MF: The Waiting Room began as a collection of short stories. Tell us about its evolution from short stories to a novel.
PP: The original concept for The Waiting Room was to write a collection of short stories about the different types of people you may find sitting in an ob/gyn waiting room. The idea came to me as I sat in the waiting room of my ob/gyn’s office when I was pregnant with my now nine year old daughter (yes, I am a procrastinator). It struck me how diversified this waiting room was: women of all ages, children, and men, too. I passed the time imaging how their lives may be and creating backstories on everyone. I let the thought pass, though, and continued with a different novel concept I was working on at the time.
Then, earlier this year, I read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and I was mesmerized by the way that he created an entire novel out of short stories that weaved in and out of the various characters lives. I thought I could do that with The Waiting Room. Honestly, I don’t think the finished project achieved that goal because it ended up taking on a life of its own, but I couldn’t be more pleased with how the characters and stories came to life in this novel. It reaches in and holds onto the emotion of the reader and that is all I ever wanted from this tale.
MF: The Waiting Room has received 4 and 5 star ratings from reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads. After such high praise from readers, are you fearful you’ll disappoint them with future works?
PP: I don’t think there isn’t a writer out there that isn’t fearful that their second, third, fourth, or even twentieth novel will not resonate with readers. A debut novel introduces readers to a person’s writing style and in some ways it can back a writer into a corner and typecast them, so to speak. If you write something that is different in tone than your highly praised debut novel, you could experience backlash from readers.
My goal as a writer is to create works of fiction that will inspire readers to understand human nature in a way that may seem unfamiliar to them, maybe even make them uncomfortable. My next two projects are a little different than The Waiting Room, but I am confident that readers will be encapsulated by the storylines and the characters just like they have been with The Waiting Room.
MF: On your website bio, you mention learning the harsh lessons of the literary world and Hollywood. Would you mind telling us what happened and what you learned?
PP: Oh, it’s not really as exciting as it sounds. Remember, I am a writer; therefore, I embellish. But, basically, while other 16 year olds were out partying on Friday nights, I stayed at home creating a screenplay that I just knew was going to be a major blockbuster. Never mind that the story was trite and over told (think John Grisham’s, The Firm) and that the writing was cliché, nobody could tell me that my little screenplay wasn’t destined for the big screen.
When the screenplay was finished I sent it off to agents and had a bite. An agent offered to shop the script around for a fee of $500, payable immediately. My parents knew it was a scam, but they paid the fee and let me realize the heartbreak of never hearing from the agency again after they cashed the check. Lesson learned? 16 year olds rarely sell screenplays and absolutely never pay someone to make your dreams come true. You have to work hard and make it happen yourself.
MF: You seem to have a fascination with Colombian drug cartels – according to your bio. Have you ever seen the movie Colombiana starring Zoe Saldana? If so, how does it compare to your attempts at writing about that world and do wish you had written that screenplay?
PP: That’s sounds bad, “A fascination with Colombian drug cartels.” I actually don’t really – just as a teenager when I didn’t understand that there wasn’t anything glamorous about the cartel lifestyle. I have not seen Colombiana, but my curiosity is peaked.
MF: Your Facebook page says you’ll have a new novel available in January. Tell us about it.
PP: Speaking of cartels . . . like I said my next two works are a little different. In January (date TBA), I will be releasing a short novella entitled, Missing Girl. It is a story about a young girl kidnapped and forced to work as a sex worker in a Mexican brothel. She develops an unlikely relationship with one of the main characters in my upcoming full-length novel, 60 Days (available April 2014). Missing Girl explores the hidden faces of sex trafficking and the way that the drug cartels have learned that a kilo of cocaine can only be sold once, but women and girls can be sold over and over again. Although the story is entirely fiction, it is a real problem that faces women and girls all over the world.
MF: In a blog post you describe self-promotion as delicate and awkward. Would you mind explaining what you mean? Do you feel that with your next book the self-promotion will be easier?
