Interview With Author Terri-Lynne DeFino

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)! Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

Writer, mother, cat wrangler, I’m a Jersey girl with a penchant for wearing tiaras who escaped to the wilds of Connecticut back in the nineties, when my kids were babies and everyone wore flannel. Connecticut has been home almost as long as New Jersey, but there’s something about the place you were born and raised in that gets into your blood and bones. I’ll always be a Jersey girl, and that fact makes it into just about everything I write, from my fantasy work, to romantic women’s fiction, to my latest literary fiction novel, The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses), published by William Morrow/HarperCollins.

I started my writing career in fantasy fiction, with an indie press out of the Kansas City area, Hadley Rille Books. We were small, but mighty! Finder, A Time Never Lived, and Beyond the Gate were labors of love, and I’m very proud of them. I ended up working as an editor, and right hand to my publisher, Eric Reynolds. I learned more about writing and publishing in those years than I ever could have otherwise. It was during this time I adopted my motto, “Modesty is for suckers.” I’m good at what I do, and I came by it honestly. Pretending otherwise seems silly to me, and thus I proudly, loudly live that motto every day of my life. It’s even tattooed on my arm.

While fantasy will always have my heart, real life intruded into my writing life, and I found myself drawn to romance fiction. It was never my go-to for reading, unless you count the Harlequins I devoured as an adolescent, but the “happily ever after” intrinsic to all romantic novels drew me. I needed to know there was someplace where that happily ever after was possible. Seeking Carolina, Dreaming August, and Waking Savannah are the three books in my Bitterly Suite with Kensington Publishing’s, Lyrical Shine imprint, books I am extremely proud of. Dreaming August won the Rone Award for Best Women’s Fiction in 2016. And they all have ghosts in them.

During the course of my three-book contract with Lyrical Shine, the novel that would become The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) sparked. I still had a novel left to write in the Bitterly Suite, and could only take notes, yet it percolated in the back of my brain. When I finished my contract, I decided to leave romance behind and focus on this literary fiction novel.

The magic of writing it, selling it, seeing it published and in book stores, airport kiosks, and libraries has been extraordinary. Being previously published in smaller venues had many perks, especially with Hadley Rille Books, where I had so much creative control, but having friends all over the country, even the world, send pictures of my book “in the wild”? As an author, there’s nothing like it.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book? Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

Readers and other writers often ask about my creative process, and I’m always astounded by authors who can articulate what that process is, and make it sound magical. There’s no such magic in my writing world, unless, “Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, brain engaged” is a creative process. I think the biggest mistake writers can make when writing a book is believing there’s a magic formula involved, and that if they write what readers want, they’ll find success. It sounds good, logical, but the fact is, if you’re not writing the story whispering to you at odd hours of the day and night, it’s going to show in your work. Authenticity is key. Readers know when you’re faking it.

Still, it’s ridiculously naïve to assume if we write whatever we like, write it beautifully, authentically, and with all the love of story in our hearts that it’s going to resound with the publishers, and the public. Balancing what I want to write with what the readers want to read (and publishers want to buy) is a skill I’m still learning. I’ve written three books since Bar Harbor sold to William Morrow, and each time I submit one to my editor, she sings my praises, tells me all the lovely things she enjoyed about the story, but always ends with, “This isn’t your second book.” So, there’s a lesson for you, getting your first big contract doesn’t make getting the second one any easier.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I have no formal education; everything I know about writing and publishing was learned by navigating the treacherous waters between blissfully writing stories believing I was literary savant to realizing, no, I absolutely was not. Writing is learning, always learning. My creation process hasn’t exactly changed, but rather, refined. I spend a lot less time going down rabbit holes, as well as in the editing process of creation (yes, editing is absolutely creation) because I never stopped learning, and never will.

How do you deal with creative block?

This one always makes my brain hurt. I, personally, don’t believe in creative block. What I do believe in is writers making excuses for not writing, the most common one being the lack of time. Creativity does take time, no doubt about it. And if your time is limited, so is your creativity. BUT! If you truly want to write, there is no excuse. Can’t get a scene right? Look at it from another angle, another perspective, or consider the scene just doesn’t belong. Kids have soccer every day after school? Bring a laptop, write longhand in a notebook, tap it out on your phone. Day job? Get up an hour early, write on your lunch break, get a page done between dinner and bedtime.

I raised four children while teaching myself the ropes. There have been some horrendous, personal, and tragic events during the course of my writing career, and never once did it cause a “creative block.” Never once did I stop writing. Writing has to be a priority. It has to be the way you keep your sanity during trying times, not the thing you let go because there’s too much on your plate.

Harsh, yes. I realize it is. Here’s the thing, though—there’s wanting to be a writer, and there’s being a writer. A writer writes. Good, bad, or otherwise, they write. Writing takes dedication, just like everything else taking up time and headspace.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Feedback is crucial. I learn best by constructive criticism. Praise is nice, but, in my opinion, not necessary to the creative process. In fact, it sometimes gets in the way. Once I stopped focusing on all my friends and family telling me how wonderful my stories were, I was able to truly see where I was going wrong. It’s liberating, and rewarding.

Reviews are another story; once my work is out in the world, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether the review comes from a professional, or Goodreads, opinion is subjective. Taking offense, or even being hurt by a bad review isn’t productive in any way. I respect the reader’s opinion whether or not I agree, and move on. If we all liked the same things, this would be a boring world.

What are your plans for future books?

I am currently working on a novel far different from anything I’ve ever done before. It’s not fantasy, but it’s not not fantasy; it’s a ghost story without ghosts, and literary fiction to boot. My agent won’t say it out loud, but she hates it, not because it’s not good, but because she has no idea where to pitch it, and as what. Maybe it’s not my “second book” but, then again, maybe it is. What I do know is, it’s the story whispering to me at odd hours of the day and night, and infiltrating my dreams.

More than a year since releasing, I’m still riding high on The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses). The book was listed as a Top Ten Read From Garden State Authors, best summer reads from bookstores around the country, and, most recently, was listed among USA Today’s top 150 Books. In June of 2020, the German translation releases from Bastei Lubbe, a publisher in Cologne, Germany.

And when this story is done, I have about half a dozen more waiting for their turn.


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