Author Emily Colin just released her second novel, The Dream Keeper's Daughter. She'll be the guest at Prologue at WHQR on Monday, August 14 at 7:00. Hear a short interview with Emily above or see the extended transcript below. In the transcript, Emily talks about writing, publishing, and both of her books, The Dream Keeper's Daughter and The Memory Thief.
Emily: I’m going to a conference in Orlando-the Romance Writers of America Conference...
Gina: Emily, let me ask you about that Romance Writers of America Conference. You're kind of laughing about the fact that you're going to that. Do you consider yourself a romance writer?
Emily: I never thought of myself as a romance writer when I was writing either The Memory Thief or The Dream Keeper's Daughter. But then when I look back at both of them, I realize that definitely there are strong love stories running through both books. And so, I feel that, you know, the romance market isn't how I used to think of it when I was growing up, you know, Harlequin covers and Fábio...
Romance has really evolved since then, and so I can understand why that would be a great fit for where my books would be. And the thing that I discovered once I became a part of that market with The Memory Thief, is that romance readers are some of the most supportive in the industry. There are incredible bloggers, incredible readers that band together to support authors, there's a great fan base so, you know, I am actually excited to be a part of that community, but I've never been to the RWA Conference, it's the big national one in Orlando. So I'm pretty excited about it and it just happens to be the way the book comes out.
Gina: So, of course, The Memory Thief did very well. It was like, on the New York Times bestseller list.
Emily: Yes, so The Memory Thief was my first novel and it got chosen as a Target Emerging Authors pick which meant that it actually was in Target stores across the country, which is kind of crazy to walk in to buy soap and detergent and toothbrushes and then there's your book. Kind of freaked me out. But I think that was a tremendous boost for sales because it wasn't just in a place where people would go to buy books. And then the e-book actually made it onto the New York Times best-seller list a couple of years after the book came out which led to the production of an audio book a little bit later in the game than would normally happen. And so, that was very exciting. And it was perfect timing because the audio book came out, you know, within the year before The Dream Keeper's Daughter is going to come out. So all of that was just great timing and just perfect positioning for Dream Keeper's Daughter.
Gina: The Memory Thief was your first novel, and so you've learned about kind of how it works to publish a book. What's been most surprising to you about the whole process?
Emily: There have been a lot of things that have been surprising. I guess the most surprising thing is that I always thought, OK, it's my big dream to write and publish a novel and the first one will be the hardest and then everything after that will be easy. Maybe not easy, but easier because you've already done it once. And I can't speak for other people but for me, anyway, yes, it was a great challenge to write my first book. Yes, it was a great challenge to find an agent and I was so lucky and excited that it sold. But then when I sat down to write the second book, the second book I wrote actually did not find a home with my publisher. This was the third one. And so, I realized that just because you've got the magic to do it once, doesn't mean that it's automatically going to happen again and that, in some ways, I felt that writing the second book was harder for me because I had a lifetime, to that point, of turns of phrase or images that caught my attention or characters that resonated with me that were composites of all the humans I met over time and then I channeled them all into that first book. And then when I sat down to write the second one or even the third one, I would use a turn of phrase and I would think, that sounds familiar.
And then I would think and think and be like, oh yeah, that's familiar cause I used that in The Memory Thief.
And so, I think for me, also when you write your first book there are no expectations. I had no true expectation that it would find a home or be published. I worked very hard and then there was some luck and it all came together. But then with the second book coming out now it's a little bit more pressure because you want it to at least do as well as the first book and of course, hopefully, better and I just tell myself all the time that, you know, if you write in a journal and nobody ever sees that journal, that's one thing and those words always belong to you and only you. But once you choose to write for publication and you share those words with the world, you lose a little bit of control and that's how it should be because you've written it to communicate with others hopefully to change them.
Emily: And you know from your own writing or from getting on the stage and interacting with the audience, and so I just have to tell myself that, even if people don't like my characters, you know... That's good because they've engaged with them. If it's made them think if it's changed them if it's made them happy or sad or angry in some way, you know, that's really the most that a fiction writer can expect. All I can do is turn my attention on to the next project, but, I'm not going to lie, it's still super terrifying to see one's baby making out into the world.
Gina: I can only imagine. I think that that's what holds a lot of people from writing. A lot of people who would like to write something are afraid of releasing it and being in the, putting themselves up to the scrutiny, you know? So it's like an act of bravery to write a story and put it out there. So let me hear about The Dream Keeper's Daughter.
