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Debut Author Interview: Henriette Lazaridis Power, Author of THE CLOVER HOUSE

This installment of Debut Author Interviews is with debut literary fiction novelist Henriette Lazaridis Power, for her novel, THE CLOVER HOUSE (April 2012, Ballantine). Her agent is Kent Wolf at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. THE CLOVER HOUSE was praised by author Jenna Blum (Those Who Save Us) as “A rare treat: an elegantly written debut about a family mystery set during wartime, the slipperiness of memory, and the challenges of forgiveness . . . Read it, read it!” Author Henriette Lazaridis Power is a first-generation Greek-American who has degrees in English literature from Middlebury College; Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar; and the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Harvard for ten years, serving as an academic dean for four of those.

This installment of Debut Author Interviews is with debut literary fiction novelist Henriette Lazaridis Power, for her novel, THE CLOVER HOUSE (April 2012, Ballantine). Her agent is Kent Wolf at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin.

(Find literary agents seeking clients at writers' conference nationwide.)

THE CLOVER HOUSE was praised by author Jenna Blum (Those Who Save Us) as “A rare treat: an elegantly written debut about a family mystery set during wartime, the slipperiness of memory, and the challenges of forgiveness . . . Read it, read it!” Author Henriette Lazaridis Power is a first-generation Greek-American who has degrees in English literature from Middlebury College; Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar; and the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Harvard for ten years, serving as an academic dean for four of those. She is the founding editor of The Drum, a literary magazine publishing exclusively in audio form. A competitive rower, Power trains regularly on the Charles River in Boston.

GIVEAWAY: Henriette is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

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What is the book’s genre/category?

Literary fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

The Clover House is about a young Greek-American woman who uncovers the secret to a family tragedy in wartime Greece when she returns to her mother’s native country to sort out an inheritance.

Where do you write from?

I live outside Boston, and I write on my father’s old desk that he designed and built.

(Find more literary agents who represent literary fiction novels.)

Briefly, what led up to this book?

The Clover House is my debut novel. After a career as a James Joyce scholar, I had published just a few pieces of fiction and and some essays.

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I’d written a very different version of this material long ago, and had just finished the manuscript for another novel when I got the idea for the character of Calliope Brown, the protagonist of The Clover House. Once I had that, I wrote a full draft fairly quickly, most of it in just a few months.

How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?

My wonderful agent Kent Wolf at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin had just signed a friend who kindly suggested I query Kent. He asked for the manuscript and then waited while I finished up a final revision before sending it along. When he emailed me in August of 2010 to set up a phone call, I think I reread the e-mail five times before I was able to type in a coherent manner.

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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

The surprise was that I didn’t respond to success with outright elation. Instead, I was kind of mystified, and a bit guarded, and then further mystified by my lack of elation. In talking to fellow writers about this, I discovered that the feeling wasn’t uncommon. After learning how to cope with rejection as part of our careers, many of us seemed unable to fully embrace success when it came to us.

The learning experience was that I did, in fact, have to learn--about the publishing business. Coming from academia, I didn’t really know much about how contemporary publishing worked--and this was in the late 90s when things were just beginning their ongoing transformation. I realized that this was an industry, and if I wanted to be a part of it, I would have to understand as much as I could about the economics of it, the different roles, the responsibilities and challenges faced by agents and editors. I think this is key. If you don’t know about the world an agent or editor are working in, you can’t appeal to them in an effective way.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I think the main thing is that I didn’t give up. It takes a long time to find the right agent (or any agent) and can take a long time for that agent to find a publisher. While I wasn’t patient at first, I eventually learned that I had to put in the work and keep trying.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

I would have taken bigger risks sooner. For many years, I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer and so I wasn’t willing to dedicate myself fully to the work. I now know that getting published and writing the best book you have in you require a kind of fearlessness. You have to be fearless about failing, fearless about investing your time and creativity and energy into something whose outcome isn’t at all guaranteed.

Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build an author platform and gain readership?

I didn’t really have a platform beyond the fact that I was part of what would become a very popular writing blog called “Beyond The Margins,” and I was the founding editor of The Drum Literary Magazine, publishing exclusively in audio form.

(How many Twitter followers will impress an agent?)

Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?

Be professional in all your interactions. Inform yourself, and commit yourself. Know that you are likely to gather dozens of rejections before you find the one person who can make things happen for you and your book.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m a competitive master’s sculler, which means I row in one of those skinny boats you see on Boston’s Charles River.

Favorite movie?

A toss-up between The Painted Veil and The Bourne Identity--the former because of its complicated depiction of a marriage and the latter because of its overall design and its fantastic car chase. And if I’m allowed a third: Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven will always have a place in my heart.

Website(s)?

http://www.henriettepower.com

What’s next?

I’m finishing revisions on that other manuscript I was working on before I found my agent, Kent Wolf.

GIVEAWAY: Henriette is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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