Before Ever After
Posted September 7, 2011on:
Something tells me, Kiki, you haven’t yet read Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto.
In case you’ve been under a literary rock and haven’t heard, here’s the set up:
Don’t you love that trailer? Locally produced, I’m proud to say – original music and all!
I managed to finish the book in a few days – reading it during whatever spare time I had. It is a page turner. You want to know how the story unravels as quickly as possible but this is tempered by your desire to take in and savor every delicious word.
I hesitate to produce a full on review here since you haven’t read the book yet but suffice it to say, I couldn’t put it down. There’s some mushy dialogue in there which is not exactly my thing but I was thinking about the book’s people and places days and days after I’d finished it. So much so I just had to tweet Samantha who I don’t really know aside from when I met her at the general assembly of The Guidon when I was a fresh(wo)man and seeing her occasionally in and about the southern metro.
She was kind enough to tweet back and before I knew it, I was asking her for an email interview!
And here it is… Surprise!
Exactly how does a first time Filipina novelist get published internationally? Tell us about the journey from putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to making the best seller list.
I like to think of my journey to publication as a recipe of determination, a dream and a LOT of fairy dust. And oh, yes – chickens too.
Before Ever After was born out of necessity. I needed something to do while my son was in school. The real dream began after I had typed “the end.” That’s when it occurred to me to try to have the book published. My husband and I thought that it would be the best way to show our kids that with enough hard work, any dream – no matter how big – was possible. There was, however, one slight problem: I knew absolutely nothing about the publishing industry.
Luckily, the universe decided to give me a nudge in the right direction in the form of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published.” I stumbled upon the book on a random trip to the mall and took it as a sign. I bought the book and proceeded to educate myself on the industry. That’s how I learned that I needed to get a literary agent to represent me. This part of the process was like applying for a job. Agents choose their clients and not the other way around. Waiting to hear back from agents was like watching polar ice melt. Not. Fun. At. All.
After one agent rejected the manuscript because “it wasn’t polished enough,” I decided to stop querying agents and review the manuscript. I edited it for three months and cut out thirty-five thousand words. I revisited my shortlist of agents and started the querying process again. When about five agents had requested to see the full manuscript, I mustered the courage to send my query to a letter to an agent that I had been “saving.” Her name was Stephanie Kip Rostan and this is where the chickens come into the picture.
I had felt a good vibe when I first came across her name during my online research. She seemed like a good fit for me based on her client list and taste. Her dad also shared a quirk with one of my main characters: a love of etymology. But what sealed the deal for me was her name. I had lived in Holland when I was a teenager and had studied Dutch and so I knew that her middle name, “Kip,” meant chicken. Chickens play a big part in the book and I thought that this was another nudge from the universe. I clicked “send” and sent my query letter along with the first fifteen pages of my book on its way.
Steph responded immediately. She requested for the full manuscript and read it overnight. This was the response I received from her the next day:
Hi Samantha — Well, this hasn’t happened to me for quite some time, but I have a habit of reading the first few pages of new material when it comes in to decide how to prioritize my reading, and every once in a great while, I can’t stop. I had already read the first few pages of your book in your email, so I read a few more when the manuscript arrived and, as I said, couldn’t stop. I stayed up late and finished the whole manuscript last night. I loved it — and I’d love to represent you. Would you like to speak by phone? Which part of the world are you in now?
Steph requested for some revisions and in a couple of months, we were ready to go on submission to publishers. She drew up a list of editors and pitched the book to them. We received the offer from Crown Publishing, a division of Random House on December 23, 2009. It was the best Christmas gift EVER.
You were the (features) editor of your college paper – very different from fiction writing. Is writing fiction something you’ve always done on the side?
Before Ever After is my first work of fiction – unless you count the commercials I made during my past life in the corporate world 😉
Fiction writing is completely different from features writing, but I have to say that my writing background in college helped a lot in terms of the research part of the process. My stint in features writing required a lot of research and that discipline helped me when I was digging around for historical information that I needed in the book. I enjoyed that part a lot. And yes, I am a nerd.
How different or similar are you to your main character, Shelley?
I lent Shelley the impulsiveness of my younger days. It felt good to relive the time when I was the kind of person who sold her car to be able to backpack around Europe for a month.
Max is really the star of the show. How exactly did you conjure him up? And what do you think it is about him that has made him a hit with the ladies who’ve read him?
I wish I could take the credit for conjuring Max up. The truth is that he introduced himself to me while I was stuck in traffic. He came as a complete package – chicken quirks and all. I just listened to him and wrote down his story.
As for what makes him appealing – you’ll have to ask him that 😉
Did you suffer writer’s block while working on the book? If so, which part? And how did you beat the block?
Writer’s block wasn’t a luxury I could afford. I had set a deadline for myself when I was writing the book. I needed to finish the book before summer vacation started because I knew that I wouldn’t have as much time to write when the kids were home. I treated writing like a job. I showed up for work even if inspiration decided to be absent.
You’ve said that your mom was sort of your editor on this project. And this being a love story there are some racy but tasteful bits in the book. What was it like getting your mom to read those parts of the story?
That was my LEAST favorite part. It was like letting your parents read your diary. I cringed every time I typed the word “breast,” knowing that my mom was going to read it at some point.
Before Ever After is lovingly dedicated to your kids. How did they react when in came out? (Are they allowed to read it?)
I’d love to say that they were jumping up and down when the book came out, but to be honest, they simply think of this as their mom’s job. While they both had huge smiles on their faces when they saw their names in the dedication, they were also slightly disappointed that the book didn’t have any pictures.
You have the gift of creativity. What are the things you do to nurture that for yourself – and your family?
Awww…thanks 🙂 When we started a family, there were two things that my husband and I decided we would not scrimp on: books and travel. We feel that the best way to nurture creativity is to give our kids as many new experiences and adventures as possible. One of the key rules we have in the house is that you can’t say “no” to something you haven’t tried before – whether its broccoli, an art exhibit, or a simulation of a Space Shuttle ride.
Did you have any idea the book would be received so well? How have you celebrated its success?
This experience has been very surreal. I had no clue that the book would receive this much support. Reading the letters readers send me is how I’ve been celebrating so far. This never fails to put a smile on my face. The “official” celebration will happen next year when we take the kids to Europe for a family-friendly version of “The Slight Detour.”
What’s next for you? There’s another novel in the offing, yes?
I’m writing my next book now. I hope to finish it as soon as things quiet down. I need to wrap up a few things first. I’ll be signing books (1:30pm) and will be part of a panel discussion (3:30-4:30 pm) on Sept 18 at the Manila International Book Fair in SMX. I’ll be heading to Singapore after that to launch the book on Sept 25 (2pm, Prologue Book store, Ion Shopping Center, Orchard Road) and then I’m off to the US for more events in October. At some point, I also plan to sleep – but that still needs to be confirmed.
*Thank you, Sam! Kiki and Lala wish you all the best in your future endeavors! We can’t wait to read them.