This blog is by Archway authors for fellow authors, giving them the opportunity to share stories and perspectives about their individual self-publishing journeys. The following are the words of Betsy Sleath, author of “Pelican Island Pharmacy”. For more info, visit her blog. Download the Archway Publishing free publishing guide for more information on our supported self-publishing services.
What inspired you to write Pelican Island Pharmacy?
I always wanted to write a book set in a pharmacy with a soda fountain that had characters that drew you into the story. My mom worked in an independent pharmacy with a soda fountain when I was growing up in the small New England town of Durham, Connecticut. I have always loved the feeling of community and belonging in small town pharmacies.
I go to Carolina Beach, North Carolina to relax and write. I regularly walk down to the docks where the fishing charters come into with the pelicans following not far behind. One day I had the idea to create a novel inspired by the town of Carolina Beach with one small change-I added a pharmacy on the canal where the fishing boats pull in.
I decided to make this a positive yet suspenseful story of a single mom leaving a domestic violence situation who finds friendship and support in a small beach town as she rebuilds her life. Having been a victim of domestic violence and knowing many women who also have been, I wanted to create a compelling yet fun story focusing on an issue that is often difficult to talk about publically.
What research did you do before writing Pelican Island Pharmacy?
I have experience working as a pharmacist which helped when writing the book. Since many of the scenes in the book occur at a soda fountain, I visited pharmacies that still have soda fountains when traveling. I also went to the North Carolina Museum of History and the Museum of East Tennessee History to do research. Both have excellent displays of old-fashioned pharmacies with soda fountains. I spent time in the exhibits imagining Norma behind the soda fountain being sassy to her customers. Hanging out in these places helped the story and characters come alive in my head.
When it came to creating a military romance, it helped that I live in North Carolina where there are several bases and that my partner was active military when I met him. I have interacted with many of his colleagues and friends across the world. I have visited several military bases and have even been to two military balls. These experiences helped me create the character of Tom and the realistic intersection of soldiers visiting North Carolina beaches. I learned about deep sea fishing by regularly watching the fishermen on the docks and by reading all of the pamphlets they had out at the docks. Someday I want to go deep sea fishing myself!
What do you hope readers will get from reading Pelican Island Pharmacy?
I want people to enjoy reading the book. I strove to create a good story about resilience and hope. I have always been told, “Write a book like the ones you like to read.” So that is what I did. There are many men and women functioning as single parents who are attempting to rebuild their lives after difficult divorces like Jessie. As the novel unfolds, readers watch Jessie struggle with learning to love and trust again. I love the saying “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger.” I tried to create characters that exhibited strength that resulted from challenging life situations.
Why did you choose to self-publish and why with Archway?
Before I decided to self-publish, I did send out two query letters to agents. One agent responded that Pelican Island Pharmacy was not a genre they were focusing on and the other nicely told me that the beginning of the book did not draw her in fast enough. So I rewrote the beginning of the book to grab the reader’s attention immediately. I have a very busy job as a professor and division chair at UNC-Chapel Hill so I decided to self-publish because I did not have a lot of time to write query letters. When I do have free time, I like to focus it on writing.
I chose Archway because they had everything that I needed in the bookseller’s package–cover design, editing, Goodreads giveaways, and worldwide distribution through IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, and all the major book retailers.
What has been the most satisfying thing about publishing Pelican Island Pharmacy?
To be honest, I published under the pen name Betsy Hess Sleath because I thought I better separate my life as a professor from my life as a fiction writer. I was not sure how my university colleagues would react. However, I am amazed at how much those in my university life have enjoyed the book and have encouraged me to write more. They can’t wait for the sequel. That has been the most satisfying part of writing and publishing Pelican Island Pharmacy. The UNC-Chapel Hill student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, even featured an article about the book.
What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
First, I would join your state or local writing organization. The North Carolina Writer’s Network has been a huge support in my writing experience. Second, take as many writing classes as you can. I took fiction writing classes at UNC-Chapel Hill and learned tons. In the advanced fiction writing class with Rich Krawiec, I wrote the first eighty pages of Pelican Island Pharmacy. Rich is an amazing teacher and his encouragement kept me going even after the class was over. Finally, figure out your writing pace. I strove to write five pages a week because that is all I had time to do each week. The strategy worked because I finished the book in a year!
Betsy Hess Sleath (Betsy Sleath, Ph.D.) is a distinguished professor and chair of the division of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in Chapel Hill and spends as much time as she can on Carolina Beach, North Carolina. She has published over 127 scientific articles and this is her first work of fiction. Her second book, Love at the Soda Fountain, which is set in Connecticut in the 1960s, will be completed by December 2016.
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