Thursday, September 7, 2017

1 Tawni Waters, author of THE LONG RIDE HOME, on answering the question “What happens next?”

We've had so many amazing authors provide interviews lately that we're spreading them out to Tuesdays and Thursdays rather than overwhelming our readers with writing wisdom on Saturdays.

We're thrilled to have Tawni Waters join us to share more about her latest novel, THE LONG RIDE HOME.

Tawni, what was your inspiration for writing THE LONG RIDE HOME?

I was teaching for an intense summer creative writing program at University of Virginia, so I was super busy. In the middle of that, my agent and I were trying to come up with an idea for my next book. My first novel, Beauty of the Broken, won some impressive awards, including the ILA, so I felt very pressured to follow up with something “good.” Nothing makes you write worse than trying to write something “good.” I wrote three chapters of three different novels, and my agent nixed them all.

Finally, I had a day off from teaching, and I decided I was going to sit in the pub and write whatever I wanted, even if it was really bad. The song “Unknown Legend” came on, and the lyrics captured my imagination. They begin, “Out on a desert highway she rides her Harley Davidson, her long blond hair flying in the wind. She’s been running half of her life, the chrome and steel she rides, colliding with the very air she breathes.” I saw a character in my head when I heard those lyrics, and I immediately started writing from her perspective. The first words I wrote were, “If you imagine me as a rugged girl on a Harley, you might be right.” The main character of Harley grew from that sentence. The book was originally titled The Air She Breathes, so I wanted breath to be a focal point. Harley’s mother’s last breath becomes one of her obsessions in the novel. And then, at the end, her baby draws its first breath. I thought all that was very poetic, but then, my agent nixed the title. Sigh. Oh, well. It was cool in my head anyway.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The scene that was hardest for me to write was the scene in which Harley commits her mother’s ashes to the sea. It’s two-thirds of the way through the book, but I didn’t realize until I was in the middle of writing that scene that the book was my way of finally saying goodbye to my precious father, who died when I was 21. So when I was typing the words Harley says to say goodbye to her mother, I was going through the gut wrenching process of saying those words to my father in my heart. Needless to say, it wrecked me for days. But yes, it is one of my favorite scenes in the book. It has a huge piece of my heart in it, so I couldn’t help but love it.

How long did you work on THE LONG RIDE HOME?

Weirdly, it didn’t take me long to write this one. I spent a good decade on my first novel, Beauty of the Broken, but I think the process of being edited by the amazing Annette Pollert, who was my editor at Simon & Schuster and is now my editor at Sourcebooks, taught me so much about the art of crafting a novel. Things like pacing and plotting fell into place for me in a way they hadn’t before. So when I went to write The Long Ride Home, I wasn’t struggling with those elements the way I had during the writing of Beauty of the Broken. I wasn’t writing chapters and throwing them away. It was like writing a novel was second nature to me, instead of a process of trial and error. So the writing went quickly. It took about a year. I was afraid that maybe I was delusional, and I’d written a really bad book and just didn’t know it, but so far, it’s getting really lovely preliminary reviews, including rave reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. So I guess I really did learn something during the Beauty of the Broken editing process.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I think the most valuable thing I learned as I wrote this book is that as a writer, you are always simply answering the question, “What happens next?” That’s why readers keep reading novels. They want to know what happens next. If you end a chapter with your heroine screaming at her boyfriend, readers want to know what the aftermath of the fight is. If you end a chapter with the heroine falling asleep in a campground, they want to know what happens when she wakes up. When I wrote Beauty of the Broken, I was always twisting myself into knots, trying to create drama. I guess I succeeded. It’s a rather harrowing novel. But with The Long Ride Home, I just asked myself the question, “What happens next?” and then wrote scenes answering that question. I think the plotting is tighter than my plotting in Beauty of the Broken, so that technique really worked for me.

What do you hope readers will take away from THE LONG RIDE HOME?

I had an early reader write me after the ARCs (advanced reader copies) of The Long Ride Home got sent out. She told me that I did an amazing job of capturing the beauty of fucked up people (excuse my French—or rather, hers). I was so touched by that. I told her that’s why I write. I want people to know that we are all fucked up in epic ways, and yet, in the middle of all of our fucked-up-ed-ness, we are absolutely exquisite, and absolutely loved. So that’s what I hope people take away from my protagonist Harley, who is a mess even on her best day: If she’s got all these “issues” and she’s still lovable, maybe I, with all of my issues, am lovable too.

What are you working on now?

I am revisiting a rock-n-roll novel I wrote years ago. It’s very loosely based on the adventures I had following a rock band for years, and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written. It’s called Empire of Dirt. I really want to find a home for it soon. I believe in it with all my heart. I think it’s good work. (And believe me, I don’t think that about all the novels I’ve written. There are several that will remain in the bowels of my computer for all time. I don’t dare bring them out and expose them to the light of day.)


The Long Ride Home
by Tawni Waters
Sourcebooks Fire
Released 9/5/2017

A road trip to scatter her mother’s ashes turns into a journey of self-discovery as Harley navigates a romance with unexpected consequences.

After the loss of her mother, Harley can barely handle her grief. But the start of summer marks new beginnings, and Harley leaves for a cross-country road trip to scatter her mother's ashes with Dean, her friend (with benefits). The two ride by motorcycle, reconnecting with people who knew her mother along the way.

But it's not long before Harley realizes she's pregnant…with Dean's child. And as Harley learns that her mother faced similar choices during her own pregnancy, Harley must come to terms with her mother's past to make a difficult decision about her own future.

Purchase The Long Ride Home at Amazon
Purchase The Long Ride Home at IndieBound
View The Long Ride Home on Goodreads


Tawni Waters’s debut novel, Beauty of the Broken, was released by Simon and Schuster in 2014. In addition to winning the prestigious International Literacy Association’s Award for Young Adult Literature, it won the Housatonic Book Award, was named an exceptional book of 2015 by the Children’s Book Council, was shortlisted for the Reading the West Book Award, and was included on the Kansas State Reading Circle List. It is being adapted for the screen by Jeff Arch, the screenwriter best known for writing Sleepless in Seattle. Her second novel, The Long Ride Home, will be released by Sourcebooks Fire in Summer 2017. Her first poetry book, Siren Song, was released by Burlesque Press in 2014. Her work was featured in Best Travel Writing 2010 and has been published in myriad journals and magazines. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans and teaches creative writing at various universities and writers retreats throughout the U.S., Europe, and Mexico. In her spare time she talks to angels, humanely evicts spiders from her floorboards, and plays Magdalene to a minor rock god.


Have you had a chance to read THE LONG RIDE HOME yet? Have any of your stories been inspired by a song? Does the technique of asking “What happens next?” help you with tight plotting? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Anisaa, Sam, Martina, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, Emily, and Lori Ann

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