I’m really happy to welcome Rena Rossner today. She’s an agent at Deborah Harris Literary Agency and an author who lives in Jerusalem. Her amazing (and unutterably attractive!) novel The Sisters of Winter Wood (a magical tale of secrets, family ties and fairy tales weaving through history) is published by Orbit and released on 27 Sept. 2018.
Isn’t this book beautiful? Rena’s incredibly busy but I was lucky enough to catch a quick interview with her, after reading a thread she wrote on Twitter (and pinching it, with her permission):
Tracey: Hi Rena. It’s great to have a chance to chat with you again. We go back a few years to the days when we were both posting chapters of our WIPs on the writers’ website, Authonomy (now defunct.) I was thrilled and delighted when, as a novice writer, you invited me to join your LitFic forum, on which we all took turns to have our work critiqued by fellow members ‘under the spotlight’. After a year or so, a small group of us joined together to follow our own imaginary yellow brick road in search of agents or publishers. You helped us all with a spreadsheet of agents and plenty of querying advice.
We all met up in autumn 2012 in the Peak District. (RIP Judith Williamson.)
Since then, Rena, you’ve gone on to become a world-travelling agent for the Deborah Harris Literary Agency. I’ve enjoyed meeting up with you several times at the London Book Fair and I love to keep up with the goings-on of your family online; like me, you are the mother of several children, and I see from your online pictures that yours are growing up as quickly as mine!
As you write your second (‘nth!) novel – to a deadline – I’d like to invite you to share your thoughts on your writing process.
Rena: Thanks, Tracey. I’ll share something about writing: it sucks. No. I’m just kidding. It is life-giving. It is why we do this thing called books. It is everything. Also: sometimes it really sucks. Getting the perfect beautiful scene you have in your head onto paper can be excruciating.
Tracey: Does being a literary agent help?
Rena: Yes. I’m glad that I’m an agent who is also an author. Because I know how hard it is. But I also know that everyone’s process is different. For example: maybe YOU actually really do love the writing process. I personally love the rewriting process.
It’s not just that my first drafts suck. It’s more than that. My first drafts aren’t books. They are piles of bones. And only when I finish with all the bones can I go back and figure out which bones are missing and what goes where until I make a skeleton. And then I start again.
Tracey: I like the way you describe the process as organic – i.e. flesh and bones – and describe both the pleasure and pain as equally necessary elements of building a book.
Rena: It feels that way. Next I need to add the sinews and the muscles and the organs. The blood flow. And then I start again. Then there’s skin. Then hair. Then facial features. But right now I’m growing bones and it’s the part I hate the most. I like making things pretty. And this is not pretty.
Tracey: It’s not?
Rena: No! Me writing a new book is excruciating. It’s pain. It’s not fun.
Tracey: So why do it?
Rena: I write because only in rewriting am I able to make the body of the work match what is in my head. And I have to start somewhere. I hate this part of writing because it’s ugly. But I don’t know any other way to do it.
Tracey: Tell me more about your methods of pinning a WIP down on paper.
Rena: I’ve been thinking so much about process. Wondering how I can enjoy this more. And I realized that part of what I enjoy is the research. Yes, it’s falling down rabbit holes and feels like procrastination. But only in research do I make connections b/w all the threads in my head.
Tracey: So how do you solve your mental torment when writing a new book?
Rena: I’m always learning to embrace my process. It’s hard. Especially now that I’m writing a book on a deadline for the first time in my life. But I keep reminding myself: these are just bones. Nobody sees the bones.
Tracey: Nobody Sees the Bones sounds like a great novel title (*makes note*)
Rena: I tell myself that none of what I’m writing now will show. Nobody will ever see this part. Maybe none of these words will make it to the final draft…it helps me keep going. Putting one word in front of the other, even if I know that they are all wrong. But that’s just me.
Anyway. That’s what I have to share. That’s my wisdom from the past painstaking month of trying to grow the bones of my next book. Growing bones is hard. But if I don’t do this part I won’t be able to get to the next part. So I keep going.
Tracey: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Rena. Personally, I’ve learned so much from watching you progress through the stages of becoming an incredibly accomplished writer and renowned agent over the past eight years or so. I can’t wait for your novel to be released in September. We’ll have to try and meet up again next year and I can buy a signed copy directly from you. But first, I may have to treat myself to a sneak-peak on Kindle…