Interview with Best-Selling Author Tracey Garvis Graves

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Author Tracey Garvis Graves took her novel, On the Island, through the journey of self-publishing, only to see it become a best-selling hit. It follows Anna, a young teacher, and TJ, a student recovering from cancer, as they travel to his family’s vacation home for a summer of tutoring. However, when their plane crashes, they are left stranded in the middle of the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, most of which are uninhabited.

What was it that first got you started with writing, and how did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Well, I was always one of those kids that was a voracious reader and that was kind of a natural transition as I got older and started writing.  When I got to college, I took a couple electives that I just had to fulfill and they had fiction writing classes and I loved them.  I was thinking I should have switched majors, but I didn’t – I went ahead and got the business degree. I got married after that, and I had kids, and then I just decided one day that I wanted to pick it back up. I started a blog to get writing again and I started switching from blogging to attempting to write my first novel.

You have stated that you took inspiration from movies such as Castaway and series such as Lost. Were there any other movies, series or novels that gave you inspiration?

I did. I was a big fan of the Blue Lagoon and I always thought it was a great movie. It’s a guilty pleasure movie and when I was thinking about writing a book, I did take inspiration. With Castaway, I was a little annoyed that it was just Tom Hanks and that volleyball. I thought it was a waste for this really good opportunity to have a pairing. I like the adventure, but I knew I had to put two people on the island that should not be together and see what could happen. Also, I took some inspiration from by Lord of the Flies.It was such a brutal book – so opposite of what would happen – they were forced to ban together. I knew I wanted mine to be happy and to have a more positive outlook

The characters are really interesting in this novel because, like you said, they shouldn’t be together. On a professional level they are completely appropriate, but they develop a relationship that is taboo to our society. But if you take them and place them in an everyday setting they’ll be frowned upon by everyone they encounter.

That’s what I wanted. I wanted them to have the opportunity for their relationship to grow, which is how it would be on this island if you had no societal constraints. That’s why when people ask me, “Did you always know that you wanted them to get off the island?” I say absolutely because I wanted them to have to go back. I wanted the story to open with them not really being in their normal lives, and then to show their lives after they got off the island.

That was actually my favorite part of the book. I thought it was going to end with their rescue. It was going to be so interesting to see how they are going to adjust.

Yeah. I have heard people say that it really falls flat after they get off the island, but that was actually my favorite part of the writing. And having to think, “If this were me, how would this work?” Even them just phone calling their families – who would I call first – what would I say? On the Island was fun – there was all this danger to get done – it really was a whole different book, but I thought there was more depth reached when they got off the island. Would Anna be strong enough to continue with the relationship?

On the Island appeals to many different ages – was that an added bonus or did you intend to do that?

No, that’s completely an added bonus. The different age groups have blown me away.It’s been men and woman from 18 clear up to 85.   [Men] say they didn’t expect to like this book. [They say], “I don’t know how it came to me and that I read it. My wife was reading it or I stumbled upon it.”   When I go to signings, the main demographic is probably 50-year-old women. I expected it to be the 18 to maybe 35.  It’s just all across the board and it’s been absolutely thrilling to me to see it reach people that I never thought it would.

You mentioned that this was a word of mouth book towards the end of your novel – and we are kind of a word of mouth magazine. Do you think, with today’s use of Twitter and Facebook, that it’s easier to do it this way than the traditional way of publication?

Yes, I think that On the Island would not have been even remotely as successful as it has been without that word of mouth because, when it first came out, [the book] really didn’t do a whole lot. I announced it on my blog, I put a link out on Facebook and Twitter and I did a giveaway. I also paid for a couple ads on some book sites. It was really that the word of mouth just started to spread. I remember last fall getting up and going to work and, probably around October, when the book had been out for a couple of months, I started getting the occasional tweet or Facebook message from across the world. I started thinking, “Wow, this is really kind of cool, because I’m not even sure how they’re seeing it.” Then people started emailing me with more frequency, and it started to pop up on discussion groups and discussion boards on Amazon. And that’s when I really started to think that the word of mouth was really kicking in. At some point there was a tipping point and it seems to have just exploded everywhere.

You said MGM optioned it for a film. Is there any news on that?

I really hope it gets made. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic because Hollywood tends to option books and then they sit on it for years. They made a really good offer and my agent seems to think that means that they have a lot of enthusiasm about the project. They felt that the book transfers really well to film – there is not a lot of inner monologue, characters sitting and thinking, etc. There’s a lot of action and dialogue. I am certainly going to announce any information that I get through my Facebook author page, my blog –all of my personal media panels –I just don’t have anything to report right now. I sure would love to see that story on the big screen. I think it would be amazing.

Is there anything you use for writers’ block? I know – for me – I get angry and close the computer and come back to it after I take a walk – is there any technique that you use?

That’s a really good question, I’m glad you asked that. There are several things. I write out of order anyway, so, if I get writers block, it means that usually, in my head, I have not given enough thought into that scene or that chapter or plot point. So I will go for a walk or do laundry, or take a shower – writers always joke that that’s the best place because you really can’t do anything else, same with folding laundry. And then I can go back and finish. But, then again, if I’m writing and I get stuck, right then and there, I’ll just skip and write another scene. I’m also a big supporter of writing everyday. I wrote every single morning before I went to work. That time was precious to me. Writers block, to me, can come from just not knowing enough about your story. Taking a break from it, walking away, and then coming back to it – because it does make you angry – it stops you in your tracks and you can’t do anything and you want to do something.

You went on to self publish. I was wondering what it was like to go through that process.

Well, I couldn’t get an agent. I got rejection letters; no agents even asked to see pages of the manuscript. And it was soul sucking because the people that had read the novel had loved it.  I had to self publish. I really felt like I was a failure, but my husband encouraged me to do it. But, self-publishing has become more mainstream since I’ve self-published and it is now such a wonderful, viable option for writers. It was self publish or just leave it on my hard drive and I wasn’t willing to do that either.

Especially now, with the popularization of Kindles and E-Readers…

Yes, it’s a wonderful option. I took a couple months, I hired a developmental editor. I hired a copy editor.. I found my cover photo. I hired a graphic designer; I hired a formatter so it would look nice on E-readers. I spent some time going through Kindle direct publishing and Barnes and Noble. I got it on every platform that I could. Amazon actually featured me in a promotion in March (2012), and I knew right then that that was the one thing I needed. After the promotion, it ended up in the top 10 on Amazon and after that everything just went absolutely nuts.

That sounds exciting . . .

It was. It was the most exciting, wonderful time. And this is when my inbox just started to blow up. An agent reached out to me and wanted to know if I wanted to discuss representation. Foreign publishers were emailing me wanting to know if they could buy the rights, and it’s now sold in 26 countries. And this all started back in April (2012). My agent sold the movie rights about a month after I signed with her, which was amazing. I was really happy self publishing, I told my agent that I wasn’t looking for anything, but she did bring me two offers – one from Penguin and one from Harper Collins –and they were going to get my book on the shelves.

How are you going to publish your new novel?

Covet is done and it will come out on September 3rd. It will come out in hardcover through Penguin and then it will come out in paperback probably 6 to 9 months later. Covet is women’s fiction. It’s not a romance novel. So I’m taking a little bit of a risk by switching genres. There is an overlap between those two groups. But, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m willing to take another chance. I’m also doing, through Penguin, an e – special, which is kind of like a Kindle single. It’s going to be shorter than a novella – it’s called Isle of Bones. It’s going to feature a character from On the Island, the guy that built the shack; you’re going to get to meet him. He was not – in fact – killed in the cave. His name is Owen Sparks – I mention him briefly in the epilogue (of On the Island). He is actually going to see Anna and TJ, so the audience is going to get to see them again, see how they are doing. I think it’s going to be fun. People have written to me asking for a sequel – and there is just no way I could really write a sequel to that – so this way readers can get their Anna and TJ fix. Isle of Bones will come out in June

The issue that’s coming out in February features a bunch of favorites. What are some of your current favorite films, television series, books, etc.

Well, when I was writing the book, I kind of gave up everything else. I have a hard time reading when I’m writing. The last book that I read was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. If I watch TV it’s because my husband’s watching it. He’s really into watching Breaking Bad right now, on Netflix. It’s a good show. But, I don’t watch a lot of TV.

Do you have a favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

Well, I’m kind of a homebody. I do spend a lot of time on the Internet; I’m in several different Facebook groups. I like to read reviews on Goodreads. I love discovering books that I didn’t know about, and then I’ll spend an hour or so just reading reviews and getting excited to read the book. Not a lot of people would enjoy that, but I do.

Tracey Garvis Graves can be found on twitter as @tgarvisgraves and her website:

Her book On the Island can be found in bookstores now.

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