Lesley Kagen is not only hilariously funny, whip-smart, and generously warm, she's also the New York Times bestselling author of such acclaimed novels as Whistling in the Dark, Good Graces, Land of a Hundred Wonders, Tomorrow River, and her newest, Mare's Nest. I'm thrilled and honored to have her here on the blog to talk about it. Thank you, Lesley!
Publishing is a brave new world. Recently, the acclaimed novelist Jon Clinch outed himself as the self-published writer Sam Winston. You're a NYT bestselling author and you've decided to self-publish your new novel, Mare's Nest. How did this decision come about? What's the process been like so far? Would you go back to traditional publishing or do you feel this is the wave of the future?
The decision to publish MARE'S NEST myself was years in the making. I could go on and on, but the crux? I'd grown disenchanted with traditional publishing and began to yearn for a different, happier experience. One, in which, I called the shots. (I'm a live-by-the-pen, die-by-the-pen kinda gal.) The self-pub process has been fantastic so far. I've enjoyed designing the cover, picking the type, deciding on the formatting...all the things that are required to create a book. It's a little like wrapping a Christmas present that I made from scratch for someone I love.
Yeah, I'm positive that you'll see more and more well-known authors moving in the same direction in order to keep a roof over their head on food on their tables. From what I can tell, the Big 6 seem primarily interested in debut authors or mega-sellers right now. I can't tell you the number of my friends---wonderful authors all--- who do not fit into these categories. As a result, they are finding it almost impossible to secure deals. It's disheartening. And shocking. A brutal reminder that as much as we all revere books---publishing is a business.
As far as going back to traditional publishing, if the situation was right--if I connected with an editor I admire, who felt the same way about my work, or a house that was enthusiastic about my book and would do there best to market it-- then sure, I'd consider it. On the other hand, I was in the record business for a lot of years. If you had told me back in those days that there'd come a time that there wouldn't be records, or record stores, I would've called the men in the white jackets to come pick you up. If the book business follows the same path, which it looks like it's doing, e-pubbing will be where it's at.
Mare's Nest took you ten years to write! Tell us about that. Was there ever a moment when you felt you were in over your head? How long does it usually take you to write a book?
Everything about this book is different than my previous four. It usually takes me around a year and a half to complete a story, so working on Mare's Nest sporadically over the past ten years has been an odd way to go about it. It's a novel based on a true story, and I'd never written anything like that before. It's also told over a fourteen year period, more, if you consider the narrator's backstory, and most of my stories take place over a summer. Was there ever a moment when I felt like I was in over my head? Are you kidding? Was there ever a moment that I didn't? I'm incredibly pleased and proud of the book, but wow...blood, sweat, and tears, ya know?
You've said that Mare's Nest is based on a true story. What was that story and what was it about it that caught you and wouldn't let go?
The book is a heartfelt and redemptive love story about mothers and daughters. But it's also serves as a caveat emptor. Mare's Nest is set in the horse world, which is not what most people think it is. All high-falutin'. It can be very nasty, and sometimes--deadly, both for horses and their owners. Riding is dangerous, not only physically, but fiscally. And...emotionally. I am passionate about writing, and horses, and most of all--parenting. Keeping our kids safe is a theme in all my books, most especially in this one. Over the years, I've seen families swindled, lied to, childrens' hearts and extremities broken, horses drugged, or killed for insurance money, and so on. As a recipient of a few of the heinous acts, I wanted to put others in the know. To the best of my knowledge, nobody's written a book about the down and dirty of the sport, the behind the scenes stuff. I'm sure there are parallels in other sports, gymnastics, ice skating, etc., but horseback riding and showing...it's the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. When it's good, it's very, very good, and when it's bad it's horrid.
Mare's Nest is very much about horses, which makes me want to know how do you know what you know? Are you a horse person or did you research? What sparked the whole idea of the novel?
I've been riding since I was eight years old. I'm now...cough...cough...which is quite a bit older than that. My parents were in the business of buying and selling horses before they were driven under financially and ended up going bankrupt, and divorcing, remarrying, and divorcing again. As a kid, I was their little salesgirl. I showed horses all over the Midwest, won tons of awards, ribbons, and championships. But considering how that all ended up, the last thing in the world I wanted was for my daughter, Casey, to get on the back of a horse. But she was not to be denied. She's been riding and showing first saddlebreds and then hunter/jumper ponies and horses for over fourteen years now, and we're still involved. Most kids in the sport are girls, so I imagine when she has a daughter, her girl will ride as well. Seems to be something in our wiring.
One of the themes of the novel is whether or not history repeats itself. Do you think history usually does? And is that necessarily a bad thing?
If you had a loving, supportive childhood, history repeating itself is what we're hoping for when we parent. But a replication of my childhood , which left quite a bit to be desired, was not what I wanted for my daughter and son. I was so desperate to prevent traumatizing them, that I think I overcorrected, the way you do when you're trying to avoid a head-on crash. In the book, I wanted to explore the power of redemption. And what influence our parents have on our own parenting. Do we all try to set the record straight? To give to our children that which we feel we still need? Do we end up creating an entirely new set of problems?
What's obsessing you now?
I am an obsessive, so unless you have a couple of hours... (Laughs.) If you mean writing-wise, I've begun a new story about an emotionally troubled middle-aged woman who finds herself disenfranchised from her family. When she's diagnosed with a life threatening disease, she comes up with a rather unusual support system to help her make it through the crisis. It's funny and sweet, I think. I hope.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
If after exposing its underbelly, I fear repercussions from the horse world, which can be notoriously vindictive.
My flip answer is---You mean like a horse head in the bed thing? Not really too concerned. I'm kind of a bad-ass, myself. But it'll be interesting to see the reactions to the book from both horse people and non-horse people. I wrote the story keeping both in mind and hope like heck that I pulled it off. Fingers crossed.