I recently made Renny’s acquaintance (formally) at a meeting of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.
She let us know that she had recently published her first historical novel, Family Business. Another Sudbury Writer? W00t! Of course, I had to ask for an interview 🙂
Renny deGroot is a first generation Canadian of Dutch parents. She is a published poet and song lyricist, with Family Business being her debut novel. She studied English Literature at Trent University. Her strong Dutch roots continue to influence her while the love of her Canadian homeland with its beauty and freedom, flavours all that she does.
Renny lives in rural Ontario with her Great Pyrenees, Chocolate Lab and very old tabby cat.”
My parents were somewhat ‘citizens of the world’. My mother lived in England for a period after the war, before moving to Indonesia where she met my father (who was there with the Dutch military). They immigrated to Nova Scotia (where I was born) before settling in Ontario. This spirit of adventure influenced their three children (of whom I am the youngest). I’ve lived in Ireland, hung out in the south of France for a bit and go ‘back’ to the Netherlands regularly to spend time with family and soak up my heritage, before always coming back with a sigh of relief, to the best and most beautiful place in the world – Canada.
WG: Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Renny!
RdG: Thank you! I’m really pleased and honoured that you’ve invited me to participate.
WG: How did you come to the writing life? Give us the origin story of Renny deGroot, author 🙂
RdG: I’ve always felt artistic pulls. While my sister was sent to Brownies and my brother to Navy cadets, I was sent to art classes. Unfortunately my drawing skill set didn’t live up to my desire, so I turned to writing as an outlet. As a teenager I wrote the usual angst-ridden poetry, some of which found their way into community newsletters and school yearbooks (my mother was a faithful ‘sender-outer’ of my pieces J ). Lots of encouragement at home and from great English teachers drove me to take creative writing classes and work on my degree in English Literature.
WG: What inspired Family Business?
RdG: Well, simply put – family stories. One evening a couple of years ago I was visiting my family in the Netherlands. My uncle Jan (the youngest of my father’s six siblings) and his wife, Marja, were telling me of a certain situation with my great grandmother, and when he finished I said: ‘wow – there’s a book in that.’ My uncle looked sceptical, but they are such a great support and when I really started writing the story they did everything they could to help me with background, details and encouragement. Of course, it isn’t at all intended to accurately represent the family thing – it just was the starting point – as you say – the inspiration.
The end result is a story about a young man who struggles to learn the meaning of freedom amidst family conflict during the depression years and World War II German occupation in the Netherlands. The notion of freedom on a macro level (for a nation, race, community) and a micro level (our own individual right to choose and determine our path) is timeless and a topic that I’m passionate about. When I’m not writing, I manage an Irish tenor (http://jimmycartonband.com). Being so immersed in the Irish culture and music has been a huge contributing influence on my interest in the topic of freedom.
I’ve read that every writer could come up with ten stories based on family stuff, and I believe it. I don’t know if I just happen to have a quirky family, but I know that there’s inspiration for a few more still sitting there waiting to be harvested.
WG: And what about your new work in progress?
RdG: The working title is After Paris and it opens in spring of 1916 in Paris. World War I changed the world forever and, like Family Business, it isn’t a war story, but I’m interested in how people manage the massive changes that come into their lives both during and after these huge events. The role of women changed with WWI, for some more than others. I’m also very interested in personal development – emotional vs. intellectual. These are some of the things I want to look at, but of course rolled up into a great story.
WG: I love when writers talk about their process 🙂 Would you care to share a part of yours?
RdG: I can get pretty distracted so I need to set targets for myself – generally a page count per session and I tell myself I won’t finish for the day until I’ve done three pages or five pages, or whatever is realistic based on where I am. The beginning is the hardest so if I can get two pages done, I’m satisfied. I generally go through several pots of tea before the day is done.
After that, I love writing outside. I have a large screened-in deck and a pond with a waterfall. I’m surrounded by trees – so I am most productive when I sit out there with the sound of the wind in the trees and the music of the waterfall in the background. I’m afraid I’m less productive in winter, but do enjoy being by the fire, either reading for background, or doing a bit of writing.
When I’m in the groove, I don’t worry about grammar or phrasing too much. I want to get the story down and then I go back to start the revisions and editing. With Family Business I edited the finished story several times before hiring a professional editor and then we worked together for three full rounds. It was a great learning experience and of course I’ll incorporate those lessons into the writing of After Paris.
WG: You have a lovely Web page. Are you active on social media? What role has “platform” played in getting your work published?
RdG: I’m afraid I’m not great with the technology side of things and am learning as I go along. I guess I have to admit that I’ve only just set up a Facebook page – on the tenth anniversary of Facebook, I accept it’s here to stay, so I’ve climbed aboard, albeit somewhat reluctantly. I am more comfortable with the website for sure. That gives me the opportunity to give reign to my creativity and I see it as a spot , not just to provide information for fans, but to really interact in a virtual ‘book club’ environment. My book is for sale via my website, so it’s handy for that as well of course. Publishing and book buying/selling is a whole different world than it was, even five years ago. Amazon.com and other on-line retailers have opened up the world to make it accessible to writers like myself, who probably wouldn’t get the attention of large traditional publishing houses, and have done a great service to the reading world – as people can choose for themselves what grabs them versus having their tastes steered by the large publishers.
WG: What’s coming up for Renny deGroot and Family Business?
RdG: I am really excited about the next few months. It’s such a long process to get a book published that I feel like I’ve stepped away from Family Business for a while as I’ve become more involved with the outlining, research (including a trip to Paris last summer!) and writing of After Paris. It means putting Paris on hold for a bit, but I’m happy to be ‘back with the Meijer family.’ I have the official Book Launch in Toronto on March 1st at a wonderful downtown spot called The Hothouse Café. It’ll be an afternoon of wine, food, music and of course a reading and book signing. After that I’ll be doing a launch tour which I’m still firming up, but will certainly include Sudbury in early April, and various other spots in Ontario (looking at Port Perry, Bowmanville, and Mississauga, with more spots in Toronto, Brampton and Brantford to start with.) Then, in the summer I’ll be looking at the Maritimes – definitely Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and probably Newfoundland.
I’ll be updating my website regularly on the ‘Events’ tab, as well as Facebook – so I hope that your readers will join me, and even suggest other places that might like to host a book signing. I’m open to ideas. One idea that I really like is participating in small ‘house-readings’. I’ve been to a couple of house concerts (I first saw/heard the Good Lovelies at a house concert) and I think it’s a perfect setting for a book reading/signing/discussion. I’m really excited about these events as I get to travel, meet people and share some opportunities for storytelling.
WG: Thanks for a wonderful interview, Renny. Break a pencil in your future writing endeavours!
About Family Business:
Set in the Netherlands against the backdrop of the Great Depression and through World War II, Family Business follows the story of Agatha Meijer and her sons, André and Johan, as they build their textile business, a business Agatha is determined her sons will carry on, regardless of their own desires. Family tension comes to a head when the boys each take a stand, sending all their lives spinning in directions none of them would have ever anticipated, and making each of them question the true meaning of loyalty, love, and freedom.
For sale at:
http://rennydegroot.com (Canadian customers who would like a print copy)
http://www.amazon.com/Family-Business-Renny-deGroot/dp/1494233231/ (U.S. customers who would like a print copy)
Various other Amazon affiliates also have the print copy available for international customers (.co, .UK, .fr, etc.).
Also – Amazon.com will sell to customers in Canada, but as it comes from the U.S., shipping is much more expensive – so better to buy through the rennydegroot.com website.