Born in Frankfurt, Germany, author Mariam Kobras lived in Brazil and Saudi Arabia as a child before her parents decided to settle in Germany. She attended school there and studied American Literature and Psychology at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen. Today, Mariam writes in Hamburg, Germany, where she lives with her husband, two sons and two cats. Her novel, The Distant Shore, tells the story of a famous musician who reconnects with the woman he once loved. Publisher Buddhapuss Ink LLC, which is marketing the book as “Contemporary Fiction/Romance,” launched the The Distant Shore this month.
Mariam’s experience in becoming a first-time published writer breaks many of the rules you likely have heard in your writing programs, classes, and workshops. Parts of her story might make you scratch your head and say, “How could that be?” – especially if you are working on the umpteenth draft of your manuscript or are filing your latest rejection slip. Perhaps what Mariam’s story reveals is that there is no “right” or “wrong” path to success. Sometimes a passion for the work, dedication, an open-minded approach, and a willingness to carve your own path is all you need (well, that and a manuscript that a publisher will love).
FRD: Many of my readers are writers in the early stages of their writing careers. When did you begin to consider writing as your primary focus, and how long did it take you to complete and publish your first novel?
MK: I started writing the first draft of The Distant Shore early in 2009. There was no real deadline, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about a writing career. At the time, I was working at a high school teaching theater and supervising the detention room. To fill the many hours of boredom in that room, I started writing to pass the time and entertain myself. There were long periods when I wrote nothing at all, and The Distant Shore remained unfinished until December 2010. It was actually only after I signed with Buddhapuss that I thought of writing as a career.
FRD: Am I correct that English is not your first language? If not, why did you choose to write in English?
MK: You are correct; English is not my first language, but my second of three. I was born and raised in Germany. My father is Saudi, and when my parents met, English was the language both of them spoke. To this day English is spoken in my parents’ house. My third language was Portuguese, and I say “was” because I spoke it as a kid when we lived in Brazil for a few years. Now, I have forgotten most of it. It was an easy choice for me to pick English. English is lyrical, it has a lovely flow; the rhythm of the sentences speaks to me. It was a gut decision, I think.
FRD: What was the inspiration for this novel?
MK: That is very hard to pinpoint. To be honest, I don’t know. There are a lot of things about my writing that I’ve never figured out. I can’t tell you why I write the way I do, or why I started my book with exactly that scene, and from a man’s point of view, and I can’t tell you what inspired me, either. One day, I opened the laptop and began to write. And once I had started, it just went on and on. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
FRD: Did you have the plot in mind before you started the novel, or did the plot develop during the writing process?
MK: I had one scene in my mind that I wanted to write about. It’s a scene near the beginning of the book, when Jon comes to Naomi’s hotel, she steps out of the elevator and sees him. She is carrying a tray full of new, expensive plates, and it drops from her hands and all those plates crash on the floor. I needed to get to that scene, and so I made up the story of Jon getting that letter and traveling to Norway to find his long, lost love. The rest, as they say, is history.
FRD: What was the biggest technical challenge you faced as you drafted the manuscript?
MK: What’s a draft? No, kidding aside, I didn’t draft. You see, I started writing this to amuse myself. So every day, while I waited for kids to be sent to the detention room, I’d open my writing file and think, “So. What could happen to them today? What will I have them do today?” And that was pretty much all the drafting I did. The story found its own way. It meandered a bit, and the first “draft” was 400K words long. But I think I carved a pretty neat novel out of that block.
FRD: Did you work with readers or a writing group as you wrote the manuscript?
MK: When I started writing—and I actually started writing with The Distant Shore, there are no other novels or stories in my desk from earlier—I kept it a secret. It was my guilty pleasure, my indulgence, and nobody’s business.
I remember how I told my best friend about it, how I sat on her couch, and shamefacedly admitted that I was writing…and no, I had no idea where I was going with it. She smiled. She’s a very patient person, very tolerant of my whimsies. And she told me that was great! A great hobby! But she said much the same about my knitting and quilting, so it didn’t mean a lot. It only meant that she loves me.
So, no, I don’t have a writing group. Never did. And I found my first readers on twitter, friends from the U.S., who wanted to read my “novel” when I told them what my hobby was.
FRD: How did you know when your novel was “done?”
MK: There’s only one answer to this one, and as flippant as it may sound, it’s the truth: after I had written it. No kidding. I remember sitting right here on the couch, my family around me, and they were watching TV while I was writing. And suddenly, just like that, I knew the story had ended. It ended, with Naomi saying: “I’m hungry for an omelet. Will you make me one?”
