Success Story – Moonlight in Odessa

November 17, 2010
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An interview with Janet Skeslien Charles

In the Spring of 2008 I attended Janet Skeslien Charles’ writing course in the infamous Shakespeare & Co bookshop on the left bank in Paris. On the last evening of the 6 week course when we brought in snacks to share together with our writing, Janet was bursting with happiness, as her agent had received several strong offers for her debut novel Moonlight in Odessa.

Eighteen months later it has been internationally acclaimed and published in ten languages (check out some of the covers here). It was one of Publishers Weekly top ten debut novels in the autumn of 2009 and was serialised for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Book at Bedtime.’

It’s beautifully written and pulls emotionally close to the complex and intensely private main character Daria. Through delving into her choices between an Ukrainian future, the lure of the American dream (albeit as an email-order bride) and a complicated love triangle, Odessan culture was unravelled and I laughed loudly along the way. But don’t take my word for it.

“The book is a real treat: vividly told, wickedly funny and brave enough to confront the clichés and misinformation that still abound about life on both sides of the old iron curtain.”

- Laura Barnett, The Guardian

Janet is a successful author and here at Be The Writer You Dream of Being we want to understand her mindset; what works for her and what it took for her to succeed.

How long did it take you to complete Moonlight in Odessa?
It took two years of pure obsession.

Did you ever wonder if you would actually finish it?
No. I worried that people might not be interested in reading about an email-order bride from Ukraine, though.

Were there any times that you felt scared about publishing Moonlight in Odessa?
Publishing is a very tough business, so I think that many authors worry today. On my blog, I recently interviewed Laura Munson, who wrote fourteen books before her fifteenth was published. Another author I interviewed, Thomas Kennedy, wrote for twenty years before he sold his first short story for $20. Sometimes that is how long it takes, and it can be very hard to persist.

How did you feel when you sent off the final manuscript to your agent/publisher? Was it an agonising wait?
I didn’t want to let it go, strangely. When agents who’d like the first three chapters wanted to see the full manuscript, I didn’t want to send it.

Do you have any fears about your work and if yes what are the biggest ones that you face?
It’s not a fear, but I’ve been surprised by how much work goes into the marketing of books. It’s not easy to get your novel noticed when there are tens of thousands of books published each year. I was surprised at how much time it can take to get attention for authors these days. It’s really not enough to write a book; you must be willing to put yourself out there on Facebook, twitter, blogs, websites. I enjoy interacting with readers and fellow writers and am happy to do it. But consider the fact that until 2009, I didn’t even have a mobile. Now I tweet, have a website and a blog, and am on Facebook.

Many writers do a lot of their own publicity, and it is hard to balance publicity and writing time. Since many writers don’t have a background in marketing and publicity, it can be challenging. I feel enormous respect for my publicists.

What advice would you give to other writers waiting for their work to be recognised?
1) On a practical level
2) On a deeper level
I think any writer – or any person, for that matter – who expects any kind of recognition from anyone is in a heap of trouble. You have to be satisfied with what you write, and no one else’s opinion can matter. If you let other people define your success, then you are doomed. And this goes for any profession, not just for writers.

How would you define writing success?
Knowing that you have written the best story you can. Whether it gets published or not.

And finally, can you sum up your ultimate writing tip in one sentence?
Never give up.

Thanks Janet for sharing your thoughts with us. It is so true that as writers we need resilience to deal with the publishing business and also have the confidence to put ourselves into the market place from the outset; to become visible and not care what people think of our work, to only listen to ourselves and that little internal voice cheering you on.

But what if it isn’t cheering you on and snipes at you instead? It is this voice that needs to change if you truly want to become the writer of your dreams. If you want a new internal cheerleader that doesn’t let you give up or care what other people think or at least doesn’t let you sway from your true purpose then it might be time to take some action. The first step might be to click here for our free download ‘Five Powerful Tricks to Kickstart Your Writing.’

And who knows, a couple of years down the line it might be you answering a Be The Writer You Dream of Being Success Story Q&A!

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One Response to Success Story – Moonlight in Odessa

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