Interview ~ All The Difference by Leah Ferguson

interview

How do you define success?

            I think of success in terms of contentment. If a person can look around her life—at her home and town, her friends, her family, her goals—and be at peace with her place in each of them, then I think she’s there, really. She’s got it made. To me success has nothing to do with money or fame or a certain rank on some imaginary social ladder. It’s all about contentment—that feeling of, okay. I’ve got this. This is good enough for me.

How do you celebrate the completion of a book?

            When I finished the first draft of All the Difference—it was about 11:05 on a Thursday night, I think—I walked into my husband’s office, cheered with him, and opened a beer. After that? There were so many edits and revisions to the novel I can’t quite remember when it was officially finished. I’m probably going to read the published version with one eye closed, just so I don’t see something I want to change!

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

            I hope readers get a sense of peace and optimism that can reflect back onto their own lives. Molly is such a relatable character, and through her I wrote an ending that, ideally, is satisfying. I want people to close the book and think, “All right, Molly’s going to be okay. I think, then, that I might be okay.”

How many books are in your TBR pile?

            Oh my goodness, too many to count. I usually have a pile of three or four books stacked on a side table waiting for me, but my written lists of TBR books are everywhere: I have running lists on my phone, as well as on my computer. I have photos and screenshots I take of covers that I want to remember. And the Post-It notes! I find Post-It notes all over the place, with scrawled titles I write down in a frenzy and can’t decipher later. Especially now that I’m in the writer’s community and want to support other authors, the list grows more quickly than I think is probably healthy. I could happily read all day long, but I’m not so sure my family would appreciate that so much.

Describe your book in 5 words

            In five words, I’d say: Current. Funny. Smart. Heartfelt. Real.

Where is your favorite spot to write?

            We just moved into a new house last year, and I got to claim the formal living room as my writing space. Right now it’s just a blank room with a desk and a story map and a bunch of boxes and pictures we still haven’t put in their rightful places, but it’s peaceful. It has two windows and a view of the front yard and there’s usually a cat sitting on my lap, and it has loads of potential. If you can ignore the piles of stuff in that one corner over there, it’s kind of lovely.

What do you enjoy the most about writing?

            I write for that moment when everything clicks and the words start coming faster than I can type. It doesn’t happen as often in novel writing as it does in my personal blogging, but when it does—and when I can go back and read what I’ve written and make a few tweaks and voila! I got it!—it’s magic. That’s what makes me feel I’m doing this for a reason, that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

What was the hardest part about writing your book?

            Finding the time is a big issue, but more so finding the focus in the time I can get. I’m a full-time mom to three young children. They’ve gotten old enough that I can carve out time in the mornings while they play or are in school, but it’s hard to separate myself from life (the cleaning! the pick-ups and drop-offs! that overdue library book!) and just dive into the story. Like many writers, once I’m in the story, I’m in: I’m in my head, I get sort of distracted and cranky when I can’t be at the computer, and I’m just generally not so much fun to be around when I’m really writing. So, as a mom and a member of the community at large (ha) it’s often easier to just focus on real life and not on the one in my head. One day I’ll learn to balance the two. But I’m not quite there yet.

How did you know you should become an author?

            I’ve always written, and always wanted to write, but getting serious about it terrified me. My parents and brother were people who have a way with words, so there was something in the blood, there, but I couldn’t move past my insecurities: What if I failed? What if I couldn’t make a career out of it? I didn’t want to be a journalist, or a technical writer. I wanted to write stories, personal essays, and I couldn’t imagine making a living off of something as fantastical as writing. And even when I got full-time jobs—first as an editor, then as a teacher—I wasn’t brave enough to take a stab at it in my free time. It finally took my husband and some good friends encouraging me to start a blog that got the ball rolling. And, sadly enough, it wasn’t until my father passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2008 that the switch in my self-confidence flipped. I’d written and delivered a eulogy for his funeral mass, and afterward, in the bathroom of the place where we had the reception, I ran into the wife of a distant cousin. She asked me if I was an author, and when I said, “No,” there was a voice in my head that added, “But I want to be.” We lost my dad too soon, and something kind of unlocked after that. It was a feeling of “What the hell?,” really: why be here on this planet if we’re not going to do everything we can to be what we think we’re supposed to be—or at least try? It still took a while—two and a half years, in fact, and the occasional prodding by my close family and husband—but I eventually started All the Difference, and jumped in.

What is your favorite scene in your book?

            Oh, gosh. Without a doubt, my most favorite scene is the one where Molly goes into labor. It’s serious, it’s funny, and I think it brings so many different plot points in the story together. It was the most fun to write and edit.

