Author of grass-roots bestseller comes to Vail Valley
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Some authors will write a book, perhaps spending years editing, revising, fine tuning, and then turn it over to a publisher expecting their work is done. To be an author is to write, right? Well, as the infamous proverb goes, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it … . Most books never get the chance to be read simply because people have not had the chance to hear about them. This is something the author Brunonia Barry understood when she began her first novel, “The Lace Reader.” Not only did Barry take on the sometimes arduous and nearly always expensive task of self-publishing her first novel, she set out with determination to make sure that the reading public would have the chance to know and love her work. She contacted libraries, booksellers, reading groups, teachers, and countless others not only for feedback, but to help spread the word.And, the word was good. There was such a great demand for the book that major publishers began to take notice, and by the end of 2008 she had signed a deal with William Morrow for distribution of “The Lace Reader” as well as a second book down the road.Now that Barry has gone big-time with a spot on The New York Times bestseller list, she has not forgotten what it took to get her there. She has made a commitment to continue her grassroots promotion of “The Lace Reader” with a multi-city tour of independent bookstores and call-ins to reading groups. Barry will be making a stop in Edwards Tuesday night for an intimate dinner at Rick & Kelly’s hosted by The Bookworm of Edwards. Space is limited for the event, but for a sneak peek we sat down with Barry to ask a few questions about her adventures in publishing.Vail Daily: How long did it take you to write “The Lace Reader?”Brunonia Barry: It took me seven years to write, mostly because I was working and had to carve out writing time wherever I could. About five years into the process, it became clear that the book needed a significant rewrite. Since I was dealing with such an unreliable narrator, I wanted to add different points of view. At that point, I quit my other job and devoted myself to the rewrite. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to do this. If not, the novel would have probably taken 10 years. VD: What made you decide to go through the process of self-publishing your book? BB: My husband and I own a small software publishing company. I had also worked in the film industry. In both of those businesses, it was common for an independent company to bring a product to market, prove some success in a limited sampling of customers, and then find a larger distributor to take the product to a national level. This had always been our idea with the book. In fact, it was what we had done quite successfully with our software company. In retrospect, I think we were being a bit naive. The book industry is quite different from software and films. But, with some hard work and some very lucky breaks, it worked out well. VD: How did you feel when the buzz started to take off, and you were getting offers from major publishers?BB: It was the thrill of a lifetime, the fulfillment of a dream. But, at the same time, the full impact didn’t really hit me until a few weeks after the auction. One day, I looked at my husband and said. “What just happened here?”VD: Bookclubs have embraced “The Lace Reader” and played a large part in making it a success. Did you make a specific effort to court them? BB: I did. I went to one of our local independent bookstores, The Spirit of ’76 in Marblehead, Mass. They have great relationships with a number of book clubs. I asked them if they knew a club that would read a novel from a new writer when it was still just a box of loose pages. I also asked them for a group that was willing to critique. My first book club was a group of 10 women who came to my house for tea. They read and critiqued the “book in a box,” and I told them to be brutal with their advice. They were. They gave me some great notes. At the end of the evening, I asked them if they would recommend “The Lace Reader” to their friends. They said they already had. I initially met with two book clubs. They spread the word. By the time our indie edition of the book came out, there were 37 book clubs waiting to read it. VD: “The Lace Reader” is set in Salem, Mass., a place with an infamous history of witchcraft. How does location play a part in your story? BB: Over the years, Salem’s dark history has made it a tourist destination. It has become the Halloween capital of the world. When we first moved here, someone was trying to pass an ordinance limiting the number of haunted house attractions per city block. That Halloween, when people were celebrating, we had some out of town preachers trying to save souls. I started to wonder if anything like the witch trials could happen again. I think it could, and does, certainly to this day in some parts of the world. By setting the book in Salem, I was able to achieve a sense of place that people already think they know, and that created a sense of familiarity. However, this is essentially a book about perception and preconceived ideas and how things are not always what they appear to be. By the end of the book, they should perceive Salem a bit differently. VD: If you could have one supernatural power what would it be? BB: I think it would be to see the future, the way Towner can in the book, and the way she rejects. But it is a mixed gift. I would like to see the future only if there was something I could do to help people or to change things. If that didn’t work out, I’d like to be able to fly. VD: Are you working on something new at the moment?BB: I have just finished a draft of my new novel, “The Map of True Places.” It is also set in Salem, but it is a completely different story. It has a bit of Hawthorne and of Salem’s shipping trade, which was actually a more significant part of Salem’s history than the witch trials, though no one seems to know about it. Like “The Lace Reader,” it is a contemporary story with history as background. It will be out some time in 2010.Besse Lynch works for the Bookworm of Edwards.