My first novel, The Life Plan (Casperian Books, March 2009) published by Casperian Books in March 2009. The Life Plan, as described by Nina Zero author Robert Eversz, “is a screwball comedy for the 21st century, a witty and winning romp through one woman’s discovery that life, love, and liberty do not always go according to plan.”
I also have a linked short story collection, tentatively titled Talismans, which will be published by C&R Press in late 2010. Talismans traces Elise’s physical and emotional journey from her Virginia childhood through her twenties in Asia as she tries to understand why her father, a Vietnam Vet, left her and her mother, a choir director obsessed with her church music.
I’m currently working on two novels, one based in Virginia and South Korea, the other in DC and Prague.
I spent twelve years living and traveling abroad and still travel widely. I’m very interested in the allure and alienation of American travelers and expatriates, and this has heavily influenced my writing.
Why do you write? Because it’s challenging and fun.
My dad loved traveling, so our family always went somewhere new every summer. We couldn’t afford to travel abroad or fly, so we just packed up the camper and went up and down the east coast. My brother lives in Turkey, and my parents traveled around the world after they retired. I guess it’s in our blood.
Getting to Korea was not too hard. The school that hired me and my then-husband paid for our plane tickets, gave us “starter” money when we got off the plane, free furnished housing, and a strong support system of other expat teachers. Korea was very different from the States in 1995, but the actual moving there was not too hard.
What advice can you give writers who want to include comedy in their novels?
I think that if you enjoy writing humor you can include comedy in your novel. I was a humor columnist for my college newspaper, and so had some practice writing humor. But humor is something I don’t’ know how to teach. For example, I’m not that good at telling jokes and probably never will be. I think the biggest advice is to read the type of humor you want to incorporate and study how those writers use timing and pacing to be humorous.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
Since I teach at a university, I don’t have a typical day. On the days I’m not teaching and don’t have a lot of grading/administrative stuff to do, I’ll usually try to write in the mid morning. I try to set a goal of 1,000 words. If I’m well into a novel and have more time (like in the summer) I’ll write much more each day.
What was the hardest writing lesson for you to learn?
To learn to love the process of writing. To be patient. To persevere.
Share a favorite writing group/critique session/writing conference experience.
I’ve had so many great teachers that it’s hard to pick one. I had a great experience with Robert Eversz in the Prague Summer Seminars in the summer of 2002. I’d been writing on my own since I’d moved to Korea and was desperate for some feedback on my work and to meet other writers. I workshopped very early versions of two of the first stories I wrote for Talismans. I (re)learned a lot about the basics—sentences, character, scene, action, and dialogue that I use in my classes today.
Fiction book promotion is hard. What has worked the best for you?
Book signings and readings where some people already know me has been pretty successful. I did a blog tour with Women On Writing which I think helped with my visibility. As always, word of mouth is a big help. The biggest help has been a student at UTC helping with marketing and publicity.
How much rewriting of Kat, your main character, did you have to do as you got to know her?
Kat I knew pretty well from the beginning—what I did have to rewrite was more plot oriented. Kat was too passive for the last third of the book, so I had to rewrite scenes that forced her to act instead of react to situations. While I had to make her more proactive, her voice didn’t change much from the early drafts.
Tell us something about your part of the country – we love travel.
Chattanooga is awesome—one of those well-kept secrets. It’s a vibrant artsy town with a little bit of everything. I’ve met an incredible variety and array of people here, and found most to be very welcoming and open. Chattanooga is on the river and mountains, offers lots of outdoor activities, live music, eclectic bars, great public art and museums. We live downtown and so usually walk to bars and other events. The downtown has a European feel to it in that sense.
Chat about your pets (or any other animal)– we love those, too.
I love animals, but unfortunately because we do travel so much we don’t own any—it’s just not fair to the pet. My husband is from South Africa and we just spent a month last year traveling in South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia. We saw lots of amazing animals there—including lions feeding on a kill.
What is your favorite southern expression? (This can be from “southern” > Korea)
My favorite Korean expression is “ah-sah” which means (that I’ve done) something great or cool. A simultaneous fist pump is also good.
From the American South I love the basic “y’all”—the English language doesn’t distinguish between a singular and plural “you”—and y’all fits that role. Much better than “you guys.”
What is your website address? http://www.sybilbaker.com