We welcome Colleen Oakes to Writer’s Corner today to discuss the rerelease of Elly in
Bloom. We might share a few other things as well. Click on the link to see my review of Elly in Bloom. Thank you for stopping by!
The main character Elly is a Florist as an occupation. What made you choose this occupation for your main character?
They say “write what you know” and I know floral design. I was a floral designer for four years before I opened up my own boutique wedding florist here in Colorado. I had that for five years before I sold it to a wedding coordinator so that I could focus on writing full time. I’ve experienced everything that Elly has and more, from bridezillas to dead flowers to pollen stains. The story needed to be told!
What made St. Louis an ideal setting for your novel? Especially since this setting is not used much in literature.
I love St. Louis. It’s a town that is so unique and totally underrated in this day and age. There is a history, a community that is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else. The neighborhoods are diverse and thriving, and a vein of creativity runs through the entire town. It’s a beautiful city that is bursting with ideas and contradictions, rich and poor, but it has this feeling of growth that is unique to St. Louis spirit. Also, they have this custard there…
Did Elly’s journey come easily or did the writing process for this novel take longer than you thought it would?
As strange as it sounds, I had trouble BELIEVING that I could write a novel. I remember in the years and years that I dreamed of writing a novel and never really got around to it, it was because I was petrified by the idea. I would tell myself, “I could never do that.” It turns that not only could I write a novel, but I loved writing it, and the actuality of it was really much easier than what I had built up in my mind. It took about a year, and I was a very devoted writer. I wrote every single day. Even if I was able to only grab a single hour. Now that I am signed with a publisher and have deadlines, I try to schedule out bigger chunks of time. Instead of a word count, I try to finish half a chapter a day - this seems to hit the “one book a year” requirement pretty well. In the end, I try and treat it like a job, and when I do, the writing becomes more polished and respected in my own mind, which then moves things around to open up and let the book flow.
What projects are you working on next?
Thanks for asking! My first volume in my epic-fantasy/fairy tales will be coming out this holiday season. It’s called Queen of Hearts: The Crown and it is the backstory of the Queen from Alice in Wonderland. I wanted to know, why is she so angry? Where did she come from? It’s a very big, whimsical and dark story and really let me unleash my creativity. Fans of Elly in Bloom will be happy to know that I returned to Wydown Street, and that Elly in Love is finished and will be released in March. I’ve started working on my next fairy tale re-telling, Wendy Darling, and then I plan on wrapping up the Elly series in 2014.
What author has influenced you the most in your writing?
Far and away, the author that has influenced my women’s fiction writing the most would be Jennifer Weiner. Her books have made me experience a range of emotions, and showed me that there could be enjoyable women’s literature that pulsed with a deeper current. Too often chick lit relies on clichés, and I felt that she set the bar for rising above that. Other authors that inspire me as a writer and engage me as a reader include: Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Trisha Ashely, Audrey Niffenegger, Margaret George, Nick Hornby, George R.R Martin, J.K Rowling, and Leif Enger.
Do you think that you will write more on the subject of weddings?
As I wrap up the Elly series, you will absolutely see more weddings. They will be more dramatic and lush, with much more important clients. With that being said, I want to make sure that they are always fresh and new to the reader, so that they don’t feel like “Oh, ANOTHER wedding?” The wedding and the situation must be really interesting, as well as Elly’s place within the wedding. I think readers of Elly in Bloom and Elly in Love will be very pleased. Who doesn’t love a wedding that takes place on a stage?
Did someone or something inspire the story of Elly?
It wasn’t someone or something, it was some moment. I was driving home after a long day as a floral designer, listening to a sad love song on the radio and it all came at once, a very simple idea: What if someone was hired to design their lover’s wedding? How would they express that frustration in floral design? Would they do it? What if the wedding was extremely profitable? Would they turn it down? The idea was intriguing. My biggest inspiration then, I would say, was portraying a very realistic woman in an unreal and highly emotional situation. I wanted to do her justice, since she was just like me.
What are you most excited about with your new projects coming up?
I am so excited for Queen of Hearts to be released. It’s a story I loved telling, and I’m eager to see how readers will react to this new and dark take on Alice in Wonderland. It will be divisive, that I can promise! I also can’t wait for readers to return to Elly’s world. I think they will be very surprised at where Elly does (and doesn’t) end up.
How would you describe the kind of book you like to write?
I like to write books that have a very large amount of character growth that take places in extraordinary beautiful or dark environments.
What is your best advice for new writers?
I am a huge fan of the book On Writing by Stephen King. My favorite quote from that book, among hundreds, is: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.” I believe the best writers are the best readers, and as long as I’m reading, I can know with certainty that I’m improving my craft. So read, read, read and then write.