Today, I’m pleased to interview Inked Voices member and author Martine Fournier Watson. Her debut fiction novel The Dream Peddler releases today – April 9th. Martine talks about her inspiration for the book, its path to publication, and what she’s learned along the way. Welcome, Martine!
Brooke: Congratulations on The Dream Peddler! What is the story about?
Martine: Robert Owens, a traveling salesman offering dreams made to order, arrives in a small farming town on the same day that Evie Dawson’s young son disappears. The townspeople, shaken by the Dawson family’s tragedy and captivated by Robert’s subversive magic, begin to experiment with his dreams. And Evie, devastated by grief, turns to Robert for a comfort only he can sell her. But the dream peddler’s wares awaken in his customers their most carefully buried desires, and despite all his good intentions, some of them will lead to disaster.
Brooke: Where did the story idea come from? How did you know it was an idea you wanted to pursue?
Martine: The Dream Peddler was inspired by a fictional book called A Seller of Dreams that briefly appears in the works of one of my favorite childhood authors, L. M. Montgomery. In addition to the beloved Anne of Green Gables character, Montgomery had a lesser-known heroine named Emily Starr who grows up to be a writer. A Seller of Dreams is her first book, but it is never published –a dear friend who is jealous of the book tells her he doesn’t believe it’s any good, that she’ll never sell it, and she burns it.
The contents of this book are only hinted at, in the second and third volumes of the trilogy, and for some reason this was a big source of aggravation for adolescent me. I always wondered what a book involving a “seller of dreams” would be like. I think my subconscious may have worked on this idea for decades! While the story I came up with is much darker than anything Montgomery would ever have written, I had a lot of fun finally satisfying my curiosity by writing my own version. I never really made a conscious decision to pursue this idea, I just had a gut feeling that it was a strong premise. It was really a matter of realizing, after all those years of wondering about the story, that I was ready to sit down and try to write it myself.
Brooke: Tell us about your timeline in writing the book. Is this your first novel? When did you begin working on The Dream Peddler? At what point did you query? And when did it sell?
This is actually my second novel. As a young person, I wrote poetry and short stories, and I actually began publishing some of these when I was still a teenager. When I was about twenty-five, I decided to try writing something longer, just to see if I could. I wrote a middle grade novel that was pretty awful, so I stuck it in a drawer and never worried about it again. In that case, I realized later, the whole problem was a weak premise and lack of originality—maybe this helped me understand the value of a better idea like The Dream Peddler!
It was many years later that I finally went back to writing after stopping almost completely while I had a couple of kids and stayed home to raise them. So this is my second novel, and it took about six months to write a first draft. That was in 2013. Then I spent another year revising, getting feedback from beta readers, and revising some more before I began querying at the start of 2015. It took me eighteen months and a total of a hundred and nine queries to find my agent. Luckily, my agent’s edit suggestions were fairly light, and she was able to sell it after about five months on sub.
Brooke: Sending 109 queries demonstrates a lot of persistence. Did you revise your query over that time? Did you revise your pages? Any advice to people in the query trenches?
I am nothing if not persistent! And yes, that many queries over eighteen months did take a toll, but I’m also a patient person, luckily, and I knew I was playing a long game. What helped me keep at it was the occasional encouragement that came along with some of the rejections. A few months in, I had some interest from an agent who recommended some changes, and her input really helped improve the book. Ultimately, her vision for it was simply too different from mine, so we parted ways, but every once in a while a close call like that would reconfirm for me that it wasn’t a useless endeavor. I figured that if I couldn’t break through with this particular book, I might make it with the next one.
My sample pages did change a bit after I followed her advice, but I think they were strong to begin with. The query wasn’t great, but it seemed to do the job along with my pages. I didn’t get a high percentage of full requests, but I never sent out a batch of queries without getting at least a few, and that was also encouraging. I noticed the query attracted the attention of some really high profile agents, so I knew the basics were working. I really did think, when I had almost run out of people to query, that it wouldn’t matter—I wasn’t going to find representation for this particular book at this time. Maybe it’s just my nature, but I never wanted to give up.
As for advice, all I can say is what everyone has probably read before: keep writing. It’s a lot more fun than tweaking your query, and staying connected to your writing will remind you why you’re putting yourself through this in the first place.
Brooke: What have you learned over the course of bringing this book from idea to debut?
If I’ve learned anything over the course of taking a book from that first spark of an idea all the way to publication, it’s that you can have no idea of the gargantuan amount of editing you will have to do. It’s probably better that you don’t. I think I actually supposed, in my naïveté, that it was possible I could have written a book that would require very little because I sat with it for so long before finding an agent. Not so. Luckily, each phase of editing occurs as a separate event, so even though people refer to it as a marathon, it really is more of a series of sprints. Only when you look back on it do you fully realize how far you ran!
I learned an enormous amount working with my editor at Penguin, Shannon Kelly. I have a tendency to leave a lot unsaid, and Shannon really pushed me to dig deeper into my characters and give every story line its full due. After going through the editing process with her, I found it took me a lot longer to finish my second book, both in terms of time and word count.
Brooke: What aspects of writing come most easily to you? Which areas have been harder? Do you have any favorite resources that have helped you through?
Martine: I never seem to have any real writer’s block or lack of ideas, so at least that part is easy. I used to find the entire writing process hard, because I never took any fiction classes and didn’t realize that first drafts should be written relatively quickly and messily. I spent a lot of time stewing over words and pouring over my thesaurus when I should have been writing faster. When someone finally enlightened me, everything changed.
Drafting is now my favorite part of the process, because I can just zip along and worry about fine-tuning later. I love the feeling when a great idea for a scene pops into my head, or I start hearing my characters in conversation, and it’s a rush to get it all down. The not-so-easy part for me now is the editing. I leave quite a mess for myself with my new fun drafting style, so it’s a bit daunting to go back in and deal with that. The editing is much slower, so it can feel like a real slog. Sometimes I find myself procrastinating because I’m afraid to go into my own manuscript! I just have to force myself to dive in. I’ve never really been much for books about writing, mainly because I find we all come to it in our own way. Even though tips from successful writers can be helpful, writing is one of those things we can only learn by doing. That being said, I definitely enjoyed On Writing by Stephen King, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, and Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg.
Brooke: What advice do you have for newly agented writers preparing to go out on submission?
Martine: I’m afraid this won’t be terribly original, but do keep writing. If you’re not up for working on another book, try to have fun writing short stories or essays. If you don’t have a web site, you can occupy yourself setting one up, because your future editor and agent will both insist that you make one. Honestly, I didn’t find it that hard being on submission. I asked Bridget to let me know only if there was good news or if she had to start another new round, so I wouldn’t have to know about every rejection. By that time, though, I was pretty inured to rejection! Maybe spending so long to find an agent was good for me. I was practiced at focusing on other things while I waited for responses from people.
Brooke: Where can we find you online?
Martine: You can find me on Twitter and Instagram and at my author website. And this year I happen to be blogging about the debut journey with four other wonderful writers at www.thedebutanteball.com.
Brooke: You can find The Dream Peddler online at Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon. Or find it in your local bookstore using Indiebound. Readers may also enjoy Martine’s blog essay In Defense of Pantsing. Thanks for being with us today, Martine!
Brooke McIntyre is the founder of the writing groups platform and community Inked Voices. Brooke is passionate about using technology to facilitate peer learning, about connecting with people on a human-level despite distance and time differences, and, of course, about writing. Outside of Inked Voices, Brooke has also consulted for higher education and she volunteers as a ski instructor for individuals with disabilities. She lives with her husband and two kiddos in Brooklyn.