Author Salon Novel Writing Program Review
Author Salon Emerging Author Interviews
TITLE: HALF THE SKY
COMPS: THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers meets WAR BRIDES by Helen Bryan
Sela Gaglia is an internationally known speaker. Her work has been the subject of the award winning MTV docu-series, If You Really Knew Me and the Dutch television series, Over De Streep. Her interviews have appeared on CNN and FOX News and can be found in dozens of small town newspapers, USA Today and Redbook magazine. She has spent fourteen-years listening to thousands of real life stories that began with the words, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…” The experience of listening is her most valuable qualification for writing. She earned her BA in creative writing and MFA at San Diego state.
As a lover of lit I can see how some of the greats would never be published today. We can blame the industry, but from my view the industry is doing what it needs to do to stay afloat–readers drive the industry. Art for art’s sake doesn’t yield a commercial novel (though it has inherent value). Since my goal is to write a successful commercial novel, my biggest challenge has been to continually comb through what I think I know to make space to learn.
– Sela Gaglia
AS: Tell us something about yourself as it relates to your writing life. Also, what inspired you to begin the novel?
I’ve always loved how literature makes politics, history, psychology and science accessible by bringing them to life through human stories. I did my undergrad in English and left an MFA program, as a single mom, one semester shy of graduation. Why I left is complicated, however, a primary reason was that while I appreciated the knowledge I was gaining, my writing chops were not being developed in a viable manner, i.e., in a way that would allow for realistic publication of an upmarket literary novel. Fast-forward fourteen-years, I recently returned to my first love: writing. Through a series of logical events–which I’ll never be able to accurately retell–the concept of writing about women serving in the US military was born at an Algonkian Writer’s Conference.
AS: Who are you reading now? Which authors and novels have been an inspiration to you, and why?
I’m heavy in research mode, so I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction about drones, the state department and veteran’s accounts. However, I admire Ken Follett’s ability to make a completely unfamiliar setting, full of complex relationships, friendly to readers with his deft handling of characterization. I’m a huge fan of John Irving’s ability to inject humor into tense situations. I think most of us learn better when we’re chuckling. I have to pay homage to Dan Brown’s pacing, George R. R. Martins willingness to kill a central character, and Gillian Flynn’s twists in GONE GIRL.
AS: Can you tell us about your novel?
Ameelah is in Medical School when her sister is killed serving in Iraq. Seeking answers, she enlists as an Army surgeon; what she finds is an Iraqi interpreter, Lazim, and a motley group of female Marines. The women share their heartbreak and humor, sarcastically calling themselves The Knitting Circle. Ironically, amidst the terror of war, Ameelah begins to heal until Nina Drew and Ibis Corporation set up private security operations and threaten the foundation of honor that all the servicewomen share. When the interpreter witnesses a crime that could cost Ibis their multi-billion dollar contract, she becomes a target. With corporate avarice pulling the strings, Lazim is falsely imprisoned and faces being turned onto the street where insurgents will murder her.
Ameelah’s deployment is ending but she can’t leave with Lazim in jeopardy. She must rally The Knitting Circle and save their Iraqi friend–though in doing so she asks each woman to risk losing the thing most dear to them. Ameelah must question: what is the true price of freedom? Is she asking too much and giving too little?
AS: What gives you a passion for this story and why are you the one who needs to tell it?
I’m a researcher by nature, and the more I researched servicewomen, U.S. involvement in Iraq and private military contractors, the more passionate I became about making the information accessible to others. For the past fourteen years I’ve worked in schools, my expertise focused around the issues girls have with bullying, so in many ways, writing about a group of women is a natural outgrowth. I’ve been lately corresponding with several women in the military who have served, or are currently serving in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. These women have been incredibly generous in offering their insight, opening their hearts to me.
AS: What have you found to be your biggest challenges to writing a successful commercial novel?
I’ve studied the business of publishing for quite some time. However, I’d failed to see the crucial markers necessary to make a work marketable. As a lover of lit I can see how some of the greats would never be published today. We can blame the industry, but from my view the industry is doing what it needs to do to stay afloat–readers drive the industry. Art for art’s sake doesn’t yield a commercial novel (though it has inherent value). Since my goal is to write a successful commercial novel, my biggest challenge has been to continually comb through what I think I know to make space to learn.
AS: Is there any particular facet of the Author Salon novel writing program that has helped you more than any other? If so, why?
Sincerely, every module was very helpful. I could write a case for each one. Detailing the climax gave me a window in to how to seed foreshadowing throughout the novel. I love the way subtle foreshadowing is a gift for astute readers–I want to give that gift. Too often foreshadowing is heavy-handed or non-existent. If I didn’t know exactly where I was headed (climax) then I wouldn’t have the intimacy with the overall plotline necessary to plant these little gems. Also, the module on the antagonist! I can’t express this enough: developing my antagonist via the goals and guidance in the module put the juice in my plotline. I love (hating) her so much I feel like I’m cheating on my protagonist and supporting characters. The antagonist module forced me to fully develop her in such a complex way that it added layers of plot and backstory to the novel.
AS: what bit of advice can you give to other aspiring authors just getting started?
Be humble: It’s good to process new information until we genuinely understand it, but we have to be open-minded enough to admit what we don’t know. Every now and again it’s important to rearrange our brain cells and learn something entirely new.
Lose excuses: we can spend our whole life not having the right circumstances to write–sometimes my life is so busy, I have to keep a notebook on my passenger seat and literally pray for red lights in order to scribble notes.
Inspiration is awesome, but we can’t sit around waiting for it to strike. We have to approach writing like we would a job–there will be days we’re on fire and days we need an extra glass of red to forget the struggle–we just have to get back in the saddle again tomorrow.
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