What books do you love that don’t get a lot of hype?  

            I like to think I discovered Liane Moriarty before the rest of the world did, but I’m not sure if she’d appreciate that! I read What Alice Forgot and was recommending it to everyone before she broke out with The Husbands Secret. And a book that I love, love, is Major Pettigrews Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. I’ve become really drawn to British authors—Nick Hornby, David Nichols—and the dry humor and wit in Simonsson’s book makes it one to read over and over again. It’s a joy. I think everyone who likes humorous, heartfelt fiction—like Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins—should read hers.

What makes your novel stand out from the crowd? 

            Can I tell you what my agent (Katie Shea Boutillier of Donald Maass Literary Agency) told me about it? Katie said she was drawn to All the Difference because it’s super current—it deals with modern working (and possibly single) motherhood, among other really “now” issues—and she said she loved how the writing is smart as much as it is funny. Which I appreciate, because, of course, that’s the voice I hope is coming out when I write. I love to read intelligent, delightful novels that make me laugh out loud once in a while, so to hear her say that about All the Difference was pretty much one of the happiest points in this process for me.

Do your characters really talk to you? 

            Nope! Isn’t that terrible? Dan, maybe, because he’s a minor character and was the easiest, most fun to write, so there was no pressure there and I could relax with him. But All the Difference was a learning novel for me—it’s what taught me how to write a book. I was so immersed in weeding out the extra stuff and making a proper story that when I’d walk away from it, I’d walk away. (In my defense, though, I was pregnant and gave birth to my third child during many of the edits for the book, so that’s a good reason, right? Perhaps the need for a nap drowned out the voices hollering at me from those pages.). So maybe my characters nagged me, yes, because I so often ignored them!

What's the best advice anyone has ever given you?

            Ah, this is a good question with a weird answer. This advice actually came from my mentor teacher when I was doing a teaching internship in grad school—I’d decided to switch careers in my mid-twenties to become a high school English teacher, and one of our last assignments was to do intensive student-teaching. He taught me that an educator should apply the idea of “into, through and beyond” to her lessons: what background and knowledge is each student bringing into any lesson? How could I build on that experience? And finally, how would I show them how to carry this knowledge into the future? It was the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, because not only did it show me how to teach, it taught me how to see each child as an individual. I think it’s great advice that applies to writing, too, and I tried to consider it while writing All the Difference: What experiences are both my reader and main character bringing to this story? How could I build from that? And—this is my favorite part—how would I tell the story so that the theme can be carried (by both the protagonist and my reader) into the future? I’d read that a good story ends in a way that the reader feels isn’t actually the end—meaning, the character’s life continues on, and we’re satisfied with the glimpse into the life we were showed. But that “beyond” can only occur if the reader has been allowed to be a part of the “into” and “through,” as well.

What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?

            I loved any of Judy Blume’s books when I was a preteen, but especially Are You There, God? Its Me, Margaret. Funny, a bit scandalous, and real. I remember reading and thinking, how does Blume know exactly what it feels like to be me? She has a gift.

What's one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors? 

            Listen to criticism. If multiple people are giving you identical suggestions about your work, they’re probably right.

Do you write as you go, or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?

            So far, I’ve written out a detailed outline first, out of necessity: I plotted out my first book because I was going to write the first draft during NaNoWriMo and wanted a game plan to keep me focused and on task. With my current project, I started “pantsing” it, but finally set down a detailed synopsis at the prompting of my agent (translation: I need a book proposal!), which was actually nice: I can take that synopsis and break it down into chunks and write from there. One day I’ll pants my way through a whole book. But I might wait for Book #3 for that kind of bravery.

How long does it take you to write a book?

            I’ve only written one novel to completion so far, and it was during a funky time in my life, because my family was growing at the same time at the same time as my writing endeavors. I completed the first draft (but only about 50,000 words) of All the Difference in the month of November, 2010, when my second daughter was five months old, then took a year to edit it before querying agents. I worked on (two!) revise-and-resubmits for my future agent, Katie, over the summer of 2011 (with feedback from beta readers somewhere in there), and she offered me representation that Thanksgiving. She reviewed the manuscript and made changes over the winter, and delivered her edit letter to me that spring 2012—just as I discovered I was pregnant with my third child. So that summer and fall I alternated between juggling morning sickness and life with my other two kiddos with making revisions (so. slowly.). I gave birth to my son in December of 2013 and delivered my edits to Katie a couple of months after that (the book was sold to Berkley that spring). It was absolutely nuts. I dreamed of establishing a writing career once my children are in school. To actually start the process while my babies were still so tiny was a leap of faith mixed with a good dose of ridiculous insanity.