I started crying and shaking, and my hubby panicked and asked if I was OK. For a moment, I couldn’t speak. Then I told him the book was finished, and he went out to get some champagne, God bless him.
FRD: Once you completed the manuscript, did you look for an agent or begin sending directly to publishers?
MK: Neither. I wasn’t looking for a publisher. To be honest, I never thought there was enough of a story there to submit it. And I wasn’t really convinced my writing was any good at all.
FRD: How did you land your publisher? Do you have any thoughts about working with small presses vs. big houses?
MK: I didn’t land my publisher, my publisher landed me. They found me on twitter and asked for the full manuscript after reading a short excerpt on my blog. My reply to them was that they would have to wait for a few weeks because I wasn’t done editing. They said they would, but they kept asking. So one day I just dumped the whole thing in an attachment. My query letter was, “Here it is, then!” and my marketing plan was to “do anything they wanted me to, except dance naked on tables.”
They called me via Skype a few weeks later. The first words my new publisher ever said to me were, “We totally believe in your project!” I was sold. And I’ve never looked back. Ten days ago I signed a new two-book deal with Buddhapuss Ink LLC.
As long as they don’t kick me out I’m never going to even look at a different publisher. Working with them is fun! I don’t know if I would feel this welcome, this well cared for, with a big publisher. I had a say in my book cover; I watched (virtually, of course) my novel grow from a word file into a lovely, printed book.
FRD: How long did it take for your book to be published once you had signed on the dotted line?
MK: About nine months. But that was because I was away for six weeks during that time, on a pre-launch book reading tour in the U.S.
FRD: A lot of writers see publishing their first book as a kind of “holy grail.” Tell us what it really feels like once you’ve launched your first novel. Do you feel like you’ve “arrived,” or do you just have more work to do?
MK: Getting this first book deal was pretty cool. But to me it felt more like a beginning than an end. You see, I was never aiming to be an author, at least not actively, with every fiber of my being. It was kind of a nice surprise.
The longing, the wishing to be an author, came as an afterthought. It began after I was signed. Suddenly, I wanted it, and I wanted it more than anything else. Being signed for one book was good and well, but for me, it was the start of things. I felt I’d only be a “real” author if I wrote and published more books. Now, after signing my new contract, I do feel like an author indeed.
There is indeed more work once you have signed a book deal. First there’s the editing, then the marketing, anxiously watching the Amazon page to see if the book sold, the interviews, guest blogs, and so on. Of course, in addition to all that, you’re also supposed to write a new book, prepare for another book tour, sign bookplates, sign books…it’s a pretty busy life now, and I’m loving it! I love every minute, and nearly every aspect of it.
FRD: What are your plans now? Are you already at work on a new manuscript?
MK: I’ve finished one book and submitted it. It’s book 2 in the Stone Trilogy, and will be published in September. The title is Under the Same Sun. Editing will begin very soon on that one. Book 3, Song of the Storm, is well underway; I’ve written about a third of that. I think the plans are to publish it in February 2013. Only last night I talked about my future plans with the publisher, about what I want to do after the Stone Trilogy, and they are quite pleased. So yes, I’m booked until the end of 2013, I would say.
FRD: What advice would you offer to writers whose dream is to publish that first novel, memoir or short story/essay collection?
My publisher always says, “Butt in chair, write!” It’s the best advice ever. You HAVE to write.
No amount of reading about “how to write”, no plotting, drafting, developing characters or settings, no blogging, no TWEETING about it, will write that book for you. Be prepared to be lonely, to sit still for many hours, miss sleep and forget lunches. Be willing to be ruthless in your demand for writing time.
And FINISH THE DARNED THING!
Oh, and one last thing: don’t call yourself “aspiring.” Once you’ve started writing, you’re a writer. End of story.
NOTES FROM BUDDHAPUSS INK LLC
This was the second stop on Mariam’s “Love is in the Air” Blog Hop & Giveaway. Tomorrow you check out ChickLit Reviews and News for her guest post, which is titled: “Clueless.”
We will be giving away copies of The Distant Shore along with some other terrific (and very romantic) gifts as we count down the days to Valentine’s Day. If you’d like to enter the giveaway, leave a comment at the bottom of this post for one entry. Buddhapuss Ink also encourages you to “Like” this blog and follow it! (Thanks for that — FRD)
If you’re interested in learning about other chances to win, CLICK HERE for all the info.