Guest Author Interview: Anna Brentwood …by Susan Lute
Posted by Susan
Before publishing her debut novel, The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes, Anna Brentwood perused a career in children’s book illustration, graphic arts, publications and public relations. The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes began as a series of dreams that turned into a quest to explore possible past life memories. Welcome, Anna!
Tell us about your publishing journey.
It began a long, long time ago in a land far away…sounds like a story and it is, but suffice it to say, I worked in publishing since graduating college; first as a graphic artist and later in other capacities. I worked with editors and writers and took some classes here and there, but it wasn’t until I started having a series of strange dreams that later became the basis for The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes that I became serious about wanting to write professionally and discovered that writing a book is a whole different ballgame.
While The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes is my first published novel, it is the fourth completed manuscript I have written. The first one took three years to write and rivaled War & Peace in word count. When I realized this dream wasn’t going to happen as fast as I’d thought it would, I worked part-time, full-time, raised my family and continued to read, write, query editors, agents and publishers, attend conferences, enter contests, judge contests, take classes and attend retreats. I became active in several local writing groups (RWA, Rose City Romance Writers and Willamette Writers), raised a family, became a recognized PRO, won second place in a Women’s Fiction writing contest and got myself a critique partner, an agent, an editor, lost the agent and when several agency deals fell through, I quit…
Then made myself a deal because it is hard to give up on a dream and a ghost that keeps nagging that she wants her story told. So, I gave myself a time limit of a year. If I was not represented by another agent or publisher and on the road to being published conventionally, I would self publish. I wanted to see Hannah’s story in print while I was still sentient and able to get around without a walker and lots of authors I knew were self publishing, and quite successful. A year turned into two, but in that time I read, learned and took classes, asked questions and recently took a leap of faith and just did it!
What’s the funniest thing to happen to you along your road to publication and what was the most exciting?
I planned on attending the 2005 Willamette Writers Conference to pitch my completed manuscript. My goal was to land an agent, not just any agent, but a New York agent—to me at the time–akin to catching the gold ring.
Publishing rules at that time wanted 90-150M words for a women’s fiction novel. My manuscript was 180M words. My critique partner of two+ years gave me an ultimatum to finish or she would quit helping me. With her warning ringing in my ears, I registered and paid for six pitching appointments at the conference.
When the conference date arrived, I wasn’t finished or ready. I still had 40M words to edit down – no easy feat. I surmised most agents/editors/publishers, if interested would only request a partial (usually the first three chapters and a synopsis of the book or the first 50 pages) and it was conference etiquette NEVER to hand them anything there, just to mail/email when and if they requested something so I decided to go ahead with my pitches anyway and say (if asked) that my book was complete at 150M words.
After all, I figured IF I got any requests for the ms. and since agents and editors are notoriously slow on response time anyway, I’d have more than a few months time to make good on my claim and get the manuscript edited down to where it needed to be.
If you have ever pitched, you know that no matter how much you have pitched and practiced saying what you need to say in a few minutes, it all goes out the window the moment you are seated in front of the agent/editor/publisher you want to appeal to. However, despite my nervousness and my “lie”, I was batting balls out of the park and every one of the first five agents/editors I’d pitched that day had made a request for partials of my manuscript.
I was feeling pretty good by my last pitch appointment. When we were ushered into the room, I sat down at the agent’s table and didn’t see him anywhere. Because these pitches are timed, when he finally appeared, I was even more nervous. I introduced myself and immediately launched into my pitch.
When I finished, he said he loved the sound of the book and that it was just the sort of book he could sell. He asked me for the manuscript, hand out. I must have looked like a fish out of water. I was so shocked. “You mean, you want it right now—today–here?” This wasn’t supposed to happen.
He looked eager, excited. He said, “Yes.” I was as horrified as I was thrilled. I told him I didn’t have it with me. When he asked if I could send it to him right away something in my expression must have given me away. Never a good liar, I admitted the truth that the manuscript was done, but I was still editing down the word count. Fortunately, he was very understanding. At his request, I sent him everything that was completed and worked like a maniac to send the rest a few weeks later.
The first most exciting thing for me in the process was when, about ten days later, he called and left a very energetic, very flattering message on my telephone saying he loved my story, my author voice and wanted to talk to me about representation.
What has been the most challenging thing related to publishing you’ve had to deal with on your journey?
The two most challenging things I have found in writing, especially in regards to seeking publication are the time it takes to get from point a to point b, and the ups and downs within each step of the process.
If The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes was made into a movie, who would play the roles of your hero and heroine?
For the role of Hannah, I would say a younger version of actress Charleze Theron. For Ray, I see a young, rugged and lanky Sam Sheppard type. For Johnny, it would have to be a man between the ages of thirty and forty, a good-looking Latin type, maybe a blend between a Mario Lopez (too pretty), an Eric Roberts (just the right amount of tough but not pretty enough) with the intensity of actor Armand Assanté, but definitely with a smaller nose.
What’s coming up next for you?
I am very actively engaged in working to promote myself and the book. At this stage, it is more about building a brand and name recognition so people will know I exist, buy and hopefully read and like The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes. Even better, if they like it and leave positive reviews! As a working writer trying to build an author platform, I am committed to spending time and money investing in the dream because you have to spend money to make money and like any worthy enterprise, you hope your dedication and hard work will pay off by people wanting to read your books.
That said, I have already begun research and work writing the sequel, and am very excited about taking this story and the characters we met in the first novel to the next level. Stay tuned.
I love to hear from readers and/or fellow writers. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me at my website www.annabrentwood.com, on Facebook, at my Facebook author page, and on Twitter.
Anna, thank you so much for joining us.