Chantel Acevedo’s novels include Love and Ghost Letters (St. Martin’s Press), which won the Latino International Book Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book of the Year, Song of the Red Cloak, a historical novel for young adults, A Falling Star (Carolina Wren Press), winner of the Doris Bakwin Award, and The Distant Marvels, forthcoming from Edizioni EO (summer 2014) and Europa Editions (2015). For this segment of our Author Interview Series, we asked Chantel what inspired her writing, how she found an agent, as well as a host of other questions. Here’s what she said:
WHAT INSPIRES AND INFLUENCES YOUR WRITING THE MOST?People’s stories, in the main. Edwidge Danticat, whom I adore, said that fiction consists of “ordinary people facing extraordinary situations.” So, I find myself most inspired by the true stories of ordinary people and the ways that life swept them off their feet, or back onto them. As for where the stories come from–they inspire me when I read a new biography of a historical figure, or watch a documentary, or overhear a snippet of something spectacularly moving in the line at the grocery store. Story is everywhere.
DO YOU HAVE AN AGENT? IF SO, HOW DID YOU FIND HIM/HER? I do. Her name is Stéphanie Abou, and she’s at Foundry Literary + Media. I found Stéphanie the old fashioned way. I’d recently parted ways with my long-time agent, and was looking for representation for my forthcoming novel, THE DISTANT MARVELS. I wrote a query letter, sent it out, got a few bites and was in touch with a few agents, but Stéphanie really understood the novel, represented authors I admired, and felt like someone I could talk to. We also both have an affinity for JLo, that is totally unironic. So, you know, fate. She sold the book to Europa Editions, a press I adore and have been a fan of.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE PUBLISHING PROCESS?
When I was first starting out, I was surprised at how slow it all is. From the time you get the good news from your agent to when you hold your finished book you may find two years have passed. I was surprised, too, at how many books are published each week. There are a lot of authors out there, a lot of books. It’s an intimidating thought, all those pages competing for reader brains. I’m no longer surprised by these things, but at first I truly was.
DO YOU MARKET YOURSELF? WHAT (SPECIFICALLY) DO YOU DO TO BUILD/MAINTAIN YOUR READERSHIP?
I don’t have a publicist at the moment, no, but Carolina Wren Press, who published A FALLING STAR, and Europa, who will be publishing THE DISTANT MARVELS, have done a wonderful job of getting the word out. Of course, I do my bit, too. I’m on Twitter and Facebook, I attend conferences and offer workshops, I run contests when the books launch, maintain a blog and try to keep up a conversation with readers, do school visits, Skype visits, etc. It’s a bit daunting and exhausting. Writer types tend to be private types, too, so this kind of thing goes a little against the grain for many of us. The most important thing, I think, is to keep writing, keep getting the stories, poems, essays and books out, in big venues and small ones, too. That’s the whole point. You can’t market a thing that doesn’t exist.
BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER WRITERS?
Be patient. This is a slow process. And know that one single person is not the arbiter of your worth. Not one agent, editor, reader, or critic, is the be all end all, the rubber stamp, the dead end. There is no be all end all, no rubber stamp, no dead end. Keep writing. Keep pushing. The wall will come down in some way. You’ll either make a chink in it, or blow it to pieces, but it you’ll break through.
Chantel Acevedo’s novels include Love and Ghost Letters (St. Martin's Press), which won the Latino International Book Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book of the Year, Song of the Red Cloak, a historical novel for young adults, A Falling Star (Carolina Wren Press), winner of the Doris Bakwin Award, and The Distant Marvels, forthcoming from Edizioni EO (summer 2014) and Europa Editions (2015). Her fiction and poetry have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Poetry Review, North American Review, and Chattahoochee Review, among others.