Interview with Debra Brenegan: ‘If you work your dream, it’ll become a reality’
Debra Brenegan grew up in the Milwaukee area and graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She worked as a journalist and taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College before beginning her graduate work. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also taught. She teaches English and Women’s Studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. For her fiction, she has received a Ragdale residency and was a recent finalist for the John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review’s Schiff Prose Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Calyx, Tampa Review, Natural Bridge, The Laurel Review, RE:AL, The Southern Women’s Review, The Cimarron Review, Milwaukee Magazine, Phoebe, and other publications. Debra Brenegan’s novel, Shame the Devil, is a historical account of nineteenth-century American writer Fanny Fern (SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions). She is currently working on another novel, set in Missouri, and on a short story collection. During the school year, Debra lives in a 130-year-old house in Fulton with her husband, Steve, and their elderly cat. They spend summers and school breaks in their native Milwaukee. When not teaching, writing, spending time with family or driving back and forth to Wisconsin, Debra enjoys cooking, gardening, reading and traveling.
You can visit her website at www.debrabrenegan.com or visit her at Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbrenegan or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/debra.brenegan; https://www.facebook.com/#!/shame.the.devil.book.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Debra. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
I was a journalist for years before I started writing fiction, so I have had a lot of journalistic articles published. I’ve also had several poems and short stories published, but this is my very first book.
Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?
I pitched my book to a handful of agents and small presses before I happened upon a SUNY Press table at a writing conference. I started talking about my book to the acquisition editor and he seemed interested, so I sent him the manuscript. SUNY ended up accepting the book and I couldn’t be happier. SUNY ended up being the perfect publisher for me. They’ve been delightful and supportive to work with from the very beginning.
Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?
A little over a year.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
The road to publication is lined with many small milestones. I think I was actually most thrilled to get a little email from my editor saying SUNY was going to accept my book. It was thrilling to sign the contract, almost unreal to look at galley pages, heart-stopping to get my box of beautiful books delivered – but nothing choked me up more than that first email. My husband and I cracked open a nice bottle of wine and read the email over and over, just to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding something.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I went to a local copy store and had 1,000 bookmarks of my book printed. My husband and I started handing them out to everyone we knew. When I got my first copies of the book, I brought one to a family gathering for everyone to gush over (which, nicely, they did).
Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?
I don’t feel the same sense of uncertainty that I sometimes would feel, wondering if I was ever going to get published. Now that I’ve achieved this important goal of mine, I know I will continue to get published. Now, I want to keep writing and to develop into the best writer I can be.
Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?
I’m amazed at the whole promotional engine that exists and that authors really need to participate in. If you would have told me two years ago that I’d be happily writing blogs galore, checking my amazon stats and interviewing publicists, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was hard to picture all the many steps that happen after the printing presses have done their work. The printing, the publishing, ends up being just the first step.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?
People will let me talk about Fanny Fern a little longer than they used to. ;)
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Never give up! If your dream is to publish a book, then write it. After you write it, revise it. After you revise it, send it out, over and over, until someone loves it as much as you do and agrees to publish it. If you work your dream, it’ll become a reality. It will.