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Drunk on Ink Q & A with Colleen Oakley and ‘Before I Go’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Colleen Oakley is an Atlanta-based writer and author of the novel Before I Go. Her articles, essays, and interviews have been featured in The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, and Martha Stewart Weddings. Before she was a freelance writer, Colleen was editor in chief of Women’s Health & Fitness and senior editor at Marie ClaireClose Enough to Touch is her second novel.

About Before I Go

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer four years ago. How can this be happening to her again? On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jack to celebrate four years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife. With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

COLLEEN OAKLEY: A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine!

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Too many to list!

Book: White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

Essay: The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates (published in The Atlantic)

Poem: Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

No, I was a nerd and read everything required of me. However, I didn’t come to love Their Eyes Were Watching God until I re-read it as an adult. It’s now one of my favorite books of all time, which I think is an interesting, beautiful thing: how books don’t change, but the experience of reading them can vary wildly based on a reader’s perspective.

Favorite quote from your book 

“I suppose all couples feel this way at some point—that their bond is the most special, the strongest, the Greatest Love of All. Not all the time, just in those few and far between moments where you look at the person you’re with and think: Yes. It’s you.”

Favorite book to film?

Atonement. It perfectly evoked the very same emotions I had while reading the book. Which is to say, I cried buckets.

 Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

All of them! But I especially love Annell Gerson at The Book Miser in Roswell and all the foxy foxes at FoxTale in Woodstock.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

That the quicker you grow a thick skin the better— I’m still waiting for mine to come in.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

No.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Dogs!

Ideal vacation?

Somewhere picturesque, quiet, off the beaten path with perfectly crafted cocktails and endless books to read.

Favorite book cover?

The Immortalists  by Chloe Benjamin

Favorite song?

For Good, from Wicked the Musical

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

A Public Space Journal

Last impulse book buy and why?

Becoming, by Michelle Obama. How can anyone resist? She is everything.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan    a contemporary re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice and set in Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal and is Library Reads Pick and An Amazon.com Best Book. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. 

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Emily Midorikawa:  A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Emily Midorikawa and ‘A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, ’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Emily Midorikawa is the author of A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bront?, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, co-written with Emma Claire Sweeney and with a foreword by Margaret Atwood. Emma and Emily also run the website Something Rhymed, which celebrates female literary friendship. Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Her journalism has appeared in, among others, the Daily Telegraph, the Paris Review, The Times and the Washington Post.

About A Secret Sisterhood

A Secret Sisterhood tells the stories of the literary friendships of Jane Austen and amateur-playwright / family-governess Anne Sharp; Charlotte Bronte and early feminist author Mary Taylor; the seemingly aloof George Eliot and ebullient Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex creative bond.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

EMILY MIDORIKAWA: As a child, I loved Enid Blyton’s mystery stories and also her school stories, especially the Malory Towers series. I was a big fan of Judy Blume too.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

I love a cup of tea or a glass of red wine.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? 

Anything by Jean Rhys is worth reading. I read After Leaving Mr Mackenzie when I was a teenager and it completely blew me away. Her writing made me feel that (in skilled hands like Rhys’s) there were no limits to what language could do).

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I’ve somehow never got round to reading War and Peace.

Favorite quote

I love Harriet Beecher Stowe’s comment in a letter to George Eliot that book-writing, from an author’s perspective, resembles ‘a hand stretched forth in the dark passage of life to see if there is another hand to meet it’.

Favorite book to film? 

Peter Weir’s 1975 film of Joan Lindsay’s novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is immensely atmospheric and stays true to the atmosphere of the novel. I love re-watching it. I think Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, adapted from Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, is great too.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

This is really tough, since I have quite a few favorites, but perhaps it’s Persephone Books in London – home of the publisher of the same name. They publish works by neglected, mostly female authors from the mid-twentieth century, and their small shop is a lovely place to discover forgotten literary treasures.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

It’s easier with good friends. As a child, I bought into the well-worn stereotype of the isolated writer – someone shut away in a garret with only their words for company! As such, I imagined writing would be a very solitary profession. Of course, the nature of authoring a book means that you are bound to spend many hours cooped up on your own, but my interest in writing has also led me to make many wonderful fellow-writer friends. I’m lucky to have met my Secret Sisterhood co-author Emma very early on in our careers, and so I’ve had her at my side right from the beginning. We give each other writerly advice, swap early drafts of stories, celebrate the good times together and help to pick the other one up whenever the going gets tough.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

In a way it does. You at least have the knowledge that you have done this before. You know that you can finish writing a book or a story. Regarding the publicity side of things, you’re also able to learn from past successes and misfires, in terms of what has worked or not worked in the past. On the other hand, each new project brings its own challenges. In many ways, it was a joy to work with Emma on A Secret Sisterhood, but when you have two authors – both with strong opinions – working on a single book this means that you are going to spend a lot of time debating the fine detail. This could occasionally get frustrating, but in the end we realized that, by arguing things out between us at a desk, we had taken our manuscript through a really rigorous drafting process even before we showed the final draft to our editors.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I have no pets.

Ideal vacation?

My mother was Japanese and I lived in Japan for a couple of years when I was in my early twenties, so I always love revisiting Japan – both the nostalgia of returning to old haunts and the excitement of discovering new places.

Favorite book cover?

I feel very lucky that the cover designer for A Secret Sisterhood did an excellent job of conveying what lay inside. Aside from this one, though – which of course holds a special place in my heart – I really like the beautiful yet chilling design for The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin.

Favorite song?

Again, it’s very hard to pick just one, but ‘Think’ by Aretha Franklin would be right up there.

Favorite painting/ work of art?

Abstraction White Rose by Georgia O’Keefe

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Back in the autumn of 2017, Emma and I were delighted to give the keynote speech at the George Eliot Fellowship’s 46th Annual Lecture. Among the audience members was a sixth-form student, Jess Molyneux, who had travelled some distance to be there. We enjoyed talking with Jess and were so happy when she got in touch many months later to ask if we would be interested in featuring a post by her – on the literary friendship between Charlotte Mew and  May Sinclair – on our blog Something Rhymed. It’s always nice to meet readers at festivals, and especially when that meeting turns out to be just the start of a connection that stretches into the future.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? 

Sense and Sensibility – the Ang Lee picture starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet – is full of warmth and humour. I first saw it at the cinema when it came out in the mid-nineties and I feel that it has stood the test of time.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

The Good Journal – a new British magazine featuring the work of UK writers of color.

Last impulse book buy and why?

A writer I follow on Instagram posted an image of Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian tale of deception, adultery and arsenic by Kate Colquhoun. I was instantly intrigued by the sound of this Victorian true crime and ordered it right away.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan    a contemporary re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice and set in Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal and is Library Reads January 2019 pick. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. 

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel