Author Interview Series: Renee Garrison

Today we meet Renee Garrison to discuss her award-winning debut YA novel The Anchor Clankers about the only girl living in a boy’s boarding school.

Many thanks for joining me Renee. Can you tell me about your inspiration for The Anchor Clankers?

renee-18b1It is a fictionalised account of my own high school experience – yes, I grew up in a boys’ boarding school! My father was the Commandant of the Sanford Naval Academy in Florida. (The school closed its doors in 1976.) The story includes several themes including prejudice, peer pressure, and coping with change. The main character moves from Boston to Florida in 1971.

My father was a Navy pilot. His career required our family to move every three years. Though I hated changing schools and having to make new friends, I discovered a freedom to reinvent myself in each new city where we lived. Not wanting to move is normal. Leaving behind everything that’s familiar is frightening. I want my readers to remember that they’re not alone. According to the National Military Family Association, military children will say good-bye to more significant people by age 18 than the average person will in their lifetime.

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What was your favourite place to live?

New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the most distinctive cities in the world. Creole food is amazing and I still love hot beignets! I discovered lacy Spanish moss hanging from ancient oak trees and delicate, wrought-iron balconies wrapping around buildings. Living there made me appreciate places that exude a unique sense of history.

Can you tell me about your writing process?

Most of the time, I write at home in Florida. But I always carry a notebook and pen with me so I can scribble thoughts in the car, on beach chairs – I’ve even done some pretty good work on the back of vomit bags during long airline flights! I must have coffee, though, and chocolate seems to help my creative process a lot.

Henry Miller wrote at a large oak desk while Rudyard Kipling sat in his library full of books. Here’s a secret – you can train yourself to write anywhere. JK Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter book in cafes around Edinburgh.

All you really need is something to write on. I make myself comfortable and my environment, cheerful. (I don’t understand how the author Edith Sitwell found writing in an open coffin inspiring.) Of course, you could write on a horse like Sir Walter Scott, too.

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Can you remember when writing became a part of your life?

I discovered my love of weaving facts into narrative from when I wrote for my high school newspaper. Full disclosure: I was never terribly good at math. I majored in Journalism in college and got hired by The Tampa Tribune as a clerk in the Features Department during my senior year. (That means I typed in Ann Landers advice column and Sydney Omar’s horoscopes.) I wrote a few short stories and restaurant reviews for them until a reporting position opened up. They liked my work and I was hired.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Stop texting!

Life deserves more than an abbreviation. Any kind of writing – journals, term papers, letters to your grandmother – will hone your ability with words. The more time you spend writing, the fewer words you’ll need to use. Write every day, even if you aren’t inspired and you think your work is really bad. I interviewed the author Andrew Gross for The Tampa Tribune. He told me his best work (and probably mine) comes on the second or third draft of a story. But you can’t edit a blank page…

How did The Anchor Clankers come about?

My father often came home at night, rolled his eyes at my mother and said, “I ought to write a book.” Sadly, they both died before they could attempt it and are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. I felt honoured to write a book for them and dedicated it to my parents.

I worked on The Anchor Clankers, for eight years. I reached out to alumni of the naval academy and met them for coffee, for lunch, did phone interviews and kept legal pads full of their stories. I was editing several real estate magazines in Central Florida, so I wrote on my lunch hour and in the evenings.

The Anchor Clankers is traditionally published, can you tell me about how you achieved the deal?

There were a lot of rejection letters from literary agents. Finally, I went to Book Expo America in New York City, to gather information and speak to as many people as I could in the publishing industry. There, I met the owner of a small publishing house (Southern Yellow Pine Publishing,) which promotes Southern authors and books with regional, historical and cultural significance. Bingo – she asked to see my manuscript and offered me a contract!

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What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being an author?

Marketing. An executive at Baker & Taylor once told me that even large publishing houses don’t devote much time or budget to marketing debut novels. The bulk of the responsibility falls squarely on the author’s shoulders. (It’s hard to find time to write when you’re marketing…)

I’ve given presentations and book signing at public libraries, book shops, and book festivals. I was invited to be a presenter at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading which garnered a lot of print articles. I created a Facebook Author Page to increase my visibility and I try to Tweet regularly, too. I spoke with another author who is filming a book trailer for You Tube – at a cost of several thousand dollars!

Thank you Renee for taking the time to speak with me today. I wish you every success with The Anchor Clankers which is available to buy from Amazon now. Please keep in touch and let us know when you’ve finished the sequel, Anchored In Love. Along with Facebook and Twitter you can also keep up with Renee via her blog.

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If you enjoyed this interview then why not follow my blog where I’ll be posting more interviews soon. I regularly provide an insight into my own experiences as I work towards publishing my debut novel, In The End. If you’re an author, or work in the industry and you’ve got an interesting story to tell, drop me a line on contact@gjstevens.com

GJ Stevens

I am a Writer. I am many other things too, but I love to write. I write in my spare time, I write when my time is not really spare. I write to relax and I write because I enjoy hearing about how people react to my words. Later this year I release my debut novel, In The End, a compelling apocalyptic thriller that will leave you breathless, immersing you in their fight for survival.

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