Way back when I won a novel by Abby Slovin entitled Letters in Cardboard Boxes from a giveaway on Sarah of Rhinestones and Telephones’ blog. When Abby got in contact with me to get my shipping address, we started chatting. One thing lead to another, and she asked if I’d like to do my own interview and giveaway. I said yes, but I wanted to wait until after I’d read the book. Well, I read the book right away; I pretty much couldn’t put it down. But, I got nervous thinking about the interview – how would I frame my questions so they would appeal to an audience that wants to read about sewing? I choked. And, the interview and giveaway never happened. The previous slew of giveaways on my blog reminded me of my intentions to interview Abby and give away an e-book copy of Letters in Cardboard Boxes, and I knew now that there was quite a lot of overlap between the creativity and independence of being an author and being enthusiastic about sewing. Abby was still more than willing to do the interview and giveaway, so after a brief synopsis of the book from the author’s own site, I’ll get right to it.
Winner of the First Horizon Award for superior work by a debut writer, Letters In Cardboard Boxes tells the story of an eccentric grandmother and her granddaughter, alongside a series of fantastical letters they once exchanged. Their letters traversed the East River to help Parker escape the loneliness of a childhood without her globe-trekking parents and communicate during her turbulent teenage years. Now, nearly a decade later, Parker begins to rediscover this letter writing tradition, as well as the family’s untold stories and, unexpectedly, letters from her grandmother’s own youth that paint a very different portrait of the woman who raised her.
Letters carries us through the experience of loss and the process of coping with life’s unexpected twists and turns. Through unusual and bold characters, the story moves through some of its heavier themes with honesty and humor.
Since this interview is taking place on a sewing blog, not a traditional place where fictional novels are reviewed but one in which creative pursuits are regularly shared, I’d like to begin by having you describe the moment when you realized that you wanted to share your creative works with others.
I decided to share my creative work with others when I realized that the story of Letters In Cardboard Boxes was one in which people could relate and perhaps even be comforted or inspired by. For me, the drive to connect with others is what forms the basis of so many creative endeavors, including writing.
How has following a creative pursuit, such as writing novels, shaped your daily life? Do you have a routine that helps you find your creativity or brings you back to your character’s stories?
Writing has made some of the more tedius aspects of daily life (like a commute to work or a trip to the supermarket) more interesting and exciting for me because I use these moments to think about my characters and develop plot in my stories. Because I work full time, I don’t always have time to sit down and write, so I usually “write” in the form of sending text messages to myself while I’m doing other things, which has made it possible for me to write even without technically have the time to do so. The routine that most consistently helps me find my creativity is getting outside on a daily basis and walking around or people watching. I’m very inspired by movement and the dynamism of the world around us.
I found the characters in Letters in Cardboard Boxes incredibly gripping. I remember hitting a point on a five-hour, cross-country flight where I was thankful that we wouldn’t be landing for another couple of hours because I desperately wanted the uninterrupted time with Parker and Tanya and Jerry. How important is character building for your stories?
Wow, thank you. That’s a real compliment because its the element of my stories to which I devote the most time and on which I place the greatest emphasis. I think its critical to create characters that speak to readers, give them a reason to join them on their journey. For me, a plot can be as simple as two people sitting on a park bench; a time frame can be as brief as five minutes; but if you have deep, interesting characters in that story, it will be compelling, and real, and signficant, and speak to people. Developing characters are what compels me to write and, I think, forms the basis of what compels people to read.
When you were writing the book, did you have a favorite character? What about now? Is there a character that’s still hanging around and waiting for you to write them into another story, whether it be to follow up on where this book ends or delve deeper into their past?
I love the character Jerry. I love his boyishness and wisdom, but also his quiet sadness. But, I wouldn’t necessarily consider him first for a spin-off story. His story, for the most part, has already been told, I think. Tanya, on the other hand, has the potential for a deeper story. There’s so much of her background and her future that remains unknown. I think readers might be interested to know what makes this girl so wise, despite her age and what such a person looks like in an older form.
Tell me about Jack.
Jack is the main character in a new, episodic story I’m currently writing called Jack and the Brick Wall, which follows Jack in his struggle with unemployment after graduating college. Facing the isolation and disappointment of unemployment, Jack sits at a brick wall in the East Village neighborhood in New York City, talking to passersby and trying to find some meaning in the situation in which he finds himself. Its a coming of age story of sorts, but combined with the very relevant issue of unemployment in which so many young people find themselves and the comedic relief of random encounters that is so central to city life.
I imagine being a writer and publishing novels is similar to running a small business. What advice do you have for other creative and crafty people interested in starting their own artistry-driven small business?
You’re absolutely correct. So much of writing and publishing (especially self publishing) revolves around being a good businessperson, and also trying to figure out when you should allow your creative self or business self be the dominant force. My advice for anyone thinking about starting their own creative business is to research and reach out to people who have successfully operated a business similar to what you’re looking to do. Talk to them, ask questions, find out what they did right and what they would do differently if they could do it over again. There is nothing more important, in my opinion, than experience and the wisdom it brings.
During your interview with Sarah at Rhinestones and Telephones, I remember you mentioning that you were able to publish the first round of Letters in Cardboard Boxes through Kickstarter. How did this round of publication affect you as a writer? Do you imagine using Kickstarter again in the future?
Kickstarter was a very important element to the first round of publication. It allowed me to market the novel within my own network and generate support that I might not otherwise have received. I could definitely see myself using Kickstarter again, mainly as an “official” launch for my next novel if I were to self publish (its so hard to find a decent platform to launch a novel when you self publish, so Kickstarter provides a really good means to do so).
Your website, www.abbyslovin.com, implies your readers can help to choose your next adventure. How important is reader feedback, and what’s next for you as a writer?
Feedback is essential to my process as a writer. I think its the only way to truly evolve and improve your craft. Without reader interaction, writing is a very isolating and almost static process. Its when readers enter the picture that the writing becomes dynamic and real. I hope your readers will consider visiting my website and weighing in on what project I should tackle next.
Thanks, Abby! And, thank you for sticking around to read my first ever blog interview. If you’d like to be entered into the drawing to win an e-book copy of Letters in Cardboard Boxes from Abby Slovin, just leave a comment below letting me know. I’ll pick a winner at random next Thursday, December 13th at 7 am PST. Good luck!