Tess Hardwick is a novelist and playwright. She began her artistic pursuits as an actress, graduating with a BFA in Drama from the University of Southern California. In 2000 she wrote her first full-length play, My Lady’s Hand which subsequently won the 2001 first place prize for new work at the Burien Theatre, discovering during that experience that the types of stories she wanted to tell were better done in novel form. RIVERSONG, her first novel, comes out in mid-April by Booktrope.
Except for her brief stint in Los Angeles for college, Tess has resided in the Pacific Northwest for most of her life. She grew up in a small town in Oregon but has lived in Seattle, Washington for twenty years. She currently lives just east of Seattle in Snoqualmie, Washington with her husband, two small daughters and a teenage stepson.
TSR: It is my privilege and pleasure to welcome and introduce you all, to the author Tess Hardwick. A very warm welcome to you Tess, and very big thank-you from all of us for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us here today.
Tess: Thank you so very much for having me. It’s a privilege to be here. I feel a bit like a rock star!
TSR: Tess, you used to live in Southern Oregon. For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about Southern Oregon and your memories about living there?
Tess: I think we all have a sense of nostalgia about the places we grew up, so it was probably inevitable that my first novel would be set in Southern Oregon, almost as a homage or love letter to the beauty of the landscape and the people I once knew. Southern Oregon is one of the most beautiful places on earth; jutting pine covered mountains and clear rivers that weave in and around communities. They have mild springs, hot dry summers and crisp autumns. I’ll conveniently forget to mention the rainy season in the mid-winter! And the stars at night – you’ve never seen anything as spectacular as the Milky Way on a clear night in Oregon.
TSR: You now live just east of Seattle. What do you like about living in this area?
Tess: Seattle is a beautiful city surrounded on all sides by bodies of water. The Puget Sound on one side, and Lake Washington on the other. On a sunny day, I can't imagine any place better - imagine that everywhere you look there is blue water accented with green foliage. But we have a long rainy season (feeling particularly long this year). Locals joke that the rain starts the day after Labor Day in early September and doesn't end until July 5th - the day after our Independence Day celebrations where it's inevitably rainy. Not that it keeps true Seattle residents inside. We just grab our hats and add an extra layer!
My family and I just moved to a suburb east of Seattle last summer, built at the base of Mt. Si, which is part of the Cascade Mountain range. We love it here - feels like a small town and is very family oriented.
TSR: Can I ask you what sort of books did you enjoy reading during your childhood?
Tess: I loved the classic favourites for girls – ‘The Little House Series’, ‘The Secret Garden’, ‘Anne of Green Gables’, ‘All of a Kind Family’. As I grew older, I discovered Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Willa Cather and the quintessential American novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. With all of these writers, I felt that thing that all good books do for a reader: that they were written just for me. I still read these over again, especially when I’m feeling down or lonely. They’re like coming home.
TSR: Do you think the books that you read during your early years influenced your writing in any way?
Tess: Of course, the obvious answer is yes. Everything you read influences your writing style; especially early in life when you devour books in a sort of focused intensity afforded only the youth. And there is no better way to learn to write than to read. That said, as I was answering the previous question, it occurred to me how very much these books did influence my sensibilities about character and storytelling. They are all stories about girls who are on the fringe of a society whether it’s because of poverty or familial circumstance. They are all about relationships and community, which are central themes of ‘RIVERSONG’, as well as my current manuscript.
TSR: Did you always want to become a writer?
Tess: When I was a little girl, obsessed with books, it never occurred to me that I could or would write, as I was solely focused on being a reader. I never believed I would be able to write well enough to be worthy of the writers I read. So I dismissed it as something for those with more talent. I studied acting, believing it to be the art I showed the most talent for. I was good but I didn’t love it as much as I loved messing around with books. I approached acting in an almost academic way, a dissection of story, seeing it unfold in my mind not as an actress in the moment but as a writer might.
When I was in acting class my senior year of college, I was doing an exercise where you spoke extemporaneously through an intimate moment designed to free your emotions. After that exercise, a classmate said, “When I hear how Tess puts words together, it makes me know she’s a writer.” That was the first time anyone said it. In that moment I knew it was true. I was a writer.
