Deb Rogers is a diversity consultant and freelance writer in St. Augustine, Florida. She was previously the Pop Culture editor of SheKnows, national producer of the Listen to Your Mother Show storytelling series, and LGBTQ Community Leader for BlogHer, where she was the host of the annual Queerosphere gathering. She tweets at @debontherocks, and you can also find her on Instagram.
In this post, Deb discusses how her inspiring surroundings helped write her new literary fiction novel, Florida Woman, the collaborative nature of the publishing process, and more!
Name: Deb Rogers
Literary agent: Hannah Brattesani, The Friedrich Agency
Book title: Florida Woman
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Release date: July 5, 2022
Elevator pitch for the book: When Jamie gets the chance to escape viral infamy and jail time by taking a community service placement at Atlas, a shelter for rescued monkeys in the palmetto woods of Central Florida, it seems like just the fresh start she needs to finally get her life on track—until it’s not. As Jamie ventures deeper into the offbeat world and rituals of Atlas, her summer is soon set to inspire an even stranger Florida headline than she ever could’ve imagined.
What prompted you to write this book?
My debut novel grew out of an essay. I wanted to explore preconceptions about the rural American South and how the truth is more complex—both more wicked and more tender—than stereotypes show. My characters found me, pushed the essay to the side, and demanded that I write Florida Woman instead. I’m glad they did.
Beyond that, I’m lucky to live in Florida because I’m surrounded by fascinating people. There’s something about the heat and the ocean that entices people to live out loud here. Maybe it’s that we’re aware that the land beneath us is rapidly sinking, so what’s the point in hiding our true selves?
I also love my state’s history and the fact that Florida maintains an odd relationship with animal-related tourist attractions—everything from marine wildlife, to alligators, to exotic rescues have always thrived here. I’ve spent decades obsessed with roadside attractions and the macaques that were accidently habituated here by a tour boat operator in the 1930s. When I mixed that obsession with the ragtag, lively, and somewhat desperate characters who found me and asked me to tell their stories, Florida Woman emerged.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
It took about five years from first draft to publication, including querying for an agent. The core ideas stayed the same, but a lot of the novel’s structure changed during the revision process. I merged two characters into one, for example, a subplot bit the dust, and so did a prologue.
The most important structural tweak concerned point-of-view. The first drafts were written entirely in first person, but the novel finally felt fully realized when I added chapters from the shared viewpoint of the Atlas refuge center staff as they bungle and fight their way through their lofty plans. Having both types of chapters allowed me to have fun with voice, group dynamics, and mysteries that are withheld from my protagonist while being slowly revealed to the reader. Most of those chapters were added in the fourth draft.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I was delighted by the collaborative nature of the publication process. My agent Hannah Brattesani guided me with thoughtful developmental edits, and then positioned me with the perfect editor to take my book all the way. Grace Towery at Hanover Square Press taught me so much through her edits about carefully evoking and protecting character arcs, and then she brilliantly coordinated Florida Woman’s team.
I wish every book had extensive end credits the way that films do, because by the time a book launches it has benefited from a powerful creative village of people I’ll probably never meet, including an entire audiobook production team. It was even more fun than I thought it would be!
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I was amazed again and again by how sometimes a word you draft on page three might end up being a crucial detail in a plot twist by the end of the book or just as easily might be a throwaway easily deleted—and you’ll never know which until you write it out.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope they walk away a little more in touch with the Florida Man or Florida Woman hidden inside of them, and I hope they feel less alone in this big, weird world.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
I would never ask a writer for advice about anything, let alone writing. Writer’s bluff. Listen to your editor, of course, but before that try a landscaper, a person running the register at a convenience store, a nurse—they’ll tell you straight up how to stick with it or cut to the chase or fine-tune a character.
You know who gives good advice about writing? The dudes who smoke cigars at the fishing pier. I once listened to a tile guy describe how he starts from the middle of the room when mapping out a complicated pattern, and boom, I knew how to fix a certain vexing plot flaw.