Cheryl K. Tardif is the author of Whale Song, an emotional novel that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Cheryl took some time off from her busy schedule to do this interview. Among other things, she talks about her recent virtual book tour and finding a publisher.
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?
Whale Song is an emotional novel about choices and consequences, suitable for adult and young adult readers. It’s the story of Sarah, a young woman who is haunted by her past and by the assisted suicide of her mother. A teenaged Sarah moves from Wyoming to Vancouver Island where she is suddenly thrown into a world of racism, hatred, school bullying and more. Thankfully, Sarah befriends a native girl, and through stories told by her friend’s wise old grandmother, Sarah learns the legends of the animals around her — of Seagull, Whale and Wolf. As these legends begin to parallel her life, she moves through the tragedy of her mother’s death and the partial amnesia that has blocked out the truth, becoming a jaded young woman who has hardened herself to love and life. And then someone from her past returns to make her finally face all that she has forgotten. Whale Song is a mixture of coming-of-age, family drama and mystery, and it’s a novel that will change the way you view life… and death.
The story was inspired from two separate influences. The first was a native legend I had heard when I was a teen growing up on the Queen Charlotte Islands (north of Vancouver Island). The legend stated that if you saw a killer whale close to shore, it was really someone’s spirit coming to say goodbye. The very thought of that haunted me and has always stayed with me. The second influence was the controversy surrounding the assisted death of someone who was dying a painful death. I wondered about that, about why it is so easy and acceptable for us to put down our family pet when they are suffering and yet we can’t find a more humane way to help the dying to pass on. The two elements combined, and for two years I played with the idea of writing Whale Song. And when the time was right… I did.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?
For Whale Song (and all of my novels), I have allowed the story to brew and simmer in my mind. For two years I thought about writing it, and by then the characters were almost lifelike. Finally, I began. And yes, it was more a stream-of-consciousness event. Writing the story was like a journey in some ways… one that had been planned and plotted, the course already lined out. All I had to do was get from point A to B. And then to C. You get the picture. There was no struggle in writing the story — other than I can’t type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. Like good beer or fine wine, the story had fermented into something wonderful when I gave it the time it needed. There was no outline, maybe a few notes. Whale Song was written, edited by me and two editors and at the publisher’s within 3.5 months.
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 started searching for a publisher when I was about 18. I sent out query letters, outlines, synopses etc, but didn’t have one bite. I did, however, get a lovely collection of rejection letters. Since then I have collected more. I think I have enough to wallpaper my office! Back in 2001, I started considering self-publishing again. I realized that if I took a risk and self-published that I would have a way to test my novels in the real world. And I would also have a track record of sales and experience to show to a traditional publisher. So I self-published 3 novels and found that being a published author was “it”. I had finally found myself. But my goal was (and is) always to be published by a big NY publisher like Bantam or Warner. I dream BIG…and in full color. So…if someone from Bantam or Warner happens to be reading this…please email me. I am also looking for an agent.
I receive lots of emails from aspiring or novice writers, and I tell them all the same thing. Self-publishing is a viable option, but you should pay your dues and submit to the traditional publishers first. Aim high! But keep in mind that less than 2% of manuscripts are accepted. To some, this may seem a defeatist attitude, but it’s reality. So be prepared to work hard and look for opportunities. I spent years doing it the “right” way and I don’t regret it. I learned so much. And I think that is one of the reasons why I was finally picked up by a traditional publisher. I had walked the walk. Self-publishing was an option and a choice. It won’t work for everyone. I think of it as building a ladder and climbing it, one rung at a time. You have to start somewhere — usually at the bottom — and work your way up. I meet too many authors who want the quick fix. There really is none. Just as you should be honing and perfecting your craft of writing, you should hone the business side. Getting published is business. And it’s not for everyone. That said, if you want it badly enough, MAKE it happen. Dare to dream…and dream BIG!
How was your virtual book tour?
My VBT was a lot of hard work and organization but it was well worth it. I felt that it was a complete success, especially since Whale Song became an Amazon.com bestseller as a result of the virtual book tour. I am really glad I decided to organize it myself; I was able to meet some wonderful hosts and supply different articles/interviews to each so that my 1-month VBT was not repetitious.
I heard an author say the other day that virtual book tours don't build an audience because only the people that already know you follow you around. Now that you have been through a virtual book tour, do you think he's correct?
I definitely have to disagree. I believe that more 'strangers' followed me around. First, the hosts I contacted did not know me well. Only a few were people I had worked with before or knew prior to the VBT. Every blog or radio interview has there own traffic, there own regular visitors and there own new hits. So I was exposed to a wide range of readers and people who had never heard of me before. Throughout my virtual book tour, my sales were great–not only for Whale Song, the book I was promoting, but also for The River and Divine Intervention. Their sales also took off.
And one of the best benefits to doing a virtual book tour is that it is viral — it spreads. Even now, two months after my VBT, I am getting hits to my sites from my VBT hosts. They're still sending me traffic and potential sales.
In all honesty, I can say that few people who already knew me followed me around. Frankly, they already knew about my books, may have read them, so the tour wouldn't interest them as much. 🙂
I heard there's a movie interest for Whale Song. That sounds exciting. Would you tell us about that?
A number of Hollywood film companies are reading Whale Song. Plus I have personally sent a copy to various film contacts, including a prominent BC filmmaker and some names people will recognize. Kristin Kreuk, from the hit TV show Smallville, has been sent a copy of Whale Song. She was the original actress whom I had pictured playing the role of adult Sarah when I wrote Whale Song. Canadian Idol Eva Avila, whom I've gotten to know, is reading Whale Song. She is interested in pursuing acting and she would also make a great Sarah. Jodelle Ferland, a young and talented Canadian actress (Silent Hill) who has worked with Kristin Kreuk, is also reading Whale Song. She would make the perfect young Sarah. Her mother and I have become internet friends, and I can see Jodelle playing Sarah perfectly.
I am very excited about all this. Seeing Whale Song made into a major motion picture would be a dream come true — not only for me but for many, many fans. I receive emails regularly from fans of all ages 7 to 108 who want to see this movie. Whale Song would be the kind of feel-good film that anyone could go to. For adults, it will take you back to your youth and innocence; for kids, it will make you think of life and death in a different way.
I already have a screenplay and a movie treatment available. Now we just have to find a film company with heart and soul–one who sees that a film like Whale Song will be a beautiful, rewarding project. I can't wait!
I understand your publisher, Kunati Books, will be featured in the December issue of Quill & Quire. How did this come about?
Yes, Kunati Books publisher Derek Armstrong was interviewed recently. I believe Quill & Quire contacted him because Kunati is a new publishing company that is making noise in the industry — in a positive way. Kunati was the first publisher to lower Canadian prices to be closer to the US dollar. I was also contacted by Quill &Quire and interviewed for the article because I am one of two Canadian authors on Kunati's list. Most of the books published by Kunati Books have an edgy, controversial theme. With Whale Song, it's assisted dying, which has been in the news a lot since Jack Kevorkian's release in June and since people are traveling to Switzerland to visit Dignitas, the organization that legally assists with chronically ill people who wish to die peacefully on their own terms.
Any other unique ways you're marketing your book?
I am always looking for unique ways or exciting ideas, so I usually have a few contests each year. I am currently holding a 'Create a Corpse' contest, where people can send me the name of someone they want me to 'kill off' in my next Divine novel. For contest rules, please visit this site. I also just finished sponsoring the Love of Reading.com Online Book Fair, where I was able to promote my books plus have some fun and meet avid readers.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Thanks for the interview, Cheryl!