Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Irene Latham

I have another exciting introduction for you today - Irene Latham's LEAVING GEE'S BEND is a stunning debut.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, LEAVING GEE'S BEND. I love the cover! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you, Janet! I love the cover too -- it is so Ludelphia (my main character) that I cried when I first saw it. Truly, it was THE most emotional experience of the whole publishing journey so far. As for what's inside the cover... the book is about a ten year old girl in 1932 Gee's Bend, Alabama who sets out to save her sick mother and records her adventures in quilt pieces. It was inspired by the Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art. When I walked in to those rooms, I was so touched by the colors and textures, and the voices of the women from this teeny tiny isolated community that is caught up on three sides by the Alabama River. Couple this fascination with the fact that I am the daughter of an amazing seamstress who very early on put a needle and thread in my hands, and it's no mystery where this story comes from.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I've been writing poems and stories since I could hold a crayon, but I got my publishing start in poetry. Since first deciding to pursue publication in 2000, I've published over 120 poems in the adult market, including a solo collection WHAT CAME BEFORE that was named Book of the Year by Alabama State Poetry Society and earned an 2008 Independent Publisher's (IPPY) Award.

Wow. Congratulations! Can you describe your path to the publication of LEAVING GEE'S BEND?
For a long time, I had this dream of getting published off the slush pile. But then I got impatient. So when I heard Rosemary Stimola speak at an SCBWI conference in 2006, I thought, hmmm, if I ever decide to pursue an agent, this is who I'm going to go after. I was, of course, way too shy to talk to Rosemary at the time. Fast forward a few months... I sent a Gee's Bend story I'd written in verse (poetry- my comfort zone!) to Rosemary. She promptly declined - said she had a novel-in-verse sitting on her desk that she couldn't sell. So, instead of feeling sorry for myself (well, AFTER feeling sorry for myself), I decided I would rewrite the story in prose. So I worked on that for several months and re-subbed to Rosemary as if we had never had the previous contact. And this time, she said YES and sent it to the editor she had in mind. That editor was Stacey Barney at Putnam, and she really liked the voice of the story but didn't feel like it was quite fleshed out enough. (Again, I write lots of poetry, which is of course very spare: the manuscript was only 17,000 words!) She requested a revision, so I got busy adding meat to those bones. Stacey liked what I did with the story, and at that point Putnam offered a contract.

Your story sounds like a tribute to persistence. Do you have any other advice for beginning writers?
Write for yourself first. Not your kids or your grandkids or the fickle market. Love your story, and others will too.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
My favorite characters in books and real life are ones who go their own way. So it probably comes as no surprise that I have very interesting friends, and the characters that call to the writer in me are strong, independent-minded types who are constantly doing things I didn't anticipate or plan for.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I'm working on a contemporary midgrade DON'T FEED THE ANIMALS. It's set in an Alabama zoo and is about the son of a zoo director mom and elephant keeper dad whose terrible misfortune is that he was born human (with no particular interest in exotic animals.)

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about LEAVING GEE'S BEND?
You can find my book trailer and all sorts of other goodies at www.irenelatham.com

Thanks, Irene!


Anonymous said...

I love the story of you finding and connecting with your agent. Thanks for sharing!

Denise Jaden said...

Rosemary Stimola really is awesome. Neat to hear the story, and I'm so happy you ended up with her.

Oh, and Leaving Gee's Bend is amazing. But I've said that before, just a few times :)

Leah said...

So fascinating! One of my favorite books, The Shape Changer's Wife, started out as a poem. I wonder how many other books went through that transition?

Irene Latham said...

Thanks, y'all... Ro is awesome, and Denise, keep it coming. Can't tell you how much it helps as the self-doubt creeps in... now I will have to check out The Shape Changer's Wife. Interesting!

annoynomous said...

It is a beautiful cover. It makes me so curious about the girl in the photo. Congrats.

Janet Fox said...

It's a great story, this about a "poem" becoming a novel. Thanks for commenting, everyone!

Bonnie J. Doerr said...

This one can't land in my mailbox soon enough.

Judith Graves said...

Now that's a great road to publication story. ;)

Anonymous said...

I love this interview. I love the questions, Janet. And I the answers are so honest. Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

What a great interview, Janet. The questions were very thoughtful and the answers were very insightful. Thank you for posting this.

Cuppa Jolie said...

Great interview. It's always nice to hear of others paths to publication. I look forward to reading.

Shannon Delany said...

Wonderful post--Irene, I love the fact it was a combination of the art of others (the quilts) and the art of your own (the poem) that helped bring Gee's Bend to life. :-)

Janet Fox said...

Thanks again for commenting, everyone! Shannon - I love your observation. Nice.