Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
Welcome Hillary Manton Lodge, author of A Table By The Window (WaterBrook Multnomah) to Dreams Coming True! Leave a comment on this post for the chance to win a copy of A Table By the Window AND recipe cards with recipes from the book! Winner will be announced next Thursday.
Tell us a little about yourself, Hillary.
I graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism, which might seem strange considering that I always looked ahead to a career in fiction. But the writing, marketing, and design skills I learned have been so useful throughout my career, I’m thankful for that training.
After babysitting all through high school and college, I became tired of eating boxed macaroni and cheese every night and slowly because to teach myself how to cook. Little by little, I began to experiment with new ingredients and techniques, learning from my mom, from friends, and from cookbooks. My interest in food really took off when I was accepted into an internship at Northwest Palate Magazine in Portland.
The magazine went under during the recession, sadly, but it introduced me to a whole new world full of fascinating characters. When the internship ended, I continued to cook and threw small gatherings for friends.
I married my husband in 2007, and signed the contract for my first novel, Plain Jayne, in 2008. It’s been a wild ride – writing, travelling, publishing, moving, and repeat – but it’s also been a great adventure.
When did this creative dream begin?
The beginning threads began to weave together while I was still working at the magazine. One afternoon in particular, we had a chef visiting the magazine kitchen. Many chefs are introverts, but this one wasn’t, and I found myself sitting at my computer, writing down some of the things he said. The idea developed further a couple years later when I met my husband—the online-dating thread in the book was inspired by our own story.
How did this project/idea get started?
I tried getting the book off the ground by writing the character of Gemma into my first two novels, Plain Jayne and Simply Sara. Gemma was a food-writer friend of Jayne’s at the newspaper who came from this huge, opinionated restaurant family. When that spin-off couldn’t find its footing, the idea grew and changed until it became the three-book series that WaterBrook Multnomah eventually welcomed with open arms.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
For starters, foodie fiction is a popular sub-genre in mainstream women’s fiction, but hasn’t quite happened in CBA yet. Which doesn’t mean the interest isn’t there, only that it’s not a thing yet. So not only is the subject matter unique, but I really wanted to give it a strong sense of place by setting it in Portland, OR. Portland is such a fascinating character in its own right that it lent a lot of flavor to the book. Lastly, I really love my characters and I work to make them come alive to readers. If a reader comes away feeling as though these people exist, I’ve done my job right.
How does your book create community?
It’s really the perfect pick for a book club – with all of the recipes scattered throughout the book, my hope is that it will inspire readers to try new things in the kitchen, to experiment, and to share with a gathering of friends.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly…but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Making something is hard. My first advice is to find the project that you’re crazy excited about, and do that. Secondly, make a plan for reaching the finish line. For writers, I’m a strong advocate for a detailed synopsis – it’s just too easy to get lost or stuck without one. For artists, crafters, and foodies, that same preparation can mean having all of your supplies or ingredients ready and measured. If you’ve got everything you need in front of you, it’s so much easier to carry on.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process?
Like any book, it’s definitely a group effort. The author is the idea generator, definitely. I mentioned earlier that elements of the book were inspired by my own online romance and internship at a food-oriented, independent magazine. The rest . . . ideas just come. I like to joke that writers enjoy a combination of schizophrenia and OCD – we hear the voices and are compelled to write them down. Sometimes ideas don’t come at the pace I want them to, but they always show up.
My agent and I worked for two years to find a home for this series. I wrote 26 versions of the book proposal. And when it did find a home with WaterBrook, I probably rewrote about forty percent of the book. Because I’d been working on it for so long, it had become kind of a lumpy, stringy mess. My editor, Shannon Marchese, helped me to yank out the parts that didn’t work and build up the parts that did. Once the plot bumps were paved over, I worked with Susan Tjaden to make sure everything worked line to line, word to word. And after that, there were copy edits. With every pass, the book became smoother and more beautiful.
By the time I received the finished copy, I was so overwhelmed. The design department did a beautiful job inside and out. And I was deeply moved by the authors who were willing and able to endorse the book, despite the fact that the window to read and respond was essentially over the Christmas holidays. Authors are some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. I’ve been so very blessed.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
The 26 proposals were certainly challenging! Lots of rejections, one of them on my birthday. On top of that, my husband changed jobs twice, and we moved five times. Some people handle transition well – at least, I imagine that some people do. But I really, really don’t. So handling whatever the stage of writing and production while existing in a constant state of upheaval was certainly challenging.
What have you learned?
So many things. With my last book, I used notecards to work out my plotting. They worked great until we got a puppy, and suddenly pieces of paper on the couch were a very, very bad idea. So with this book I learned to journal through each plot turn. I have a lined journal that I use, though I also like using smaller, unlined sketchpads when it comes to plot timelines. I like to do it all by hand, because it’s a different brain pathway from thoughts to handwritten lines than using a computer, so I think it’s mentally relaxing after a day of trying to make things happen in a Word document.
Most people think writing is easy and relaxing, and that you do it while sitting in a field with the breeze blowing through your hair. The truth is that it’s tough, and you have to fight for it. Also: writing in a field is hard on your back.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you?
I have a communications background and I’m good at generating ideas, so some elements of marketing come easily to me. What’s tricky is marketing one book while writing another – I’m lousy at that brand of multi-tasking.
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
The biggest thing about marketing, I think, is that you first have to create the very best book possible. If you have a book that people connect with, that they want to share and champion – that’s beyond huge. Some authors will over-focus or over-stress over marketing, which . . . ultimately, the author has to choose writing first. You can make all the social media noise you want, but if your book isn’t inspiring love and devotion from readers, there’s nowhere to go from there. An enthusiastic audience will market your book alongside of you.
What social network has worked best for you?
I’m most active on Facebook, and I’ve really enjoyed connecting with readers there. Because a good deal of my target audience is on Pinterest, I’ve created boards for all of the books, and it’s not only been fun for me, but it’s had great reader response. I’m also pulling together a Spotify playlist to share that’s specific to the book, which is a first for me, but something I’m excited about!
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
If it’s something you’re prepared to go to battle for, do it.
Where do you see this project in five years?
All three books sitting on a bookshelf together, talking about the good old days.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your creative dream, but nobody has?
People don’t often ask what advice I would have given to myself ten years ago. I wish I had been less focused on publication and more focused on finding my voice, and writing things that brought me joy. While I was receiving interest from editors and agents, I still hadn’t found my voice yet. Writing was hard because I was taking my own voice and reshaping it into what I thought it should sound like. I wish I’d worried less about what I should have sounded like or should have been writing about and simply focused on telling a story that hit close to home, in a way that felt natural and easy.
How can we find your creative dream come true?
Come visit my website at www.hillarymantonlodge.com. You’ll find my blog, links to books, resources for book groups, and plenty of ways to connect via email, Facebook, and other social media.