I’m excited to feature Billie Grable and her debut novel, The Weeping Willow Sings. She and I were classmates in the University of Washington Commercial Fiction certification course in the early 2000s. It’s great to see the final product that came from that beginning.
Welcome, Billie. Where did the inspiration for your novel come from?
I have to say that the book evolved over a very long time. When I first started writing, I was doing a memoir. I wrote madly for days – pouring my life and soul onto paper. Then one night I heard a famous person being interviewed on TV about a memoir she’d published. The interviewer asked her “Is there anything you wish you could take out of your book?” Her immediate answer was something like Chapter 4 and 15 – I clearly remember her answering without hesitation and I thought, do I really want to put my life in print – and never be able to withdraw those private moments? Would I live to regret it? I now call that piece of work my ‘past purging’ and I must say it was not only liberating, but it rekindled my love for writing!
From that point, I tried to ‘convert’ my life to fiction. I remember one of the exercises we did in the Commercial Fiction class where we had one of our characters write us a letter. Becca (the main character that had been shaped from my life) ‘wrote’ to me. She told me in no uncertain terms that I’d already made all of those mistakes and that she wanted to make her own mistakes. The letter ended with her telling me if I couldn’t honor her request, to leave her out of the book. Imagine how surprised I was when I finished writing the letter – and how real those voices in my head became! J I took Becca’s advice and she became a secondary character.
John, Maggie’s father developed over time. I knew that he was going to die from the very beginning. What I didn’t realize was how attached to him I’d become and how his death haunted me. That is when I realized that he would remain a central character and his life after death experience one of the main themes.
Mental illness has had a huge stigma attached, but we are all becoming more aware and accepting. Was this a difficult subject to write about?
Not at all. And now I shall air some of my own family secrets. J My great aunt spent her later years at what used to be called the Oregon State Insane Asylum. I remember going there as a little girl (about five years old) and sitting with her. What I loved about her was her laughter. She’d start giggling and I would too. Then she’d break out into uncontrollable laughter and I’d join in. I never really knew why she was laughing but I just loved that she did. I didn’t find out until I had kids of my own that she was schizophrenic.
Remembering my great aunt and how, as a child, I had no point of reference to make me afraid of her, made me realize that there are types of mental illness that are feared. The sad part is she ended up in a mental hospital that used shock treatments as part of the therapy (and back then they did serious damage!). I like to think that her life would have ended up much differently had she been able to take advantage of today’s methods of treatment. Having said that, there are so many people who have mental illness and are too ashamed to come forward and seek treatment. That’s where John’s mental illness came into the story. I wanted him to be able to confront where he came from and what he’d done, so he could heal – and also provide healing to those he left behind.
Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?
The single most important message to me is that love never dies. The other message is for people who have lost a loved one to suicide – being able to give them an opportunity to somehow make peace with such a tragic ending.
Have you always wanted to write?
Yes! Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve made up stories in my head. And now, I have the ability to listen to those characters and give them a chance to tell their story. The part I love most is letting go of my need to control and allowing them to give me the shape of their life (and yes, I am a control freak J).
Are there any books or authors that inspired you?
I’ve read a ton of self-help books – my favorite authors are Wayne Dyer, Iyanla Vanzant, and Cheryl Richarson and Geneen Roth. Their messages have always spoken to me.
I loved What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson and of course The Lovey Bones. Stephen King creeps me out (in a really good way) and I loved Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Loved The Help (movie not so much) and Water for Elephants.
What helps you with the creative process?
When I first begin a story, I process a lot of it in my head. And then I start writing on notepads that are lying around my house. I prefer to write with pen and paper at first. There’s something about connecting the pen to paper that allows the creative process a direct connection. Just feels like the words flow from the pen.
Why do you write, what is it that makes you do it? (What do you like and dislike about writing?)
I write fiction because of the characters. I love allowing them to ‘speak’ to me. It’s such an adventure. The hard part is having a big enough chunk of time to really let it flow. I work full time and while it pays the bills, it takes a chunk out of my creative process.
What was the major thing you learned from our UW writing course?
The biggest lesson was the importance of character development. You can have a plot, but without really strong characters to carry it out, you really don’t have a compelling book to read.
What made you decide to self-publish?
My Mom. She’s 86 years old and has dementia. The one thing she hasn’t forgotten is that I wrote a novel. When I gave her a copy of The Weeping Willow Sings she cried! It was an incredible moment. She is declining fast and having given her that gift was a memory I will always cherish!
What are you doing to market your book?
I have business cards that I give to just about everyone I meet. I have a Facebook author page and also a personal page. I’ve done several book signings and had a write up in my hometown newspaper. It’s really, really hard work! But I absolutely love it.
What advice would you have for other beginning authors?
Take classes. Get into a critique group. Keep your butt in your chair and find the time to write!
Are you working on another project?
I have a second novel that’s about half done. And I have an idea for a series brewing as well.
Where can readers buy your novel?
You can buy it on line at any bookstore – but go to Amazon please! Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Weeping-Willow-Sings-Billie-Grable/dp/1482622866/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
Your website, blog, Facebook, etc.
My Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/BillieGrable?ref=hl
I’ve had so much interested generated that Facebook created a page for The Weeping Willow Sings! Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Weeping-Willow-Sings/585690891468723?directed_target_id=0
Thanks so much for having me Heidi! It’s so much fun to reconnect. And I love Cowgirl Dreams!
Thank you, Billie. I’m looking forward to your next book.