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Feel free to be as detailed as you like, this stuff is fascinating.
The idea for my novel came from a line in the Jann Arden song Will You Remember Me which says, “I’ve got a junkie heart in a cage of bone”. The phrase “cage of bone” stuck with me and I began to wonder what that might mean. I then wrote a poem about my interpretation which I later incorporated into the novel. I am always trying to figure out why a person might do the things they do—personality is the primary focus for me, which then dictates what a person might do in a particular situation. I love writing narrative most of all, staying inside the character’s head.
5.) What is the best writing advice you’ve ever come across?
The best advice I ever received was from the Anne Lamott classic, Bird by Bird: it’s okay to write a shitty first draft.
6.) If you were going to mentor a new writer through the publishing process, what pitfalls would you warn them against?
Writing the novel is the easy part—marketing it is hard. Using social media to promote your book is absolutely essential but the key is to be social, to build relationships. You can’t just talk about your novel all the time, you have to get to know people and share information. You do have to be able to talk about yourself though, to promote yourself when the time is right. If you can’t, you will struggle getting the word out about your book.
7.) Are you currently earning a living with your writing?
I’m not making a living with my book sales yet. I could pay for a few cups of coffee at this point.
8.) What are your writing must haves? Music? A quiet table at a coffee shop?
I like to write to appropriate music. My novel is set in the 1980’s so I listened to a lot of music from that decade for inspiration. I get distracted by conversations so I can’t write with the TV on or in a coffee shop.
9.) What tools or software do you use to write?
I just use Microsoft Word, nothing fancy.
10.) What kind of promotion have you tried? What do you find to be the most effective?
I have been actively growing my Twitter list for the past year and have developed some very good relationships with writers and readers. My Twitter friends have been great at sharing my work with their followers and I do the same for them. It’s a very cooperative community. I also have a Facebook author page and a blog and I have listed my book on Goodreads. I will also be doing guest blog postings with other writers. So far, Twitter has been the most effective for me.
11.) About how long from start to finish did it take you to finish your book(s)? About how many hours a day do you spend writing/editing?
Oh, the hard question. It took me 5 years to complete the book: 6 months of writing and 4 ½ years of procrastination. I would write a chapter, sit on it for months (or longer!), then pick up the book again. At most, I would write 1000 words a day. I think a lot about my work before I actually write it but I’ve never been the type of writer who can bang out thousands of words a day.
12.) How much of the process did you do yourself and what did you pay someone else to do?
I’ve been meeting with a writing group for six years and my friends there did the editing for me as I went along. I would write a chunk and give it to them for critique. I bought the cover photo from iStockphoto.com and my daughter put the text on the image with Photoshop. All in all, it was very inexpensive to get the book up on Kindle.
13.) Cage of Bone has the most eye catching cover and it sounds like an amazing story of personal growth. Can you tell us a little bit about your book?
Cage of Bone is a young adult novel about a 16 year-old girl, Ronnie Campbell, as she tries to cope with her sister’s suicide. It’s an emotional story because Ronnie is very confused about the death. Her sister was the quintessential “golden girl” in high school: popular, smart and going places, so her suicide leaves Ronnie struggling to find answers. On top of everything, Ronnie’s parents are getting divorced and her father is starting a new family with another woman, so Ronnie feels abandoned and pushed aside. At an age when other kids are dating and going to parties, Ronnie is facing some pretty heavy burdens.
Once I had the basic story idea, I got an image of a girl who seems tough on the outside but is really hurting. Her toughness is all a façade. I think a lot of people can relate to that, that everybody is suffering in some way. Griffin McNay, her love interest, is the ideal boy for Ronnie: cute, creative and understanding. He shows her there is more to life than what she is experiencing right now. Her best friend, Danielle, accepts Ronnie as she is, flaws and all, and has great faith in her.
14.) Do you mind sharing a little bit about what you’re working on right now?
I am working on a piece called The Pigeon King. At this point it may be a short story or it might grow into a novella. It’s essentially about betrayal and shame. The main character befriends the town weirdo but then hurts him to gain approval with the group of boys he wants to be part of. I want to create something with the feel of Stephen King’s novella, The Body.
You can find Leanne online here:
Enjoy this excerpt from Cage of Bone:
Mom’s screaming woke me up. I ran to the sound, sliding to a stop at the bathroom door. Katherine was lying in the bathtub, blood and water mixing until you couldn’t tell where my sister ended and the nothingness began.
Long blonde hair fanned out around her face. A razor blade sat on the edge of the tub, gleaming under the harsh fluorescent lighting. Mom’s blouse was drenched with bloody water.
