Today we’re celebrating the release of Julie L. Cannon’s novel Twang from Abingdon Press, about twenty-three-year old Jennifer Clodfelter’s journey from rags to riches as she pursues her dream of becoming a country singer in Nashville. Julie is the author of the award-winning Homegrown series, published by Simon & Schuster, described as “Southern-fried soul food.” Her novel, I’ll Be Home for Christmas made the CBA Bestseller Lit as well as Nielsen’s Top 50 Inspirational Titles. Her next novel, Scarlett Says, will hit the shelves in October 2013. Prolific Julie lives in Watkinsville, Georgia, and when she isn’t tending her tomato patch, she can be found listening to some great country music or teaching memoir-writing workshops. Recently she took some time out from her busy life to answer some questions…
Tell us about Twang and the inspiration behind it.
Conway Twitty said, “A good country song takes a page out of somebody’s life and puts it to music.” I’m a big country music fan and it seems every article I read from a star’s perspective has some bit about how their great songs spring from tortured times in their past. There’s a saying that you can’t be happy and write good songs. Then, I thought about how, for me, my writing is cathartic, and that is when I decided to write about a wounded girl named Jennifer Clodfelter, with a childhood straight from hell, who runs off to Nashville to sing and escape her past. But her manager convinces her to dig up those old bones and write hit songs from them. Ultimately, Twang is about how cathartic art is. My prayer is that this novel shows how the seemingly unredeemable things in life can be used for good. Fellow author Walt Larimore (Hazel Creek and Sugar Fork) says – “Twang is powerful and moving . . . with profound insights into finding grace, even beauty in the ugliest memories and events.”
Who are your current favorite country music artists? And is there anyone in particular who Jennifer is based on?
My current favorites are Alison Krauss and Josh Turner. But I feel as guilty saying this as I would naming any of my three children if someone were to ask: Which is your favorite child? I've got dozens of country music stars who are my favorites at different times for different reasons - from Glenn Campbell to Tanya Tucker.
As for Jenny, she was inspired by Taylor Swift and Loretta Lynn. I borrowed Taylor Swift's intensity and Loretta Lynn's rags-to-riches story.
Which book(s) on craft have inspired you most throughout your writing career?
The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray, which relies heavily on dissecting one of my favorite novels, Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist to guide a fledgling writer in sculpting a story. Next, the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Workshop (published 1996) which I poured over for years, and most recently, Donald Maass’s Writing The Breakout Novel.
Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment?
I rarely watch TV, and I steal time away from things like cleaning the house and cooking nutritional (time consuming) meals for my family. Here’s my motto: ‘A Tidy House is the Sign of a Misspent Life.’ Right now I’m reading Mia Farrow’s memoir, What Falls Away and Save Me From Myself by Brian “Head” Welch, former lead guitarist of Korn, and I just finished The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve.
How do you approach writing a novel? Do an outline of the plot, start with a character or…?
I’m the belt-and-suspender type, and so I outline extensively. In The Weekend Novelist mentioned above, there’s an extensive examination of plotting which includes Aristotle’s Incline; a diagram/arrangement of the parts of your novel from the opening scene to the wrap up. I tape three pieces of blank paper together to make one long strip and then I hand-draw this ascending plotline and obsessively fill in each act and plot point and the catharsis, along with symbols and lists of scenes. Then, I write a long and detailed synopsis in the present tense.
Describe your writing routine and schedule.
I’m a lark married to an owl, and so, like today, I can hop out of bed while it’s still dark and get my 1,000-word minimum for the day done before noon, sometimes before my beloved even awakes! Then I try to handle stuff like marketing that uses another part of my brain. I’m not much good for writing or hawking my wares after 8 PM.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love, love, love reading, listening to music, and hanging out with my family and friends.
What is your advice for those who are looking to get their novel published?
Don’t be afraid to murder your darlings. By that, I mean to really LISTEN to criticisms from your writer’s group, from editors/publishing houses or agents who have rejected your work. When you do hear criticism, don’t get discouraged. Get right back up on that horse! Never stop studying your craft, read constantly, and write unceasingly.
What’s next for you?
Scarlett Says is coming out in October of 2013. It’s about a woman in her 30’s who suffers from extreme social anxiety. Here’s the elevator pitch: “Lonely, yet nervous in social situations, Atlantan Joan Meeler is the secret hostess of a wildly popular blog called Scarlett Says. She falls in virtual love, gets married on-line and enjoys much conjugal bliss in the virtual boudoir. When her husband decides to travel from Manhattan to Atlanta for the 75th anniversary of the film Gone With the Wind, Joan prays she can channel enough of her heroine’s feistiness to be able to come out from behind the keyboard.” It’s a story about the transforming power of words, both good and bad, and those vulnerabilities that hold us back from our potential.
You can visit Julie at her website HERE, connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @JulieLCannon. Here’s hoping you go triple platinum with Twang, Julie!