Launch Week for A Debut Novel About Surfing, Drugs, and a Sister’s Love

by Marylee MacDonald in For Writers Who Need Readers

This week I’m featuring an interview with California author Kathleen Doler, whose debut novel, THE HOOK, has just come out. I hope you’ll share this author’s excitement about reaching this milestone. It’s a terrific book with a strong female protagonist facing challenges from her present and her past. Kathleen is celebrating the launch week of her book.

MM: You’re launching your debut novel — THE HOOKthis week. When did you first start thinking about this book?

debut novel

Author Kathleen Doler’s debut novel is set against the backdrop of California’s surfing culture.

KD: It was a very long time ago…probably two decades ago. I had the idea for the story long before I started writing it.

MM: I imagine you’ve looked forward to this day for a long time.

KD: Yes, it’s hard to believe I’m finally here. I’m almost ashamed to admit how long the journey took. The entire time I was writing I was working as a journalist with demanding deadlines, and that made it difficult to have any energy left for the novel. It took me about eight years to write it, and then I spent another year polishing it. It was also a very emotional journey — the story is based on some elements from my life and childhood. When I wrote parts of it, the process of confronting those emotions and writing them down would incapacitate me for a time. Once I got to the latter chapters, I had more of a schedule. But in the beginning, I didn’t want to set unrealistic expectations for myself.

MM: Do you have events planned for your launch week?

KD: For the four weeks prior to the launch, I courted and recruited early readers and reviewers to encourage them (nag them) to read and review the book. I knew it was crucial to have reviews up right away. I’ve also been identifying bloggers and others who might help me get attention for the novel. And I’ve been putting some teasers (preliminary news) up on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Then when I launched it my friends were ready with re-Tweets and ready to share the announcement across their Facebook accounts. I’m now doubling back to bloggers and reviewers, and I have a series of announcements and posts planned to keep getting the book in front of possible buyers, bloggers and reviewers.

launch week debut fiction

THE HOOK is Kathleen Doler’s debut novel about surfing, friends, family, and survival. Help her launch her book.

MM: I know that a lot of indie authors are now using “street teams” to help launch their books. Do you have a street team, or possibly a surfing team?

KD: I don’t have an official team, but I now consider everyone who has helped me a team member! The book publishing business is very tough, but along the way you meet some wonderful people who help you just because they can. That’s been so uplifting. And it’s an interesting process as far as friends are concerned. Some people come through for you in ways that you never expected, and you’re just truly wowed…others, hmm, not so much.

MM: Your novel is set in Half Moon Bay. How does the setting provide the backdrop for the events in your novel?

KD: I liked the idea of Dana, who’s a globe-trotter and has become successful in her career, coming back to a small town that she ran away from in an effort to bury her past. Also, Half Moon Bay is very foggy, which can be gloomy and dark, and it has maintained some of its rural agricultural roots despite its growth. Of course, the town I chose also had to be a surf town. I could have chosen my hometown of Santa Cruz, California, but I wanted to set the story in an even smaller community, where everyone knows each other or knows of each other.

MM: What about the surfing culture? You appear to know that very well.

KD: I grew up surfing and I still surf. Surfing communities are very tight-knit, and they have an unusual culture. Surfers often live to surf. Everything else is secondary. And sadly, surfing communities are rife with drugs. It made sense to tell this family drama through a drug crime tale with surfing as the backdrop. I also like the metaphor of comparing life to surfing big, unpredictable waves…you think you’re doing fine and then you get slammed from behind…by your family, a job, a relationship, whatever.

MM: Do you have a favorite passage?

KD: One of the hardest passages for me to write (it was extremely emotional for me) was when Dana visits the dank squat under a house where Shane has been living. Here’s part of that passage in Chapter 7:

I glance to the back of the hovel. A surfboard is shoved up against a far corner, alongside the only window that lets in diffused light through its dust-coated glass. Embedded in the center of the board is a nine-inch hunting knife. I stand completely still and shiver unconsciously.

I quickly back out of the door, pulling it closed, and stare at the reflective gold numbers. I picture Shane as a fresh-faced teenager on the swim team, clean and shiny with pool water, and try to reconcile that youthful promise with this dirty squat. My mind jumps to logistics. Where’s the bathroom? I stumble farther up the crumbled driveway and see a tilted staircase leading to the upstairs. Next to the door at the top of the stairway is a small bathroom window. Somehow the fact that Shane’s “studio” has access to indoor plumbing makes me feel a tiny bit better — it’s a ridiculous thought, given the damp crawl space living conditions and the threat of the knife.

MM: Your book is essentially a family drama, but one that takes an unusual twist. When did you decide that a drug dealer would play a part in the novel?

KD: I knew from the beginning that Shane (the brother), a surfer who’s mentally ill, would be an addict. It made sense to have a drug crime story push the narrative along. Later, I decided to add a drug gang war to the mix.

MM: Because your novel can’t be easily categorized, did you find that made it hard to capture an agent’s interest?

KD: Good question. You would think crossover books would have more appeal, not less. And some of my favorite books, fiction and nonfiction, are crossovers. They are literary and suspense or literary and adventure. But agents want to sell something they can easily categorize. And right now, literary titles are very hard to sell. It’s extremely hard to get an agent to take a chance on a debut author.

I had several agents who were seriously interested in my book, and I did a revision for one of them based on his input. I did everything he asked for. But then he decided that what he really wanted was for the book to be turned into a pure thriller. So, we parted company. I never intended THE HOOK to be a pure thriller. That would have ruined it.

MM: How did your background as a journalist play into the writing of this book?

KD: My background as a journalist was obviously helpful — I’ve been writing professionally since college. But it also made some things more difficult. I had to learn a different writing style and voice. Also, I’m used to getting paid for what I write. But when you’re creating a novel it’s art…you do it because you love it. You might make some money; you might not.

MM: Who would be the ideal reader for your book?

KD: Readers and lovers of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. My book takes readers on an emotional journey, confronting the baggage of a shattered family, but it does so against the backdrop of athletic adventures…in THE HOOK’s case surfing. Wild did the same thing. It was a memoir of a tough upbringing and Strayed’s struggle to deal with her mother’s death from cancer, set against the backdrop of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

MM: Are you looking ahead to your next book?

KD: Yes. I’ve already sketched out a fiction title and written a couple of chapters. I also have a nonfiction book rolling around in my brain. I don’t know which one will win.

MM: If you had one piece of advice to offer new writers who dream of reaching the milestone of launch day, what would it be?

KD: I have two pieces of advice. First, NEVER…GIVE…UP! You only fail when you give up. And don’t let anyone tell you that their vision of your book is the right one. Only you know what your book is meant to be.

Thanks so much, Kathleen, for this sage advice, and thanks for taking the time out of your busy book launch. You can learn more about the book and connect with the author right here.


  • Marylee MacDonald

    Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, BODY LANGUAGE, and THE BIG BOOK OF SMALL PRESSES AND INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, a Wishing Shelf Book Award, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.

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