A conversation with Cajun caper diva Toni McGee Causey

After seeing the trailer for Bobbie Faye's Very Very Very Bad Day, you’ll probably want to a) read the book and b) go out for margaritas with the author. Next best thing to being there? Our author E-chat with the delightful Toni McGee Causey.

Even before I was a Southern girl, I loved Southern stories. Talk to us about story-telling in the Cajun culture.
I grew up where it was a family activity to tell stories and to out-do one another while we were at it. I love movies, too, and photography and painting and... and so much more. When I was very young, my dad would play poker every Friday night at my uncle's house, and all of those men would ignore a kid nearby. Cigarette smoke thickened the air, chip racks were discarded (and great toys), and everything from world to local affairs might be discussed. Or my mom and aunt would let me lie down in the back room where they were sitting and talking, and I'd pretend I was asleep because they would tell hysterical stories (and it was so hard to pretend I was asleep and not laugh), and it was, in a lot of ways, magic. I can still hear the clatter of the chips of the table, the snap of someone slapping down a trump card and a chorus of groans or laughs or good-natured cursing, all while someone recounted some story or other. I knew then, the story was what held the magic, and I knew that's what I wanted to do--to be able to tell them, hopefully to a room full of friends.

And how did all that give birth to Bobby Fay?
The inspiration was wanting to write a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners heroine... a woman who has bad luck, but who rises to the occasion when her brother's life is in jeopardy.

To outline or not to outline?
I am somewhere in between the outline/no outline method. I have some rough sketching of what I think will happen for the book and I work on overall arcs, but I do this more by making notes on sections rather than a pure outline.

Tell us what you love and hate about the process?
The daily writing is the most satisfying to me. Seriously--I love the process. I enjoy the brainstorming, character-building, world-building, plotting. I'm one of those weird people who also loves rewriting--it's where a story really takes shape for me. The least satisfying part is probably after it's done (really done, after copy edits and galleys) and before it comes out, because there's this awful suspension of process. It's hard to concentrate on something new because there's promotional stuff to do and, and nothing can be done about the one that's about to come out, and it's a bit like holding your breath... for a month or so.

How about the launch process?
The process of how a book is sold to the chains and to indies surprised me--it's not the catalog (which can be nice), but the sales reps and how much support the house puts behind the book that matters. While I read everything I could to learn and to try to be a good marketing partner, there's always more to know. It's a little intimidating. I think that maybe the most important thing I learned throughout this process is that the people you meet in this business are going to end up being the thing that keeps you sane--because they're going through it to and they understand and--for the most part--everyone tries to help each other. We all hope people read out books, but I also hope the readers read more than one or two books a year, and I want to direct them to friends' whose work I admire. We're in this together, and that's something I hadn't really understood before selling.

Having fun touring the new book?
At one small library where I was to give a talk, my family showed up, but not all at once, and knew most of the people there and there were random conversations and questions and cross-conversations and my family is not the least bit bashful, nor are they unwilling to tell you anything you ask, and there was a point there when I realized I had completely lost control. One of the librarians looked at me and we cracked up, and I tossed out the talk and we just had a party. I ended up selling every book I brought, so it turned out well. But I'm gagging my family at the next event.

We’ve got to ask about the Cirque du Mommy juggling act. How’s that workin’ out for ya?
When the kids were little, I wrote in between the events of the day. I was working full-time (our construction company) and went back to school full time and was a full time mom and yeah, I don't think I actually slept for an entire decade. My parents helped on class nights, and I brought whatever I was working on with me to the kids' events. Luckily, they participated in sports which were more individual-oriented, so I could cheer when they were up and then go back to work while I waited on their next turn. I typically ended up waiting until everyone was asleep to grab an extra hour or two to write. I pretty much gave up TV time in order to have time with my husband in the evenings and then alone time later. It worked well. Mostly. The kids did figure out to get away with stuff, ask me before school when I was more likely to be half-dead and a little slow on the uptake. Or, best, ask when I was in the middle of a scene and had no clue where I was or what they were asking.

You’re having a great ride so far, Toni, and you seem to be handling it beautifully. Any advice for aspiring writers?
1) Read, constantly, in as many genres as possible. I think a lot of new writers stick to just one thing in their reading and a wide variety can help with a comparative anlaysis -- why did X work or not work? how is it done in this other genre and why? This gives you analytical tools to evaluate your own writing and see if you accomplish on the page what you had in your imagination.

2) Write, as much as possible. Write a crappy draft, and finish it. Set it aside, and assess it, see if you think it worked and why. Edit, rewrite, and write some more. Don't worry so much about making "selling" a goal, but "wowing."

3) Get constructive feedback and rewrite. Find people who like to read your genre because nothing will do you more harm faster than to hand something funny to someone who loathes to read comedies... they may be polite about it while they're giving you feedback, but if they don't love that type of writing, their perspective may end up being damaging without them intending to be.

Go, girlfriend, go!


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