Annette recently published a book, The Lost Codicil, and also took some time to answer a few questions for our SNL community. Check out her interview below, and be sure to come see her (and get a signed copy of her book!) at Writing Showcase Live tonight.
SNL Writing: Have you always enjoyed writing? How long have you been writing?
Annette Davis: I have always enjoyed writing! I started writing in grade school and every single story had Michael Jackson somewhere in the story. In high school I stopped writing. My father always thought that writing was a nice hobby, but not a serious subject to pursue as a career. I grew up in the 70s and back then, in my neighborhood, writing was not deemed a career that would earn “a decent living,” in my father’s words. With family, work and the demands of life, I had actually forgotten my love of writing. One day after my daughter joined her high school newspaper, we differed over her research of a story she was writing and I said, “Fine, I’ll write my own story.” Just like that, I remembered how much I used to love writing. I would say I’ve been writing full time now for about seven years.
SW: When did you start this book process? What gave you the idea?
AD: The book process began with a dream! The Lost Codicil story was a dream that I had back in 2014, concurrent with my lupus diagnosis. As my health deteriorated and sleepless nights of unimaginable pain became the norm, my doctor recommended a life-changing process of transcribing my dreams. She wanted to give me something positive to focus on. All of my stories began with dreams. Dreams that would not leave me alone. Dreams that were repetitive and persistent and in full Technicolor! I used to think that my dreams were a nuisance, but now I know that I am blessed!
SW: What is your book about?
AD: My book is about a young girl named Alex, who dreamed of living a simple life as a painter away from her aristocratic family in France. However, at 18, she was forced to run away from home. After arriving in America, she changed her appearance and her name to Gabriella Gruen—a previously forbidden family name. Four years later, after graduating from Harvard and about to be married, Gabriella finally felt free. She promised herself that she would tell Stephan her family history before their wedding that afternoon. An hour before the wedding, she received a visit from her French solicitor who told her she had fulfilled the mandates to a mysterious codicil, which included a massive inheritance, some very old letters, and a precious ring that everyone believed had been destroyed. Her solicitor also told her someone had committed murder to find her and she would have to disappear immediately. Was someone after her? The inheritance? Or the ring? Feeling trapped and determined to protect Stephan—and their unborn child—Gabriella ran. Again! Just when she thinks it’s safe to stop running, her solicitor is murdered and her child kidnapped. With no one to turn to, Gabriella is forced to seek Stephan’s help. Will he help her? And if he does, will it be merely for the sake of the child he never knew existed?
SW: What was the most difficult part of writing your book? What was the best part?
AD: The most difficult part of writing my book was the editing—it never stops. Every time I would try to read through the book to determine if it was finished, I would always find something to change or rewrite—always thinking I could make it better. The absolute best part was writing the scenes I could see in my mind—scenes that had plagued my dreams for so long. And of course reading those scenes out loud to my friends over Sunday morning coffee. There is nothing better than receiving confirmation that your story is actually interesting, when your friends ask, “What happens next?”
SW: How did you go about having your book published?
AD: After attending a writing conference, I decided to self-publish my book. At first it seemed like an overwhelming task. There was so much to read and learn, but by taking each task one step at a time, I got through it. Was it hard, yes! Did I make mistakes, yes! Did I learn from those mistakes—totally! Was it worth it, yes! But hopefully, the next time around will be easier. The most important thing is to remember what you love, have patience, and be organized. Planning, budgeting and lots and lots of help from family and friends were crucial to the process for me. Without the help of my family and friends, I would not have finished by my deadline.
SW: Do you have any other projects in the works? What's next for you?
AD: My next project is my second book, The Divorce, which I’m planning to self-publish in 2017. I’m in my last year at SNL and I hope to graduate in June 2018. I also plan to start my master’s program with SNL soon afterward. I’m so excited for the future!
SW: What is the most helpful writing advice you've received?
AD: Actually, Steffanie Triller Fry, who I met in the Month of Writing class once told me to imagine my characters on a stage and ask myself, “Are my characters moving the story forward?” After she had read a few of my chapters, she said my dialogue moved the story forward, but my characters were stationary for two chapters. Best advice ever!
SW: How did your writing change during your time at SNL?
AD: I have learned a lot about writing during my time at SNL, especially how to be inspired to write. Professor Craig Sautter taught me how to use pictures, news, and music to inspire my writing. A great example is that I never liked poetry before, but now when I listen to certain music the words to a poem will just flow through me. My best friend told me that she loves my poems, which is such a huge compliment to me, as I am such a novice with poems and I still have much to learn. But inspiration comes in many forms. Now after a class exercise by Professor Sautter, when I read a particular depressing news item, I am inspired to imagine a more positive outcome and write about it. And there are times when I can look at the most diverse and sometimes bizarre pictures, and based on another class exercise, I will write what I think about each picture individually. It really helps to create the most wondrous short stories or poems—at least to me.
SW: What writing advice would you give other SNL students?
AD: Be open to all types of writing styles and genres. Be open to going back to the basics of writing and refresh your mind of how to write. Be open to all forms of inspiration to help your creativity. Use the people and places you are most familiar with and write about how they make you feel. Use your feelings, use the feelings of others to make your characters more real. Writing can be beautiful and can help inspire others if you are willing to share your emotions, your vulnerability, and your imagination!
SW: Did SNL encourage your writing? If so, how? What support did you receive or value?
AD: Oh yes! Almost every single professor and faculty member that I’ve met has encouraged me to continue writing and has offered words of wisdom that has given me confidence and inspiration, which I will forever be grateful for!
SW: Is there anything else you'd like to share with your SNL community?
AD: I would not be where I am today without SNL; my professional mentor, Asha Nathan; my peer mentor, Kim Allen; another SNL graduate, Kim Lewis; and my family and friends that support my pursuit of higher education! I’ve published my first novel and soon to publish my second, I’m almost finished with my undergraduate degree and about to begin my master’s program, and I’m finally pursuing the passion in my life! This is all because of SNL. The day my co-worker, SNL graduate, and peer mentor, Kim Allen, told me about the SNL program was the day my life truly changed for the better!