PP: As an indie author, the only person who can really promote my books is me. I don’t have an agent or publisher to speak on my behalf, so in a way I have to wear many hats: author, marketing guru, and salesperson. The only hat I look good in is the author hat. Every other hat feels wrong and unnatural. Sometimes I feel that I have been too “in your face” when it has come to promoting my book.
I have learned so much in the past two months or so since The Waiting Room debuted that I do feel that promoting Missing Girl and 60 Days will be easier and feel more natural. Indie authors just have to lean into the learning curve.
MF: You astutely mention that self-published authors are often stereotyped as “the untouchables of the publishing caste system.” Why do you think independent authors are maligned?
PP: I think that there is a general misconception that if you are not featured on the New York Times Bestseller List or picked up by a major publishing house that your words are not worth reading. To be honest, I used to believe that. Until I decided to self-publish, I never read a book by an author that wasn’t part of a major publishing company. I was a book snob. Obviously, my viewpoint has dramatically shifted and I have discovered many wonderful independent writers that are worthy of praise and merit.
Why are independent authors maligned? In my opinion, it is because anyone can self-publish a book. If you are an independent author, before you hit publish you better have it together or you are not going to make it far. If your manuscript isn’t tightly written and edited or your book is improperly formatted, then you will only be perpetuating the stereotype that indie writers are sub-par and unpolished. There are a number of resources out there to help you create a professional product. Take advantage of these resources, study your craft, and produce readable, enticing content. As more and more independent writers embrace the craft in this manner, I think we will move up the caste system at lightening speeds.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
PP: The toughest criticism is anything less than a 5-star rating. Part of this has to do with my tendency for perfection (although, I rarely achieve it – typos tend to be my downfall). The other part means there must have been something about my tale that didn’t translate well for that reader. I know a 4 star rating is a tremendous pat on the back and I give 4 star ratings all the time to books that I fell in love with, but it didn’t get a 5 star rating because in the end something was missing. But, that’s okay, because it only makes me want to work harder to meet my readers’ expectations.
The best compliment was one I just received a few days ago from a woman who told me before she read my book that she wasn’t a reader, but once she started reading The Waiting Room (in a waiting room of all places, go figure) she couldn’t put it down and finished it in one day. To know that the characters you gave figurative birth to could entice another person to refuse to engage in their own life until they devoured the very last word is the best compliment I could receive.
MF: Aside from polished and engaging writing, what three things do you think every new writer must do in order to succeed in this highly competitive and ever-changing industry?
PP: Network – You don’t know everything there is to know about the business. When you engage with other authors and people in the industry you will stumble upon opportunities that will give you the chance to improve your writing and increase your audience.
Engage with readers – Get to know your readers. When you engage with readers you learn a lot about the demographic of readers you are marketing to, making it easier to write content that speaks to them. If you don’t talk to readers and listen to their input, your writing may end up being irrelevant. As a writer, irrelevant is the last thing your want to be labeled.
Write from your heart –Writing from your heart is the only way to truly be successful as a writer. You can have a brilliant editor, a wonderful cover design, and the best publicity manager money can buy, but if you are not in love with your story your readers will be turned off. It really is that simple.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
PP: Some of my favorite books are the most tragic, which makes this the hardest question of all. But, if I had to choose, I would actually choose the world created by Erin Morgenstern in Night Circus. This was a book that I was spellbound by. The imagery Morgenstern created was gorgeous and well executed. Circuses have always frightened me, but the way she told this beautiful love story made me let go of that fear and embrace the magic.
When Charlotte receives a note on the day of her mother’s funeral containing a cryptic message, she is confused and intrigued. Although she knew that waiting rooms told stories, she never realized that part of her own story resided in this seemingly neutral environment. But, then again, why should she be surprised? Her mother had secrets. Charlotte knew this. She just didn’t know how life-altering those secrets could be. . .
A stunning debut novel from Piper Punches, The Waiting Room weaves a tale that reveals the complexities of family, the invisible bonds that connect people, and the pain that can reverberate through the choices we make. Told from several points of view the story becomes clearer and clearer with each turn of the page that the secrets we keep aren’t always ours to take to the grave.
Missy does not participate in any affiliate programs and receives no compensation from the sale of this book.