Touring the blogosphere this month is first-time author Candis C. Coffee, whose debut literary novel, Mariposa, just hit the shelves last month. A native of West Texas, Coffee is currently at work on a children’s book and pursuing a doctoral degree in alternative healthcare and the healing arts. In this interview she talks about Mariposa and about writing and publishing.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I wrote an essay in the third grade, about my weekend, and I lied. The teacher knew that it had to be made up, but I didn't care. I thought it was a thrilling experience to say what I wished to say rather than what was expected of me. I also kept a diary in childhood, and instead of writing down the day's actual events, I described the day as I'd liked it to have been. In high school, I wrote a short story that received a lot of praise. I loved writing the story and the praise was great, too.
Do you have another job besides writing?
I work as an Intuitive Counselor.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
I read as many books as I could hold in my arms. I loved mysteries, biographies and most of all, The Chronicles of Narnia series.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
Mariposa is the story of a young woman's quest to become whole. She lives to connect, with nature and with people, and after some time has passed, she realizes that these connections provide only a momentary sense of nourishment. Then she is left on her own. She finally simply becomes present and conscious, and she sees that she is full and complete. I wanted to write about the old home my grandparents inhabited during my childhood, and I felt that it could be helpful to express my feelings about Mexican culture, as an Anglo woman from Texas. I chose to set the story in the 1920s-1930s because that was the time of the Mexican Renaissance. Also, as a country girl myself, I knew little about modern Chicano politics. I only remembered the feelings between Anglos and Mexicans in dusty West Texas, and this seemed as if it belonged to another time. Most of all, I wanted to explore the idea of using other people to fill ourselves up, as if it can be done, and it can't.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I wrote a detailed outline, and then it became stream-of-consciousness. I wrote the book in one month, putting in five hours a day. However, the book took shape in my mind nine years before I actually wrote it. I had to live a bit more before the book was ready to be written.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
It took 24 years.
Describe your working environment.
My computer is in my living area, not far from the television and kitchen. My cats are always in the middle of a dramatic episode or there is something going on outside, for I live in a rough neighborhood. If I can find it within myself to write at all, then nothing else matters. I could be in the midst of chaos, and if the computer is working, then so am I.
Are you a disciplined writer?
I am a disciplined writer if I am in a place of believing in myself. If my sense of self is low, then my output is low. I know that this is unprofessional, and I'm working to heal this aspect of my life.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I suffer from writer's block when I think about outcomes…will the book sell?
What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
It helps to simply describe images I see in my mind. They don't have to fit next to each other, though they often do. Just describe. Also, writing outlines can be helpful. It is most helpful to simply be present with the writing and to respect the activity for itself alone, without regard for outcomes, other than words being placed on paper.
Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle with the most when writing? How do you tackle it?
There is still a small part of me who wants to “make it big” as a novelist. Technically, I don't feel that I have a problem because, like Steinbeck, I believe in just getting it all out on paper, then going back into the work for re-writes. I love to edit and re-write material. If I can quiet that voice that is saying, “No one will buy this book, so why not spend your time doing something more productive?” then the first draft will flow.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
I always attempted to find agents, and that was a nightmare. Three big agencies expressed great enthusiasm for my book. They told me it was almost ready, just so close, if I would go in and “deepen” this part, or “enhance” that part, only a little, mind you. They promised to represent me, since the book was near perfect anyway. In each case, after two or more years of re-writes, the book was dropped by each agent and that was that. It was beyond heart-breaking. My advice to novice authors would still be to look for an agent. However, if you are asked to do a re-write, agree to one and only one. If they are not happy with it, walk away and look for another agent. Attend writer's conferences whenever you can and talk to agents/publishers there, along with constantly sending out queries.
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
I would love to succeed in online book promotion. I do not enjoy appearing in public.
What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?
I love Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, for its romantic mystery. Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms for its surreal depiction of childhood. The Magus by John Fowles is a much read book, for it's sensuality, mystery and deep, almost unfathomable ideas.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
It once was Mickey Spillane's words, “I have customers, not readers.” Or something like that. Steinbeck's advice to just get it all down on paper first, then edit. Now, I believe my friend, Camilla, who says that it is important to write for myself. That didn't make sense to me for a long time, but it feels appropriate now.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I have begun a children's book about animals, titled Eyeshine. It's about two spoiled, bored Beverly Hills children who magically change places with two stray kittens who live in the back yard of a famous movie star. I have almost 70 book ideas written down in a special journal I keep for ideas. I love re-tellings of old novels, and I'd like to do something with Green Mansions.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
I wrote Mariposa with a motive other than simple entertainment. The book is interspersed with spiritual principles. My hope is that the book has an alchemical effect on readers, that they are a bit transformed by the reading of it. I once read an interview with author/spiritual leader Marianne Williamson. In the interview, she said that her eight year old daughter told her that she was only happy when reading Harry Potter. I understand this because I believe the success of the Harry Potter series lies in its ability to transport the reader into another, more interesting reality. I hoped to do this with Mariposa, to take the reader away from the mundane for a few hours, and then to send them back changed for the better.
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!