Last week, in an effort to fulfill our Writer’s Life Colloquium requirement, I stopped by Barnes and Noble to attend a reading for author Rebecca Serle, whose debut novel, When You Were Mine, has just been released. It’s a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a bit of a twist — it’s told from Rosaline’s perspective. When I went to buy the book and found out she’d graduated from the New School MFA program (Fiction Concentration), I knew she’d be a great person to interview for our blog. Take a look for yourself and see what Rebecca has to say about her journey to publication and her life now as a full-time writer.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
I have always been a writer, but it took me a little while to call myself that. It was the only thing I ever felt any good at — that ever felt worth doing, frankly. I think that’s how you know. When you’re a writer, and you write, there is nowhere else you should be, and nothing else you should be doing. It’s this wonderful, perfect sense of productivity — and it has always been there for me.
Can you give us a quick synopsis of When You Were Mine? How did you come up with the concept for the book?
When You Were Mine is a modern re-telling of Romeo and Juliet from the perspective of Rosaline — the girl Romeo was supposed to love. It’s about first love, and first heartbreak, and what happens when our destiny defies us.
The book came about through and from my own heartbreak. I felt like I knew exactly what it’s like to be the girl who gets left behind. I wrote my way out with Rosaline — we did it together.
Were you a big Shakespeare fan growing up? What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager?
I was, but I actually never read Romeo and Juliet as a child, or in high school. I was a huge fan of the Baz Luhrmann movie — Leo, sigh — but it wasn’t until later that I came to the play. My favorite book as a teen was probably Wuthering Heights — it still might be.
Rosaline is so relatable and the friendship between her, Charlie and Olivia is so strong and defined. During the initial stages of the book, did the creation of their voices come easily to you?
I’m so delighted you think so! Not everyone will like Charlie and Olivia (with good reason). They are imperfect people, but they love each other completely — I just see friendship that way. My friends and I, we’re not perfect. We talk about each other, we complain about each other. We care about silly things. But we love one another. Charlie and Olivia can be catty, they can be stuck up and snide, but they are fierce in their love for Rose — that was easy to write, yes. I really love those girls.
Was it challenging writing a story where — technically — readers already know how part of it will end?
Good question! Well, you know, just because we know the ending for Romeo and Juliet, doesn’t mean we know the ending for Rosaline, right? This is her story, after all.
How was your New School MFA experience? Did When You Were Mine begin as your thesis?
It was great — I learned so much. I think the most important lesson, though, was how to commit to doing it. I really came to see myself as a writer through my time there — something I think is invaluable for an artistic person. If you do not see yourself as what you want to be, who else will? When You Were Mine was not my thesis, no. My thesis was another novel that is tucked safely away in a drawer (where it will remain).
What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day for you look like?
I wish I could tell you! Sometimes I am very structured, and sometimes I am not. When I’m working, which I haven’t been lately, I try to do 1,000 words a day — more on the weekends. That doesn’t always happen. I believe in consistency, but I also believe in self-forgiveness. So much of being a writer, an author, is wresting guilt — am I doing enough? You’re doing just fine. What gets done, gets done. And somehow, books still get written!
What has your path to publication been like? Any surprises?
Tons. Sometimes it sounds like a fairytale when I tell it but the truth is, it wasn’t always that way. I fought many losing battles, and I’m sure I’m still not done. Writing, and publishing, is a dynamic process — it’s always changing. I just try not to take it for granted. The work is what matters — and luckily that is always there.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?
My friend and fellow novelist Lauren Oliver once told me “write for truth and beauty will follow” — that is some pretty A+ advice, right there. When I write I try to always ask myself: is this true?
I’d tell aspiring authors to be writers, first. Being an author is cool and all, but we all work with the same alphabet, the same blank pages. Writing is 90 percent temperament and ten percent talent — you have to be comfortable just doing it. Also! Get Stephen King’s On Writing.
What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise)?
I’m working on my second book, which should be out in the next two years. I’m always working on a million things. I love the process, I love creating. So, more to come.
Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?
I think community is important in just about everything. It’s wonderful to be able to call up a writer friend and ask “hey, I’m stuck on this chapter” or “when you went through x part of the publishing process, was it like this for you?” I’m lucky that I have those people in my life — writers who have gone before. Particularly because writing is so solitary, it’s lovely to have that dialogue. But I think, sometimes, writers in groups can get a little too focused on what other people are doing. It doesn’t matter. Focus on YOUR best work. No one writes like you. No one has your specific talent. What other people are doing is irrelevant. It’s a balance. Luckily, my writer friends are also, just, my friends! So we talk about lots more than just our work.
Thank you! This was so much fun!
Photo Credits: Book and Author Image: rebeccaserle.com & Simon and Schuster
Movie Poster Image: Flixster, Inc.