Teresa Rhyne is the author of The Dog Lived (and So Will I), her memoir of fighting cancer alongside her Beagle, Seamus. She is also the founding member of the She Writes group Memoir Publications 2012 (new members welcome!). The Dog Lived (and So Will I) is due for official release in the beginning of October. Here, She Writer Carol Clouse--author of the memoir Clouse's Houses--asks Teresa about her journey to publication.
Carol Clouse: I understand that The Dog Lived (and So Will I) is your first published book. Did you write in any other capacity prior to this book project?
Teresa Rhyne: I have always written, though generally my interest (reading and writing) was in fiction. But when life hands you a story like “my adorable beagle had cancer and so did I” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think perhaps it was time to look at narrative non-fiction. I began reading a ton of memoirs (love your Clouse’s Houses, by the way!) and now I’m hooked. I think I’ll write more non-fiction, but also, I, like so many writers, do have that first novel draft tucked away in a drawer and I would love to return to that. I feel like I’ve learned so much about writing from this experience that I just might finally be able to do that novel some justice. I also co-wrote a hilarious (if I do say so myself) book on divorce that was a parody of those old-fashioned wedding memory books, which my co-author and I still plan to revisit and rewrite.
Carol Clouse: When writing a personal story, it is essential to “tell the brutal truth,” yet sometimes this can cause emotional offense to those we write about. Your beloved dog, Seamus, is one of the main characters, and clearly he won’t be reading the book--but are there other characters who are a concern to you, and did you let them do a pre-read?
Teresa Rhyne: I don’t think one can write a memoir without offending someone somehow--if there is no antagonist, where’s the conflict? And probably no one is comfortable seeing themselves as the antagonist in someone else’s life. So yes, I did worry. (And members of my family worried, too.) Chris, my significant other, plays a big role in the book, but he’s also in my writing group, so naturally he read it all ahead of time in various drafts. Our running joke is that he’s naked in the first three chapters, but he seems fine with that. Other than that pre-read, I gave Advance Reader’s Copies to my family and Chris’s so they all know what’s there before “the world” does. They’ve had mixed reactions, but primarily positive. I think it’s difficult for anybody to read about themselves--me included, and I wrote it.
Carol Clouse: The Dog Lived (and So Will I) is your story about your dog and his battle against cancer, and then your own diagnosis and journey through cancer. There are a multitude of cancer survivor stories on the market; your back-to-back owner-and-dog saga certainly makes your story unique, but what further message do you hope to communicate to your readers?
Teresa Rhyne: Ultimately, I think it’s a message of hope and, oddly enough for me (a born and bred pessimist), it’s about finding the positive even when a lot of negative is raining down on you. There is also a great love story (um, canine sure, but I mean human this time), which is the thread that pulls the fabric of this book together. My agent really worked with me to bring that story through. I knew there was a great love story here (heck, I lived it) but I took some convincing that anybody else might find that interesting. (Besides not being an optimist, I’m also not much of a romantic!)
Carol Clouse: From the first typed word to now, what has been the most difficult part of your journey in writing this book?
Teresa Rhyne: Definitely reliving Seamus’s cancer. It’s been many years since that battle, but going back through his medical records and talking with his oncologist brought back a lot of sad and difficult times. I’m sure I cuddled, petted and handed out a lot of extra treats to Seamus during that stage. And the other difficult time was, not surprisingly, being out on submission and waiting to hear back from publishers. At that point it felt like I’d worked so hard for so long and here I was at the “make or break” stage. Luckily, I was in Fiji for the first few weeks the manuscript was out on submission--that helped distract me.
Carol Clouse: You landed a moderately sized publisher for this memoir. Can you tell us about your experience querying publishers and how you came to secure a contract? Also, you and your publisher have put a lot of creative effort into marketing this book (do I remember correctly about dog cake pops?); how important do you feel it is to get a "buzz" going with some engaging energy, and what advice would you offer to fellow authors trying to market their memoirs?
Teresa Rhyne: I did things the old-fashioned way. I spent a lot of time on a book proposal, wrote a few sample chapters and then I researched agents who represented memoirs, and particularly animal- or health-related memoirs. I used querytracker.net to do my research and also looked at the acknowledgements of some of my favorite memoirs--and that’s how I found my agent, Sarah Jane Freymann. Sarah Jane then worked extensively with me on revising the proposal (yes, the agent worked very, very hard on the editing process; she does things the old-fashioned way too--because it works), and when she deemed the proposal ready, she sent it out to publishers and eventually sold it to Shana Drehs at Sourcebooks. I LOVE my agent, editor and publisher. I feel like I’ve landed exactly where I needed to be. I can’t imagine a more supportive agent, editor or publisher.
I had the good fortune to attend Book Expo America this year. My publisher sent me and arranged for me to be at their booth signing ARCs for an hour, which was beyond thrilling--especially when I saw the six foot tall by four foot wide blow up of my book cover hanging over their booth. I spent a lot of time roaming around the exhibit booths of all of the publishers and nothing brings home the concept that publishing is a business better than seeing the thousands of books about to be published. Thousands. And that’s just the upcoming fall season--when you add to that all the books already out and those coming out the following spring, well . . . it becomes quite clear that an author really has to work hard to make their book stand out.
And yes, there were cake pops, or, as they were quickly dubbed, “pup pops.” That was really the beginning of the creative marketing and getting buzz going. My editor let me know when their in-house sales conference was happening, and asked if I could send a video book trailer to the sale meeting. I sent two, and I also had “pup pops” made that looked like the cover of the book (i.e. my dog’s head with a green leather collar and a pink ribbon dangling from the collar) and bookmarks (4 different versions, with 4 different sayings). She handed them out at the conference and well, needless to say, the book got a lot of attention (and the pup pops got a lot of tweets!). After that is when the publisher invited me to BEA and ALA. BEA resulted in my book being selected as a “BEA Buzz Book” (I was on a list with Barbara Kingsolver and Junot Diaz; I can die happy.) Subsequent to that, Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book (favorably!) and we’ve gotten some nice media interest and coverage. Now, as we prepare for publication day, we are planning a lot of events with both breast cancer organizations and canine cancer and pet rescue organizations--it’s a great way to reach my audience, and I get to help some deserving organizations along the way.