All But What’s Left is about a young girl being forced to make choices that will affect the rest of her life. Hannah, the main character, lost her mother in a tragic accident when she was only six years old. She’s grown up just trying to be a good girl and keep her dad (and everyone else around her) happy. But when her high school sweetheart starts dating someone else and her dad decides to sell her family ranch, her life starts changing in totally unpredictable ways that force her to have to change her carefully created plans. To make matters even worse, her dad hires ranch hand and rodeo star Will Ludlow to help get the property ready to sell, and he and Hannah have crazy chemistry that’s tough to ignore. Top that off with newfound doubts about the actual events leading up to her mother’s death, and Hannah is in for one tough summer.
Will Hannah be able to handle her summer? To find out more about what Hannah’s facing, Carrie Mumford, author of ‘All But What’s Left’ has kindly set aside some time to indulge in a little book gossip with me. Carrie, when we first meet Hannah I think it’s fair to say that she’s got a lot on her plate. What inspired you to explore a character and summer like the one here?
All But What’s Left began with a writing exercise from Canadian writer, Sarah Selecky. Students were asked to begin a story with the words, “Get the gun.” From that short story (and many years), came the novel that is now All But What’s Left. That’s still the first sentence in the book!
*Laughs* That’s awesome! And what a great sentence to kick off your book, and our chat with! So, after you’ve presented the readers with this line, your next step is to introduce the characters. How did they develop from your initial short story?
Some of the characters in this book arrived in my head, magically, as full functioning humans with big personalities and very particular likes and dislikes. Lily, Hannah’s stepmom, was like this. But others (ahem Hannah), took longer to form in my mind. Hannah was a tricky character to figure out because she keeps her emotions well-hidden.
Just like people, the characters that hide emotions often are more challenging to understand at first, but I find that they’re worth the effort. Did you find the effort of writing about characters like Hannah, and more broadly writing in general keeps you energised, or does it get overwhelming and exhausting?
Both! Some days I close my laptop after a day of writing and feel like I could happily do wind sprints up and down a mountain. Others I just want to cuddle up on the couch and watch something that will distract me from the characters running around in my brain.
Oh, those characters they can be exhausting! Do you think that the things your characters get up to when they’re running around your brain are inspired by events in your own life?
My family lived on a sheep farm in Ontario for a few years when I was younger. It wasn’t nearly as big as the ranches described in All But What’s Left, but I definitely relied on my memories from that time in my life to add detail to book.
As much as you love sheep farms, I’m sure that the awesomeness of them wasn’t the central idea that you wanted to share with your readers. So, if sheep farms weren’t the most important thing, what was?
This is a really tough one to answer. When I started All But What’s Left, I thought I was writing it for 20-something-year-old me. I wanted the book to show young women making difficult choices that what seems to be “the right thing to do,” might not always be the best choice for you. But it also might be the best choice. I’ve found that the book actually appeals to an older demographic – the people who have already made those tough choices. Go figure!
Maybe the older demographic appreciate the weight of the tough choices, while the younger ones don’t understand that yet. It’s definitely something interesting to think about. Other than learning that your target readers mightn’t be who you think they are, what was your biggest learning experience from bringing this book to market?
This book took me over six years to write – I think I was mostly learning how to write a book. Before All But What’s Left, I’d published several short stories, and was more comfortable with that format. In writing All But What’s Left I had to learn how to keep the tension high in a story, and to weave in surprises and “aha!” moments for readers. I can’t wait to try it again!
Yes! You’ve nicely lead into one of my favourite questions – what’s your next project, what are you going to try next?
I’m writing my second novel, tentatively titled, UnFaithFul. It’s scary and exciting to be working with a whole new cast of characters. I’m also chipping away at a few short stories.
Embrace the scary excitement! And good luck with all each of those stories. As you write on each of these projects, I’m sure there are so many different things to consider, but is there a single idea that you like to focus on to keep your writing moving forward?
That depends on how close to real life I am writing. I occasionally use pieces of real people in my books and stories, but that can also be distracting. For my novels, I usually choose a target reader and keep them in mind as I write.
As you’ve chosen more and more target readers to write to, do you feel that your writing has progressed?
As happens with many writers, I think it has become more authentic, more “me.” I’ve found the more truthful I can be in my writing, the better it is. Being “truthful” might not mean taking stories from my own life, but it often involves borrowing feelings from things I have experienced or things I’ve watched friends/family go through.
Has clarifying your truth and becoming more authentic made it easier for you to identify and brand your work? Have you considered the branding part of your author journey?
Oh yes. I have a background in marketing, so even eight years ago when I was just getting into writing fiction I was thinking about my brand. I think my biggest learning has been that you get to choose what type of writing career you will have. You can find resources that will tell you that you must blog, write non-fiction, sell courses, do blog tours, etc., etc. etc. You don’t actually HAVE to do anything. Try things that appeal to you (and even some of the ones that don’t), see how they go, and then decide if you’d like to keep doing it. I only want to write fiction right now (that wasn’t always true in the past), so I’ve learned that I need to set aside a certain number of hours a day for marketing, and a certain number of hours for generating new work. That means that I need to be very choosy about the types of marketing I engage in. For example, I’ve decided not to blog, but I do connect with readers as often as I can on my favourite social media sites (Instagram and Twitter).
Wow, it sounds like you’ve given your author brand a lot of careful thought and consideration. I’m so glad that you’ve used your marketing skills to help push out your stories to the world. We’ve heard a bit about your fictional stories, so now I’d like to change tack a little and move towards stories about yourself with our quirky quick-fire question round. We’ll start the fun with, what is your favourite word?
I do love the way that word falls off your tongue! Have you ever been on a literary pilgrimage
Er. Maybe? I’m not sure I know what that is. I have gone on several writing retreats. My favourite is visiting the Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, WA. There’s just something about that place that makes writing magical for me. I’ve been there twice, and will definitely be returning!
I think a writing retreat would count, especially if the location makes writing feel magical. We all need a little magic in our lives, and if you can visit a place to add a touch of fairy dust, then why not! If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?:
HA! I would breed a cat with a horse. I mean can you imagine a cat you could ride on?
Mostly. Well, I can imagine the hair. Oh, my goodness the amount of hair on a horse sized cat would be incredible! I think I’m going to start sneezing at the thought of it alone! To stop myself sneezing, let’s quickly move onto the next question if you could have dinner with anyone (alive or dead), who would you choose?
I would have dinner with Ernest Hemingway. All rumours/dramatic truths about his life aside, I love his work and find him fascinating. I’d want to eat at a Parisian restaurant and get him to tell me everything he knows about writing.
Eating in a Parisian restaurant sounds like a perfect way to end a day and an interview. Carrie thanks so much for sharing some snippets of Hannah’s summer and I can’t wait to hear about your continuing author journey!
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘All But What’s Left ( ASIN: B07DGYFRHQ )‘.
Want to find out more about Carrie Mumford? Connect here!