Sandra Hutchison interviews multi-published Irish author Denise Deegan (who also publishes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander).
Denise, in terms of being published you’ve moved from traditional to indie to Lake Union (as Aimee Alexander) and back to indie again. Quite an adventure! Can you share some of your ups and downs?
So, I had seven novels traditionally published, four contemporary works of women’s fiction, followed by a YA trilogy. By the time the last YA novel was published, the rights to my women’s fiction works had reverted to me. I thought that self-publishing would be an adventure, so I renamed myself Aimee Alexander (my children’s names combined), edited my books afresh, renamed them, hired a cover designer, and uploaded to Amazon. One of those novels, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, was spotted by Amazon imprint Lake Union Publishing and then republished by them. My latest novel, Through the Barricades, is self-published.
Being traditionally published and having your novels translated into other languages is exciting. However, I love the control that comes with self-publishing. You choose your own covers, you do your own promotion, you see the results of that promotion immediately, and you can adapt with great flexibility. Importantly, you have a much higher royalty rate. You are an entrepreneur as well as an author. Having run my own PR business, all of this appeals very much to me. I like juggling different roles, working with different people, being creative in lots of ways, not just writing.
Being picked up by Lake Union Publishing was tremendously exciting because it came out of the blue. They approached me unexpectedly. I was aware of them; I had seen their books on Amazon. I loved their covers and their books. Mostly I loved their rankings! Being published by them was a treat. Their editing was wonderful, as was the cover they designed. They have been a pleasure to deal with. And they know their business.
I still have an agent and a manager in LA for my children’s and YA books. The market for children’s books is still very traditional.
I self-published my latest novel, Through the Barricades. 2016 was the centenary of a revolution that changed the course of Irish history. I wanted to get my story out before the end of the year. The fastest way was self-publishing. I just about made it. The book was published December 8. One of the highlights so far has been the cover, which I adore. That my daughter Aimee graces it makes the book all the more special to me.
As you note, you’ve published in multiple genres. Do you have any wisdom to impart on that?
Traditional wisdom states that authors should stick to a genre to build an audience. I had written four novels of contemporary women’s fiction. I didn’t plan to change. However, the next story that arrived to me was a teenage one. When I say arrived, I mean that I began to hear the characters’ voices in my head (which is how I’ve always written). The first conversation I heard was between sixteen-year-old Alex and her father. Alex’s voice was filled with rage, sarcasm but also a vulnerability that I couldn’t ignore. I scribbled that first dialogue onto a napkin in a coffee shop. Alex’s story became And By The Way, the first of The Butterfly Novels, a contemporary YA trilogy. I have since written a historical novel of love and revolution that is suitable for both adult and teenagers. I also have two novels with an agent, a YA thriller and a middle-grade pirate adventure.
The first thing I would say is that my novels are very strong on voice and emotion, no matter what genre they are in. That is because I hear and feel my characters. I become them as I write. If I ignored that process and stuck diligently to a genre, I would lose the realness of my stories. It would all become clinical and prescriptive, and my novels would, too. Then I would lose the desire to write.
A wonderful thing happened when I followed the teenage voices of Alex, Sarah, and Rachel. They really touched people. Girls began to get in touch on social media to say how they had connected with the books and characters. They spoke of how much they had learned from the issues that arose in the stories. They told me that they had read them over and over, wanted them made into movies, movies in which they would star. The reaction of teenagers to my books has touched me hugely and reminded me of why I write. I love what I do. If I changed how I do it, a little part of me would die. And I like living!
What advice would you have for aspiring authors?
The absolute thing I would say is: get your stories out to the world. Make them the best they can be. Hire professional editors. Learn the craft. Because it is a craft. Then get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. If you can’t get an agent or publisher, do it yourself. The New York Times bestsellers list always includes self-published books. These are books that were not picked up by middlemen. Therefore they don’t always know a winner when they see it. And they will admit that themselves. Still Alice and The Martian were self-published, picked up by traditional publishers, and turned into movies. Why? Because the authors got their stories out to the world....get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. -- Denise Deegan Click To Tweet
Through the Barricades is a story of love and revolution. I’m a rebel at heart. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. I wanted to write a story of rebellion. Being Irish is an important part of my identity. My country’s history is one of oppression and a very long struggle for freedom. I wanted to tell that story through the eyes of Maggie, an idealistic girl who is prepared to sacrifice everything for what she believes in, and Daniel, a boy who is prepared to sacrifice everything for Maggie. I’m proud of my country’s history – its fight, not just for freedom, but to hold on to its identity, its stories and culture. I love this novel. More than any other, it is who I am.
What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of it?
I hope that people will connect with my characters, not just Maggie and Daniel, but their families and friends. I want them to feel as if they are right beside these ordinary people as they struggle in extraordinary circumstances for what they believe in.
I also very much want to share the story of a regiment of Irish soldiers that was stationed in Gallipoli in WWI. Researching (and writing about) this, I felt an incredible connection to the young men who fought and died in the trenches in Turkey.
What most surprised you in the writing of your book?
- The connection I felt with soldiers in WWI, especially as I hadn’t originally planned to write about the Great War
- How history is interpreted differently by people
- The unplanned characters who stole into the book and built roles for themselves: a little orphan girl, Lily; Patrick, the rebel with a tough shell but soft center; and Michael, Daniel’s happy-go-lucky friend who grew up fast in Gallipoli but whose humor was so important in the trenches.
Tell us more about you and your book and where we can find it.
I’m an optimist. I find good in bad, light in darkness, and humor in difficult times. There’s something very Irish about that and it filters into the book. Though life in the trenches was appalling, humor was ever-present among the Irish soldiers. In a way, it defined them.
Family is hugely important to me. This comes across in all my books. Author Martina Reilly, who kindly attributed a quote on Through the Barricades commented: “The pieces written about the trenches in the First World War were really moving, as was the devotion Maggie’s family had to each other.”
I started life as a nurse. Medical issues always find their way into my books. Through the Barricades was no exception.
You can find Through the Barricades in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon.
About the author
Denise Deegan lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies.
She has been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a public relations officer, an entrepreneur and a college lecturer. Her most difficult job was checkout girl, though ultimately this ‘experience’ did inspire a short story.
Denise’s books have been published by Penguin, Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing. Her novels for Young Adults include The Butterfly Novels: And By The Way, And For Your Information, and And Actually.
Denise writes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander. Her titles have become international best-sellers on Kindle and include: Pause to Rewind, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, and All We Have Lost.
Learn more at https://denisedeegan.wordpress.com/about-denise/
“Make a difference in the world” are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.
“Don’t go getting distracted, now,” is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.
A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realizes that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.
The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?
Sandy’s note: It’s also very affordable right now if you buy it for Kindle at amazon.com.
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