Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Virginia, in a town that was fairly rural at the time but has since exploded. When I lived there, we had little more than a gas station with a small convenience store attached to it. Now, it’s quite the bustling place and I hear there’s even a Wegmans. A Wegman’s! (Shakes head in disbelief.) I attended Virginia Tech, where I studied Communication and Creative Writing. I met my husband there, and we got married after I graduated in 2006. We settled in Southern New Jersey, and we’ve been living here for almost eight years. We’re involved in our local church, and I work with the high school youth there on a volunteer basis. We have a daughter who just turned two, and another little one who is expected to arrive in January. During this phase of my life, I’m often short on time and sleep, but if you need Cheerios, I’m your girl! My house is full of Cheerios. In fact, I think I’m sitting on one right now…
What was your first encounter with the writing world?
The first memory I have of falling in love with writing is from fifth grade. I had a teacher who would give us creative writing prompts, and I would take off running with them. One time, she showed us a picture of a trunk, and we were tasked with writing the story of what was in the trunk and how the items got there. That particular assignment still stands out in my memory as the time I realized how much I love spinning stories. This may seem a little silly, but childhood play gave me a real taste for writing, too. My best friend lived next door to me, and we would act out these crazy dramatic adventures with our Barbie dolls. The stories went on indefinitely, sort of like the never-ending baseball game in the movie, The Sandlot. And of course, I fell in love with reading as a child. I don’t believe you can love to write without first loving to read.
3. What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
I used to think being a successful writer depended on writing this one amazing first piece and then getting lucky (and rich!) with a big break. There are times when that’s the case, sure, but those cases are the exception, not the rule. Now I know it’s about not giving up. If you truly love to write, just write. When I decided to take writing seriously, I set my alarm early every day so I could get a couple hours to write before work. At the time, I was working on a humorous piece about being married to a sports fanatic. The final product was not a masterpiece by any means, and it didn’t even get a bite from agents or editors during the query process. But I have this issue where I really hate loose ends, so I indie published it. It sold about eighty copies in its lifetime, and probably 97% of those copies were bought by people I know. But I pressed on and started working on another manuscript. Same deal – I set my alarm early to get some writing done before work. I also wrote on the weekends because my husband was in graduate school and spent a lot of time studying. This story, The Buggy List, was about a couple who makes a bucket list of everything they want to do before they have a baby. When I queried it, I got plenty of interest from agents and editors, but never found a taker. So again, I indie published – with dramatically different results. The book was free for five days, and during that time, 10,000 copies flew out the door! All of the sudden, I had readers – readers from all over the world. After the initial free promotion, the book continued to have steady sales. I was encouraged by this, and I started working on Tess in Boots. I began querying Tess in Boots in September of 2013. I had a lot of interest, a lot of requests for my full manuscript, and again – a lot of rejection. I took every bit of professional feedback very seriously, and in December of 2013, I took a month off from querying to revise my manuscript based on the feedback I received. There’s my most crucial piece of advice: when you get feedback from a professional, you can be prideful and dismiss it, or you can humble yourself and recognize it as an opportunity to be better. I am so grateful for every agent and editor who read my manuscript, rejected it, and gave me specific feedback as to why they rejected it. These professionals were doing me an enormous favor by helping me make my story better. I queried Anaiah Press with the revised (stronger than ever!) manuscript in February 2014, and it resulted in my first official publishing contract. Words cannot express how good it felt to get to this place. It was so worth the many years it took to practice my craft and to mature as a writer. Boy, I sure can be long-winded, huh? The reason I share this eight-year-long story is because I want aspiring authors to get a real and honest glimpse into the fact that writing is humbling and hard work. If you’re writing with the hopes of having immediate success, I can almost guarantee you will get frustrated and give up too soon. Write because you love to write. Then just keep doing it. Don’t give up, don’t be afraid of rejection, and don’t dismiss constructive criticism, either! If you keep at it, you’ll get better. And if you keep getting better, you’ll have success.
4. What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
I let myself off the hook. If the words aren’t rattling their cages begging to be let out, I know it’s best to step away from the computer. I have a bit of a chaotic personality, so being overly structured and forcing myself to push through writer’s block doesn’t work for me. What does work is focusing on something else. So if I’m experiencing writer’s block, I’ll decide to… oh, I don’t know… clean out the pantry. Just when I’m starting to get into a groove on that task, I’ll find my mind wandering back to my writing. Soon, I can’t let another minute pass without getting back to my story. So I’ll abandon the pantry and fire up my laptop. It’s great for my creative process… it’s not so great for home organization. This method won’t work for everyone, but for me, I prefer to be distracted by my writing, as opposed to being distracted from my writing.
5. How did you come up with the title of your book?
Easy! My main character is a girl named Tess, and she wears boots. Voila! Tess in Boots. Ok, I’m kidding. Well, actually – I’m not kidding, but there’s more to it. Tess hits a crisis point early on in the story and ends up running away from her life. She finds herself on a remote vineyard in North Carolina and in need of a sensible pair of shoes. When Tess slips into the boots, she’s sort of trying a new life on for size. On the vineyard, she has the space and freedom to reevaluate who she is and where her life is heading. I want to tell you so much more about the boots, really I do. But I can’t, because then I’d spoil the book. (Don’t you just hate spoilers?) The boots are absolutely integral to the story, and I knew I wanted to represent them in the title. Plus, I love whimsical, catchy titles, and I think Tess in Boots fits the bill perfectly.
6. Where can readers find you online?
I adore hearing from my readers! I also love connecting with other writers. The easiest way to find me is to head to my blog: www.courtneyricegager.com. From there, you can follow me on Twitter, find my Facebook fan page, and get links to my books. Please say hi – you’ll make my day!
TESS IN BOOTS releases December 2, 2014!
Like how TESS IN BOOTS sounds? We have a FANTASTIC cover reveal on July 25. Will there be boots? Will there be a vineyard? Sign up to help with the reveal (or any future Tess in Boots tours) HERE.