Emily: So my web site is just www.emilycolin.com. And if you go there there's all kinds of biographical info about me including some funny stuff that I did. Little secrets about me that you wouldn't know unless you knew me really well or you went to that page. But there's also a page devoted to The Memory Thief. And then, of course, a page devoted to The Dream Keeper's Daughter. And you can find the synopsis of the book there and you can find some of the pictures that I took in Charleston and Barbados, which are the two locales where the book is set. And then some of the reviews also.
Gina: Tell me, what is the story about?
Emily: OK, so, this story is about a woman named Isabel who is a single mom and an archaeologist-a field archaeologist- who has her black belt in judo. And when she was 22 years old she found out that she was pregnant and she had been with the father since she was 17 and she loved him very much and she loved him very much especially because, when she was 16, her mother had disappeared. And so, he was the person that she turned to and the day after she told him that she was pregnant he said, meet me in the woods, I need to talk to you about something. And she met him in the woods at his tree house where they had always met as children, and when she got there he was running away in the woods. And she screamed for him to stop and she screamed for him to wait, but he didn't. He just kept going. And then when she ran after him he was gone. He had vanished. And so she devoted herself to getting that black belt, becoming an archaeologist, and raising their daughter.
And then when she was eight years old-when the daughter was eight years old, eight years later- Isabel was on a dig, on an archaeological dig in Barbados and her phone rang. And she grabbed for the phone and she had never quite been able to bring herself to delete his number because it would have broken her heart a little bit, and she grabs for the phone and it's his number scrolling across the screen. And she answers and there's static and then all he says is her name, Isabel. And then he says three words, “keep her safe.” And then they're disconnected. And she calls back but all she gets is, dundundun the number you have reached has been disconnected, and Verizon has no record of the call, but she's sure that it was him. And so, it's a story of what really happened to him, what really happened to her mother, and who really called her on the phone that day. And, as I said, the story is set partially in modern day Charleston. Tiny little bit of modern day Barbados and the rest is set in 1816 Barbados, around the time of the Barbados slave rebellion.
Gina: And this, this book, my feeling about it that--is this book kind of fantasy science fiction?
Emily: It's a blend. It's a blend. So, I would say that, you know, for me personally, I love sci fi and fantasy and it's the genre that I love to read the most. And so The Memory Thief, you know, it was a love story of course, but I always describe it as a bit of a love story, a ghost story, and a mystery. So you had that paranormal supernatural element in there too. And for this book, there is a time travel component and there is a little girl, their daughter, who sees and knows more than she should, than she has any right to know. And so, there is again that element of fantasy and, for me, that's what makes it so much fun because you can do anything you want with that. The world is really your playground. So it's a blend of...there's love, there's time travel, there's adventure, there's rebellion. So it's a whole bunch of stuff all all bound up together.
Gina: And tell me about Isabel, about-is she kind of the central character?
Emily: The book's got a dual point of view, so The Memory Thief, for people who read that, was from three different points of view, it's a little simpler, it's only from two but it's from the point of view of Isabel, the single mom and archaeologist. And then it's from the point of view of her boyfriend, Max, who got sucked back to 1816 Barbados right around the time of the slave rebellion. So it's really from both of their points of view. I guess if you had to pick one character to be the main character it would be Isabel. But you get to see the story from both of their perspectives.
Gina: Tell me about writing from the perspective of a man.
Emily: That's always an interesting thing to do. I found it easier for some reason in The Memory Thief. I don't know why, I just did. In this one, there were a couple of places where my editor would say, you know, this character's a little bit too gentle here. This character sounds a lot..., and I would think, well, how can you say how all men speak, or what all men will do? But I really enjoy the idea of writing from the male perspective, from the perspective of a child, from a female perspective as well. I feel like it really stretches me as a writer and it's more interesting for me to read as well because in every situation there is your story, there is my story, and then there's what a video camera might capture. People call that the truth, but is it really? You know, what is it? What is the truth? The truth can be subjective or it can be very black and white, so to speak. And so, I always love writing for multiple points of view because the reader gets to be in on secrets that the characters are not. And so, I find that a lot of fun.
Gina: I bet that’s tough, don't understand how men think.
