Debut Author Interview: Sonja Yoerg, Author of HOUSE BROKEN

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview debut author, Sonja Yoerg, whose first novel, HOUSE BROKEN, is out now with NAL Trade (Penguin)!  
Here’s an excerpt from my review: “The cover may be adorable, but the story itself digs into the deepest, darkest parts of human (and animal) nature in the most truthful and straightforward kind of way. ” Check out the full review here: Goodreads

Tell me as much as you can about yourself in only one sentence.
I’m a Labrador-pit bull cross.

What got you interested in writing?

I like to dig for the truth, find out how things work. My career as an animal behavior researcher was one example of that, and writing is another. Attempting to tell the truth about human experience through storytelling is a profoundly difficult and rewarding task. 

What’s the toughest criticism you ever got?

My editor didn’t like the last third of my second novel. Not even a little. After I tended my wounded ego, I saw her point and we worked it out. I’m delighted with the outcome, and feel proud of myself for not having gone off the deep end about it.

What’s the biggest compliment you ever got?

Aside from my husband’s proposal? Both my agent and my editor were incredulous that I had no formal writing training, not even a critique group. I felt like an idiot savant, but in a good way.

Can you give me an elevator pitch for your novel, and tell me how you came up with the idea?

It’s the story of Geneva, a hard-headed veterinarian, who, like most women, is keeping a lot of balls in the air. Her alcoholic mother moves in with her, and Geneva uses the opportunity to excavate the family history no one wants to talk about, and with good reason. It’s told from three points of view—Geneva’s, her mother’s and Geneva’s sixteen-year old daughter—so we get to see the family dynamic from all sides.

I started, as I always do, with a character. Geneva is a member of the “sandwich” generation, with her desires squished between those of their children and her parents or, in this case, her mother. Once I got to know Geneva reasonably well, I started making trouble for her. 

As a debut author, what is the most useful thing you have done to get to this point?

I’m very stubborn. If someone tells me something is impossible, I say “Watch me.” It’s useful in publishing because even if you write well, it’s a game of persistence, plus luck.

What is one thing you wish you had learned sooner?

Only one? Joking aside, I try not to look back. Regret is a bummer. Life is all about learning, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount in every aspect of my life. I’m determined to stay open to new experiences—like publishing my first novel at age 55!

I just might have an overuse word problem. I just can’t help myself. There are just times when I just need to just express myself. What’s your biggest writing hangup?

I used to have a “just” problem, too! It morphed into an “only” problem, followed shortly by a “back” problem. The more I write, the sooner I catch myself doing this. I use to check for overuse of certain words. Reading my writing aloud is another way to catch repeats and clunker sentences. Our ears are sensitive to foibles.

Rejection: Tell me about it and how it has or hasn’t shaped your journey.
I queried well over 100 agents before finding the one who loved my work. A few things kept me going: the rejecting agents said I could write, I published a handful of short pieces, and I’m really stubborn. Did I mention that already?

For me, the critical lesson to learn along the way is to listen. Agents don’t give much, if any, feedback, so you have to use every tidbit they throw at you. You need to be open to criticism and be willing to use it. Based on comments from agents (a word here and there), I tweaked the beginning of my manuscript partway through querying. It made all the difference.

What did it feel like to sign your first contract?

The actual contract came a long time after the deal was agreed upon, so it was a bit anticlimactic. (No one wants to hear that, so you can probably leave that one out!)

What has surprised you most about the publishing industry?

It seems to operate with two speeds: Pedal-to-the-metal-we-need-this-yesterday and absolute standstill. You have to be prepared to be flexible and patient.

Without giving spoilers, what was your favorite chapter or scene to write and why?

There’s a scene about halfway along in which Geneva, her husband, her two children and her mother are having a discussion—although it’s more of a free-for-all because of the secrets being divulged. Although it’s a complex scene, it appeared wholly formed in my head. Writing it was more like transcription.

Besides your own novel, what other debut novel are you most excited about getting your hands on in 2015?

I can’t wait to read Christopher Scotton’s Secret Wisdom of the Earth, set in Virginia where I now live. It’s been compared to Ivan Doig’s Peace Like a River, one of my favorite books. And it will be released on the same day as House Broken, January 6th!

Getting to know Sonja Yoerg: SPEED ROUND  (4 quick questions!) 

a. Cat person, dog person, or I forgot to feed my fish, and it died?

All the animals, all the time. I had cats growing up but have had dogs as an adult. During my career in animal behavior, I was a nursemaid to hyena cubs, a trainer to pigeons and mice, a companion to a blue jay and a matchmaker to dozens of kangaroo rats.

b. Coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, or I’m so undercaffeinated it’s frightening!

One giant cup of rocket fuel first thing in the morning. That’s it.

c. E-reader, print book, audiobook, or a combination?

Mostly my Kindle paperwhite, but I still pick up a real book now and then.

d. Do you have any irrational fears that you can completely justify?

