Valerie Baeza is a poet and author who writes upmarket fiction centered around interpersonal relationships with a unique sense of empathy for the human condition. A former feature writer for New Mexico Film News, she spent over three years writing and editing her debut novel, Story of My Life (October 2021). You’ll find Valerie on her website ValerieBaezaAuthor.com and on Facebook and Instagram.
What is your elevator pitch for Story of My Life?
Story of My Life is an intense page-turner about one man’s journey through love, grief, and discovering hope within the bundles of handwritten letters he exchanged with two women.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The hardest part about writing this novel was one scene at the end. This book is about a man who wants to commit suicide. Saying more would ruin the story for readers, so you’ll just have to pick up a copy. But that scene at the end was the hardest aspect of the entire novel.
Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
There are three main characters in Story of My Life: Garence Leitner, Sabina Mondragon, and Chalise Bonner. Garence is a travel writer from Britain, so readers would appreciate his lifestyle. The second connection would be with Sabina and the hardships she experienced throughout her life. The life events between these two, all three characters actually, are relatable. Falling in love, marriage, death, depression, friendship, and discovering hope.
How does the setting impact the story and the characters?
The novel is set in Bourton-on-the-Water, England, a quintessential cottage community to represent love and romance, but England gets gloomy so it also corresponds well with the darker moments in the novel.
Tell us how the book came together.
It all started with a scene in my mind’s eye. There was a man walking up a hill toward a park at midnight. I didn’t see his face or hear his voice. All I knew was that he wanted to kill himself. I was curious as to why he wanted to take his life. I enjoy love stories, so I incorporated a woman, someone of color, then I made her Spanish.
The first draft took me a little over one year to write. I completed my own editing the following year and had beta readers provide their feedback, but it wasn’t until the third year when the story really kicked off. I hired a developmental editor, Kyra Nelson, and it was one of the best decisions I made. I thought I knew everything about the story and the characters, but Kyra revealed a slew of opportunities for improvement and she offered me the tools to really get to the heart of the novel.
Why does the book fit into the category of upmarket fiction?
Story of My Life is the perfect balance between internal conflict (literary fiction) and external conflict (commercial fiction). There are a lot of intense emotions and life events intersecting to form an intense read.
What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Story of My Life?
There were many rewarding aspects of writing this novel. Organizing the storyline was one. I am a pantser, so organizing every nonlinear scene written into its now complex linear timeline, dual timelines at that, was like working a puzzle and fun.The developmental edit was awesome. Truly awesome. I can’t say enough about that experience and Kyra. The book cover design. Domini Dragoone presented me with eight options and I loved the one that you see now. The circles were an awesome way to depict the various stories in the novel. Circles are symbolic as is the full moon in the book, and having them in front of a garden gate is intriguing as well.
Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
I predominantly write about love and the dynamics between individuals. I am fascinated by people’s stories, how they’ve coped with their trauma and how it affects other people. So, having the opportunity to create my own web of intrigue is a joy.
What are you most happy with, and what do you struggle with most, in your writing?
I struggle with my own pace. I am thoughtful and over analytical, so writing is a long process. The upside is I actually feel more strongly about what is written.
What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
The best advice I can offer is to follow your own path. Listen to the characters as they tell you their story. Don’t force yourself to write or work on a particular scene or chapter. Let it go and inspiration will come when it’s meant to.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I am going to pick up on a book I started writing last year in between edits. It is a change of pace from Story of My Life for sure. It is still within the upmarket fiction genre, but it’ll be a welcomed shift and set in Albuquerque!
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I appreciate the opportunity to share Story of My Life with you all.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.