Emily: Well, you know, it's a challenge for sure and I think that, you know, it's funny when people say to me, I can't believe that this character did that and this character did this, and sometimes they're complaining about the actions of the men specifically and things that I've written and I always think to myself, like, you do realize that when you're saying this human being is so deplorable that this human being is in some way a part of me because I created this human being, you know, and so I I feel like it's a true test of one's imagination, right? If you can, if you can get out of that viewpoint and sometimes what I'll do is read books written by male authors from male perspectives. Sometimes I will give my stuff to male beta readers and I'm like, OK, just read through this and see does any of this strike you wrong, does it not resonate, and of course human beings vary drastically, no matter what. But it's one of my most fun things to do and I don't always get it right. But then again, you know, I don't always represent the viewpoint of every woman either. There have been beta readers who read Dream Keeper's Daughter or women who read The Memory Thief who say, oh my gosh I would not have made the same choice that Maddie made, I would not have made the same choice that Isabel made, how could a woman do that? And I think, well, I might do that. So you know I think it's a good perspective check.
Gina: What is a beta reader?
Emily: A beta reader is someone who reads your manuscript before it's ready to go to your agent or to your editor. So sort of like a test reader, like a beta test, you know. Someone who will read through it and be like, you know, this character is not that strong or I almost fell asleep right here or I love this part right.
Gina: So will you give me a little bit more insight into Isabel?
Emily: Yes. So, Isabel... She was a lot of fun to write because she grows so much over the course of the story, which I can't talk too much about here, but, you know, she moved to South Carolina from California when she was younger and she had a mother who was adopted as a baby and the mother never knew who her biological parents were. The mother made a promise to her adoptive parents that, until they died, she would never seek to find out. And when her adoptive parents passed away she was freed from that promise and she could begin to search. And the search began to consume her and consume her and consume her. And so, when Isabel's family moved from California, where they were living at the time, to Charleston, they all had hopes that it will be a brand new start. But instead they moved right into the heart of where, it turned out, the mother's biological family had had some roots many, many years ago. And so, the night that the mother disappeared she seemed to have hit a point in her research where she had discovered something new. Her mood had changed, she was positive, they all had hopes that things would be different and then she disappeared. And no one had ever been able to find her. And so Isabel lost her mother when she was 16 and when she went to turn to her father, he was consumed with the loss of his wife. And so he gave up being a father to her. He threw everything he had into looking for his last wife, who was never found.
And so Isabel made herself a promise. She promised, if anything like this should ever happen to me, I'm not going to be like that. I'm going to be strong. I'm going to be a great mom. I'm going to pursue my dreams. I'm going to make it all happen. Of course, you never think lightning will strike twice. But it did. And then she was stuck with having to keep that promise. And so she thought, you know what, this is my test right here. I'm going to get that Ph.D. in Archaeology and I'm going to get my dream job as a field archaeologist and I'm going to get my black belt in martial arts so that whoever, whatever force is taking these people that I love from me will never ever get to my daughter. And her father stepped up and saw this as his redemption possibility to be a true wonderful grandfather to the little girl. And so that's where she is when the story begins and she hasn't really given much thought to love. Her love is her daughter, her love is her best friend, her love is her father and her love is this man that she lost eight years ago. And so, she's a tremendously strong willed, tremendously determined person and she's built her life around rationality. And so, when she gets that phone call, it throws everything she knows and values into question. She's a scientist, you know? And the last thing she wants to do is find herself spiraling down that rabbit hole where her father went. The one that she promised she would never go down-Yet, here she is. So it's the ultimate moral dilemma.
Gina: Is that where the fantasy really starts? Is when she gets that phone call-that inexplicable phone call?
Emily: I think...I think that would depend on reading the book and figuring out how the phone call happened. I think, for me, you know, stories start with a "what if". And who was really... So, for me, that's the biggest question, you know. And it's what opens the door to the possibility of fantasy. I mean, what options do you have for a phone call that you get from somebody that you haven't heard from in eight years? Who, when you try to call back, you get that dundundun message. And you know, and you know, what really happened, you know? And then Verizon has no record of the phone call. So what choices do you have? Either the phone call never happens at all, but she talks to people on the dig and they say, no, we saw you get the call and you got really upset, or the phone call did happen and Verizon is broken. Well, that doesn't make a lot of sense. Or the phone call did happen. Verizon's not broken but something far stranger is afoot. So here she is, dancing amongst these possibilities and, you know, what does it mean? No one wants to be crazy. She'd do anything to have back this guy that she lost. But simultaneously she would do anything to protect her daughter, so if she believes the message is real and "keep her safe" refered to her daughter, then she owes it to her daughter to keep that promise to do anything to keep her safe. But what if falling down this rabbit hole of really investigating, keeping her safe is the exact opposite of her promise. You know, so it's a true moral dilemma for her.
