What is your novel about?
Soon after her husband’s tragic death, Robin Besher makes a startling discovery: He had recklessly blown through their entire savings on decrepit rentals in Four Points, the Appalachian town Robin grew up in. Forced to return after decades, Robin and her daughter, Haley, set out to renovate the properties as quickly as possible–before anyone exposes Robin’s secret past as a teenage prostitute. Disaster strikes when Haley befriends a troubled teen mother, hurling Robin back into a past she’d worked so hard to escape. Robin must reshape her idea of home or risk repeating her greatest mistakes.
What were your book launch plans pre-Covid?
I had a very specific launch plan in mind when I signed the contract to publish my second novel with University of New Orleans Press: a big reading and signing at Words Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ, followed by a huge celebration in my backyard, catered with foods from the novel and from the Pittsburgh area, where the novel is set. Then, a week or so later, there would be a second launch party in my hometown in southwestern PA. There’s a cafe in town with a little stage, and I’d planned to invite everyone from across the spectrum of my life to celebrate this book–elementary school teachers, relatives, high school friends. I held very similar events in 2016, when my first novel, Each Vagabond by Name, was published, and getting to plan them again felt like being struck by lightning a second time (in a good way). People are kind; people have been excited about this book; and I couldn’t wait to bring everyone I know together.
Where were you when you heard your book tour/ launch was cancelled?
To be honest–the virus struck as I was in the very beginning stages of planning my launches and other events and readings. I’d begun the process of contacting bookstores, festivals, and reading series, but before I could even receive replies, the world closed. Public celebrations and promotions of my novel were stopped before they even started. There’s no way to know when we’ll be able to gather again, but I know I’ll celebrate at some point, even if it’s well after my book has entered the world.
Are you and your publisher doing anything special/ different to promote your novel?
Fortunately, a lot of the early promotional work was already underway before the pandemic escalated, and my publisher and freelance publicist had lined up reviews, interviews, and essays to appear around the launch date. Now, I’m pursuing any and all opportunities for virtual readings, Q&A’s, Twitter interviews, guest blog posts, social media promotion with other authors, and more. So many people have offered space on their platforms to help authors right now, and it’s exciting–not what I’d envisioned, but these are new and innovative ways to reach readers. As a small-press author, I’ve always put a lot of effort into promotion, and I’m grateful for these new outlets.
Can you tell us a bit about the path to writing and selling your book?
I began writing The Distance from Four Points in 2013, but its early shape and story changed drastically as I revised. The wilder elements of the plot eventually fell away as minor characters spoke up and took over, and what was left was the story I have now: a woman forced to confront the tragic past she’s always denied, finding a way to forgive herself and make a home for her daughter. I’m not an efficient writer, so the changes I made over the years were sweeping and structural. I published my first novel with the University of New Orleans Press in 2016, so there was a long break in writing and revising Four Points while I focused on editorial notes and then promotion for that book. When I finally finished Four Points in 2018, I queried agents but didn’t get to yes with anyone, so I approached UNO to see if they’d be interested in taking a look at another work of mine. They were, and said yes. A happy ending.
On a lighter note, do you have any quirky writing rituals?
When I’m not (temporarily) homeschooling my two daughters, I have a routine: after the kids are off to school, I walk the dog and then go upstairs to my desk. I light a candle. Usually I’ll pull a tarot card and a card from a deck I made called the Statements of Control. Then I’ll begin writing. All of my little talismans are at hand–storyteller figurines from Taos, tiny jars of pine needles from Christmas trees past, a bit of wallpaper from our New Hampshire farmhouse, beach pebbles, souvenirs from past travels. And, always, I light a St. Jude devotional candle. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, and for a while–after years of near-misses for my first novel–I believed my work was destined to be a permanent lost cause. I bought a St. Jude candle from the Dollar Tree and asked for help. I don’t generally traffic in the Catholic saints, but that book was eventually published, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t owe St. Jude a favor.
What was the hardest cut you made from your book, your favorite Dead Darling?
Near the end of my novel, I had a scene where my protagonist, Robin, returns to the affluent suburb from which she’s been exiled to attend a former friend’s Cabi party. These parties are popular in suburbia–a local woman brings a rack of clothes from a company called Cabi to the house of another woman who’s agreed to host the party, presents the clothes, and then the party attendees strip down in the hostess’s living room and try them on. In my novel, a brash friend of Robin’s crashes the party when the women are half-dressed, and the scene becomes an absurd culture clash. My editor pointed out–accurately, fairly–that the scene wasn’t serving the story. It introduced too many new and inconsequential characters too late in the game. The darling had to go…but I loved that scene.
Where can we buy your novel (links)?
The Distance from Four Points launches May 28 and can be purchased at the sites below or ordered from any indie bookstore: