Interview with Kristina Riggle, Author of Real Life & Liars

Welcome, Kristina! First of all, I'm thrilled you made time to grace my blog with this interview. I LOVED Real Life & Liars, and am excited to learn more about your road to publication. To all my readers out there, please take my advice and RUN to your nearest bookstore to buy Kristina's book. You can thank me later with chocolate Toblerone bars or gift certificates to DSW shoes.

Is real life & liars your first book?

First published novel, fifth completed novel manuscript.

Why is the title all in lower case on the cover?

This was a cover-design decision; it just looks nice. The title written elsewhere can be capitalized normally. Interestingly, I named it REAL LIFE AND LIARS, but it was changed to use the ampersand after the cover design, I suspect because the ampersand looks better. I didn't mind the change, and I'm in love with every aspect of my cover.

I agree! I love the cover. How long did it take you to write the first draft? How long for revisions?

If I'd been writing straight through, it would have been about a year, but I had a baby in the middle of writing it, so it was closer to 15 months. I can't remember how much of that was revision (postpartum brain fog, I guess). People ask me how I did that, and I honestly don't really know. It seems impossible, looking back!

The POV's in the book are interesting. You've got Mira, the main character, written in first person, and the rest of the characters in third person. Was that hard to pull off? What made you decide to write it that way?

I wanted to flag Mira's story as the central arc of the plot, though all the POV characters are important. Also, she was such a strong and vibrant character it seemed like she needed to speak for herself.

How many people and what types of readers (family, beta readers, friends, writing group) read your book before you started querying?

A couple of trusted writer friends and one friend who is a discerning reader.

How did you know you were "ready" to start querying?

When I didn't know anymore if further changes would wreck it or improve it. At some point, you just reach a limit; I'm not sure if we're ever truly "done." I still run across sentences in LIARS that I would edit now. I edited one on the fly when reading publicly the other day. Writers can't stop fiddling, I suppose.

I couldn't agree more! I can't imagine the day when I'd read any of my three finished manuscripts and not want to change things.

If you don't mind sharing some of your querying statistics with us, I'm sure my readers would love to hear about them. For example, how many queries did you send out and how many agents requested material, etc.

I don't know if I want to dig up the exact numbers, but I'll tell you this: I targeted my search to only my top-flight choices. As such, because I was aiming high, I did not have a huge number of requests for pages. I'm pleased with my strategy, though, because Kristin Nelson took me on. And, it didn't take that long, either. Six weeks or so.

Only six weeks? That's incredible. I hope all my readers haven't just reached for the poison.

Was there a point during the querying process that you thought you wouldn't find an agent? If so, how did you deal with your self-doubt?

Not really, this time. But Kristin is not my first agent, nor was this manuscript my first to go out into the world of agents. I just kept plugging away figuring I'd get better and hit the magic combination someday. Plus, if I gave up, all the previous work would have been wasted.

I love the idea that if you give up, all your work is wasted. I'm going to try to keep that thought in the forefront of my mind at all times What advice would you give writers who are currently working on their first novel?

Write as often as you can to keep up your momentum, consider criticism carefully (even it it alarms you, give it a chance before rejecting it), and don't be afraid to move on from your first novel if it seems no one wants it. No writing is wasted, and you're a much better writer when you start the second novel (and third, and fourth...).

What about writers who are currently in the querying process?

Don't take it all too personally, stay cool and professional, and start working on another project while your novel makes the rounds. It will make you feel less like all your eggs are in one basket. Worst case, you have another novel ready to query if you don't get lucky with the existing one. Best case, you have an idea for the second book of a two-book deal when your agent submits your first book.

How did you and Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency "find each other?"

I'd been following her blog for years, and had queried her before, so she was on my list of smart, savvy agents to target. I happened to know one of her clients and so I did have a referral, but lest anyone think I had the keys to the kingdom, she still only asked for a partial at first, not the full. Kristin has used my query letter as a positive example at conferences, and she has assured me she would have requested pages anyway, without the referral. In the end, it's still about the work.

What made you decide she was the right agent for you?

I liked the way she operated, which I already knew from her blog, before I even sent her the query. And, she loved the book so much, how could I say no?

You've just hit the proverbial nail on the head of the not-yet-published writers biggest dream: To have an agent they admire fall in love with their writing. What a thrill that must be!

Okay, here's my favorite question: Where were you when you got "the call?" Did you scream? Yell? Stop strangers on the street to tell them the good news?

I was out when the call came in, Christmas shopping, in fact. So I got the news via e-mail and voice mail, pretty much both at once. I was trying to open a candy cane for my son and my hands were shaking, so I dropped it on the floor. It shattered and he cried. Considering that, it's probably best I hadn't given Kristin my cell number. I'd hate to think what would have happened it I'd gotten the call in the car!

Good point. If I get a call while I'm driving that I'm pretty sure is from my dream agent, I'll be sure to pull over first! Now, to change course a bit, what do you think about networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc?

Some writers think of it as a distracting chore, but I look at these tools as ways to connect with and communicate with readers. If you're smart about time management, it doesn't have to be a drain from writing time. I use different "muscles" for tweets and Facebook, etc., versus writing. I can send a tweet or update Facebook while my kids play at my feet, for example, but I don't try to write novels when they're around (talk about futility!) I only blog weekly, though, that's as much as I can handle. (First at The Debutante Ball group blog, and now at Red Room.)

What are you currently working on, and when can we hope to see it in the bookstores?

THE LIFE YOU IMAGINED will be out in August 2010 from Avon/HarperCollins about three friends and a mother who learn to cope with life as it is, not as they planned, in the fictional lakeshore town of Haven, Michigan.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us about your writing journey?

The journey is ongoing! I suspect many aspiring writers (and I fell prey to this myself, believe me) feel like once the book deal is signed, that they've won some kind of race and everything will be fabulous from then on. Well, it is different - better! - but there are no guarantees. It's a tough business, so don't retire that thick skin once you find a publisher.

Thick skin? Oh, yeah, that. I'm working on it... Kristina, thank you SO much for your time and insights into the world of a successfully published writer. I hope you know you are an inspiration to me and many other up and coming writers. Namaste, I bow to you.
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