“I tried to help her”, she whispered, rocking back and forth on the toilet, unable to take her eyes off Katherine. “Call the ambulance.”
The phone was heavy in my hand as I dialed. I dropped it once, the receiver banging against the kitchen cupboard and twirling madly on its twisted cord before I could grab it again and finish the call. My fingers were shaking and it was all I could do to punch in the numbers. I couldn’t think straight. Didn’t I just call them? And already a whirl of lights and sirens roared down our street. I opened the front door and pointed the way to the bathroom, too afraid to watch.
I heard the sick sloshing when they lifted Katherine from the tub, the counting as they performed CPR, the creaking and banging of the stretcher over our hardwood floors as they wheeled her away.
My father met us at the hospital. Somehow he found out but I don’t remember calling him. My head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Dad said something to me but I couldn’t make out his words. Nothing sounded right, like I was underwater. A wash of red blurred across my eyes every time I blinked.
Dad wrapped his arms around me, squeezing me close."Leave me alone.” I pushed him away. “You don’t belong here.”
“How can you say that? You’re my daughter. Katherine’s my daughter. Of course I belong here.”
“You should have thought of that before you left.”
His shoulders drooped and the air seeped from his lungs in defeat. “Not now Ronnie, please. I love you. You need me.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I don’t need anybody.” I sat down on one of the orange plastic chairs that lined the hallway in the hospital. Mom was coming down the hall, crying and raking her hands through her blonde hair. Just like Katherine’s.
“It’s over,” she told us, wiping her eyes. “Oh God, I can’t do this.” Dad took her by the hand and they went back down the hall to see Katherine. I should have gone too, but my feet wouldn’t move. I just sat in that chair with my back sticking to the hard plastic. I didn’t feel anything at all.
Lines of friends and classmates shuffled past her coffin, heads down, reverent. I screamed inside my head. People, are you blind? She never looked like that. She never wore pink lipstick. Wipe it off.
But I didn’t cry. Not even when my father and my barely recognized cousins picked up the coffin and carried it to the hearse. I watched it all from a distance. It was the only way I could cope without falling apart. My sister loved me. She was perfect, everybody knew that. So why did she do it?
The house reeked of stale cigarette smoke and tension. Mom was still asleep on the couch. She hadn’t stumbled up to bed yet. I took the granny square afghan off the back of the couch and stretched it out over her. A thin string of saliva hung from her bottom lip, her mouth open and slack in sleep.
Her empty glass was stuck to the coffee table and I had to tug to get it off, leaving a ring of rye and ginger ale behind. I would wipe it up in the morning. I hated coming home to a mess. If everything was neat and clean, at least for a little while, I could act like nothing had ever happened. After the drinks kicked in and Mom got bitter, I left the house for as long as possible.
Books were my only real friends, so I spent a lot of time in the library. It only took me a half an hour to get there, even if I walked really slowly. Owen Sound was pretty small, only twenty thousand people, so it never took me long to walk anywhere. In the winter I rode the city bus, but now I walked all the time, my skin sticky and flushed from the summer heat.
I liked getting lost between the tall racks of books. Nobody noticed me at all. They didn’t know that Katherine was dead and I only slept a couple of hours a night. I got my best sleep here in one of the overstuffed reading chairs tucked way back in the corner.
My intentions were always good. I would pick an interesting book, something by Graham Greene maybe, open it, my fingers smoothing out the pages just so, but after the first few lines the words would dance together in an endless stream of letters. I’d wake up with a jerk some time later and then go and sign out the book. I could read it after midnight when Mom finally crashed for the night.
Nobody knew how messed up my home life was and I didn’t have much of a social life outside of school. In a town like Owen Sound, if you didn’t fit into the blonde Farrah Fawcett hair and skin tight jeans mold, you were an outcast. While everyone else in my class was listening to Journey (yawn) and Styx (double yawn), I was into Siouxsie and the Banshees and Kate Bush. The most mainstream I went was Blondie and that was only their pre-Heart of Glass stuff. After that everybody liked them, so what was the point?
I didn’t want people to like me anyway. Katherine was the popular one and what did it get her? A big smile in the yearbook and a funeral at 18.
The weight of her stare pulled me. I could feel her outside, across our deep back yard, waiting for me under the pear tree in the moonlight. I closed the back door and tip-toed down the cedar steps onto the grass, careful not to make a sound, even though there was no chance of being heard. The grass was wet with dew and a few loose blades stuck between my bare toes. I liked the squishy feeling beneath my feet as I took off running, each stride bringing me closer and closer to her.
"Where have you been?" I asked. “I haven’t seen you in days.”
