Friday 27 May 2011

The Big Break with Haley Tanner

The Big Break welcomes debut author Haley Tanner onto the blog today to talk about her publishing deal. Haley is the author of the fantastic new novel 'Vaclav and Lena', which I reviewed yesterday on the blog. You will find my review here.

Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
So happy to have the opportunity to talk with you!

What career did you have before you began writing for a living?
I was a tutor - which isn’t exactly the same in America as what I understand the term to mean in the UK - I was helping kids with their homework after school - and preparing older students for their exams. I loved all my students - but I was always tempted to just shove aside the equations and the grammar and just chat with them. I have also been a police dispatcher and a bank-teller.

How long did it take you to write your debut novel ‘Vaclav and Lena'?
I think it took about three years. I was working a lot, so there were times I couldn’t work on it at all, and then spurts when I could write for hours and hours a day.

How did you come up with the idea for the book?
The characters - Vaclav and Lena - came to me first - and their lives were colored by what I was experiencing at the time. I was tutoring in Brighton Beach - a neighborhood in Brooklyn - and I sat at kitchen tables and helped these kids struggle over their synonyms, while their mothers walked in the door at 7:30, weighed down by shopping bags, and plopped a frozen block of borscht into a hot pot on the stove.
It wasn’t a conscious choice for Vaclav to become a magician. It was just how I saw him - as a precocious little boy with a passion for an art that is widely considered to be outdated or out of fashion. However, once I thought about it a bit more I came to the conclusion that when writing books there are things that appear (“out of thin air” as Vaclav would say) and then acquire meaning later. Magicians are like story-tellers in that we all know that the quarter does not disappear, that the woman is not sliced in half, but we suspend our disbelief for a time and allow ourselves to be carried away. It is the same thing we do when we read a novel about characters we know to be fictional, but we cry and laugh and love along with them anyway.

What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
I quite literally did not believe it. I didn’t understand it. It simply wasn’t something that I ever expected.

Who did you tell first?
My husband was with me (he wasn’t yet my husband at the time), overhearing my entire conversation with my agent on the phone, and then we called my parents and told them we wanted to tell them something important, and that we wanted to tell them in person. They thought I was pregnant - so they were relieved, and then thrilled.

How long did it take for your book to reach publication after the initial agreement?
A year and a half - which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What was happening to your manuscript during this time?
I worked with my amazing editors at Random House - we made sure that the voices, the characters, and the setting was exactly how we wanted to be. All in all we made mostly minor edits, and it was a really wonderful process - I felt that my book grew into itself in a really nice way, without changing very much at all.

How have you kept yourself occupied as you wait for publication day?
I’ve travelled, gotten married, taken care of my husband as he battled Stage IV Melanoma, and enjoyed every moment of every day I got to spend with him. (He died February 17 of this year.)

How will you celebrate on publication day?
Have dinner and champagne with my parents, and see my book in an actual store for the first time ever.

Can you tell us a little about your next writing project?
No! It’s such a tiny little delicate infant of a project, I don’t think it can withstand the light of day!

Tell us what a typical writing day would be like?
I wake up, slowly, have coffee, sit down at my desk in my pajamas - my dogs rouse themselves from their beds in the bedroom and join me at my feet under my desk - and open up one of the books that inspired me to be a writer in the first place - like JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey or Tom Robbins’ Even
Cowgirls Get the Blues. Reading great writing is coffee for the writer’s brain. I think you have to fill your tank before you can start the engine.

What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?
Sitting down to write is terrifying and awful, but at the end, if you’ve done your job, you’ve told the world a really great story, and bridged some of the gaps that separate human beings, and that’s a pretty great thing to do. So do it, and do it with love.

A huge thank you to Haley for taking the time in her busy schedule to join us.  I think I speak on behalf of all my readers  when I send our condolences to her over the loss of her husband. A truly inspirational writer to continue through such difficult times. 


  1. Lovely interview - I really enjoyed reading this and hearing about Haley's path to publication. I'm really looking forward to reading Vaclav and Lena.

    I'd also like to send my condolences to Haley on the loss of her husband. x

  2. I very much enjoyed reading this interview. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of Haley's husband!

    I have plans to read Vaclav & Lena soon, so it was great to read more about the author here.

  3. Excellent Big Break interview! I am so sorry about Haley's husband's passing.

    Coffee and great writing are good ways to generate ideas for your own writing. :)

  4. Terrific and very personal interview! Thanks Viv and Haley!

    And Haley, I'm so very sorry for the loss of your husband. Blessings to you.

  5. It was a lovely interview, and I am saddened by her loss .(

  6. Beautiful interview and person. You were right to tell me to have tissues. Thank you both for sharing & I wish you both all the success and happiness in the world *hugs*

  7. I've never cried before, reading one of your interviews, until now. I'm so sorry for your loss, Haley :(

    I really love the part in your interview where you compared magic with reading stories and the suspension of disbelief. It's very clever and I really like that comparison.


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