A few years back, the publishing world got all shook up, Elvis-style, with the advent of self-publishing. Or so many hopefuls thought. The floodgates opened up, and everyone with a word processor thought they were the next Tom Clancy. 99.9999999% of those hopefuls were dead wrong.
That said, I’m happy to report that Ms. Jamie Hoang is one of the few who actually not only published something readable, but wonderful. Full disclosure; Jamie and I are friends.. I read the book and prayed that I would at least like it a little bit; I loved it a lot.
Jamie’s first book is, “Blue Sun, Yellow Sky,” and here is what Amazon has to say about it:
Hailed as “One of the best technical painters of our time” by an L.A. Times critic, 27-year-old Aubrey Johnson is finally gaining traction with her work. But as she weaves through what should be a celebration of her art, a single nagging echo of her doctor’s words refuses to stay silent-there is no cure. In less than eight weeks Aubrey is going blind. Traveling on a one-way ticket around the world with childhood friend Jeff Anderson, Aubrey is in complete denial. But a blindfolded game of tasting foreign foods in China jolts her into confronting the reality of her situation. So begins her quest. In this adult coming-of-age story, Aubrey struggles to make sense of her crippling diagnosis. But on her journey she finds a deeper understanding of herself and her life-sometimes fragmented and complex, but always with relentless truth.
Jamie sat down recently to answer a few questions. Let’s get started!
Where did you get your start writing? College, high school?
I wrote a little bit in high school, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year in college at UCLA that I starting taking my craft seriously. I had a great screenwriting professor, Kris Young, who taught me the fundamentals and was encouraging when I needed it most.Blue Sun, Yellow Sky
What made you want to be a writer of novels? How did you come to this decision?
After I graduated from college I spent five years doing odd jobs in the industry. You name it, I probably did it; production design, legal, producing, production accounting…the list goes on. Shortly after my 26th birthday I made a decision: I was going to be a writer. I quit the two jobs I had and moved to Houston, Texas to live with my sister while I wrote BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY. With the help of my sister and so many friends in Houston I managed to stretch my savings to last two years and came back to California with a finished book!
What was the spark that gave you the idea for this book?
Coming off the heels of reading EAT, PRAY, LOVE and WILD, I knew that I wanted to write women’s fiction. But unlike Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed I wasn’t reeling from a crisis—that would come later once the reality of what I’d chosen to do set in. What I did know was that I was drawn to strong female protagonists, and when I came across an article about a Dutch painter who was going blind, I knew I had my story.
How long did it take you to write? As a writer, do you consider yourself more of an “architect,” or, “gardener”?
BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY took me three years to write and a year to market (a process that is ongoing).
I am definitely a gardener. I love to get lost in the details. And almost to a fault, I focus more on what a character observes or sees than where they’re supposed to be going plot-wise. Case in point, I always write an outline and by day three of the actual writing I’ve usually tossed out 70% of it! Even though I’m the author, I am as much on this journey as anyone reading, so I want the freedom to explore different avenues. I believe strongly in letting my characters make lots of mistakes. That being said, I understand the importance of structure so I enlist the help of others to make sure I don’t veer too far off course.
What was your creative process in editing and getting feedback?
This was the hardest part for me. I have a tendency to think everyone else is right and I try to incorporate every note they suggest, but the problem with that is it’s really easy to lose the characters’ voices. I don’t have a surefire method for how to deal with notes except to say that I usually try adding their notes to the first chapter (saved as a new copy, of course), let it sit for a day, and then go back a re-read it to see if I think it was an improvement or changed the tone too much. I also have over 70 drafts of this book so it’s probably not the most efficient method. =)
What made you decide to self-publish?
I spent about two months submitting queries to over a hundred agents and I got some decent feedback, but when they all passed I quickly decided I didn’t want to waste more time trying to hunt down that needle-in-a-haystack agent who was willing to take on a new writer. By then I was twenty-nine going on thirty and felt like I’d already wasted too much time. So I figured if I could get it out there and show that readers like it, I would revisit the agent idea later. The paperback comes out April 25th, so you’ll have to check back later to see if it resulted me getting signed.
What is your next book project going to be?
I have a couple of different ideas, but the one I’m toying with now is actually YA. Two of the bloggers who reviewed my book compared it to popular YA novels (John Green’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and Jodi Piccoult’s ONE YEAR) and while my book is geared toward adults, I think the YA audience would enjoy my writing style. Plus, as a kid growing up with immigrant parents who worked a lot, YA books fed my hunger for adventure and showed me a world outside my small bubble of school and home. It would certainly be a challenge but one I think I’d enjoy.
What is your word count per day?
It varies. Some days when the words aren’t flowing I’ll write nothing. I had an Inprint teacher Aja Gable who used to tell us that the time we spent thinking about our stories counted and I’ve never forgotten that. So when writer’s block kicked in, I didn’t fight it, I simply turned those days into research days. Because of the strong art theme in BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY I spent a lot of days wandering around the museum district in Houston. I’d study a painting or sculpture for hours and try to imagine myself in the artist’s shoes. Of course, I also have fantastic writing days that start at 8:00 am and go until midnight and I’ll complete an entire chapter in one sitting.
What are your long-term career plans?
I plan on being a hugely successful novelist who writes in cafés all around the world–one can dream right? At the moment I don’t have a clear roadmap as to how that’s going to work, but that’s always been the goal. I caught the travel bug early and the itch to leave is always just a Google search away. Now that I’ve published my first book, I don’t want to be anything other than a writer, so I’m choosing not to think about the future turning out any other way.
Describe the room and time of day that you like to write. Music, or silence? Any lucky charms?
I don’t have a specific regimen. I like to switch it up. I look for local coffee shops—the more foot traffic the better—and I’ll park myself there for however long it takes. I’m not a fan of silence but I can’t have the TV going either, so if a place gets too noisy I’ll pick a station on Pandora that matches the tone of whatever I’m writing and zero in on my computer screen. Seasonally, my best writing happens in the winter so I’ll usually bundle up, make a large pot of coffee or tea, light an echinacea candle, get comfy, and write until my fingers blister.
Finally, what advice would you have to anyone going the self-publishing route?
Don’t be discouraged. There are a lot of “How to” self-publishing books out there. Don’t buy them all! Do your research and pick a couple. Most of them overlap in what they have to say and getting a bunch of books to study is overwhelming. Take it a day at a time, but make sure to set goals so that you’re not wasting time every morning wondering what you should be doing. I wrote an article a while ago called “The 5 things you need to do before self-publishing” that was really just for myself so that I’d have a rubric for the next book, but it’s a good starting point for anyone with a finished book and no idea what to do next. Also, get a Twitter account, start following other writers and make sure you interact with your followers. There is a huge community of writers on Twitter and they’re very supportive of each other.