Today we're interviewing writer Ursula Wong, whose debut novel Purple Trees was recently published by Genretarium Publishing.
Having your first novel published is an exciting time, and we're glad to feature her here and find out more about her work.
Q: So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.
A: I think fiction is about taking a fact or an event, and giving it life. Originally, Purple Trees was about a loss in a family. I wanted to emphasize the loss by adding anger. Then I needed a reason for the anger, and so on. Eventually, it became a story about Lily Phelps, a woman with a tumultuous past that affected her relationship with her son.
Q: Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
A: Writing is like making lasagna. It gets better if you let it marinate a while. I wrote the first draft of Purple Trees in a few weeks. It took a year to evolve and finalize the story.
Q: What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
A: Ultimately, Purple Trees is about salvation and love. It’s also about family, coping with tragedy in unique ways, and it’s about secrets.
Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?
A: I hope the story resounds in different ways for different people as it touches many things in family life such as turmoil, illness, and hard-nosed tragedy affecting children.
The story takes place on a Massachusetts dairy farm. Dairy was a thriving industry in the 1960s and now there are very few dairy farms left. I wanted to remember what it was like growing up on a farm, and I wanted others to know about it, too.
Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?
A: Good stories have the elements of humor, tragedy, a sense of purpose, tension, and characters that we either love or hate.
Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?
A: Anyone familiar with Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina, or Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, or Carolyn Chute’s The Beans of Egypt, Maine will be on familiar ground when reading Purple Trees.
Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A: It’s great when a story has a theme that resonates with readers but a book audience is largely anonymous. I think the best we can do as writers is to be true to our characters, and write from the heart.
Q: Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?
A: I’m a retired computer engineer, so my goal was to become a professional writer, and that happened when I sold my first copy of Purple Trees.
I’d like to publish Amber Wolf, my next novel, later this year. It's a story about anti-Soviet resistance in Lithuania during WW II.
My daughter is going to college in California and my husband and I want to become familiar with the Los Angeles area over the next few years. So far, we adore the beaches, but hate the traffic.
Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?
A: Each time I send the novel out for review, it is the best I can do at the time. I find that incorporating review comments brings the novel to a new level.
In general, I start with a draft that has some structure and a few main events. Then I add material and revise. Sometimes, it takes a while to know my characters. I had that issue with Lily Phelps in Purple Trees, as she was so darn secretive.
Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A: I have an outstanding publisher who did an excellent job copyediting and raising content questions up to the very last draft. Content questions are those lingering issues that a writer should explore fully in a novel.
Because Purple Trees was my first novel, I hired an editor to review my first draft to make sure it made sense, had a good story arc, and had believable characters; namely a good foundation.
After that, I relied heavily on workshops.
Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A: I’d give a new writer the advice that Dale T. Phillips gave me. Finish what you start. Don’t give up. Stay with it. Trust the editing and workshop processes to improve the story.
I’d encourage them to attend workshops, which are regular meetings of like-minded writers who review each other’s work. I'd encourage them to find writers willing to collaborate on novels as a whole, discussing detail as well as broad aspects like tension and story arc. This goes beyond the typical workshop scenario of reviewing a chapter a week.
Q: Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A: I think many writers fantasize about a movie deal. Of course, I don’t know if Reese Witherspoon would be available to play a young Lily Phelps.
The next step with Purple Trees might be an audio rendition to see how well it translates.
Q: What's the next step in your writing world?
A: Publishing Amber Wolf is my next project. Given current events in Eastern Europe, the story is eerily relevant. My goal is to bring Soviet resistance in 1944 Lithuania, to life. Who was in the resistance? Where did they live? How did they get weapons? How do I represent a country in turmoil? I’m also incorporating some Lithuanian culture with foods, phrases, and traditions, like saying a prayer to good health under a crescent of the moon.
Q: Any other information you’d like to impart?
A: I’d like to thank Dale T. Phillips for the opportunity to post this interview on his blog.
Purple Trees is available:
And here's a terrific review of the book on Sara Carbonneau's review site.
Finally, if anyone would like to join my Reaching Readers group to receive a super-short story every month for entertainment and fun, feel free to send an email to me at email@example.com or contact me via my website at http://ursulawong.wordpress.com.