Gina: Tell me about being an author.
Emily: I think that, for me, it's always such a miracle when anyone actually buys one of my books and wants to read it and is excited about it. It's a tremendous opportunity. And so, a couple of things that I would say is, you know, please do, if you're around, come to the launch party or come to Prologue. There's nothing so much fun for me as there is connecting with readers. And on that same note, one of my very favorite experiences that I had with The Memory Thief was being present at local book clubs. I think that it's such a privilege and an honor for an author to sit in a room with people who have read your book. Like I said before, even if they hate a particular character even if they're so mad, how could they do that. It's just such an honor to do that. So I would say that, you know, if there are any local book clubs that see the book, are intrigued by it, and are interested in having me come and visit and be a part of their book club in the upcoming months, you know, definitely you can contact me always via my website. And I think that that would be something that would be such a fantastic thing to do.
Gina: That sounds like that would be great. How fun to have the author there during the book club.
Emily: Yes, it is fun.
Gina: Will people literally be like, you know, I thought you did a terrible job with this part? Will they say that to you?
Emily: They were very nice to me last time but they will say, you know, The Memory Thief, which I won't spoil for people who haven't read it, but you know, the main character, the protagonist makes a couple of choices that some people felt really strongly about. Some people thought that was the best choice to make. Oh thank goodness she made that choice. I would do the same thing. Other people. “I cannot believe she did this thing.” And so, for me, it's really great for me to sit there and listen to that and then see them kind of look to me and say well, why did she do that. And there's a certain element of, you know, the wizard behind the curtain making it all happen.
But there's also a certain element of the character speaking for themselves and I always felt that when I read about authors saying things like that it was pure voodoo. Like oh sure, I mean, you're the author, what do you mean by automatic writing? What do you mean? But I will say that there's a character in The Dream Keeper's daughter that I never intended to be much more than a minor character. He's Isabel's best friend. His name is Ryan. And I just wanted him to be her best friend and a sounding board. I didn't think too much about him having his own back story and, you know, and the more I wrote scenes with him in it the more I realized that he had this very important story to tell and that he had this ghost of his own and a past of his own. And he told his own story and before long I came to love him so much as a character, so, I feel like it's when you sit in front of readers at book clubs you don't always have all the answers, but it's certainly fun to hear their questions and I think it makes you or makes me, anyway, a better writer to be able to hear people honestly engage and say, this part really lagged for me or, I love this part right here. It helps me think critically and it gives me the opportunity to improve going forward because there's no greater privilege, in my opinion, as a writer than to connect with readers who want to talk about your work and who are so engaged.
Gina: You know, I think that it could be like a Ouija board a little bit.
Emily: I actually, I was writing a blog post for this book for a fellow author of mine who's kind enough to help me share the word about the book and I had to cut this out of it because I only had four hundred words. There wasn't room. But I was writing about this character, Ryan, and how he took on this unexpected voice and what I said, the part that I cut, was that I sometimes think that, you know, all the story ideas that people can have-that people can possibly have-exist in a sort of mist, you know, and they were all kind of wandering around in that mist and sometimes they bump into each other and sometimes, you know, things stick and sometimes things don't and then they go ricocheting off in other directions and sometimes characters intertwine and sometimes they don't. And I feel like, you know, sometimes you almost have the story idea and then it slips away and foments back in that mist only to get pulled out again later.
And that's kind of how I felt about this particular character was that he was in that mist and maybe I was only going to see him head and shoulders, but he clamored and he cajoled and he whispered and all of a sudden, there he was the rest of the way. And I have felt like that. I've also felt like with The Memory Thief, I felt like, it's funny because there's archaeology in this book, so it's funny to use this metaphor, but I felt like the story in The Memory Thief was sort of like a skeleton of some ancient animal, like a dinosaur or some ancient find, like a ship. And it was there and I was scraping a little more away and a little more way and sometimes I'd scrape too much and hurt it and I have to put it back together and, you know, until ultimately I had revealed something that was there already to begin with. But it was up to my level of skill and perseverance and dedication to really let it be shown in its clearest light. So sometimes I feel that way. Like it's just there to be discovered. And sometimes I feel like I'm making a deliberate choice to put things in motion. Most of the time I feel like it's a blend.
Transcript by PopUp Archive & Lindsay Wright