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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed author Grace Sammon about her career, her love of writing, and what inspired her to write her new novel, The Eves.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

JJ, thank you for having me here at “The Table Read.”  One of the joys of being 68 is truly being a ‘sum of the parts’ and being totally different than at any other point in my life.  When I was younger, I could quickly answer this question with an entire array of modifiers: daughter, mother, CEO, head of a non-profit, educator, author, etc.  Those roles, even though I don’t think I realized at the time, defined me.  Now, roles play little role in how I define myself.

The gift of this age, as I see it, is that what you see is what you get.  I am a mix of many things.  Passionate about writing, passionate about friendships and family, committed to (and not always finding) balance in all things. I live in Southwest Florida in the United States.  I love tennis and pickleball, and am not particularly good at either. I am gifted with two children, their spouses and two grandchildren.

Grace Sammon, author of The Eves, interview on The Table Read
Grace Sammon

My son says I am a bad role model for retirement. This makes me smile. I am married to the “Roy Gillis” in my novel The Eves.  My bio says I have a small herd of imaginary llamas because I wish I had real ones.

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When did you first WANT to write a book?

I had written several articles when I was working as an educational consultant in high schools across the United States.  That work focused on how to improve teaching and learning, primarily in some of our most underserved communities.  While writing about that work was important, I did not see it as a book.  My business partner at the time, however, urged me to write it.  He gets the credit.  That was four books ago.

When did you take a step to start writing?

Interesting to me, that business partnership I just mentioned fell apart.  I wanted to make sure that all the work I, and we, had accomplished was codified.  I had an urgency to get the story out.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I sat down almost immediately and had a solid first draft of a book in about seven weeks.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to write with that speed or clarity again.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Oh, I hate to admit it, years.  Maybe six.  While my first three books are in the area of education, my last book The Eves is fiction.  Writing and publishing fiction is, to me, a much bigger and more difficult animal.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Eves?

It was the sheer joy of playing with words to solve the puzzle of what does the second half of life look like without some of those roles I mentioned earlier. My life was at a turning point – winding down a traditional career, losing my parents, being an empty-nester.  My life was an empty canvas but I didn’t have the tools or the imagery to create great art. 

For me, puzzles are best solved with words, and I wrote the book I wanted to read – something about women changing direction.  The youngest character in The Eves is 15, the oldest 94.  The characters are diverse, determined and sometimes ditzy, but when their stories are told, and we learn to listen, everything, and everybody, changes.

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Eves?

Once I had the rhythm, and for me that means having the ending in mind and the starting point set, the middle becomes the challenge.  How do I make the two ends meet?  How does the end get modified based on what I find along the way?

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

The women in my life. So many of them were at a crossroads, feeling they were “done,” with no exciting future ahead of them.  I did not want to believe that just because we had, likely, accomplished all of our “firsts” that there wasn’t a great opportunity for adventure ahead, nor an opportunity to still contribute meaningfully to our communities. 

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

Grace Sammon, author of The Eves, interview on The Table Read

Oooh, that is a good question, one I’ve never been asked.  I believe the answer is actually the same.  Jessica, the main character, is “psychologically-complex.” The story is told largely from her perspective and readers are inside her head a lot of the time.  She serves as both protagonist and antagonist. I believe she is her own worst enemy. Unfortunately, too many of us are indeed just that.

What is the inciting incident of The Eves?

Jessica is hiding.  She has given up on her looks and her ambition but not her lies, vodka, or sense of guilt.  Her bossy friend, Sonia, starts out the book saying, in her wonderfully-clipped, Argentinian accent, “Jess-i-ca, I watched you today. You did not leave your mark on the world.  You did not dip your hand in the paint.  This hiding from the world must stop.  You will tell the oral histories of the women you met.”  It was a declarative statement.  No one ignores Sonia.

What is the main conflict of The Eves?

In a very broadest sense, it’s Viktor Frankl’s “Mans Search for Meaning.”  The “oldies” in the book have decided to live a communal life on a sustainable farm in rural Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC.    They are determined to find ways to leave their mark on the world.  Jessica, as we mentioned, has to find meaning in her life after being torn from the foundation of her existence, her relationship with her children.  At the intimate level, it is how do each of us answer the question about who and how do we want to be in the world. 

The Eves is frequently referred to as a coming-of-age novel across the ages.  How we resolve the conflict of the challenges we are thrown at any age is central to the story.

Did you plot The Eves in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

It’s a balance.  As I said, I know the beginning – the question, or posed puzzle, if you will.  I know where I want it to wind up.  I have some benchmarks in mind as I start out but not a clear roadway.

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Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Eves need?

Editing, both grammatical and developmental, is critical.  Authors love their words and many of us complete a first draft thinking it’s perfect.  Alas, not true.  I get my first edits when I give my written pages to my husband to read.  He will make notes on the pages, but more important to me is when, without any thought to those notes, he reads me the pages out loud.  Here is where I first listen for both tone and nuance.  I also listen for the big things like did the character have blue eyes three chapters ago and now they have brown, or did their age change, or is the limp is on the wrong side of their body.  That happens.

The other key piece, and I did not appreciate this in the first books, was the importance of a developmental editor.  I had beta readers read as I was writing. They would pose questions that would influence the story.  Indeed, in The Eves one of those editors kept demanding that one of Jessica’s children show up in the plot.  I thought it was wholly unnecessary. It wound up being critical to the entire rest of the story and to a successful, well-rounded ending.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

It was not until after The Eves was published that I understood that there is a fist and fundamental question that I now believe is the critical first question for all would-be authors.   It’s the question my publisher first asked me and I poo-pooed.  The question is, why do you want to write this story?  The answer to the question, not to be given lightly as I gave it to my publisher, is critical because it then drives everything else you do, details the course of your work, and the trajectory of it.

Some of us write for the pure magic of idea to words on the screen.  Others of us want to be published.  There are so many follow-on questions to the answer of why we write.  Do I need to be published, where and how (Indy or traditional), what does success look like, what is my budget, do I have the time and skill set to launch this, who do I need to network with, should I have a publicist, and so on? Knowing the why you are writing the story, knowing what benchmark goals you want to reach is imperative.  The work of being an author far transcends the writing of the story and takes planning.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I have three books in my head.  I first start in a title or theme and the rest flows from that.  The three working titles are The Egg, The Death Concierge, and The Glassblower’s Legacy. That said, and in all honestly, I am not in the head space I need for a novel right now.  I am doing a lot of writing, anthologies and articles, but not a novel. 

This question is really a great follow-on to the previous one because, as a result of writing The Eves, doors have opened, unexpected doors.  I am Director of Membership for a rapidly growing Face Book group called Bookish Road Trip with 2.6K members.  As a result of an interview I gave to a radio station, I was given my own radio show called “The Storytellers” where I focus on authors and others who leave their mark on the world through the art of story.  I’ve also created a collaborative of authors called Author Talk Network where award-winning novelists and debut authors talk with readers, bloggers, podcasters, and others.  There’s so much to talk about!

Information on all of that is on my website. 

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And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

It’s all amazing, and I had no idea that, like the characters in my book, I am not done. There is a lot of adventure ahead.  I’m a great example of not knowing where you want your book to lead you and finding it quite remarkable. There are huge stressors about learning new technologies and finding market share.  There are the amazing gifts of creating and being part of a truly international community of readers and writers.  Proud?  I don’t know.  Surprised, delighted, and loving that I am not done and that my story is not over?  Absolutely.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

The Eves is available in paperback and Ebook on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel and on Apple Books, and through your bookstore using the ISBN: 979-8-6489-4720-7

Learn more about Grace, hear her “The Storyteller” radio show episodes, get The Eves book extras and book club guide here: www.gracesammon.net

Contact Grace: grace@gracesammon.net

Follow Grace:

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GraceSammonWrites/

On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/GraceSammonWrites/

On Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/GSammonWrites

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/grace-sammon-84389153/

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