Friday, February 17, 2006

Novelist Harley Jane Kozak grew up in Lincoln, NE.

Kozak's career takes her from Lincoln to Hollywood and to a Barnes & Noble store near you

What do iUniverse and traditionally-published novelist Harley Jane Kozak have in common? Roots. Kozak spent many of her formative years in Lincoln, NE. The same place iUniverse calls home.

Before her first book, Dating Dead Men (Doubleday, 2004), hit the book stores, Kozak was wandering the halls of Lincoln East High School (she graduated in 1975).

She made her name as an actress with roles on daytime’s The Guiding Light and Santa Barbara as well as big screen releases The Favor, Necessary Roughness and Arachnophobia before her writing career moved to the forefront.

Kozak’s second book, Dating is Murder, was published by Doubleday in March 2005. Both books feature protagonist Wollie Shelley, a greeting card artist turned amateur detective.

She recently shared some of her thoughts on growing up in Lincoln and how Dating Dead Men moved from manuscript to published book.

How did growing up in Lincoln influence you as a writer, actress and person? Any role models from Lincoln that helped encourage you to pursue acting and writing?
Lincoln was a great place to grow up in. As we lived on a farm through most of my childhood, there was a lot of alone time, with the dogs, the cats, the fields and the sky. At the time I thought I was lonely, but in retrospect I see that it was perfect for developing my imagination.

I had a lot of role models in Lincoln, including Jon Peterson and E. Mike Dobbins from Lincoln East High, Dave Landis, an incredibly generous and talented man who made me believe in myself, and David Bell and Dr. William Morgan at UNL in the theatre department. Writing didn't come until later in life for me, so my influences there weren't so much Nebraska writers, although there is certainly no shortage of literary talent in Lincoln.

I saw you had a book signing in Lincoln in March 2005. Do you get back this way much? Any public appearances planned?
I probably won't get back there until my third book comes out, in 2007.

When you first began writing Dating Dead Men was getting it published always your main objective or did that goal emerge later?
Once I realized that what I had on my hands was a novel, not a short story or screenplay, yes. I knew from the start that publishing it was the goal.

How did you pursue publication for the book? Did you send out a ton of query letters to agents? Was your notoriety as an actress helpful in landing an agent and a publishing contract? How did that process go for you? Any particularly memorable rejections? Any advice for a new author going down that path?
I pursued agents in the regular way, accumulating rejection letters, but then found my agent out in left field (so to speak.) A friend of mine named Karen Joy Fowler (a remarkable writer) had my manuscript on her kitchen table when a friend of HERS, named Kelly Link (another remarkable writer) picked it up, read it, liked it, and called HER agent, who then asked to read it.

As for my notoriety—as an actress, I'm not notorious enough for it to have made much of a difference for agents or editors—I doubt most of them have heard of me. But it certainly didn't hurt when it came to marketing the book, as booking actresses or former actresses on TV or radio is much easier than booking novelists. And of course, any old fans of mine out there are more likely to buy my books than are total strangers, so it's undoubtedly helped with sales.

One memorable rejection came from an agent who said, "you may have a publishable book in you, but this isn't it." (it was sold 8 months later to Doubleday.)

The only advice I have for new writers is: make the book as absolutely perfect as you can, using whatever resources—classes, books on writing, friends with a good editorial eye—and then, when you KNOW it's good, send it out and don't give up. If your instincts and intuition tell you it's good, as well as a few trusted readers (your mother may or may not qualify), don't give up. Of course, for me, that point came after 8+ years and 17 drafts. But I'm slow.

After the book was picked up, was the editorial process what you expected? Was it a difficult process or smooth sailing? Was the second book easier in that respect?
It was all pretty smooth sailing. With the second book, the only tough thing was a title change, which I ultimately got used to. In both cases, I was blessed with people at Doubleday who were lovely to work with and genuinely liked my books.

Do you have much input on the cover designs?
Very little.

How much responsibility do you have for the marketing of your books? Any particular aspect of the marketing process that you especially enjoy?
You can do as little or as much as you want/enjoy/can afford, but it makes a huge difference. An author who's willing to take charge of her own marketing will enjoy much more success, and much more support from her publisher, than one who sits back and waits to be told what to do. In my case, my publisher was sufficiently impressed with my own efforts on the first book, that they started to pick up the check for my tour halfway through it, and with the second book, duplicated what I'd done the first time out, paying for the whole thing.

I saw in another interview that there was some discussion of a movie or TV series based on the books. Any news in that department? (after reading Dating Dead Men, I thought it would be a great sister show to Monk).
Thanks! Dating Dead Men has been optioned for TV development by Aaron Spelling, but in Hollywood, that means very little. It's only Step 2 or 3 in a 798-step process required to get something from printed page onto the network schedule. We could all grow old waiting for it to happen.

How’s the third book coming along? When can we look for it in stores?
I'm on page 402 of the first draft, which sounds like a lot, unless you're me, who makes HUGE changes between Draft 1 and the subsequent 14 drafts. I expect it will be out sometime mid-to-late 2007, as it usually takes a year from the time you turn it in (my deadline is August 1, 2006) until it hits the bookstore shelves.

Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors? What book are you reading currently?
Right now I'm reading my friends Sarah Strohmeyer's upcoming book The Cinderella Pact and I just finished a phenomenal book by a new author named Cornelia Read, which will be out this year very soon. It's called Field of Darkness. I'm also reading my friend Marcus Wynne's book Brothers in Arms and—oh, yes. The Iliad. As research for the book I'm writing.

Vist Harley's website at