By Amber E. Box
Michelle Rene began her career as a highly talented artist in the fast-paced world of electronic gaming in her teens. She had always been a writer at heart, but it wasn’t until several years later that she realized writing was her true calling. In “I Once Knew Vincent,” she takes readers on a tragic journey across The Hague in search of the missing stories of struggling artist, Vincent Van Gogh. In this work of historical fiction, she offers the point of view of a young child, Van Gogh’s muse, giving the reader a unique perspective in what could have been the real life of the beloved artist.
Rene is a mother, author and artist. Learn more about her stories and her art on her blog, The Redheaded Authoress.
Have you always written?
Yes, in a way. When I was a child, I wrote constantly; poems, stories, anything. I started writing poetry in the third grade, and I wrote my first novel when I was thirteen. I spent every spare moment in study hall and one whole summer handwriting 207 pages of what I am sure was a terrible novel.
What changed was that I was also good at art, and when I was in high school, I started working as a 3D artist for a video game company. I had a decision to make at graduation. Which path do I follow, art or writing? I went the art route thinking I could get a job easier given my video game experience. So, for years, I focused on my art and school. Writing, unfortunately, fell by the wayside for a while.
One day, while napping on a very boring cruise, I had the most vivid and odd dream. When I woke up, I just knew I had to start writing again. That was about 10 years ago, and the passion for writing hasn’t left me alone for even a second since then. Art is wonderful and has always paid my bills, but my heart was always with my stories.
What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters?
There isn’t much of a real process with my writing. Sometimes a story starts as just an image or an idea and builds from there. Sometimes it’s a character that follows me around like a ghost until I figure out his or her story. Since I write in so many different genres, I don’t have a set method. I’ve used outlines and research, and I’ve written completely from my mind without planning. I think writers just have to do whatever they have to do to get the words down and their story told.
One thing I do try to do religiously is create a wordless music playlist for each novel. I normally am working on two or more projects at once, and I found that turning on the playlist I recognize as that book’s music helps my brain quieten and focus on that story.
What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
Time is the biggest challenge and always has been with me. I think this is the truth for most authors. Before my child was born, I worked a demanding career in the video game industry. Now, I have a toddler who I raise alone most of the time since my husband is a pilot and away a lot. Finding time to write is very difficult. I definitely have to make it happen. I covet that writing time alone, and I guard it. Time to write rarely falls into the lap of anyone, so you have to make it happen.
What has the road to publication been like for you?
Rocky and strange. I wrote four novels before I was published. For a while, I thought the only way to get published was through an agent. I tried to get one for a long time, pitching and querying and wading through a sea of rejections. I even had an agent for a while. She was a nice person, but we were not a good fit.
One thing you learn by putting yourself out there is that the literary industry is full of people who love books and are guessing at what editors and the public want. I don’t envy agents their jobs, but their opinions are just that; opinions. When my agent said that my novel, “I Once Knew Vincent,” would never sell because you can’t have an adult book from a child’s point of view, I knew she was entitled to her opinion, but it was wrong.
After parting ways, I decided to stop trying the agent route and just sell my books myself to publishers. While the large publishers will only take submissions from agents, there are a lot of independent publishers and imprints of larger publishers who do accept submissions from authors. I set out to sell my work, and seven months later I had two book contracts with two different publishers for my third and fourth novel. One of those was “I Once Knew Vincent.”
How do you market your work?
Word of mouth is still the best. I am no marketing genius, but from my research and experience, nothing beats engaging with your fans. Personal appearances help you to connect to potential fans, who will tell their friends about you. No amount of tweets can rival a handful of devoted fans who love to blab about your book.
The other big one is to get reputable third-party reviews. The ones on Amazon and Goodreads are wonderful, but if you can get a literary magazine or popular blog to read and endorse your book, it definitely widens your potential fan base. People will buy a book reviewed by someone they trust.
Who are the writers that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
J.R.R. Tolkien – He wrote one of the most vivid, detailed, imagined worlds of all time, and we still care deeply about his characters.
Edgar Allen Poe – Never has anyone written about death and pain so beautifully. He was like the Frida Kahlo of the literary world, oh so melancholy and beautifully tragic.
Christopher Moore – Humor is a far more difficult genre to write in than most know. Not only is his work hilarious, but he manages to weave this amazing tenderness into his stories.
J.K. Rowling – I don’t think I need to explain this one. She is just amazing and everyone knows it.
Harper Lee – Because of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That’s all I need.
Mary Roach – I never knew I liked nonfiction until I read her books. Her sense of humor and insatiable appetite with scientific knowledge meld in a way that I’ve seen in no one else’s writing.
If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
“To Kill a Mockingbird” – This is my favorite book of all time. It was the book that changed my life. The story showed a generation of people that beauty can be found in the smallest, humblest of places.
“The Hobbit” – It was the first fantasy novel I fell in love with. I still get scared reading the part with Golem and the riddles like I did when I was a little girl.
“Alice in Wonderland” – Life is so serious, and I feel the need to have a book of gorgeous nonsense near me to remember to laugh. When the whole world starts collapsing around me, “Alice in Wonderland” is always there to ask me “Will you won’t you, will you won’t you, will you join the dance?”