Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: The Road Back from Broken by Carrie Morgan

Today's Wednesday Debut Interview is with Carrie Morgan, author of the self-published adult contemporary novel, THE ROAD BACK FROM BROKEN.


Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed at Operation Awesome! Tell us a bit about THE ROAD BACK FROM BROKEN.

The Road Back From Broken portrays a family in turmoil after the husband/father is seriously wounded in an IED attack in Afghanistan that claimed the life of another soldier. Road examines not only Fitz’s psychological recovery, but the impact of his trauma on his wife and son, and shows them struggling as a family to heal and reconcile.

Although his physical injuries have healed, Fitz is a mess. Months of heavy drinking leads to a DUI crash that sends his wife and son packing and leaves him one screwup away from a Bad Conduct Discharge. When sobriety unleashes vivid memories of the IED attack and his fallen comrade, Fitz has to choose between numbing the pain and losing both his family and his career, or coming to terms with his role in the death of his friend.

Do you have a favorite line in this book? Can you tell us a bit about it without spoiling too much?
There's a scene in which Fitz is agonizing over mistakes he's made in dealing with his trauma (especially his abuse of alcohol and mistreatment of his family) and someone tells him, “You can't unring the bell.” The quote is so emblematic of the story’s central message that it actually appears in the back cover art. Although we can't alter the events of the past or erase the scars those events leave behind, we can move forward by coming to terms with the past. The healing process can't move forward without an act of compassionate acceptance. In Road, that sort of acceptance is key to Fitz’s recovery and his reconciliation with his family.

Let's talk about your writing process. How long did it take you to draft this novel? How long from that first draft until publication?
The muddle of ideas that became Road had been swirling in my head for about two years before I actually sat down to write it. A trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland in November 2013 was the catalyst I needed to finally start writing on New Year's Day 2014. I finished the first draft of Road on April 4th, ninety-four days later. I released Road on October 20, 2015, a little over a year and a half after completing my first draft.

What's the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
Waiting for feedback from my beta-reader team and/or freelance editor was brutal. I was on pins and needles wondering how my story would be received and waiting to find out whether it needed fine-tuning or a complete overhaul. I didn't mind working through the edits once I got the feedback, but waiting for that feedback was tough. That's when the seeds of my self-doubt would sprout.

What factors led you to decide that self-publishing was the best option for this particular story?
I queried literary agents but received a consistent set of “beautiful writing, but this story has no market” responses from agent after agent. Several agents told me I'd have a better shot if I rewrote it to make Fitz’s wife Jenn the protagonist so the story could be marketed as women's fiction. Others said to make Fitz’s son the POV character so it could be sold as YA. I was told the story in its current form had no viable market and would have to be radically transformed to fit into a salable category.

The trouble was, the resolution of Fitz’s anguish is dependent on repressed memories unfurling from his POV, which means he had to be the main POV character. I believed in my story and the means I’d employed to tell it, and I knew the story had an audience (if not a sizable market), so I decided to publish Road myself.

Was there anything about self-publishing that surprised you?
I was really surprised by how supportive the rest of the indie (non-agented) and self-publishing writer communities are. It's been incredibly edifying to have the support of other indies as I've gone through the process.

Another thing that surprised me relates to the specific channel I used to publish Road in paperback. I went through CreateSpace and I was knocked sideways by how professional a print-on-demand paperback could look. A number of readers have told me my paperback looks every bit as good as one published by one of the big publishing houses. That was a very pleasant surprise!

What about the title? Was THE ROAD BACK FROM BROKEN the original title you had in mind? How did it come about?
No, actually, the original working title was Wages of War (which is the name of my blog site). The novel focuses on the impact of war traumas on military families, and on the intergenerational rippling effect those traumas have, so while I was writing the first draft, I called it Wages of War.

In the end, though, given the fact that the story’s subject matter is so heavy, I decided I needed a title with some built-in optimism and more focus on the healing journey. That's how I arrived at The Road Back From Broken.

I live near the mountains, so I'm sure I'm a bit biased, but I love your cover! Tell us about it! Who designed it? What do you hope it will tell the reader about your story?
Road’s cover was designed by Mark Aro of Hyperactive Studios. Mark is a brilliant designer and was a joy to work with.

Road takes place along Colorado’s Front Range, with the action split between Colorado Springs (where Fort Carson is located) and Littleton (my hometown, which happens to be Fitz’s hometown, too). I went to Mark with stock photos of Garden of the Gods and told him I wanted a cover that includes a road (a key metaphor in the story) and a set of dog tags (to mark the story as having a military subject) that evokes the Colorado setting.

Mark took all that and made sense of it somehow, producing a cover that I think perfectly evokes Fitz’s journey. I love the little touches like the dog tags (which have Fitz’s identity details rendered in proper U.S. Army format), the weathered interior of the vehicle (Fitz drives a 1976 Scout), and the blurry image in the rear-view mirror, which captures the idea of memory as an imperfect lens.

Releasing a debut is definitely cause for celebration — how did you celebrate this achievement?
I released Road two days after the book won a Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association, so that turned out to be a pretty great way to usher in the release! Release day started with a flurry of blog and Twitter posts announcing Road’s release and ended with a nice sushi dinner out with my husband. A pretty bouquet of flowers was waiting for me when I got to work the next morning.

Congrats on the award! Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes! I'm working on the sequel to Road, entitled What Fury Left Behind, which takes place at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

I have a couple of other novel projects in the queue behind Fury, all of which deal with the struggles and experiences of military families. A couple of those are suitable for submission to small specialty publishers, so I might try that route for the non-”Fitzverse” novels.

I'm also thinking about writing a few short stories to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme next summer.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
Believe in yourself and your story. Listen to the qualitative advice of others, especially beta readers and editors, but don't let anyone tell you that your story doesn't matter. Stories get rejected by publishers for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with quality and everything to do with money. Make your story the very best story it can be, then determine the best path for it to find its readers. Don't let anyone tell you your story has no audience. Don't let the business of publishing, with all of its trends and its profit and loss calculations, let you think for a minute that your story doesn't matter. Every story has an audience. Every story matters.

And, just for fun, since your cover makes me think of road trips: What artist/album would your main character Fitz would listen to while driving?
If he's just driving around town, he'd probably be listening to whatever came up on his iPod’s shuffle—an eclectic mix of blues, alt-rock, and metal like Stevie Ray Vaughan, R.E.M., and Metallica. But if he's on a long drive, like the 150-mile haul from Denver to Glenwood Springs, I think he'd settle in with a couple of long prog-rock albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and Rush’s Counterparts.

Great choices! Thanks again for joining us, and congrats on your debut!


Karen Baldwin said...

LOve the title of your book. Great advice on self-publishing and believing in yourself. Where did you find your beta readers?

Kara Reynolds said...

I love the title, too! You can tell it's hopeful.