I have Styrofoamaphobia. Squeak that stuff and I go running. Justify that!

I personally love your first novel, HOUSE BROKEN, and I’m dying to know what to expect from you next (and when): Thanks, Becky!

My second novel, Middle of Somewhere, will be published by Penguin in September 2015. It’s about a thirty-year old woman, Liz, who sets off on a three-week trek in the Sierras. She’s got more emotional baggage than will fit in her backpack and craves solitude to figure things out. At the last minute, her boyfriend decides to tag along. Liz is fiercely independent, but the trail, her boyfriend and her past put to the test her conviction to brave life on her own.

And I’m currently writing a coming-of-age story set in Vermont in the 1970s. I’m completely smitten by the main character, Alison. 

I’d like to congratulate Sonja on the release of HOUSE BROKEN and thank her for agreeing to be interviewed on B.A. Wilson Writes!

If you have any questions or comments for her, be sure to post below! Then run on out and see if you can get your hands on a copy of House Broken, because it would seem that I’m unable to share my copy with others.  After you read,  catch me on social media and let me know what you think! 

Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and published a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001). Sonja currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, and they are often visited by their two college-aged daughters.

HOUSE BROKEN is her first novel.

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Book Release: House Broken by Sonja Yoerg

BY: Sonja Yoerg

Veterinarian Geneva Novak understands the behavior of umpteen species—just not her mother, Helen.
Genevafled her childhood home—and her mother’s vodka-fueled disasters—without a backward glance. Twenty-five years later, Helen totals her car and her leg, and none of her children will play nurse. Geneva’s husband, whose family lives in each other’s pockets, convinces her that letting Helen move in might repair the mother-daughter relationship.
Geneva’s not holding her breath.
But she recognizes an opportunity. With her mother dependent and hobbled, Geneva may finally get answers to questions that have plagued her for years: why her eldest sister exiled herself to Africa, why her mother won’t discuss Geneva’s long-dead father, and why—there has to be a reason—Helen treats alcohol like a general anesthetic.

HOUSEBROKEN is told from three points of view: Geneva, her mother and her sixteen-year-old daughter.

This novel comes out tomorrow, January 6! 

Check back for my review (January 6) and 
a personal interview (January 7) with debut author, Sonja Yoerg! 
Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and published a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001). Sonja currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, and they are often visited by their two college-aged daughters.

HOUSE BROKEN is her first novel.
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How Not To Write A Cover Letter: And It’s Too Bad…

As I’ve been job hunting, I’ve written and rewritten about thirty professional cover letters, trying to tailor each to the positions to which I’ve applied. Along the way, I’ve remembered why I hate writing cover letters as much as people hate reading them. There’s no real truth in them (despite the true nature of all the included statements), and trying to understand someone from a professional letter is like attempting to learn how warm sand feels between your toes by staring at a picture of it.

The more I job hunt, the more I feel exhausted and drag my feet, because the less I feel like me. I don’t want to be a persona. I don’t want to be perfect on paper. I’m not perfect in real life. I want to be me, and I’m looking for a job that wants me for who I really am, not for how I look on paper.
But I’m not sure that exists.
As an exercise, I decided to write the cover letter I wish that I could write, with one exception. I decided I would not go back afterwards to rewrite any part of it, because then it would be less honest. I typed what felt true in the moment, in an attempt to cleanse my exhaustion, frustration, and boredom with this job hunt, and it was a lot of fun and rather telling.
Sadly, I like this totally ridiculous and completely unprofessional fake cover letter much better than all my other cover letters, despite how awful and wrong it is. I hesitated for several weeks to post this to my blog, because I didn’t want it to have a negative impact on my job hunting process. I’m not exactly sure they could or would find my writing social media, since I keep it separate, but it’s definitely possible. 
In the end, I decided that I’m not giving up my creative writing world for any job, so should a potential employer find me here and not want to hire me because of it, then it’s the wrong job for me anyway.  Perhaps that is foolish, but I’ll risk it on the off chance that a potential employer finds me here and actually accepts and appreciates this creative writing exercise for what it is and/or appreciates me for what I am. 
Let me know what you think about the letter below. Would any of you fake hire me? 😉 

