It is my pleasure to welcome Ina Zajac, author of Gritty Contemporary Fiction, Please, Pretty Lights.
Several of Ina’s childhood math teachers had something in common. They all seemed to think she should be a writer. She followed their advice, but didn’t initially consider fiction writing. Instead, Ina earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in psychology from Western Washington University. Later she earned a master’s degree in mass communication from Arizona State University.
Ina’s first gig out of college was as a newspaper reporter. She has a broad range of communications experience including media relations, event promotion, and crisis communications. A few years ago, she decided to pursue fiction writing full time.
What is your book’s genre/category?
Literary Fiction/Gritty Contemporary Fiction
Please describe what the story/book is about.
It’s September when good girl Via Sorenson stumbles into a Seattle strip club, drunk and alone on her twenty-first birthday. Matt and Nick—best friends, band mates, and bouncers—do their best to shield her from their sadistic cocaine-trafficking boss, Carlos. They don’t realize her daddy issues come with a forty-million-dollar trust fund and a legacy she would do anything to escape.
She is actually Violetta Rabbotino, who had been all over the news ten years earlier when her father, an acclaimed abstract artist, came home in a rage, murdered her mother, then turned the gun on himself. Young Violetta was spared, hidden behind the family Christmas tree, veiled by the mysticism of its pretty lights whose unadulterated love captivated and calmed her.
Now, desperate to shed her role as orphaned victim, Via stage dives into a one-hundred-day adventure with Matt and Nick, the bassist and drummer of popular nineties cover band Obliviot. The rock-and-roll lifestyle is the perfect distraction—until she is rattled by true love. As Christmas looms closer, her notorious past becomes undeniable. How will she ever untangle herself from her twisted string of pretty lights?
How did you come up with the title?
The main character Via says, “please, pretty lights” in the opening scene. For her, the pretty lights are charged with emotional and spiritual symbolism. Nick and Matt are musicians who perform on stage under their own kind of pretty lights. Nick gets off on the limelight, but Matt would rather hang back in the shadows.
What is the reason you wrote this book?
I have been a writer for many years. I started out as a newspaper reporter and then transitioned into public relations. I have always wanted to write a novel, but the timing never seemed right. Then a few years ago, I started obsessing about a character (Via). I would daydream about her. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. At the time I wasn’t working full time, and so I turned my attention toward fiction writing. It has been the most emotionally rewarding work of my life.
What is your favorite part of writing?
There are days when I’ll wake up, get a cup of coffee and sit down to write. I’ll start typing away, and all of a sudden I will look up and four or so hours have gone by. I describe it as “when time turns itself inside out” because that’s what it feels like. I’ll look down to find a cold cup of coffee. I’ll have written several thousand words. Of course, these words aren’t necessarily perfectly strung together. Tweaking and re-tweaking is a must. Still, it’s a rush.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
There are other times when I get outside of my head by stressing or doubting the process. That doesn’t feel good. Too much attention to social media can mess with my mind. Reading “You Must Do these 10 things Right Now” blogs, for example. Also, the revision process can be grueling. It’s work. It’s rewarding, uplifting even, but it is still work.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have so many. First, I want to say that I respect all writers. All musicians. All artists. It doesn’t matter whether I personally connect with their work or not. Being a creator can be emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically taxing. It can be a lonely business. It can be scary putting your heart into something not knowing what the world will think about it. Vulnerability can be terrifying. Sometimes I think we forget that.
Growing up I read everyone from Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume to C.S. Lewis and Frank Herbert. I admire the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. I’ve read Anna Karenina a dozen times.
Since signing with Booktrope in January, I started reading more and more Booktrope authors. Wow, so many super talented writers. Some favorites include: Mary Rowen, Ruth Mancini, Arleen Williams and Tiffany Ems Pitts.
I recently read Marni Mann’s “Pulled Beneath” and just loved it. Mann’s vibe is dark and sultry, yet understated. I often talk about my love of “quirk and contrast” and her work offers both. As a reader, I connect with emotionally damaged characters. I want a hero who is more than a little messed up. I need the villain to have some soft spots.
Tess Thompson an exceptional storyteller. I get lost in her prose and forget myself. Last week I finished “Bill Purgatory: I Am the Devil Bird” by Jesse James Freeman. I had heard it was awesome. My expectations were high and it still wowed. It is wildly creative and clever. I haven’t read Jennifer Hotes yet, but she’s next on my list. Shari Ryan, Allie Burke and Eleanor Parker, as well.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
I’d love to mention my late grandmother, Louise Daney Roberts. The woman radiated pure love, so much so that I still feel it today though she’s been gone almost 20 years. I was so lucky to have had her in my life. I have based a character (Grandma Daney) on her. My grandmother was – and still is — such a part of me that I couldn’t help but include her in the book.
Favorite place to write?
I work from home and have dedicated office space, but like to mix it up. Sometimes I’ll sit at the dining room table or on the couch. When the weather is decent, I’ll write from the deck. I also like to write at my neighborhood bookstore, Third Place Books.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I would write whether anyone paid me to or not. While I would love praise and piles of money, writing is ultimately something I do for myself. I love it that much. Also, I often read my work aloud so I can listen for cadence. My dog Leland comes over and flops down next to me and listens. Maybe he’s just worried about me. I talk to my dog way too much.
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
I used to be a people pleaser. This is something I have dealt with my whole life. Be nice. Be a good girl. Make sure everyone around you is comfortable. It’s actually a theme I explore in Please, Pretty Lights. This past year I have become better at making myself happy first. Last year I sent an early out to seven beta readers. Two loved, four really liked. One did not. Initially, I was heartbroken. While I did consider her opinions, I didn’t change my story for her. I realized I could not keep all seven beta readers happy, so I revised as best I could. I stood my ground because it felt right at the time. Looking back, I’m so happy I did.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I turned off my phone, got off Facebook, and wrote my story. Of course, it wasn’t that simplistic, but I made writing a priority. Social media can kill precious writing time. For me, posting and tweeting and liking are pointless pursuits unless I’m doing the real work of writing.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
Don’t spend too much time getting advice from people who aren’t you. What works for one writer may not work for another. Learn to trust your instincts. It’s so easy to get caught up in what trends are sweeping the industry. Write what you want. What do you think about when you’re zoning out in traffic or standing in line at the grocery store? Write about that. Then revise and write some more. Make it the best it can possibly be. Take a break from it and read some books on craft. Attend a writing conference or a seminar. Connect with other writers. Read people who you think are better than you are. Pick and choose the techniques that speak to you. Then get back to your book and make it even better. Repeat this process several times. Then send it out and let the chips fall where they may.
Where can we find your book?
I know you can bookshelf it now on Goodreads. It will be released mid July on amazon, b&n.com, nook, hobo and carried in indie bookstores.
What’s next for you?
I have a few writing conferences this summer that I am super excited about: The Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, Wash June 27-29th, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference July 17-20h.
The Please, Pretty Lights launch party is at 7 p.m. Aug. 27th at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash. We’ll have food, live music and door prizes. It will be a good time. I am extremely fortunate to have a fabulous editorial team and an ultra supportive group of friends and family. I’m looking forward to thanking them all properly.
I am now working on the sequel to Please, Pretty Lights to be released by Booktrope in 2015.
Follow me on twitter @InaZajac
Thanks, Ina! I enjoyed your interview, thanks for the mention, and best of luck with Please, Pretty Lights!