Katherine sat down under the pear tree, stretching out her long, thin legs on the damp grass. "I hang out a lot downtown, at the arcade. Or at Kresge’s. I see a lot of people. Ran into Mr. Osbourne, the math teacher. You had him last year for Grade Nine, right? Anyway, I saw him a couple of days ago at the lunch counter at Kresge’s. Eating a mile a minute, just shovel, shovel, shovel. What a fucking pig."
She leaned against the side of the tree and crossed her legs in a mystic yoga move. I sat down beside her and reached out, wanting to touch her but holding back. She saw my hesitation.
"I don’t bite for God’s sake, Ronnie."
I traced the lace of veins on her hand, her flesh vulnerable and delicate. Her skin was cool against the August humidity.
Katherine moved her hand away and looked at me. "Don’t do this to yourself. Go back to bed and don’t worry about me. Get on with your life.”
"Can I see you again?"
She let out a long sigh and stared up at the sliver of crescent moon. Finally she nodded. "Don’t tell anybody though or people will think you’re crazy. Only psychos talk to dead people."
"Where’d you go last night?" Mom asked the next morning in the kitchen. "There’s grass all over the living room carpet."
"Why do you care?"
Mom stopped stirring sugar into her instant coffee. She dropped the spoon with a clatter onto the coral-colored arborite table. "I don’t need any crap from you this morning. I’ve got another damn migraine coming on and I’m going to be late for work. Charlie wants me in early today because he’s counting on a bunch of tourists stopping in for lunch and I’ve got to get the place ready for the rush.”
She shook a cigarette out of the open package at her elbow and lit it. Smoke filled the tiny kitchen. She slurped some coffee and set down her mug with a splash. A faded cartoon of Yogi Bear waved from the side of the mug. "Make your own supper tonight," she said, standing up to leave. "I don’t know when I’ll be home."
I opened up the windows over the sink to get rid of some of the smoke. The ashtray on the kitchen table was almost full again. I emptied it into the garbage can and then sprayed Lysol all over to kill the smell. Cleaning the kitchen took almost an hour but it was worth it. Dirt made me twitchy.
Dad had a new girlfriend named Meg just a few weeks after he left us. Maybe they were already together when he was still here. All I know is that Mom went ballistic when Meg got pregnant.
"That little bitch!" Mom cried, pacing the living room and throwing books and knickknacks at the wall. The little pottery duck I made her in Grade Two smashed into shards and scattered across the brown shag carpet. "What the hell does she think she’s doing? I’m still Mrs. Ray Campbell."
She continued circling the room in a panic, carrying a sloshing drink in her left hand and the next item to throw in her right. I was expecting her to screw up and pitch her glass against the wall but even drunk she wasn’t that careless. Forget about the family memories lying in shambles at her feet but for God’s sake keep the booze safe.
She finally stopped to catch her breath and sank down into the tattered sofa. "I always thought he’d come back someday. How can he do this to me after all these years?”
I looked around the living room at the mess and then met her eyes. Streaks of mascara lined her face and settled into the premature wrinkles caused by cigarettes and rye.
"I don’t know what to say, Mom. He’s been gone for over a year now."
"He’s coming back. I just have to be patient. I’m trying, I really am, but it’s so hard." She swirled the ice around in her glass and then swallowed the rest of the rye and ginger ale in one gulp. "If he would just talk to me, he’d see that I’m better and he’d want to come home. He still loves me, I know he does."
I started picking up the books that Mom had hurled across the room and the broken bits of pottery. Poor Mr. Duck. Maybe some Crazy Glue would put him back together.
"Why don’t you go lie down for a while?" I suggested. “Don’t even think about Meg or the baby. Who knows what might happen? Come on now, let’s go have a nap and forget about all this, okay?"
I helped her into bed, being careful to pull the blankets up to her neck the way she liked, then I tugged down the window shade to keep out the evening sun.
"Thanks," she mumbled, settling down into bed. "Who knows what might happen, right? Just like you said. He still loves me, you’ll see."
“Sure he does, Mom”, I answered, closing the door. Keep dreaming.
I really didn’t need this shit right now. Life was supposed to be all boys and fun with the occasional bit of schoolwork tossed in for good measure. I wasn’t supposed to have to babysit my mother.
The biggest problem I should have right now is deciding between Todd or Rob for the next big date. Just like The Facts of Life and all that Hollywood propaganda.
Who was I kidding? It’s not like I had any guys lining up to go out with me anyway. Molly Ringwald I was not.