How do you go about revising/editing?

            I read through the manuscript first, make it as clean as I think possible, then send it to a couple of beta readers to read and tear apart and tell me that everything I thought was awesome is a pile of doo-doo in need of tweaking (my words, of course. Most people who read early drafts are very kind and tentative, saying, “I liked it! But…”). I now know to listen for common themes in critiques, and apply those revisions thoughtfully and early on. It took me a long while to get brave with revisions. I had to get out of my own way with All the Difference (I spent months NOT making the changes my agent kept asking me to make, because I was holding on to my vision a little too tightly, even though a big part of that wasn’t working), and when I did that’s when the story came together.

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differencePublisher: Berkley (September 1, 2015)
Genre: Women's Fiction
ISBN-10: 0425279383
ISBN-13: 978-0425279380
ASIN: B00SI02700
Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository

all-the-difference

New Year’s Eve. A time for resolutions. A chance to make a change. And for thirty-year-old Molly Sullivan, a night that will transform her life forever…

All it takes is one word—yes or no—to decide Molly’s future. As the clock counts down to midnight and the ball slowly begins to drop, Molly’s picture-perfect boyfriend gets down on one knee and asks her to marry him. She knows she should say yes, especially considering the baby-sized surprise she just discovered she’s carrying. But something in her heart is telling her to say no…

Now, Molly’s future can follow two very different paths: one where she stays with her baby’s father, despite her misgivings and his family’s unreasonable expectations, and one where she ventures out on her own as a single mother, embracing all the hardships that come with it.

And by the time the next New Year is rung in, Molly will know which choice was right—following her head or listening to her heart…

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leahfAt first, Leah Ferguson did everything she could to avoid being a writer. Growing up, she read all the time, of course. She feverishly worked on poems, and short stories, and dreamed up all sorts of scenarios that took her out of the everyday world of Carlisle, Pennsylvania and kept her rooted firmly, squarely, in her own head. Writing is what came naturally to her, and so it became the thing she was supposed to do. But Leah, you might as well know, does not like being told what to do.

So after high school Leah ignored the grant she received from a small liberal arts college to join its writing program. She graduated instead from West Chester University (go, Rams!) with an English Literature degree and a minor in Russian, and despite her undergraduate focus on creative writing, and her work on WCU's The Quad newspaper, she would not, did not want to become a writer. Actually, she did, but she was so terrified of falling flat on her face she went into publishing as an editor instead.

And she couldn't stand it. As you figured she would. So Leah debated going to law school, but quickly came to her senses: she moved to Baltimore, worked her way through graduate school at Notre Dame of Maryland University (go, Gators!) and in three years' time became…a teacher. Of English.

Leah actually really liked teaching, and was pretty good at it. She worked in high schools and on the adjunct level for Immaculata University, and felt like she was doing good in the world by educating bright young minds to understand the thematic similarities between Julius Caesar and The Lord of the Flies (there are a lot). But during that time, she became married to a man who kept encouraging her to write. Friends joined in with their support. Leah eked out a couple of poems here and there. She started writing columns on a semi-regular (i.e., unpaid) basis for the local newspaper. But she did not call herself a writer. That would have taken guts, and Leah didn't have time for guts. She had too many papers to grade.

But then a number of big events happened. Leah and her husband both lost their fathers within a year of each other, and the absence of their mentors shook their little family to the core. Leah had her first daughter, and realized that in order to be the parent she wanted to be, she had to be as brave as she'd want her children to become. If she was going to encourage her kids to live their dreams, she would have to chase her own, as well. Around this time, someone–a distant cousin–asked her, "Are you an author?" And when Leah replied, "No," the voice in her head thought, but I want to be. So she started writing, slowly, first on her blog, One Vignette, and then on a blank Word document or two. And during one November, she jumped into National Novel Writing Month, and so it began.

Born on Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland and raised in Carlisle, Leah moved to Philadelphia for college, stayed there to work, thought about moving to San Francisco, and ended up in downtown Baltimore. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her Baltimorean husband and two young daughters, toddler son, a very large husky and a tailless cat. Leah's focus is on women's fiction, and has a writing voice that is bright and sarcastic, introspective and thoughtful. That little NaNoWriMo project was edited to within an inch of its life over the course of three and a half years, and is now her debut novel.

ALL THE DIFFERENCE will be published by Berkley (Penguin) in North America in September 2015 (you can read about how she landed her agent here). Leah is currently working on her second novel, which she will tell you about as soon as she figures out how it ends.

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