Dear Job #43:
You are seriously understaffed, and I am seriously overqualified. Fortunately, whatever sent the last employee sprinting in the opposite direction screaming and flailing will logistically not get under my skin for at least 2.5 years, which is approximately the length of time it will take for me to get completely settled and become fully bored with the lack of variety and advancement that your position appears to offer (ahem). In that amount of time, I could help turn things around and set new standards, and instead of letting me escape, you could throw new challenges at me that inspire me to stay and grow with your company (imagine that).
But if not, I’m probably out of there.
The way I figure it, those could be the best 2.5 years of your professional life, so do you want to risk throwing them away on the off chance you can find someone else who is completely underqualified and totally undermotivated (Yes, I know those aren’t widely accepted as real words. It’s a mirror effect. Work with me) to do the job that I could rock at?
I would bring my brutally high standards (to which none of your other employees will ever remotely live up to, this I promise you) into your workplace and wield them to your benefit until the day I can afford to stay home and write, which is probably somewhere between the day I get married (pshaw!) and the day I have children (no chance in hell).
… not that I don’t like other people’s children, and I’m sure yours (if they exist) are lovely (or at least you probably think so)! 
Totally kidding! Realistically, I’ll probably like your children better than you, because that’s how I roll.
So what can I do, you ask, besides break all grammatical rules in a way that is both attention grabbing and hopefully effective (at least in fiction writing, if not in cover letters)?
I can banish monsters from my nephew’s closet better than any other family member, and when he suddenly realizes he kind of liked the monsters and misses them, I can make them return with a wink and a snap. 
My dog says I’m the best mom in the world, and I didn’t even bribe him with treats (okay, I did). 
I fall in love with the characters I write in my novels, and I read myself into the most epic stories of all times.
I collect misfits, outcasts, nerds, and so called losers and send them back out into harsh reality clutching stories that might change their lives, or at least change the way they look at the world.  Then I try not to cry when someone who said they hated reading finally finds a book to love.
I work hard, out of a desperate need to be good enough and a strong desire to have a positive impact and leave a lasting mark. I want to make everything I touch a little bit better (okay, a lot). I get bored easily and sit still poorly, but I’m really good with change, variety, challenge, and opportunity. I hate being held back by nonsense when I long to run forward. I’m horrifically impatient, but I mask it so well that my current admin says I’m one of the most patient teachers he knows. As if. *chuckles and shakes head*
When faced with a difficult situation, I overcome. I persevere, but I also know when to walk away, when to say enough is enough, how to say no. 
No, I do not have all the answers, but yes, I will try to find them. 
No, I will not let my job become my life, but yes, I do struggle with workaholic tendencies.  
No, I can’t lift 25 pounds, but yes, I can still be a valuable employee despite that. 
No, I don’t care where I will be in five years, as long as in that exact moment, I can say to myself, “I am here. I am happy here. This is exactly where I want to be today.”
Today I am here, but I long to be there. I am happy and sad. I am loved and hated. I exist and survive and struggle and thrive. I overthink. I will not apologize for that. Ever. That is who I am.
I have all of the dreams and reach for hopes, but truly believing is a struggle for me. It seems my deepest desires are often right outside my grasp. I look in to admire them but am not always sure how to obtain them. I’m quiet in chaos and loud amidst a silence that festers and burns. My skills are many and strange and trivialized when listed down, as if all that I am could be written in this letter.
I am more.
And also less.
But I try.
I need a change, and you do too. No matter who you hire, it will always be a risk. Good or bad, neither of us know, but whatever the case, I promise it will be memorable. I won’t call you, because you don’t really want me to, even though that’s protocol. You really want to just hire that guy that your current employee already recommended. That’s faster, easier, and you know who to blame, if it all falls apart. You’ll probably do that, but it’s too bad. I need this job, and you need a change (whether you think you do or not).
We could be epic together.
I like epic.
Don’t you?
B.A. Wilson
PS: I see the world differently but am fascinated by everyone’s varied perspectives. I can be fun and have a good sense of humor, but I’m also very serious and incredibly honest. I have a cute, stubborn dog I adore, because he has a kinder, more loving and forgiving soul than I do. I will bake you cookies (and accidentally eat a few before I bring them in), because I’m not above food bribery.  You might even be written into my next novel, though it’s hard to say at this point if you would be the protagonist or the antagonist. Only time will tell.

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Cover Reveal: Collide by Christine Fonseca

Collide by Christine Fonseca 

Publication date: April 29th 2014
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult
The most dangerous secrets are the ones that kill.

When a surprising mental breakdown draws too much attention from a secret government group call the Order, 17-year-old Dakota discovers that her so-called boring life isn’t so boring after all. Between the lies, secrets and assassins out to kill her family, Dakota discovers there’s more to paranormal activity than ghosts and cheap mind tricks. Now she must uncover the truth before a new breed of terrorism takes everything away – including her life.

Critically acclaimed nonfiction and YA author Christine Fonseca is dedicated to helping children of all ages find their voice in the world. Drawing on her expertise as an educational psychologist, her nonfiction titles address issues of emotional intensity, resiliency and giftedness. In fiction, she explores the darker aspects of humanity and delivers gothic thrillers that take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. In life, she teaches her own children to embrace their unique talents and find their voice by being a force of positive change in the world.
When she’s not writing or developing programs to support children with exceptional needs, she can be found spending time with her family, sipping too many skinny vanilla lattes at her favorite coffee house or playing around on Facebook and Twitter. For more information about Christine Fonseca or her books, visit her website – or her blog
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