writers

Omnivoracious: How I Wrote It: Denise Kiernan on "The Girls of Atomic City"

Sharing a blog post here that I did for Omnivoracious over at Amazon about writing “The Girls of Atomic City.”

Happy Pub Day

It’s here—that day all authors wait for which, when it finally dawns, is one of the most anticlimactic career events ever, no matter how many times you go through it. Pub day.

Books are a long haul. You get a kernel of an idea, do a little digging and try to decide whether this is a topic you want to live with for years. Then of course there’s the business end of the entire endeavor which, if you’re like me, can’t be ignored if you want to make a living: Can I sell this to a publisher and can that publisher sell it to readers? 

So the kernel sprouts and you decide that you do want to live with the idea until you don’t and then until you can’t live without the idea again. Then there are the proposals and the meetings and all the while you’re trying to keep researching and come up with a clear vision for this project that you’ve already told major publishing corporations you really do have a vision for. Then you get the deal. Relief. Deadlines. A schedule. Sort of. An end date? In a sense, sure. 

You write. You rewrite. You keep researching. You turn in the first draft, which is maybe the most anticlimactic of all the anticlimatices. (New word! It’s one of those vertices in life that you think you’ve reached but feel underwhelmed when you actually do.) You’re still so far from done and you know it. You wait for your editor. You already want to make changes the minute you hit “send” and your manuscript went out into the ether on its way to the publisher. That’s fine. Changes are coming.

Your changes. The editor’s changes. Changes from those trusted colleagues you allowed to see your ugly, ugly first draft. Revisions and more drafts follow. The end is so much closer and you know now that the time to really whip things into shape is shrinking fast.

A first look at your cover blows a little wind up your skirt and you get excited again. A cover! It’s real! Do you like it? they ask. You do! You really do! You’re not just saying that to avoid sounding like a moody, picky writer with no design experience. Everyone weighs in. Then polite “suggestions” from the real power-wielders at any publishing house: sales. They don’t like the cover. Am I OK with that? Absolutely. After all, there are bigger fish in this fry-daddy.

First pass pages! Am I done? No. The copy editor has seen it, maybe a proofer. Only make necessary changes… Necessary. Never do writers have more trouble defining such a two-cent word than when they are instructed to make only “necessary” changes.

Pencil marks. Post-its. Use this pencil, not that one. You finish…sort of. You mail it in. You’re done!

No, you’re not.

Promotional materials. Second pass pages and galleys. The book is in print…sort of. Ugh..I could invent a drinking game based on the number of times I used the word (insert favorite adjective here)…I can’t believe I….Can I still change…? Your editor is about to hop on a plane and pry the pages from your cold dead hands. Promotional materials again. Web sites. Meetings. Lists of people you hope will give this book a second look. Finally, there are no more changes to be made. The book is off to the printer.

But you’re still not done. Wrangling for press, emailing, tweeting. Yay! I got a piece in yadda-yadda magazine! Boo! Whozeewhatsit doesn’t want to have me on their show! Yay! Boo! Wine.

Then, finally, on a rainy Tuesday, the book is officially out in the world. Sort of. Actually there has already been press. People have already been tweeting pics of the book after purchasing it BEFORE the pub date from stores that ignore those sort of contractual restrictions. Emails from friends and people I haven’t heard from in a while are, by far, the best part of this day, and I will answer every single one.

However, I’m still not done. I have talks to give, traveling to do, presentations to prepare (clothes to buy…) I open my laptop and try to get back to work. The inter-web sink hole drags me down into the neuro-pacification that is KenKen and I wander over to…

Hang on. What’s that a picture of…? Who is that? She looks fascinating. She did what? When? Huh. You know what would be a great story…

And another kernel sprouts in the dark. Happy pub day.

Little Big Crimes: Button Man, by Joseph D'Agnese

Mystery writer Robert Lopresti reviews “Button Man” by my husband, Joseph D’Agnese. As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, this fantastic story set in NYC’s garment district, is in the March issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. What Lopresti says about Joe’s writing is not only true, but a good measure of what all solid mystery writing should be. Click through to read Lopresti’s review and visit his blog, “Little Big Crimes.”

The Next Big Thing—my turn in the hot seat

Recently, my husband, author Joseph D’Agnese,  “tagged” me in his “The Next Big Thing” blog post. “Next Big Thing” works like this: one writer answers some questions about her next book and then passes that blog post along to other writers she knows, “tagging” them. (See end of this post for my author picks.) Those writers then answer the same questions a week from now and so it continues, kind of like a chain letter, but without the threats of doom and dread.

So now, tag—I’m it. 

1) What is the title of your next book?

The Girls of Atomic City. Here’s a look at the cover:

image

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Years ago, while researching another project, I came across a fantastic black-and-white photograph by Ed Westcott. In the photo, two rows of young women sat on stools in front of large panels covered in knobs and dials. The caption next to the photo explained that these young women, many right out of high school in rural Tennessee, were working to help enrich uranium for the first atomic bomb…only they didn’t know that at the time. I was instantly hooked and began researching the town—Oak Ridge, TN—and tracking down people who had worked there during the war. 

