The Life Plan‘s author, Sybil Baker, joins us today on Writers Inspired to share her writing processes, experience with a small press and her history with Virginia Tech.
Sybil Baker spent twelve years teaching in South Korea prior to accepting a position as an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after earning her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. During her extensive travels throughout Asia, she became increasingly interested in the allure and alienation of American travelers and expatriates, and this has heavily influenced her writing. Her novel The Life Plan was recently published by Casperian Books. Her fiction has appeared most recently in upstreet, and the anthologies And Now for a Story (Casperian Books) and Motif: Writing by Ear (MotesBooks). Her essays have recently appeared in Alehouse, Segue, A Woman’s World Again (Traveler’s Tales. In 2005, she won the Grand Prize in Seoul’s essay contest. Her essay on American expatriate literature appeared in AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle in September 2005.
Enjoy this interview on the novel writing process and be sure to check out the very cool book trailer at the end.
Sybil will be answering your questions all day, today, Friday April 3 – so don’t be shy!
Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell
Sybil, thank you for stopping at Writers Inspired today on your book blog tour, promoting your new novel: The Life Plan.
We hope you can share some of your novel writing and publishing and marketing experiences with us.
MJC: I see from your blog and website, that you’ve been writing both fiction and non-fiction for some time. Have you written and/or submitted previous novel drafts for publication, before The Life Plan?
SB: I submitted earlier drafts of The Life Plan to a few agents when I was living in Korea, and while I had some positive response I didn’t find an agent who was interested enough to take me on. When I moved back to the States, I thought I’d try small presses before querying agents again, and I was fortunate that Casperian wanted to publish the book. I also wrote a novel more than 15 years ago that I sent out to a few places back then—it was very different than this novel—much darker and more “literary.” Again, that novel had interest from a few places but not enough to pursue publishing. While I was living in Korea, I wrote regularly but did not submit my work for years because of the time and expense. Now that so many places take electronic submission I expect it’s easier to submit internationally, but when I lived there I had to use snail mail, purchase International Reply Coupons for return postage, and pay a lot for postage—so I spent most of my time writing instead of submitting.
MJC: Your world travels obviously influence your fiction, but can you tell us how globe-trotting helps you market yourself as an author?
SB: First, I have friends and family who live all over the world—from Italy to Afghanistan, so I have a built-in international network to promote my book. For example, in May we’re visiting family in South Africa (where my husband is from) and my mother in law is planning several parties and promotional events for my novel.
Second, as evidenced by the success of Eat, Pray, Love, I think women’s global fiction and nonfiction is gaining in popularity. My experiences living and traveling abroad have allowed me to join that niche market and help me market myself as a global fiction writer.
MJC: Do you have a regular writing schedule? Give us an example of “a day in the life of Sybil,” while writing The Life Plan. Are you a fan of outlining your fiction or just starting with an idea and seeing where it takes you?
SB: When I started The Life Plan in fall 2004 I was also working on a short story collection, and so for about nine months I alternated between the two projects. I wrote the first draft of the novel and its revisions when I was teaching at a university in Seoul.
I usually set long-term goals and then break those down in to weekly or daily goals. So for example, I may decide to develop an outline or draft in the summer, then break that down in to shorter daily or weekly goals. During my semester breaks I’m able to work longer hours and so can increase my weekly or daily writing goals.
When I’m in full writing mode and have a complete day to myself, I usually wake up, make coffee, check email, check the news, then spend mid to late morning writing. Then I’ll go for a run, do some yoga, and write more in the afternoon. If I’m teaching or have other things going on, I try to squeeze in a few hours in the morning or evening.
I’ve become a believer in some kind of outlining or plotting before writing the first draft. Outlines are like a map to help you stay on course—of course you have the power to throw the map away or take a different road, depending on what is happening in the novel.
MJC: As writers, we tackle the sensitive topics, hoping to bring a universal truth and understanding to our readers. I read that you are a graduate of Virginia Tech. Do you think you would ever write about the horrific shootings that happened there either from a fiction or non-fiction view?
SB: It’s strange because not only did I graduate from Virginia Tech, but as a freshman I lived in the dorm where two of the shootings took place. Cho Seung Hui was a Korean American who grew up just a few miles where I did in Northern Virginia. I was living in Seoul at the time and the Koreans were horrified at what had happened—they were sure Americans would hate all Koreans after that.
I hadn’t thought about writing about it since I’m one of many graduates, but now that you mention it, I should write an essay about it as I’m connected to what happened in so many different ways.
MJC: What’s next for Sybil Baker? Any appearances, links or promos you’d like us to know about?
SB: After this blog tour I’ll be in South Africa for a month then will be back in the States—I’m planning on reading this summer at any place or anyone that will have me, and I’d love to work with any book club that is interested in the novel. If the book club is within driving distance, I’ll make a personal appearance; otherwise, I’ll be happy to appear via Skype. There’s a book club page on my website for any groups who are interested. And please check my blog or Facebook for updates on readings and blog visits.
Here are my links:
For book clubs: http://www.sybilbaker.com/bookclubs.html
My blog: http://sybilbaker.blogspot.com/
Book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RVu8VbHEbY&fmt=18
Thanks so much for having me!