As I’ve grown older and more focused, my desire to create story is like a rash that must be attended to, an agitation, like an addict looking for my fix, I’m not at peace until I sit at the computer working on my latest project.
TSR: Where do you do your writing best?
Tess: I have a home office where I work most of the time. Because I have young children, I find it essential to have a room of one’s own, so to speak.
TSR: Can you tell us a bit about your new novel ‘RIVERSONG’?
Tess: RIVERSONG is about a woman who awakens one day to the news that her husband’s committed suicide and left her with a huge debt to a dangerous man. She escapes to the small Oregon town where she was raised, hoping to salvage what’s left of her mother’s dilapidated home in order to sell it and pay off her debt. While there, she becomes ensconced in the community of this little rundown town, becoming part of a group of people who band together to reinvent it as a tourist destination. It’s a light read, about love and friendship, the power of community, meant to uplift the reader and give hope that no matter how bad your circumstance, there is always an opportunity for a second chance.
TSR: Has it been difficult to bring your first novel to the actual stage of publication?
Tess: Yes, it’s been a bit of a journey. I started writing it when my youngest was eight months old. She’s about to turn five! After many queries, none of which yielded any real interest, I put ‘RIVERSONG’ away and was well into my new manuscript when I got an unexpected call from a friend. She’d taken a job at an independent publisher in Seattle (Booktrope) and pitched ‘RIVERSONG’ in the interview. They gave me a contract shortly thereafter.
TSR: Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
Tess: For the first draft my goal is 2500 words each day. I don’t allow myself to quit until I’ve reached that number. Sometimes it goes from one chapter to the next in organized succession but often I have to skip a section that I’ve not worked out completely and come back to it when the plot pieces fall into my mind, usually in the shower or while I’m driving, listening to music. For the second draft, I’m a little more disorganized in my approach. I try to start at the beginning and work my way through but sometimes I meander a bit. I am not an outline writer and allow that I may not know all the plot answers at the beginning. My stories are character driven, so much so that they sometimes take over the story and pull it in a direction I hadn’t intended. For example, ‘RIVERSONG’ was not supposed to be a love story, but the character Tommy wanted what he wanted with no credence to my wishes whatsoever. He wanted Lee and literally took over the keyboard so that he could have her!
TSR: What is your favourite book and why?
Tess: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. As I said before, it is one of the quintessential American stories in that it shows the best and worst about America. I’m moved by the courage and insight of Atticus Finch – standing up for what was right in a time when it was not only unpopular to do so but actually dangerous. Told from a child’s point of view about something so shameful in our collective American past makes it that much more poignant. Oh, it’s just perfect in every way!
TSR: Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?
Tess: I’m reading ‘The Three Weissmanns of Westport’ by Cathleen Schine right now. It’s wonderful!
TSR: Have you any another books in the making at the moment?
Tess: I’m currently working on a historical fiction called ‘Duet for Three Hands’, set during the 1930’s in the American south. The idea came to me from some letters and a short story written by my Great-grandmother who lived during that time in Alabama. It’s a much more ambitious novel than my first in that it’s told from five perspectives. Not to mention the amount of research it’s taken!
TSR: Tess, I would like to thank-you once again for taking the time to visit and speak to us today. I would like to wish you every success with your future writing career.
Tess: Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat. I would love to come back, anytime.
For further information about Tess and her writing you can visit Tess’s website at:
International Book Giveaway Draw!
Tess and her publisher Booktrope have very kindly provided me with a copy of the novel 'Riversong' for an International Book Giveaway Draw to go with this interview, here at 'The Secret Writer'!
It is very simple to participate in this draw . If you visit this blog and have joined as a 'Google Friend Connect' follower, leave a comment on this post telling me the name and author of the book you are currently reading at the moment? (also include your e-mail address in your comment so I can contact you if you are a winner), you will be entered into a draw for a copy of Riversong', which is a new release that is just hot off the printing presses!
There will be one winner of this draw. Each entrant to the draw will be allocated a sequential number. After the closing date for this draw (Friday 29th April 2011 at 23.59GMT), The winning number for this draw will be chosen by random.org. This is an International Giveaway for all my GFC Followers! Thank-you Tess and Booktrope, for providing this great prize for a draw!
Good Luck Everyone!