An Interview with author, Ann Hite.
by Victoria Valentine of Away With Words
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with author Ann Hite.
I’ve read quite a few of Ann’s short stories, enjoying her smooth and easy flow. She has the knack of capturing her readers with concise but vivid imagery and skillful dialogue, delivered with an authentic Southern voice.
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Before we begin our interview, and discuss her current novel, I’d like to share an excerpt from one of my favorite Ann Hite stories:
The story itself is as delicious as the title. Bahama Lime
It took me days before I finally saw Pearl. She was like some ghost sliding in and out of the rooms. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner cooked by her without one glimpse. Sometimes I’d walk into a room and smell her scent, a touch of lemon mixed with bread dough.
In those words was a family history, a woven story. In her eyes I saw my reflection. “Yes.”
Pearl dove into the water. I watched her surface and glide across the lake, a beautiful sea creature. Her hair had come lose and flowed behind her.
I took in the sky above me. I listened to the birds. In the air was the heat of summer. In my heart was the tail of a crazy woman, my aunt.
I dove into the water, cutting across the surface, the skin of this world, the artifact of Pearl’s life my new weight, my iron will.
From Bahama Lime, by Ann Hite.
Hi Ann. Welcome to Away With Words. Thank you for joining us!
Victoria: How long have you been writing?
Ann: I’ve been writing ever since I could talk and tell stories. I began to think maybe I could publish my writing when I was in my early thirties.
Victoria: How did you become interested in writing?
Ann: I come from a family of storytellers. Writing just seemed the most natural way to tell my stories.
Victoria: If you have favorite authors, who are they?
Ann: I’m a book junkie, so do I have favorite authors? Boy oh boy I sure do. I love Ellen Gilchrist, especially her old stuff like The Anna Papers. I love just about all Southern Fiction. Sue Monk Kidd is one of my favorite writers. I love Joshilyn Jackson, Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, Julia Glass, and Ellen Baker just to name a few. This year I discovered a new nonfiction writer, Karen Spears Zacharias. Love her work. Also, Karen Karbo’s books. Love them.
Victoria: What was the motivation for Ghost?
Ann: Nellie Pritchard showed up in my head one evening, and all was said and done. I knew I had to allow her space on the page. All my books come from questions. “What happens when someone in a family keeps a secret? Does it ripple throughout generations?” The Black Mountain stories sprang from all the stories my extended family told when I was a kid.
Victoria: Can you tell us a bit about your publishing experience with Gallery Books? Has it changed your outlook , the way you write, your life in any way?
Ann: Gallery Books is an imprint of Simon & Schuster and I’ve had a wonderful experience with them thus far. They’ve walked this novice through the process with complete patience. Working with Gallery has taught me to take my writing more seriously, or rather the time I need to set aside. Book touring changed my life in many ways. I was finally face to face with people who loved to read my work. Good stuff for the confidence level.
Victoria: Along with Ghost, I know you’ve published other fiction. We’d love to hear about your short stories and other novels, including work in progress.
Ann: When I finished my first novel—now buried deep in a drawer somewhere—someone told me I should get short stories published. This would help me sell my novel. So, I started writing short stories. It was through this writing that I discovered Black Mountain. Over sixty of my short stories are published, both online and in print. Gallery has the second novel in the Black Mountain series in their hands, so we’ll see. The new novel is Shelly Parker’s story. She’s one of the characters in Ghost On Black Mountain.
Victoria: Do you have a favorite genre, and if so, what is it? What’s most important to you when you read a book?
Ann: Like I said above, I’m a book junkie. I love fiction, mostly Southern Fiction. I love literary fiction. Characters are very important to me. They have to capture my attention. The voice has to speak to me. I love beautiful language. Plot isn’t so important. I believe a good story weaves its own plot.
Victoria: There are so many new writers today, seeking agents. Was it difficult to find your agent? Do you have any tips for us?
Ann: Finding an agent is a journey every writer has to take. I found my agent through a local writing workshop. For five dollars extra, I could send five pages of my work to an agent and she would comment. I thought, why not? The agent contacted me before I attended the workshop. She wanted to see my entire manuscript, and soon after became my agent. A writer has to have their best work, a good query, and stamina. Do not give up. One very popular author was turned down eighty nine times before her book was accepted by an agent.
Victoria: Do you belong to writers’ groups? Have you taken writing courses? Do you offer online writing workshops?
Ann: I belong to Internet Writing Workshop. This is the oldest online workshop in our country. I credit the writers in this group to helping me become a published writer. It is a wealth of knowledge and good critiques. It’s simple to join and has all different levels of writers. I took creative writing classes at my local college for three years. I don’t offer writing workshops at this time, but I’m always open to help a writer. This is called pushing help forward.
Victoria: The art of writing fiction has evolved, and rules of writing seem incredibly stringent. Do you follow the rules to the “letter”? Do you ever bend them?
Ann: John Gardner said you have to know the rules to break them. Then once you break them, the work becomes art. No, I do not follow the so-called rules. Sometimes I think there is some group of writers out there with nothing to do—because they are not writing—but making up these things. Learn the craft and then write. You will learn when to break the rules.
Victoria: Can you share experiences you’ve had at book signings and readings? What’s it like?
