After 30 years, local author celebrates ‘overnight’ success
Michelle Gable is nothing if not determined. She started writing in the fourth grade and saw her first book, “A Paris Apartment,” debut just shy of her 40th birthday — and it went on to become a national best-seller, something rare for a new author. Gable, who grew up in Del Mar and graduated from Torrey Pines High School, still holds a day job, and she fits in her writing between shuffling her kids to their various sports and making lunches. An avid Charger and Aztec fan, she lives with her husband and kids in Cardiff.
Recently, she took the time to answer a few questions for us.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and when did you actually put pen to paper?
When I was 10 years old, my father gave me a book called “Someday You’ll Write.” My parents re-gifted this same book to me at the launch of “A Paris Apartment” — which was a few weeks shy of my 40th birthday. So in the 30 years between, I wrote — and wrote and wrote. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.
You have a family, a day job, and all the distractions that go with both. When do you write?
Whenever I can! I am an early bird, and get up at 5 or 5:30 every morning. I have daily and weekly word count goals and the trick is to get them in, whether that means before dawn, or while the kids are getting ready for school, or as I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking. My daughters play competitive softball, and this time of year we can have anywhere from six to 12 games in a weekend, many out of town. I wrote my second book last summer during All Stars, by hand and in pencil between games! You would’ve seen me scribbling away in the car, behind the dugout, you name it! I’m working on copy edits for book #2 now and I had the manuscript with me for three games today.
How long did you work towards your ‘overnight’ success?
Nearly 30 years! And I was with my agent for five years before she sold a book to a publisher. I’m so grateful she stuck with me through the ups and downs and the heartbreak.
It has been said that 81 percent of Americans think they have a book in them. What would it take for them to become writers?
Determination and persistence. And daily word count goals help too! I believe 90 percent of the secret to getting published is to a) finish the book(s) and b) never give up. Let those rejections roll right off ! It’s also important to study the industry. It’s a business, and a would-be writer needs to understand how it works.
How many rejections did you receive before finding an agent?
Oh gosh, I don’t remember. Probably 35-40?
I read that your agent actually turned you on to the story that is the basis of “A Paris Apartment.” How did that come about?
News about the abandoned Parisian apartment on which my book is based became public in late 2010. I was still smarting from a rather brutal letdown … we’d had a failed auction for a previous manuscript. While five different editors loved the book, it was “too hard to sell a debut author.” I was crushed, because although I could keep writing book after book, how was I going to get over the “debut author” hurdle? Then my agent sent me an article about the apartment and wrote, “There is something AWESOME and haunting about this story and I think you should file it away for a book at some point.” And I agreed!
What do you recommend a writer look for in an agent?
Someone who represents your genre is key! Then that person must be crazy enthusiastic about your work. Because as much rejection as you’re going to face, the agent is being “rejected” too. They need to feel so assured of your long-term success that they’ll press on undeterred, just as my agent did through five years.
On top of that, it’s crucial to find someone you “connect” with in some indefinable but true way. Agents all take the same commission rate, so it’s not about economics. It’s about the right fit and enthusiasm for a project.
I love the first line of “A Paris Apartment.” How important are first lines in books?
Thank you so much! And I think first lines are very important but even more so are the first few chapters. Many readers will abandon a book if they’re not sucked in by page 10 or 20.
How does a setting serve as a character in a novel?
For “A Paris Apartment,” the city and the apartment itself loom large in the tale. If the apartment was found in London or Berlin or Dallas, it’d be a different book. And it makes sense, really, as we are all influenced by the places we’ve lived.
It is said writers are readers. Who are your favorite authors?
Yes, writers are readers and I am a reader first! I probably go through 100 books per year in a variety of genres. My favorite authors are John Irving, T. Greenwood, Amanda Eyre Ward, Chris Bohjalian, Lily King, Ann Patchett, J. Courtney Sullivan, and Beatriz Williams.
What qualities would you ascribe to most authors?
That’s a tough one! I think, again, determination is central to any author because it is really difficult to finish a novel, regardless of whether it ever sells. Merely typing “the end” is an enormous accomplishment. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I work in finance and some would accuse me of being “Type A” (I argue that I “go with the flow” — but flows can be fast-moving!). I also do a lot of presentations for work, so am comfortable in public and in large crowds. Talking to a lot of my author friends, these are not common traits.
You are now a nationally best-selling author with a second book underway. How is writing different now?
Well for one, I’m writing under contract! Which is awesome and daunting at the same time. When you’re unpublished, you can write whatever the heck you want. Mystery? YA? Sci Fi? Sure, why not? I was so nervous when I turned in my second book because what if she didn’t like it? Or didn’t think the tone was right? She loved it, thank goodness, but this was a big change for me. I also have to be a lot more methodical, as my deadlines are now “real” versus self-imposed.
It’s still weird to think that strangers are reading my book! Cindy Crawford tweeted about it and I’m not even kidding when I say my first thought was, “Does Cindy Crawford know my mother?!”
What is the best writing advice you ever received — and from whom?
Stop in the middle of writing something (a scene, a paragraph) so it’s easier to pick back up the next day. Hemingway did this and it is my #1 trick.
What is your best advice for aspiring authors?
Keep going! Finish the book. Research the market. Find out what path you’re taking and how that path is going to look. And never give up. If the first book doesn’t sell, write another, and another, and another after that. Always be writing something new. Even when your book is out there! Never obsess over the rejections or bad reviews (which I personally don’t read). Keep moving forward.
Antoinette Kuritz and Jared Kuritz are the team behind both STRATEGIES Public Relations and the La Jolla Writer’s Conference (www.lajollawritersconference.com).