Hello! Today, I have Sonja Yoerg stopping by to talk about her debut, HOUSE BROKEN! The cover has the cutest dog EVER. I mean, SO cute! Sonja’s got all the details about the book ( which was in stores EVERYWHERE yesterday!!)
Interview with Sonja Yoerg
Can you tell us, the readers of Traveling With T, a little about HOUSE BROKEN- your debut novel?
Geneva is a hard-headed veterinarian who, like most women, is keeping a lot of balls in the air. Her alcoholic mother moves in with her, and Geneva uses the opportunity to excavate the family history no one wants to talk about, and with good reason. It’s told from three points of view—Geneva’s, her mother’s and Geneva’s sixteen-year old daughter—so we get to see the family dynamic from all sides.
When writing HOUSE BROKEN- did you know how it would end? Or did the ending reveal itself as you were writing?
Not only did I not know how the book would end, I usually didn’t know how a given chapter would end! Because this is my first novel, it was a surreal experience to set the characters in motion, give them a stage, and let them go. As a psychologist, the process was fascinating. As a newbie writer, it was a bit daunting, and fun, the way challenging things are.
Let’s talk Quirky Habits: lots of writers have quirky habits. Care to share some of yours, Sonja?
I’m not a patient person, so big projects intimidate me. If I don’t break them down, I get discouraged. I write the first ten pages and think, “only 350 more to go,” and feel as though I’m drowning. I’ve developed tricks to help get over that, chief of which is an obsession with word counts. I have a notebook for each book, and in the back I keep track of how many words I write per day, plus weekly and monthly totals. Every so often I calculate how many words per day I have to write to finish on a certain date. I’ve never had to work against a deadline so this is completely self-imposed. Some days I spend more time on my calculator than my laptop! I don’t write fast—a thousand words is a big day for me—but because I can see the progress, I don’t get as discouraged.
Do you have a particular type of character that fascinates you? Or do all characters fascinate you?
I do enjoy a good villain, mostly because they are so hard to write. To be a successful villain, the bad must be balanced with the good, but the good qualities can’t be redemptive, so it’s tricky.
The main character in House Broken, as I’ve said, is a veterinarian, and in my second book, Middle of Somewhere (Penguin, Sept 2015), the main character is a woman who designs artificial limbs. So I seem to drift toward practical, hyper-logical women, probably because they have so much room to open up. Plus, it’s important to give voice to all sorts of women in our stories, don’t you think?
What do you think about the setting in HOUSE BROKEN? Is it as essential as a character? Or is the setting very “this could be any town, anywhere”?
The story takes place in California, mostly in Marin County, but also in Los Angeles. There’s definitely a hectic quality to family life in House Broken that matches my experience of living there. Now that we’ve moved to rural Virginia, I can see it even more clearly. Also, the contrast between Northern and Southern California plays a role, at least in terms of atmosphere, as does the famous San Francisco fog!
Geneva grew up, however, in South Carolina, so much of the backstory takes place there, in a fictional small town where Geneva’s father was mayor. I loved giving Helen, Geneva’s mother, a lively voice, rich with Southern idioms.
Do you have a writing process or a writing place?
I don’t have much of a process, unless you count reading what I wrote the day before as a running start for moving forward. When I’m attempting to get a draft down, I try to write daily so I can keep the characters and the plot alive in my head. It’s a bit crowded and musty in there, so it’s best for me not to take too long getting the story down.
We moved a couple times while I’ve been working on these books, so my writing spot has changed. In our current home, I do have an office I share with my husband, but the concrete floor, although carpeted, is a bit chilly this time of year. So I’m camped out on the dining table, chosen for the spectacular view of the fields and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond. Plus I can see my neighbor’s cows and the UPS guy arriving, which is what passes for excitement here in the sticks.
How many drafts did you write of HOUSE BROKEN?
It’s hard to say, because I revise as I go. I’m the sort of writer who has to put up the wallpaper in one room before moving on to the next. I can’t put in a placeholder that says: “Insert the name of the tree outside the window here.” I have to figure out what tree it is right then and there, otherwise I feel unsettled. A bit obsessive? You bet.
I tend to underwrite, rather than overwrite, so I end up doing more adding than cutting. Consequently, the first draft is lean, and fairly clean. But there is always more work to be done. Always.
Any advice for debut authors?
If at all possible, have your second book ready. It makes the whole ride more enjoyable. Also, even if your publisher will eventually assign a publicist, do as much ground work as you can yourself, and do it early, at least six months ahead of publication. Publicists are stretched thin, so it behooves you to take matters into your own hands and get going on social media, line up bloggers and on-line reviewers, contact bookstores, and so on.
If HOUSE BROKEN is made into a movie, how do you think you will feel seeing the characters you created on the big screen? Do you want there to be a movie?
Are you kidding me? I’ve already picked out my dress for the red carpet. Seriously, does anyone ever say they wouldn’t want a movie of their book? It’d be so thrilling. Plus, you know, there’s money in that, right? And I don’t worry about the hypothetical movie not jiving with the book. Every person who reads the book will see it differently, so why not the movie producer?
What’s next, Sonya? Can you share?
My second book, Middle of Somewhere, comes out in September 2015. It’s about a thirty-year old woman, Liz, who sets off on a three-week trek in the Sierras. She’s got more emotional baggage than will fit in her backpack and craves solitude to figure things out. At the last minute, her boyfriend decides to tag along. Liz is fiercely independent, but the trail, her boyfriend and her past put to the test her conviction to brave life on her own.
(Look at that cute doggy face! Heart melting!)
Thanks to Sonja Yoerg for agreeing to be interviewed!
Happy Reading and Bookishly Yours,
T @ Traveling With T