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Local writer’s first Caribbean romance

Monday, October 20 2008

CAFÉ AU LAIT the debut multicultural romance by Trinidadian writer Liane Spicer, was released as a lead mass market title by Dorchester Publishing in September and is already garnering glowing reviews: “Even if the reader has never set foot in the Caribbean, the sights and sounds, perfectly described in this book, will make you feel like you’re there… Throw in some unexpected drama, and you’ve got yourself an entertaining novel.” — Romantic Times Book Review “…an entertaining Caribbean contemporary romance… Liane Spicer interveaves the beautiful locale into a fine tale.” Harriet Klausner, described by Time magazine as “one of the world’s most prolific and influential reviewers”.

“Spicer creates not only two very complex characters and a strong supporting cast, she also takes us on a nature tour of Trinidad and Tobago. I loved this book and anticipate getting a second serving of Café Au Lait because of its brilliant flavour, rich aroma and the way it perked up my spirits. Readers will enjoy this delicious romance and especially the steamy, frothy love scenes.” — RomanceReadersAtHeart.com

Spicer taught secondary school for 22 years. In 2000, she left teaching and has led a peripatetic existence since, living in several countries and working as an assistant editor for a newspaper, human resource manager, and company administrator. Her book reviews have appeared in print and online newspapers in the Caribbean and North America, including the Nassau Guardian and South Florida Caribbean News. Café Au Lait is Spicer’s first novel. She has recently completed a second romance as well as a memoir on raising her son, and is now working on her first mainstream novel. When she is not reading or writing, Spicer devotes her time to conservation, gardening, and observing the natural world. She’s at home on her blog, http://lianespicer.blogspot.com and may be contacted at lianespicer@gmail.com.

In this one on one with Spicer we uncovered more about Cafe au Lait.

Q. Tell us about your book.

A. Café au Lait is my first published novel. It’s a multicultural romance, which means that the main characters are non-white: an Englishwoman with Trinidadian roots, and a Trinidadian architect. The story is set in Trinidad and Tobago. My publisher is Dorchester which is New York-based.

Q. Do you have a background in writing?

A. My background is in teaching. I wrote Café au Lait while I was still teaching, but didn’t make a serious effort to get it published until several years after I’d resigned the teaching job. I’ve also worked in human resource management and did a stint as assistant editor for a newspaper in Grenada.

Q. Tell us a bit about your journey to publication.

A. Soon after I finished the first version of Café au Lait I sent a query to Karen Thomas at Kensington Publishing, the company that started the Arabesque line of African-American romances. Ms. Thomas sent me their submission guidelines and asked me to send her the full manuscript. My story was 10,000 words too short for their requirements and they wanted a synopsis. I sent it off as it was and didn’t hear from Ms. Thomas again.

I began researching the publishing industry. There are millions of unpublished writers out there who submit tons – literally tons – of queries and manuscripts to publishers, agents and editors every day. In the industry they call the piles of unsolicited submissions the ‘slush pile’. I learned that there are lots of conventions that a writer had to know and obey in order to even be considered. I learned that most of the major publishers do not accept unagented queries. In the meantime I added several chapters to the story, did a lot of polishing, and when I thought it was ready I began querying agents. I got five requests for submissions in the first round, and I accepted the very first agent who called to say that she loved the book and wanted to represent me.

Q. And the rest is history?

A. Not exactly. Publishing is extremely slow. It took time for the agent to get my manuscript out there, and for the editors at various publishing houses to read it and get back to her. When the editor at Dorchester called to make an offer for the book it was almost a year since I’d signed with the agent. It took a further three months before I received the draft contract from Dorchester, and another year before the book was released in stores.

Q. So the journey is over.

A. The journey is just beginning. I have several other projects on the table – and they cross genres from romance to memoir to non-fiction and mainstream.

Q. Is all your work set here in Trinidad?

A. The second romance is set in Miami, but the protagonists have Caribbean roots.

Q. Was it difficult, as a Caribbean writer, to get noticed in the publishing world?

A. There are agents who won’t look at anything from a foreign writer, and others who won’t consider a romance set in an ‘exotic’ country. There are agents who won’t touch multicultural. It’s a very subjective business, but I don’t think I had any special disadvantages. The odds are the same for all writers: agents ask to see only one or two submissions for every 100 queries they get, and they ask to represent a tiny percentage of the ones they do request. First of all you have to write well enough to catch an agent’s attention, no matter what your genre is. And secondly you have to query widely. Sooner or later, you’ll find an agent who’s right for you. I was lucky in the sense that my agent search was a short one. There are many writers – I meet them online – who have been querying for years with no result. It is difficult for everybody, not just for people who live outside the US, UK and Canada. And there are many, many ways for a beginner to goof up – like I did when I didn’t follow up with Karen Thomas. Interestingly, Ms. Thomas read my manuscript years later, after I’d gotten an agent and after she had moved to Hachette/Warner Books. She loved it.

Q. What are your plans for the future?

A. To continue writing and publishing my work. I hope to be able to live off of my writing, which is very difficult for a fiction writer. If I told you how little writers are paid, you’d laugh. The Stephen Kings, John Grishams and JK Rowlings are the exceptions. Every fiction writer I know has a day job – or a husband or wife who pays the bills. My writing doesn’t support me: I work to support my writing habit. But I’m trying to change that.

Q. What advice would you give to others who would like to write and publish novels in the international arena?

A. Study the industry. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business; I can’t say that often enough. There are countless websites, blogs, critique groups, chat groups etc. that exist specifically to educate and help new writers. I found most of these over years of research, and I’ve placed links to them on my blog at http://lianespicer.blogspot.com. That’s the first step.

The second is to persist. Once you’ve mastered the use of language, and you have completed your story and polished it so it’s the best it can be, then you query widely. Rejection is part of this industry. No one escapes it. It’s not personal. If your work is marketable then keep on querying and submitting, and sooner or later you’ll succeed.

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