Today we have guest author Erin Celello here at the Debutante Ball! Erin is the author of two novels, Miracle Beach and Learning to Stay, which was nominated for a 2013 PEN/Faulkner award. After spending nearly a decade in political communications, she is now an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Erin lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, two young children, and two unruly Vizslas. You can find her on Twitter or Facebook.
Erin took the Deb interview to share her thoughts on writing, mothering (both babies and dogs), and the thrill of three-ring binders. Welcome Erin!
DB: Where do you love to be?
EC: I hope I don’t have to pick just one. In no particular order, here are some:
- Running with my two Vizslas beside me and Hip-hop streaming through my headphones, the sun blazing down on us.
- In the kitchen all afternoon, leisurely chopping, simmering, and creating a meal for people I love.
- Steering my horse through a hunter course, or, really, just being in the barn and smelling the hay and all things horsey and kissing those velvety muzzles.
- Sitting across the dinner table from my husband, deep in conversation.
- Holding my baby or laying next to my toddler in the dark as he drifts off to sleep.
- Sitting in front of a fire, glass of really good red wine in hand, writing.
DB: Which talent do you wish you had?
EC: I would love more than anything to be able to sing. But I can’t. I just can’t. Instead, I get my fix by watching The Voice. And every single time I do, I wonder what it would be like to open your mouth and have such amazing sound come out. I can’t even fathom it.
DB: What’s your secret or not-so-secret superpower?
EC: Organization. I’m a very laid-back person about a lot of things, but not this. My clothes are hung according to color and style, I have three-ring binders for everything, and even my kids’ toy room had little chalk placards labeling each drawer and bin before the dog ate them all. I love the feeling that comes with cleaning out the refrigerator, a closet or a drawer. It’s downright therapeutic. And, it’s a good thing, too, because my life is crazy. If I wasn’t as organized as I am, it would simply cease to work.
DB: The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
No kidding? I thought it was just me! Well, my first book, Miracle Beach, took me nearly eight years to polish and publish. When Penguin/NAL scooped it up, it was like winning the lottery. And when I was offered a two-book deal, it felt like winning all over again. But, by the time I delivered my second book, my editor had cooled on it and asked for “something else.”I was newly pregnant at the time and had hyperemesis gravidarum–morning sickness so terrible that I had to be medicated and occasionally hooked up to an IV –which lasted eight out of the nine months. So, here I was, feeling like I had the worst flu ever, working full time, and having to produce an entirely new book, from scratch, in less than a year. The day after my son was born I was doing edits from my hospital bed in an attempt to meet a deadline.
That process was filled with moments of sheer panic and moments where I just wanted to toss in the towel on writing in general. But somehow, I got through it and wrote a book I’m proud of, on schedule. It was great training for being a writing mother of two because I’m no less exhausted or busy than I was then. That twist in my publishing journey proved that I can do anything I set my mind to. I feel pretty invincible after coming out the other side of it.
DB: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Really, that’s it. If you want to write badly enough, write. I think the biggest misconception about published writers is that they sit around all day sipping lattes and pecking at their keyboards until a story emerges that is perfectly-told. Perhaps there are some writers to whom this applies (and to paraphrase Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird, we don’t like them very much), but I personally don’t know any. Writing is hard. It is full of self-doubt and demon-wrestling and learning to press on anyway, even if you think you’re currently writing the stupidest story ever or the sentences you’re crafting are barely smarter than a third-grader’s. Most anyone can write a great beginning and maybe even a killer ending. But the middle will swallow you like quicksand. If you know this, though, and you recognize that everyone deals with it, and you just keep going, that’s more than half the battle.
The other part of this is to reject rejection. An agent didn’t bite on the first manuscript you wrote? You’re not alone. Keep writing. Shelve your first project and start another. Consider that first one a down payment toward future success, which is all-but-inevitable if you keep welcoming feedback from others and keep learning — if you keep writing, no matter what.
Thanks for joining us, Erin! Erin is giving away a copy of her novel Learning to Stay to one of our lucky readers. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post by Friday, May 17th, noon EST.