posted by Nancy
Freelance writer-turned-novelist Kim Wright joins us today with her debut women's fiction novel, Love in Mid Air. This hardcover launch, the story of a woman confronting her life choices at forty and deciding to change them, earned a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and 4.5 stars from RT.
Welcome, Kim! We love call stories. Tell us about your writing background and how you sold Love in Mid Air!
My background is journalism and I wrote nonfiction for 25 years as a profession. I loved magazine work and still do … yet I always felt like I had a novel in me somewhere.
I started writing the book about ten years ago but the timing was wrong for me. It was too close to my own divorce, so I put it aside. After about three years I picked it back up and there had been a transformation. I had perspective. I cut about half of out it out, rearranged everything, sliced the time frame from three years to nine months. It really became, for the first time, not just a bunch of ramblings, but a novel.
So I worked on it two more years (all of this is part time since I was making my living as a travel and food writer) and then started looking for an agent. For me that was the hardest part. Countless rejections. I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to ask any of my writer friends to recommend me to their agents, which was silly. Just me trying to be independent and exhibiting my family’s particular brand of foolish southern pride. Because when I finally broke down and asked a friend for help, she introduced me to her agent and he read the manuscript and took me on immediately.
That’s made all the difference. I signed with David in November and by the next month he had three bids on the book. Then I had to wait two more years for my publisher to bring it out. This is not a business for the impatient, that’s for sure!
Briefly, what’s the book about?
On the surface it’s about an unhappily married woman who has an affair. Below the surface I think it’s about the self-examination we all go through in midlife when we stop and ask some version of the question “Is this all there is?” There is also the issue of how my heroine Elyse’s discontent affects her friends. That was one thing that bugged me about the divorce novels I was reading after I had my own divorce – they made it seem as if the couple splitting up lived in a vacuum and nobody was affected by what was happening but their own little family. In my experience a divorce can shake up a whole circle of friends…it has a real ripple effect. So I wanted to not just show Elyse but show the women around her who are giving her advice, becoming increasingly uneasy about her choices, and now being forced to reluctantly look at their own marriages through a new lens.
How does a chance encounter on an airplane launch Elyse’s self-examination?
Elyse is reasonably stable at the beginning of the book. Not thrilled with the fact her husband is non-communicative and a little cold, but she has her daughter, a strong circle of friends, her part-time career as a potter, an economically privileged and in many ways enviable life. But she switches seats in an airplane to do a fellow passenger a favor and suddenly fate takes over. She sits down beside a man named Gerry who is also ripe for temptation and they begin to flirt.
The affair is just the catalyst for a series of changes that I think Elyse is long overdue to make anyway. Love in Mid Air is not about swapping one man for another. It’s about reaching forty and wondering whether or not it’s worth the risk to try and reinvent yourself, to reach out for something more – and whether or not that discontent is inside of you and can’t be solved by any sort of external change at all.
It’s exciting that you’re launching in hard cover. How does that feel?
It’s funny, but my initial impulse was to not launch in hard cover. As I mentioned earlier, three houses expressed interest in the book and, after I’d spoken by phone to all of them, I felt a great affinity for an editor at one of those houses. I thought she really “got” the book and would be a great person to launch it, it but her house only printed in soft cover.
My agent suggested – suggested very strongly for him, because he’s a mild mannered guy – that I go with one of the two houses that wanted to print it in hard cover. He said that a hard cover launch would help with both foreign rights sales and reviews and he has been absolutely 100% correct. The book has been widely reviewed, including some national forums like People and USA Today, and the cruel reality of this business is that they tend to review only hard cover debuts. Seven countries have bought foreign rights, and I doubt that would have happened either.
It’s a strange business. I buy 95% of the books I buy as trade paperbacks, i.e., soft covers, and I suspect most people do too. Book clubs lean very strongly toward soft cover, so there’s this whole market you don’t tap when you launch in hard cover. It’s like delaying your true sales for a year after your debut. But, on the other hand, certain reviews and foreign rights sales are indeed easier if you debut in hard cover. And there is the additional advantage a two-tiered launch gives a book two chances to find an audience. Love in Mid Air came out in March, 2010 and a lot is happening now. When the soft cover comes out in March 2011 there will be another little publicity shove.
What role do women friends play in this book?
A huge role. Elyse is in a book club in the book and this circle of women who are brought together through the facts that they live in the same neighborhood, go to the same church, have kids the same age, etc., is a large part of her life. In some ways, the key relationship in the book isn’t the one Elyse has with her husband or her lover – it’s the relationship with her longtime best friend Kelly, who sees her careening toward danger and tries to talk her out of it. I’m currently working on the sequel to Love in Mid Air, and it will move the women ten years down the road, to where they’re almost 50. And this time the story will be told from Kelly’s point of view.
Here's an excerpt about Elyse and her friends:
It's one o'clock before I look up. I'll be a little late for the daily walk, but one of us is often late and the others all know that things can happen, that no one's schedule is entirely within her own control, We have agreed that whoever arrives first will just start and let the others join in or drop out on their own pace. It's one of the advantages of walking in a circle.
Yeah, Kelly and Nancy and Belinda are all there when I arrive. I park the car and wave at them, but they don't see me, and I stand there on the hill above the elementary school track and watch them. Kelly is leading slightly as she often does, glancing back at the others as she talks. She could walk much faster if she wanted. In fact, she could run. But what would be the point of that?
Because it really isn't about walking, it's about talking. Our here, in the suburbs, we live and die by our friends. There may have been a time when it would've surprised me to realize that nearly every woman I know is someone I met through my church, that the highlight of my day is meeting them at one o'clock to walk for an hour before we pick up our kids. But I'm over that by now. I can't afford to think about it. I need these women too much. I begin picking my way down the damp overgrown grass. Over the years we've shared secrets and toys, passing down car seats and strollers and cribs as the kids grew older, taking turns keeping them so that we can occasionally get a free afternoon. Once, in a dreadful pinch, I ever nursed Belinda's sobbing daughter when I couldn't find a bottle, although it makes me feel strange to say that, as if even our bodies are interchangeable.
We have a running joke that some Sunday we should all go home from church with the wrong husbands. We debate how long it would take them to notice, but the truth is I'm not sure we would notice either. We're too busy, the details of our lives wrap around us like cotton, and we meet almost every afternoon at the track, trying to walk off the weight from the baby, trying to walk off the weight from the baby who's now in second grade, trying to get down to 130 or 140 or something decent. We're always moving, more like nomads than housewives, circling the drop-off for preschool, pulling around to load the groceries, hitting the drive-thru and passing back chicken nuggets one at a time at stoplights, running the middle one to soccer and the oldest one to the orthodontist, putting in sheets and taking out towels, spinning in the cyclic world of women.
For more about Kim and the book, visit her website.
Kim's giving away a copy of Love in Mid Air, so tell us about your women friends or your own longterm projects. Do you have particular women friends (or men friends if you're a guy) who share your interests or who've been there during rough times? Have you ever worked at a project for a long time before feeling you'd succeeded?