I wash each night at the kitchen sink. I don’t go in the bathroom at all anymore except when it’s absolutely necessary because the tub is still there and I can’t look at it without picturing Katherine’s body. Even with the shower curtain pulled across, I can’t forget what I saw.
After Mom goes to bed for the night, I shampoo my hair under the kitchen faucet. It’s hard to get the temperature quite right, so I either freeze or get scalded. I strip in the dark and wash myself, shave what needs to be shaved and towel off quickly. It’s been two months since Katherine died and I’m used to doing things this way.
I still can’t sleep though. Every time I close my eyes I see her again, all cold and blank, looking out into nothing. I stretch out on my bed and hold my arms straight. I stare at my ceiling. I don’t breathe until I’m dizzy and can’t hold it any longer. Then I suck in great gasps of air and my vision clears. I’m still alive.
“Mom, I need money for school next week. I’ve got nothing to wear and I can’t go with my hair looking like this.”
Mom sighed and set down her coffee cup. “I guess I can I spare a bit of cash. Why don’t you ask your Dad to help you out? He’s got more money than I’ll ever have.”
“Whatever,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Just give it to me, okay? The less I have to deal with him, the better.” I shoved the money into the front pocket of my jeans and pulled on my combat boots. August or not, I didn’t leave the house without them.
Today I was going for my famous fuck off and die look, which was accomplished by mixing equal parts black eyeliner, ripped t-shirt and hairspray. Add an armful of black rubber bracelets and I was good to go. First stop: The Salvation Army Thrift Store.
Some people might have a problem with wearing used stuff but I was cheap—I valued wardrobe volume over newness any day. Getting ten t-shirts for ten bucks suited me just fine. And I picked up a tiny black and red plaid skirt as an added bonus. I was skinny, so it would fit no problem. Put it all together and I was ready for on the first day of Grade Ten.
Practically everything I owned was either black or red. No thought required, I just pulled something out of my dresser and away I went. I heard that Albert Einstein wore the same outfit every day. He had a closet full of the exact same jacket, shirt and pants and simply grabbed a clean set of clothes in the morning and that was that. Who was I to argue with a genius?
The hair salon around the block from the thrift store took walk-in appointments, so I went in. The place looked okay, no blue-haired ladies in any of the chairs. I figured it was worth the risk.
“I want to colour my hair,” I told the girl behind the counter. She looked about twenty-five with blotchy skin and a spiral perm. Not a good combination.
“How do you want it?” she asked, not bothering to look up from her National Enquirer.
“Bleach it out completely. And I need it cut too. Choppy, choppy layers.”
She glanced up at me and nodded. “Sure, come on back. Janet can do that. You got a while?”
“All day. Whatever it takes.”
Three hours later I was done and on the street again. Next stop: Sam the Record Man.
“Hey, cool hair,” the guy behind the counter said to me as I walked in the door. He must be new because I had never seen him before. Blue eyes, black spiky hair and a black Ramones t-shirt. Not bad looking at all.
I ignored him and walked to the new release section. I thumbed through the rack of albums but I didn’t find anything interesting. Just more stupid bands with stupid names. As always.
I could hear the guy whistling away to The Clash as London Calling cranked out over the P.A. system. At least he had taste, I’d give him that. “Hey,” I called out. “Got anything good?”
“That depends on what you consider good,” he answered, turning down The Clash a notch or two. “What did you have in mind?”
I walked up to the counter and drummed my fingers on its glass top. Badly photocopied concert advertisements were stuck beneath the glass. I had no way of getting to any of the shows, so there was no point in reading the ads.
“Anything at all. I’m so sick of bad hair bands shaking their asses in music videos.”
The clerk laughed. “That’s funny. You like New Wave? Punk? New Romantic?”
I shrugged. “Guess so.”
He walked over to the racks and started digging through. “Here you go,” he said finally, handing me an album. “See what you think of this.”
“Buy it, you won’t regret it.”
What did I have to lose? Nothing was forever and if I hated it, I could just toss it. “Sure,” I told him, handing him some money. “You new here? I don’t recognize you.”
“Yeah, I just moved here from Toronto about a month ago. My dad got transferred. He works for the Bank of Nova Scotia.”
“Wow, from Toronto to Owen Sound,” I replied. “That sucks.”
“Tell me about it. I had an awesome band happening and everything. Now I’ve got to start all over again from scratch. Any musicians in town?”
“Not that I know of.”
“What is there to do here anyway?” he asked.
“Nothing. I guess that’s why so many people party. See you around. I’ll let you know what I think of the album.”
“Hey, what’s your name? I’m Griffin McNay.”
“Oh don’t worry about me,” I said as I walked out the door. “I’m nobody.”