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Narrative non-fiction, narrative history.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone portray young women in an adaptation of this story. I was really mesmerized by Lawrence’s layered performance in Winter’s Bone.  

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Young women travel to a secret city in East Tennessee to work, unbeknownst to them, on the world’s first atomic bomb.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I took the traditional route, start to finish. The book was represented by my agent, Yfat Reiss Gendell, of Foundry Literary + Media, and will be published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster on March 5, 2013.

I am looking into self-pubbing some upcoming works that I think would have trouble finding a more traditional home. I love the increasing number of options that working writers have today. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Oy, that question is almost impossible to answer. I often have several projects at different stages of completion at any one time. I might be reviewing copy edited pages of a completed book while I’m doing initial research for a new book and writing a first draft of my whatever project is in what I call “first position”. That, for me, is one of the hardest things about the writing life: managing several projects at once. This particular book has been in my life for nearly seven years, and I have done countless drafts. I also spent a lot of time outlining and revising that outline before I started writing. So, time to complete the first draft? Maybe 6 months? But that doesn’t reflect all the organizing and planning and interviews and outlining that preceded that, the most intense period of writing.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Also a tough question. I’ve heard publishing people who read the proposal and early drafts compare Girls of Atomic City to Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, which I took as a huge compliment. I can see why they would say that, though. Both are a look at significant moments in history through the eyes of the everyday folk who lived through them.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My curiosity is often the jumping off point for anything I write about and this story is no different. However, had I not found the surviving workers from Oak Ridge to be as inspiring as I did, I may not have kept with this project and seen it through. I loved doing those interviews, and found the women—and men—who lived through this experience to be remarkably fascinating.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The book is divided both visually (thanks to typesetting) and thematically according to the two “worlds” of the Manhattan Project: those who knew a good bit about what was going on, and those who knew next to nothing. In this way, the reader “knows” more than the main characters, the women, as the book progresses.

And there you have it. Now, it is my pleasure to introduce and “tag” Kim Ruehl. Please check out her blog and see what she’s been working on. I hope you’ll be moved to support her work along the way!

—Denise

The Next Big Thing—my turn in the hot seat

Recently, my husband, author Joseph D’Agnese,  “tagged” me in his “The Next Big Thing” blog post. “Next Big Thing” works like this: one writer answers some questions about her next book and then passes that blog post along to other writers she knows, “tagging” them. (See end of this post for my author picks.) Those writers then answer the same questions a week from now and so it continues, kind of like a chain letter, but without the threats of doom and dread.

So now, tag—I’m it. 

1) What is the title of your next book?

The Girls of Atomic City. Here’s a look at the cover:

image

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Years ago, while researching another project, I came across a fantastic black-and-white photograph by Ed Westcott. In the photo, two rows of young women sat on stools in front of large panels covered in knobs and dials. The caption next to the photo explained that these young women, many right out of high school in rural Tennessee, were working to help enrich uranium for the first atomic bomb…only they didn’t know that at the time. I was instantly hooked and began researching the town—Oak Ridge, TN—and tracking down people who had worked there during the war. 

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Narrative non-fiction, narrative history.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone portray young women in an adaptation of this story. I was really mesmerized by Lawrence’s layered performance in Winter’s Bone.  

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Young women travel to a secret city in East Tennessee to work, unbeknownst to them, on the world’s first atomic bomb.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I took the traditional route, start to finish. The book was represented by my agent, Yfat Reiss Gendell, of Foundry Literary + Media, and will be published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster on March 5, 2013.

I am looking into self-pubbing some upcoming works that I think would have trouble finding a more traditional home. I love the increasing number of options that working writers have today. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Oy, that question is almost impossible to answer. I often have several projects at different stages of completion at any one time. I might be reviewing copy edited pages of a completed book while I’m doing initial research for a new book and writing a first draft of my whatever project is in what I call “first position”. That, for me, is one of the hardest things about the writing life: managing several projects at once. This particular book has been in my life for nearly seven years, and I have done countless drafts. I also spent a lot of time outlining and revising that outline before I started writing. So, time to complete the first draft? Maybe 6 months? But that doesn’t reflect all the organizing and planning and interviews and outlining that preceded that, the most intense period of writing.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Also a tough question. I’ve heard publishing people who read the proposal and early drafts compare Girls of Atomic City to Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, which I took as a huge compliment. I can see why they would say that, though. Both are a look at significant moments in history through the eyes of the everyday folk who lived through them.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My curiosity is often the jumping off point for anything I write about and this story is no different. However, had I not found the surviving workers from Oak Ridge to be as inspiring as I did, I may not have kept with this project and seen it through. I loved doing those interviews, and found the women—and men—who lived through this experience to be remarkably fascinating.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The book is divided both visually (thanks to typesetting) and thematically according to the two “worlds” of the Manhattan Project: those who knew a good bit about what was going on, and those who knew next to nothing. In this way, the reader “knows” more than the main characters, the women, as the book progresses.

And there you have it. Now, it is my pleasure to introduce and “tag” Kim Ruehl. Please check out her blog and see what she’s been working on. I hope you’ll be moved to support her work along the way!

—Denise