Alicia Hendley’s book A Subtle Thing tells the story of Beth, a young woman who attempts to navigate through life while experiencing recurrent clinical depression. Throughout the novel, Beth copes with life’s difficulties. Beth’s trials may resonate with many readers, especially those related to education, career, parenthood, and relationships.
Alicia was born in Kitchener, Ontario in 1970. She completed a B.A. at Wilfrid Laurier University in psychology. Then she progressed to her Master’s degree and PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Windsor. Alicia’s a psychologist in the Counselling Centre at the University of Waterloo. She’s on maternity leave with her fourth child. She lives in Guelph with her husband (a journalist.)
CW: Alicia,when did you first know you wanted to be an author?
AH: That’s a good question, but a hard one for me to answer. I can’t remember a time in which writing and reading stories were not integral parts of my life. When I was growing up, my mother was a librarian and my father was a philosophy professor so books were fundamental to family life. When I was about ten, my parents gave me an old manual typewriter. From then on I spent much of my free time pounding out stories and poems. My writing continued and became a welcome stress reliever for me. I count on writing to ground me, no matter how busy or pressured the rest of my world. Now as a psychologist and mother of four, writing is something separate that just belongs to me. It’s vital for maintaining my sense of self.
CW: Tell us about A Subtle Thing. How did you get the idea for your book?
AH: Indirectly, the idea of writing a book about depression likely came from my job. I’m a clinical psychologist, so thinking about mental health is normal for me. I’ve always been interested in the more complex side of human experience. What probably drew me to psychology in the first place was my interest in more existential stuff: the importance of meaning, resilience, and authenticity in people’s lives.
CW: What’s your writing process?
AH: While I don’t have a formal writing process, per se, the way I start writing something new (whether a poem or a story) is often the same. Basically, I jot ideas down whenever they strike. Ideas seem come at me rather than me sitting down and consciously thinking about what I want to write. I wrote much of A Subtle Thing while on maternity leave with my third child so I had limited time to devote to it. Parts of the book were written on the back of receipts and paper bags, whatever I had handy at the time. I then used the small breaks I did have in the day to develop those ideas.
I perfected writing in spurts when trying to finish my dissertation in grad school. I was a single mother of two then, with very limited time to research or write. I was forced to learn how to immediately take advantage of free time when it became available, be it a half-hour nap period or early in the morning. Writer’s block is not a term known to single mothers, at least not to me)!
CW: How long did it take you to write the book and find an agent and publisher?
AH: I’d say that the book took about a year to write. The short stories upon which The book is based on short stories I wrote during lunch breaks in my office. I completed the rest of the book on my maternity leave.
CW: And your path to publication was…?
AH: After I completed the first version of A Subtle Thing, I sent it to a few small presses. I received positive feedback from one, but they rejected it. I then learned from my brother Nate (who is also an author) about a fairly new, independent publishing house (Five Rivers Chapmanry.) He encouraged me to send my manuscript to them. The feedback I received from Five Rivers was encouraging. They suggested I lengthen the book and resubmit it.
CW: What’s the most surprising thing you discovered writing this book?
AH: A Subtle Thing struck me as an odd little book, something I thought might be considered too dark, too out of the mainstream for most readers to embrace. Since it’s been published, however, I’ve learned that a lot of people do connect with it. For example, I know of a men’s book club that recently read my novel and gave it positive feedback. I like being surprised!
CW: What were the obstacles you faced getting the book out?
AH: I guess the biggest challenge now that it’s published is getting exposure for the book, getting the word out. As a previously unpublished, unknown author, this can be really tough. I had assumed all books were on a level playing field with regard to getting book reviews. That’s not necessarily true, which can be frustrating. To me, negative feedback is much better than indifference or silence.
CW: Publishing can be a hard road. Did you doubt yourself along the way?
AH: I’d say that the hardest part of the publishing process is maintaining your motivation level and belief in yourself in the face of rejection. As a psychologist, I’m used to pretty instant feedback in my work—I learn very quickly if what I’m doing with a client is helping or hindering them. What I most enjoy is hearing feedback from readers. After a lifetime of writing mainly just for me, this is exhilarating.
Sending out manuscripts to publishers is a different beast altogether. For about three years I sent out one manuscript (a memoir) to publishers. I received a number of standard rejection letters, but was able to get over the first “hump” a few times, with the manuscript being sent out to readers. I would then learn several months later that the manuscript had again been rejected. In hindsight, the memoir did need revision. I found the process equal parts discouraging, humbling, and frustrating.
CW: What advice would you give unpublished writers?
AH: My advice would be twofold: be tenacious but also be open to constructive criticism. When a professional writer or publisher has taken the time to actually give me feedback about my writing (rather than a standard rejection letter), I listen. At the same time, what one publisher might not like another could, so writers need to lick their wounds, rework what needs reworking, and then try, try again.
CW: Have changes in the book industry forced you to change how you published or marketed your work?
AH: I am still very naïve when it comes to the book industry so I haven’t changed anything I’ve done. That said, following the advice of my wise publisher, Lorina Stephens, I have done things that, as a fairly shy person, I would not have believed possible, such as blogging and tweeting.
CW: What can you tell us about your next book?
AH: I recently completed a book about childhood female bullying and the impact such aggression has years later. Tentatively called The Bystander, it’s not the story of a victim or a victimizer, but rather that of an observer who, through silence and distancing, may imply tacit approval. I attempt to raise various ethical questions for the reader, including questions related to goodness, accountability, responsibility, and tolerance of differences.
I’ve also just started writing a new story, which may become a book. The main character is an 11-year-old boy who was inadvertently the cause of his twin’s death. We’ll see where that goes.
CW: Thanks telling us about your work, Alicia!
A Subtle Thing is Alicia’s debut novel, published by Five Rivers Chapmanry Visit their website at http:www.5rivers.org. A Subtle Thing is available at Amazon and www.chapters.indigo.ca.
Find her on Twitter (@AliciaHendley) and visit Alicia’s blog at http://aliciahendley.blogspot.com.