Winnie Graham loaned me a book recently with the comment, "Here's a book you will enjoy about our local area." The book was "All Roads Lead Me Back to You" written by Kennedy Foster. After reading the book, I called my friend, Pat Yenney, and said, "I just read a book that reminds me of you."
The novel tells the story of Alice Andison who lives alone on a working ranch in the Palouse hills above Waitsburg. One night during a blizzard she finds an illegal Mexican ranch hand, Domingo Roque, who has lost his horse and is half-frozen in the snow. Alice needs help on the ranch and Domingo needs a job. The story's plot revolves around how these two very different people come to understand and help each other. The impact of immigration policy on workers and their employers, the problems of finding someone to inherit the family farm, and the prejudices and misunderstandings between cultures are all woven into the story. The readers learn in detail the hard work involved in running a ranch as you follow Alice and Domingo through two years of daily chores. You can also practice your Spanish, as dialogue between Alice and Domingo is often a mix of English and Spanish.
The book was written by local resident Jan Foster, who teaches English in the Transitional Studies program at Walla Walla Community College. Jan is also a member of the City Planning Commission and is a founding member of the non-profit group Friends of the Farm Labor Homes. I arranged an interview with Jan to learn how such a busy person had time to write a book.
Jan said she she started writing the book in 1996 by jotting ideas down in a notebook. In 2000 she started putting the ideas together. However, it wasn't until 2002 when her husband took a sabbatical to Aberdeen, Scotland, for winter semester that she had the time to write. She wrote the first draft in 4 ¬Ω months in long hand on a legal pad working from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. each day. After they returned home, it took her two months to rewrite the first draft on the computer.
Jan explained that the first step in getting a book published is to send out a letter of query to find an agent who will try to sell your book to a publisher. Jan received 47 letters of rejection before she found an agent. Jan noted that author Craig Lesley was an invaluable help in revising her query letter to agents and advising her on her novel. Lesley suggested she needed to find an agent who understood horses and recommended agent Janet Reid, who worked in New York but was originally from Bend, Ore. It took 2 ¬Ω years for Janet Reid to sell the novel after agreeing to represent it.
Jan's book was published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, and was released in August of 2009. There was an initial printing of 10,000 copies of her book, and 7,800 have been sold at last count in early December.
Her pen name, Kennedy Foster, is her maiden name plus married name. She felt she had a better chance of getting published with a gender neutral name and wouldn't be as easily characterized as a romance or "chick lit" author.
Jan said her characters are composites of people she has known. She said she develops the characters first and then the situations.
Jan said she has almost finished her second novel, which is set in our local area with many of the same characters including Alice, Domingo, the Weston family and JoNelle Jussum. Her project this summer will be to finish the book.
Jan advises writers who are trying to get published, "Don't give up, have faith, and don't let rejections get you down. Publishing mechanics are changing, and self-publishing is becoming a viable option if you aren't picked up by a major publisher or agent. Get editorial help, but have faith in your work. If someone offers criticism, listen carefully, but don't make changes if you don't agree with their advice. If you think it's good, it's good."
To learn more about her book, "All Roads Lead Me Back to You," visit her Web site at kennedyfoster.com.