On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, Anne Marie Bennett talks about her new book, Feathers In The Sand, the first book in her Seahaven Sunrise Series.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Anne Marie Bennett about her life and career, what inspires her stories, and the work that went into her new book, Feathers In The Sand.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am a woman who seeks to make a difference in the work that I do in the world as an Story Teller (author) and a SoulCollage® Facilitator.
I am a friend, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a stepmother, a grandmother, a teacher, a writer, a meditator, an avid reader, and a lover of cats. I am one who is on a journey to self-love and radical acceptance.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was in sixth grade, our English teacher assigned the class to write a short story, and I turned in a 40-page handwritten BOOK (illustrated by my dad)! From that day forward, I wanted to write more books, and I did. I wrote novels by hand in three-ring binders for several years, until I learned to type in high school.
When did you take a step to start writing?
Well, I’ve always been writing this, that, and the other, but in my mid-twenties I wrote a midgrade novel called “My Other Dad” that was co-published by a publisher who is now out of business. In my late twenties I wrote a young adult novel called “Come As You Are” about a group of teens in a church youth group putting on the musical Godspell. I didn’t do anything with it until 2019.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I honestly cannot remember how long it took me to write “My Other Dad” and “Come As You Are!” My first adult novel was Dragonflies at Night: More Than a Love Story. I started that in 2014, although I didn’t have the intention of writing a novel. I published it in 2020, so . . . six years!
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My latest book is Feathers in the Sand (Seahaven Sunrise Series, Book 1). I sat down to start the first draft on March 1, 2021 and it was published on July 11, 2022. I learned a lot in between which made the second novel somewhat easier to move forward. Maybe I can do the third book in a year!
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Feathers In The Sand?
I originally wanted to write the book about a little girl who finds feathers in strange places. She’s dealing with a significant loss and somehow begins to think that they are angel feathers. This idea floated into my mind in 2011 as I was going through chemo treatments for cancer. On my walks around our neighborhood that summer, I noticed I was picking up an unusual number of feathers. My imagination led me to wonder what would happen if a child was finding these feathers.
As I began to write the story, the little girl’s mother (Tess Gilmore) came into focus, and the bigger part of the story came to be about an estranged mother and daughter (Eva) finding their way back to one another (and I’m not telling where Eva’s mysterious feathers are really coming from!)
What were your biggest challenges with writing Feathers In The Sand?
The most difficult thing for me, this time around, was the long and tedious process of editing and revising. I sent it out to 12 Beta readers and got way too much conflicting thoughts and opinions! I had to set the book aside for several weeks because I was so confused about what to do.
A more experienced writer friend suggested that the next time I need Beta readers, I should choose 3-4 max (brilliant, eh?) and she also reminded me that I could trust my intuition about which suggestions to keep and which to let go of. After that, I made a very long list of the Beta readers’ suggestions and went through them, one at a time, trusting my gut.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
One of my stepdaughters is a single mom with three children. I didn’t model Tess’s life or physical appearance from her, but I’ve watched my stepdaughter over the years and seen her innate strength and ability to bounce back from many difficult things. I’ve also seen her powerful love for her children in action.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The major antagonist in Feathers in the Sand is Tess’s outdated belief that she doesn’t deserve happiness. Even the word “delight” on a menu item in a restaurant disturbs her! The minor antagonist is Tess’s mother, Cecilia. Since the TV show Gilmore Girls is a running theme throughout the book, I made Cecilia just a little bit like Lorelai’s mother, Emily Gilmore.
What is the inciting incident of Feathers In The Sand?
I really don’t want to say what causes Tess to pack up everything and move to Seahaven, Maine, because it comes as a surprise and I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone!
I will say that leading up to the inciting incident, Tess has been dissatisfied with her job as an assistant dental office manager in New Haven, and she has been having memories of the two weeks she spent in Seahaven when she was a teenager and fell in love for the first time. Also, her Aunt Kit lives there, and she’s been wanting to get closer to her.
What is the main conflict of Feathers In The Sand?
The main conflict is within Tess’s mind and heart. Does she deserve to be truly happy? Can she be close to her children and let herself be loved by a good man? How can she make Eva a priority and still have time for herself?
A minor conflict is between Tess and her mother. Tess finds out what Cecilia did, all those summers ago, to keep her away from her first love, and the confrontation is a doozy.
Did you plot Feathers In The Sand in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
With Dragonflies at Night, I wrote freely and just let the story unfold. This involved lots and lots of breaks in my writing because I didn’t know where the story was going. It also involved much more time in the editing and revising process.
For Feathers in the Sand, I decided I didn’t want to wait another six years from start to finish (!), so I took Jessica Brody’s online Fast Drafting course. It inspired me to think about and plan out many of the major “beats” of the storyline ahead of time. She also encouraged me to set a realistic start and end date for the first draft. I have a fulltime online business, KaleidoSoul.com, so my commitment was to write 1-2 hours a day, 3-4 times a week from March 1 – June 1 (2021). It’s amazing what you can accomplish in those small bites of time!
Also, what really helped me is that she urged us to just keep writing… to keep going… not to go back and edit or revise, but just to keep writing. She stressed that the first draft is for “telling yourself the story,” which made a huge difference for me. “Future You can go in and fix everything later,” she would say during the online course. “Future You will know what to do.”
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Feathers In The Sand need?
I had 12 wonderful Beta readers who helped with big issues as well as nitty-gritty details. That was on the 7th draft. At the 10th draft, I hired a copy editor which was extremely helpful. And on the 11th draft, I sent it to three “final eyes” readers. And then of course, I went through it one more time myself!
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Trust yourself. If the idea is churning in your mind and heart, sit down and get going! Write the story for yourself. Tell yourself the story. If you don’t know where to begin, start typing (or writing by hand) “I have something to say… I have something to say…” until the words start to flow. Trust yourself. I once heard the prolific writer Mark Nepo say, “I push the pen until it pulls me.” That’s it. Trust yourself.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I am currently tossing around ideas for the second book in this Seahaven Sunrise Series. The working title is Mermaid Tears. You’ll see a few of the same characters from Feathers in the Sand, but the focus will be on Elena Jeffries, the new Seahaven High School English teacher who just moved to Seahaven from Boston to be closer to her brother, Carlos. She is 28 and grieving the loss of her husband two years ago. She makes friends with Anna French, a fifty-something widow who writes popular children’s books about mermaids and loss.
There is a bit of romance in the mix as well as the symbolism of sea glass throughout. Folklore tells us that the bits of sea glass we find on the beach are actually tears shed by mermaids when they have to leave their beloved sailors or fishermen behind.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I am extraordinarily proud of myself for telling the story of Tess and Eva Gilmore! It has been worth the effort and more. My heart is very happy right now!
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/annemariebennettauthor
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