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Interview: Kim Boykin, Author of ‘Palmetto Moon’

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Kim BoykinAs a stay-at-home mom, Kim Boykin started writing stealing snip-its of time in the car rider line or on the bleachers at swim practice. After her kids left home, she started submitting her work, sold her first novel at 53, and has been writing ever since.

She is the author of The Wisdom of Hair, Steal Me, Cowboy and Sweet Home Carolina, and Palmetto Moon. While her heart is always in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, she lives in Charlotte and has a heart for hairstylist, librarians, and book junkies like herself.

Palmetto Moon is the story of Vada Hadley, a woman who goes to the south to escape her parents and the plans they have designed for her. In the boarding house, she meets an array of interesting people and ultimately finds herself.

Welcome to Blogcritics, Kim! Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Palmetto Moon. Tell us, did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing? 

In Palmetto Moon, there’s a plot device to get the hero and the heroine from point A to point B, break them up and bring them back together. Initially, this device was a tiny black poodle puppy, and there was a deliciously evil breeder in Memphis. So much fun to write. I’d sent about 100 pages to my agent, who’d passed it along to my editor along with a synopsis. About a month later, I got a call from my agent saying my editor loved the writing, loved the story, hated the poodle. Who hates poodles?

I consoled myself with the knowledge that the poodle was indeed a plot device and changed the poodle to a servant girl who grew up in the house with the heroine, Vada. The evil breeder became and even more delicious brothel owner still in Memphis.

I was humming along about 50 pages from the end of the book, running around making last minute preparations for my release party of my debut novel when I got another call from my agent. The good news was my editor wanted to buy Palmetto Moon; the bad news, my editor thought it was too easy for the servant girl to grow up in the home with Vada. When I called my editor to discuss, I joked that I’d just say to hell with it and turn the servant into a bawdy Irish girl. My editor loved it, and when Darby O’Doul opened her mouth, boy, oh, boy. 

Who is your target audience?

Women 35+. Women who read women’s fiction and/or romance. My readers love Southern stories and enjoy authors like Karen White, Mary Alice Monroe, or Joshilyn Jackson. 

Palmetto Moon 2Did your book require a lot of research? 

I purposefully didn’t set much of the story in Charleston because if you get it wrong, the history hounds there will nail you to the cross. With the book set in 1947, I sort of lucked out when I did do my research. I found there was big gap in the archives toward the end of WWII through 1949. So, I could pretty much make up whatever the story needed.

The heroine, Vada, grew up wearing couture and fabulous shoes. It was fun researching the clothing and accessories of what was known as the beginning of the Golden Age of fashion. When I saw the mockups for my cover, I was thrilled but my agent didn’t think the dress the model is wearing looks like it came from 1947. But the dress is sort of symbolic of the times, after WWII when economies were booming again. Storied designers like Chanel, Anne Klein, Christian Dior, and a host of others took fashion from the drab fabrics and designs of a war torn world to a beautiful new era. 

What was your publishing process like? 

I finished my first novel, The Wisdom of Hair, and was lucky enough to get a big agent. I loved her, she was like an older me and had this wonderful Julia Childs voice. After the first round of submissions, she found out the chronic backache she’d had for two years was cancer. She died a few weeks after her diagnosis, but before she passed, we talked a lot. She assured me her partner would sell my work, not that I cared at that point. She was really special.

To say I was the proverbial redheaded stepchild with the new agent was an understatement, but I had representation, right? After two years of hoping this woman would sell my work, I called her assistant and asked if she thought that would ever happen. I appreciated her honest answer and divorced my agent that day.

I’m horrible at rejection and floundered submitting on and off for, I don’t know, five years? Ten? They all kind of run together. Then I asked myself, “Who buys books?” The answer isn’t agents. So I found the NY Pitch Conference and pitched directly to four editors and got three who wanted to read my manuscript. That was the first line of the 167 query letters I sent out. Within in the week, I had 40 who were reading part of the script, 20 reading the whole script. I ended up with 3 offers of representation, and then I got to do the choosing. And by the way, one of the editors who requested the script at the pitch conference bought the book. 

What do you love most about the writer’s life? 

I’m a pantser and have no idea of where the story is going as I write. I love hearing the voices of my characters in my head and trusting them to know the story. A few times, I’ve written about things that came true or about places I’d never been, not even on the Internet, and then found that I’d depicted them accurately.

Then there are the strange coincidences. My hero’s name in Palmetto Moon is Frank Darling, who owns a diner and believes Vada Hadley fell in love with him for his crab cakes. After I finished the book, I contacted a nationally renowned restaurant group and asked them to contribute recipes, which would be in the back of the book in lieu of reader questions. Turns out the executive chef who contributed the recipes is named Frank too.

I attribute these creepy little coincidences to the ether, but I love them. 

Where is your book available? 

I’m proud to say Palmetto Moon was named a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Summer 2014 OKRA pick and is available many indie stores in the South. Of course it’s also available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, iTunes, and Indibound. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author? 

I was a stay-home mom and started writing books to have something that was just mine. Every stay-home parent who’s pulled in a million different directions needs that. I completed my first manuscript when my son was in the third grade but didn’t publish until he was twenty-three. Through all of that, my husband didn’t understand why I put so much time into writing if there wasn’t a tangible result that was green and had a dead president’s head printed on it.

Even after I published my first novel, The Wisdom of Hair, he didn’t get it. But a funny thing happened over the past several months when he was home with me while he planned his new company. He saw how hard I work on all fronts, not just the writing but the marketing too. Totally changed his perspective. It’s really hard for someone who doesn’t do what we do or know what we know to grasp how hard the business is. He’s had a front row seat, and he gets it now. 

What is your advice for aspiring authors? 

NEVER give up. I started writing a really bad book 25 years ago, and then I wrote some more really bad books. The writing got better, much better, but it’s hard as hell to publish traditionally. Which at the time, was the safest route for me. I was 53 when I sold The Wisdom of Hair and 55 when I sold Palmetto Moon. If I’d had a tougher hide, I might have published sooner.

The good news for aspiring authors is, NOW is the best time in the history of authors to write and publish because there are so many options. The Big Six are not the only way anymore. Small presses are making big splashes all the time, and self-published authors on the bestseller lists are an everyday occurrence. Write your best book, and if you want to go the traditional route. Talk to some authors and hear what it’s like. You might decide to go small press or indie. But, whatever you decide, if that’s your dream, go for it. 

Anything else you’d like to tell my readers? 

The very human reaction to having written a book is to get it out into the world to become a bestseller. Maybe they go through a few drafts, but BOOM it’s out there and it isn’t picked up by an agent or a publishing house or it sits at the bottom of the Amazon Kindle rankings. Again, write your best book. Then let other people, preferably other writers who’ve been at this for a while, read it, critique it. If there’s a consensus that something is wrong, fix it.

Then you’re going to have to spend some money. Have a freelance editor and copy editor go through it; if you don’t know anyone, you can find editors to fit your budget on elance.com. If you don’t have money for that, make friends with other writers who can provide these services and offer to do the same for them. You’ve written your best book, right? You wouldn’t want to send it out into the world if it’s not ready.

Take what the people who love you most say about your work with a huge grain of salt, the same for a critique who HATES your book. If there is a consensus of an issue, even, from the haters, lay down your pride and take an honest look at your work. THEN put your BEST book out in the world.

If you go the self-publishing route, DO invest in a primo copy editor because you and your work will be severely discounted for errors. That’s not to say the Big Six don’t have errors in their work, they do, but nobody seems to complain about that. This book is your heart, your baby. It’s your BEST book. Until you write the next one. 

 

 

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
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