Monday, February 13, 2012

Interview with Brenda K Marshall

Briefly describe your journey in writing your book. 
I suspect that most writers, when asked how a book “came to be,” necessarily fabricate another fiction. There is no tidy narrative that can accurately sum up the process of writing. There is no clearly defined beginning, no absolute end.   Although I did not know it at the time, I began to “write” Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For one day in 1995 while on vacation at Pawley’s Island in South Carolina.  Browsing through postcards in a tourist shop I came upon a photograph of sixteen young women dressed in their late-nineteenth-century best.  That weekend I wrote a short story about those young women.

Putting aside (or so I thought) that short story, I began a novel that was to be set in Dakota Territory in the late-nineteenth century. But it wouldn’t take hold. I had the place, the time, the conflicts and themes in mind, but my characters refused to come alive. Another story intervened, one with characters that mattered to me, and for the next five years I worked on that novel. Then, in 2001, I decided to return to my Dakota Territory story. This time, the main character was waiting for me. She was Frances Houghton Bingham, demanding to step out of the postcard and beyond the short story and into a sprawling tale of desire, ambition, and transformation.  
Dakota was “finished” by 2006.  Then it took me another year or two to secure a literary agent, and a couple more years to find a publisher, during which time I revised the novel a couple of times. By the time Dakota was published, I had invested almost a decade in its writing and publishing.

What genre are your books?  Do you write in more than one genre?
My first novel, Mavis, was described as “contemporary literary fiction with popular appeal.”  Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For is historical fiction. 

What factors influenced your decision to sign with Untreed Reads?
Dakota was originally published (cloth) by a small, nonprofit university press, The North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies. The literary agency that represents my work, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, arranged for the e-publishing rights with Untreed Reads. 

How involved are you during the creative process for your book’s cover design?
During the summer of 2009, my partner and two friends and I visited the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. Choosing a downtown cafĂ© at random, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves surrounded by theater posters by the award-winning illustrator and graphic designer, Scott McKowen. A trip to the bookstore across the street to pick up McKowen’s A Fine Line: Scratchboard Illustrations (Firefly Books, 2009), had me dreaming of his artwork—sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny, often whimsical, but always gorgeous, always smart—for the cover of Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For.  My publisher gave me the go-ahead to contact Scott.  He read the manuscript and then we talked about images and ideas.  The resulting cover was exquisite.  In fact, Scott’s illustration for the cover of Dakota was recently selected for the highly competitive New York Society of Illustrators annual exhibition: “Illustrators 54: Book and Editorial.”

What kinds of social media you involved with trying to garner attention for your book(s)?
I have a Facebook “fan” page for Dakota,, and a website (with blog): 

There is also a “trailer” for the book up on YouTube:, with art direction by Scott McKowen, and photography by David Cooper.

How do you feel about the world of digital publishing?  Do you think it will replace traditional publishing one day?
The best thing about digital publishing is that it makes reading novels more affordable.  The hardest thing for me about the changing world of publishing has to do with the disappearance of brick and mortar book stores, although this is the result of a complicated series of phenomena that includes, but goes beyond, digital publishing.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned during your journey as an author?
I would say that the most important thing that I’ve learned has to do with patience and diligence and hope, although I have not always been patient, diligent, or hopeful. When I began Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For I could not have imagined that the entire writing and publishing process for this book would take a decade.  There were many (many!) days when rejection letters or silence or incomprehensible requests from within the industry made me frustrated with a process that too often leaves the author with the smallest voice in the publishing system.  I do not want to trivialize the anxiety or fears that accompany writing and publishing, but I have learned that the antidote is always to keep working, and to work is to hope.

What’s next for you?
I’m at work on a new novel (but I am superstitious about talking about my work-in-progress in detail).