Home to Woefield | Harper | Contemporary Fiction | March 8, 2011
Prudence Burns, a well-intentioned New Yorker full of back-to-the-land ideals, just inherited Woefield Farm -- thirty acres of scrubland, dilapidated buildings, and one half-sheared sheep. But the bank is about to foreclose, so Prudence must turn things around fast. Fortunately, she'll have help from Earl, her banjo-playing foreman with a family secret; Seth, the neighbor who hasn't left the house since a high school scandal; and Sara Spratt, an eleven-year-old who's looking for a home for her prize-winning chickens.
Home to Woefield is about learning how to take on a challenge, face your fears, and find friendship in the most unlikely of places.
Please describe your writing environment.
I work in a detached studio next to our house. It's a bit like working in a tree house because I'm tucked up on the second floor and all I can see out the windows is branches. My desk is often a bit of a mess, but it's got an internal logic to it. When I get tired or stuck I can look out the window at the leaves or stare back at the Felt Army creatures who hang on my wall to give me moral support. (My friend Jen is a librarian and she makes them.) Our dog Frank also gives silent but solid moral support. I guess it's more sleeping than support really. When he's awake, he thinks my jokes are excellent.
Please tell us your latest news!
I'm thrilled that Home to Woefield has received lovely advance notices in Publisher's Weekly ("a funny and touching yarn about an endearing band of social wrecks who are impossible not to love"); Booklist ("sparklingly witty and charming... delightfully combines satire and a distinctly modern voice with old-fashioned sweetness... Woefield Farm may not produce a single crop, yet it's fertile ground for superb storytelling."); and Library Journal ("heartwarming and upbeat").
The novel has also been chosen for Target's Emerging Authors program and will go on sale at Target in April.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
If I could do it all over I think I'd add another scene with the writing group in the story. I loved writing about the Mighty Pens and it would have been fun to include more about them.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It's incredibly hard to narrow it down to one writer. Perhaps I'll discuss the two writers who most influenced the development of this book. The first is Stella Gibbons who wrote Cold Comfort Farm. It's a hilarious send-up of the romanticized and highly atmospheric stories about rural life in England that were popular in the 20s and 30s. Gibbons was a comic genius who used the language in a way that managed to sound like the works she was satirizing but her style shot past them into the realm of the absurd. Her protagonist, Flora Post, is a model of unsentimental efficiency and is bracingly un-neurotic. Flora's consummate practicality makes her one of my favorite fictional characters.
Nick Hornby has long been a writer I admire for his ability to mix humor and bone-deep sadness. Some of his comic set pieces, like the intervention that takes place in a coffee shop in A Long Way Down, are burned in my memory forever.
Do you see writing as a career?
I never dreamed I could make a career of writing. I never dreamed I would ever finish a novel and I am still amazed that I've been published. I hope I never lose that feeling of astonished gratitude.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I adore books and early on decided that there could be no more noble calling than writing. I thought writing was so noble, in fact, that I never imagined I could be a writer. I'm not terribly noble, unfortunately.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I'm a big believer in persistence. Find a story and characters that excite you. Write a bit every day instead of huge chunks once in a blue moon. When you finish a story or novel and have revised it to make it as polished as possible, get smart people to read it and give you their advice. Revise it again. Then revise it once more for good measure. When you start submitting your work, don't let rejection crush you. Instead, while you submit, get to work on something new that excites you.
Do you write full time? What did you do before you became a writer? Or Still do?
I was a full-time writer for several years. Now I teach creative writing part-time at a university and write the rest of the time. Before I started writing, I worked as a book editor.
What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both?
My process is to get an idea and some characters and then build the story, scene by scene. I have notes about scenes that must happen and which scene is next. My workspace is sometimes papered in index cards that help me keep my scenes straight.
Do you plan all your characters out before you start a story or do they develop as you write?
My characters develop as I write. I hear a whisper or get an image of a character in my head and then I put them in a scene to see what they'll do. For instance, when I came up with Seth, a heavy metal blogger, I imagined an early twenty-something guy in a Iron Maiden shirt in front of a computer screen in a dark and dingy bedroom. Sara, a young poultry aficionado came from some 4-H kids I saw at an agricultural fair. I got the idea for Earl after reading a biography of Bill Monroe, the founder of modern bluegrass music.
What's been the most challenging part of writing for you?
It has taken me a long time to get used to negative feedback. I'm tragically hypersensitive, so when people don't like my work, it takes much dramatic lamenting and pulling of hair for me to get over it. Slowly, I'm getting tougher. I figure by the time I'm 83 and have written 42 novels I'll be more blase.
Did you pick the title for your book? If it has been changed please tell us about the process.
My book was originally titled The Republic of Dirt. At least, that was my working title. It wasn't a good fit in the U.S. because at least one other book with a similar title has been published recently, so my editor and the people in the Harper marketing department and I generated several more options. We finally came up with Home to Woefield. The book is called The Woefield Poultry Collective in Canada.
Do you like to mix genres?
I love to mix genres. My first three books were a series about a young girl growing up in Northern British Columbia. The first one was called Alice, I Think. The Alice books are comedies written in diary format. The next book was a YA title about two young dressage (horse) riders called Another Kind of Cowboy. The fifth is a teen detective novel called Getting the Girl. My sixth is a memoir about my teen years. It's called Nice Recovery. After I finished the Alice series I vowed to read every kind of novel I love to read. Right now I'm working on a dystopian sci-fi story.
What book are you reading now? What are your thoughts on it?
I just finished reading a book called The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. It's a memoir about his life and the role a bar and the men in it played in his ideas about being a man and an adult. It's beautifully written and quite funny and touching.
How many books do you plan on writing each year?
I try to write a book every year or year and a half. Some books come easily and some come slowly but that seems to be the average.
What are your hobbies?
I'm a passionate though ineffective gardener. I ride dressage, which is a particularly fussy type of horseback riding that appeals to a intense sorts. I also quilt and cook and do a lot of yoga (after a fashion.) My husband and I have recently become avid paddleboarders.
Do you have any cool promo tricks you can share with other writers?
I'm currently giving away chicken paraphernalia on my website. That's as much about me enjoying buying chicken tchotchkes as it is about promo.
Do you have any animals? Do they influence your writing?
Our dog Frank has been my constant companion. He lays at my feet while I write and has been doing so since he was eight weeks old. He's twelve now, and his support has never wavered.
If a bookstore was putting up "Is Like" plaques, who would be listed as being like you?
I aspire to write like Stella Gibbons (author of Cold Comfort Farm) or like any of the amazing writers who so kindly wrote blurbs for my book: Tish Cohen, Susan Gregg Gilmore, Robin Antalek, and the magnificently funny Meg Cabot. I'm also influenced by Nick Hornby and David Nicholls and Jonathan Tropper and Allison Pearson and Lauren Mechling.
If you had to choose one person to have dinner with, who would it be? And why?
I would like to have dinner with Richard Price who wrote Clocker and Lush Life and many other amazing books because he's one of the best talkers I've ever heard (at least in interviews). He is so entertaining and eloquent I don't think I'd even let him eat. Maybe he could have a chicken finger or something. Nothing too involved, though.
What's your favorite drink?
Ceres pomegranate and lime juice mixed with lemon-flavoured Perrier. I have that with my morning coffee while I write. It's worth waking up for.
Do you have an agent? If so who and please tell us about them.
My agent has been with me since I wrote my second book. Her name is Hilary and she's wonderful and I'm very lucky to work with her.