Ann: My favorite event so far has been a book club and signing at Hattie’s Books in Brunswick, Georgia. The paper ran an interview with me the day before I arrived. The book club was attended by about fifteen women and the discussion was so interesting. Afterwards I had people come into the store, with the newspaper interview in hand, to meet and buy my book. I also had one reader spend the morning looking through Darien—a small town I use in Ghost and fifteen miles up the road from Brunswick—looking for the places in the book. You have to love those readers. I’ve had dud signings too. The two signings I did at Barnes and Noble were not well attended. At the first, I sold ten books, and the second, three. I’ve since found when the author gives the reader and customer something, such as a reading or writing class, they are more apt to turn out. Also, I have done very well at book festivals and bookseller conferences.
Victoria: You’ve read before large audiences at prominent writers’ conferences. How thrilling was that?
Ann: Terrifying in many ways. What makes me a writer is the person who loves to be alone and work, not standing in front of a hundred readers or booksellers. The two don’t always go together. But I always rise to the occasion. The first large audience I read for was at SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Association). It was 9:30 at night in the magic city of Charleston. I read right after one of my true heroes, Patti Callahan Henry. I sat at the table with many of the first ladies of fiction: Mary Alice Monroe and Dorothea Benton Frank just to mention two. It was a magical night.
Victoria: What’s the best way for new writers to promote and market themselves and their writing?
Ann: Write short stories or essays and get them published. This really does work better than anything. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to writers who are a few rungs higher up the ladder. Most of the time, they can’t get you any closer to publication, but they can give you support and great advice. But all that aside, if you have a good book, don’t give up. It will get noticed.
Victoria: The dreaded word: Rejection. Everyone receives rejections. Is there any way to handle rejection? Are there pitfalls that can be avoided? Do you have any tips or advice for new writers that would help them deal with rejection and hopefully one day attain their goal?
Ann: I wish I could say it gets easier. No it doesn’t. Just have your moment, hour, days, whatever, and then get back to the desk.
Victoria: What was it like when you were first notified that Ghost had been accepted for publication by Gallery Books? Were there screams and corks popping? J
Ann: Actually I got the call at 5:00 in the evening and it was so surreal. When you’ve dreamed about something so long, and it actually begins to unfold, it can blow you away. I made my call to my husband and one to my dearest and best fan and then went for a nice long walk. I had to digest what happened.
Victoria: Ghost was featured in book clubs. Can you explain the selection process? What was your reaction when you found out?
Ann: Ghost was chosen by all the book clubs because they are owned by the same company: Literary Guild, Mystery Guild, Doubleday just to name few of them. The publisher actually submits a galley to the parent company. I was on a camping vacation when I stopped in at McDonald’s to check email. I was yelling and acting a fool.
Victoria: The big question on the minds of many writers, other than getting a foot in the door is, once you’re published is it easier to have a second book published? Or do you have to go through the same channels all over again?
Ann: Funny you should ask this. 😉 My second book is with Gallery as I write this. Gallery wrote in my contract that they have an option on all my fiction, so I’m pretty much going through the whole thing again. I don’t think you can ever get comfortable in today’s publishing business unless you’ve written, The Help, or a blockbuster like this. Then you’re only comfortable for the second book.
Victoria: I know with myself, sometimes I get so caught up in writing that I skip meals and may at times, neglect my family. (red face) How do you balance your writing career and family responsibilities and relaxation time?
Ann: Relaxation time J I don’t know. Each day is different. I still have a tween at home, plus my two young granddaughters come over two days a week. Ghost was rewritten with my premature granddaughter on my lap. She and her mother were living with us at the time. I think women learn early on how to balance a lot, otherwise they’d never accomplish anything they wanted. I think the word no helps a lot.
Victoria: Reading is a delightful and exciting pastime. Holding a book in your hands is in a sense intimate, the sharing of a special bond between author and characters. Many readers I speak to say they love the feel of a book in their hands, the smell of the paper, and that they’d never read ebooks. Ebooks are gaining popularity. Do you feel ebooks are selling better than hardcover and paperbacks? Do you have a preference? I hope this never occurs, but do you think ebooks are the way of the future?
Ann: I don’t think ebooks will ever replace real books, but they are gaining huge ground. As an author, I want people to read, and if ebooks are the solution then so be it. As a reader, I do not own a reader; even though I’ve decided at some point I will have to break down and buy one. I mean, I do have an ebook now. Ebooks have revived an interest in reading, there is no doubt. I think there will always be trade paperbacks, but I’m not so sure about hardbacks. I think we’re seeing a decrease in sales at this time, especially if you’re a new novelist. This is why I was all for going straight to trade paperback. I think it helped my sales.
Victoria: One of the most important questions: How do you market yourself and your books? What are the best forms of promotion?
Ann: At this time, I’d say word of mouth. How does an author start word of mouth? By reaching the reader. Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads are excellent ways. But I would suggest beginning to work on your platform long before the book hits the shelves. Gallery has given many books away because this starts conversations. Every time we’ve done a giveaway, sales have gone up.
Victoria: Without spoiling — can you tell us if your new book is a sequel? Is it about ghosts?
Ann: The book with Gallery now is Shelly Parker’s story. She’s one of the secondary characters in Ghost. Yes there are ghosts a plenty, even one of the characters is a ghost. Enough. That is all I can say.
Thank you, Ann, for sharing your time, insight, and experiences with us. We wish you continued success with Ghost on Black Mountain, and future publishing.