On Tuesday I shared my review of Five Days Left, by Julie Lawson Timmer. Today I’m thrilled to share my conversation with the author. Enjoy!
photo by Myra Klarman
Thank you so much Julie for joining me on my blog to answer some questions about your debut novel Five Days Left which is out this week.
Thanks for having me, Anita! Your blog is terrific!
One of the first things that struck me with this book was the debilitating disease that Mara faces. How did you choose Huntington’s Disease as her nemesis?
I was inspired to write Five Days Left when a friend of mine died after a long struggle with cancer. I wanted to write about someone facing an incurable disease, but I didn’t want (or feel I had a right) to write my friend’s story. I also didn’t want to write about ALS, because another friend of mine had recently been diagnosed with that. So, I researched other incurable, fatal diseases and that research led me to HD. I didn’t know anything about it. Now I sure do.
Your two main characters Mara and Scott seem so very real and their personalities so fleshed out. Did you base them on anyone you knew with similar crisis?
Thank you for those nice words about Mara and Scott. Mara is of course based on my friend, but Mara is not my friend–FDL is not my friend’s story. Scott is, for me, a reflection of what it’s like to be a stepparent. Like Scott, I have come to love two children who aren’t my own (two stepdaughters), but I have no control over their future.
Scott and his wife are temporary foster parents, did you have any experience with the foster system? I imagine much research.
Technically, Scott and Laurie are “limited guardians” of Curtis, not foster parents. I have done quite a bit of research into foster parenting for another book, and I knew about the lengthy process of getting approved to be a foster parent. Scott and Laurie didn’t have time to go through the long approval process–they only had a few days. Under Michigan law (and likely other states, too) a person can become a limited guardian of a child through no more than written permission of the child’s parent, so that was a better vehicle to get Curtis into the care of Scott than the foster care system.
I found Mara’s ethnicity, being Indian, an interesting choice. Was there any particular reason for this specific choice?
None at all. One night, I started making notes about Mara and without even thinking about it, I started writing about a woman who’d been adopted from an Indian orphanage, and who made the trek back to India herself to adopt her own child there. Mara appeared to me with her heritage and her adopted status intact. It was sort of mystifying at the time!
Mara and Scott have a built on an online support group, do you have any personal experience with such a group? I should tell you I have a group of friends that began as expectant moms due in January 1998, over the past 17 years many of have met in person and we still have private group now on facebook where we support each other daily.
Yes, I do. I’ve been part of an anonymous online work/family balance blog for several years. I have become friends with the other members, some of whom I now trade emails with and plan to see in person, some of whom I still know only by their online names. It’s a wonderful, supportive group and we talk most days. FDL is, in part, a love letter to that group of people, who have a very special place in my life and heart.
Please share with us your journey from manuscript to publishing.
My journey to publication was one of premature querying, many mistakes and a tremendous amount of luck. I wrote a dreadful, way-too-long, meandering first draft and pitched it (prematurely) at a writer’s conference in the summer of 2011. None of those pitches led to an offer, but I came away from that conference with some wonderful writing friends, a renewed sense of confidence in my writing and some solid ideas as to how to revise the book.
After the conference, I rewrote the book completely, and then started querying. I was so lucky to receive a revise and resubmit request (R&R) early on, from an agent who took the time to speak with me about the changes she thought FDL required. She ended up giving me two chances to revise and resubmit, which means she read the book three times–to this day, I am astounded by the time she took with me. So generous! Ultimately, she passed, but thanks to her, I had a much more polished manuscript.
Despite the improved draft, though, I decided in August 2012 to shelve FDL. It had been a year, I had spent hours revising it and had sent almost 100 queries, none of which led to an offer. I was ready to call it a “practice novel” and move on. So, when I received an R&R from Victoria Sanders later that month, I considered not even responding. Thankfully, my husband urged me to sleep on it and reconsider. I did both, and ended up doing another 6-month gut-and-rewrite.
I sent my revision to Victoria at the end of January 2013. She called five days later to offer representation. Twenty-one days after that, she sold it at auction, to Amy Einhorn, who at the time had an imprint at Putnam. After the long slog of revision and rejection, the speed at which I ended up with an agent and a book deal made my head spin.
Are you working on a new book? And if so can you share a little with us?
Yes, I am, and yes, I can! My second book deals with estranged families, step parenting and the terrible practice of “rehoming,” where people who no longer want their adopted children advertise them on the Internet. It’s not a tear-jerker like FDL, but it’s similar in that it asks some “What would you do?” questions, which I expect every book I write will do.
Thank you again Julie for you your time, I hope all my readers will pick up a copy of Five Days Left, I have a feeling the sales of tissues may rise with your book sales!!
Thanks so much, Anita!
Julie Lawson Timmer grew up in Stratford, Ontario. She now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Dan, their four teenage children and two badly -behaved labs. She is a lawyer by day, a writer,mom/stepmom, fledgling CrossFitter and dreadful cook by night. Five Days Left is her first novel.