I first read R.J. Keller’s Waiting For Spring years ago, long before it was picked up by the Amazon Encore imprint on account of its popularity with readers, and was immediately recommending it to everyone I know who can appreciate a character-driven drama. There are no car chases, explosions, serial killers or couples who “meet cute” in this book. And its plot isn’t filled with twists and switchbacks. Rather, the plot is simple and realistic; it’s a big part of what makes this book so touching, and relatable to any ordinary person who’s ever felt stuck in a self-destructive pattern, or immobilized by the inertia of self-doubt.
In Waiting For Spring, Tess Dyer has left her former small town in the wake of her mistakes and moves to another, even smaller town. She makes her living cleaning others’ homes while doing everything she can to avoid confronting the reality that her own life is a mess. She forms a tentative bond with her new neighbor, Brian, and becomes very attached to his troubled younger sister, Rachel. Tess sees much of herself in the young woman, and finds in Rachel a new (and hopefully constructive) outlet for Tess’s drive to make order out of chaos—except in herself, that is.
Eventually Tess must face the harsh reality that she cannot save Rachel, because Rachel no longer believes she can be saved—or is deserving of rescue. Only then does Tess realize she and Rachel aren’t so different, and if she doesn’t pluck up the courage to face her own weaknesses, she’ll be of no use to herself or anyone else.
In my original review of this book, I summed it up as “Quietly Devastating,” and I stand by that description to this day. It’s one of those books that doesn’t sound terribly dynamic based on a brief description, but it’s not for nothing that this book was picked up by Amazon Encore and has earned an average rating of 4/5 stars across 86 reviews. Author R.J. Keller has graciously answered a few questions for Kindle Fire on Kindle Nation Daily.
1. Waiting For Spring is one of those books that can sound like a pointless trifle based on a brief description alone, yet reader after reader has found it to be a novel of surprising depth and meaning. Do you think the difficulty in boiling WFS down to a two-minute “elevator pitch” is what prevented the book from finding a publisher early on?
Absolutely. It’s been almost five years since I first sent out query letters for the book, and I still have a hard time with its “elevator pitch”. I’ve heard from readers who have a hard time elevator pitching it to their friends. I always knew that it would be hard to catch the attention of an agent or publisher, because there’s nothing catchy or ‘hook-y’ about the story or its premise; it’s just a slice-of-life story. Its strength lies in the style of writing and the characters rather than the plot, and that’s difficult to market. In fact, when I self-published back in 2008, the book didn’t attract much attention until I posted a few somewhat gritty excerpts from the book to go along with the synopsis. Then it was like, “oh, I get it…it’s that kind of book.” And that’s when it started to sell.
2. Some who read Waiting For Spring would call it a straight drama, others would say it’s a romance. How would you describe it?
Straight drama, definitely. When I started writing the book, I didn’t even know if Tess and Brian would get a happily-ever-after, so the climax of the book was never going to be about their relationship. I intended to write a book that could theoretically end before the question of whether the two of them ended up together was settled, a book in which that question was answered more out of closure for the reader than because it was a plot point. I feel very strongly that I succeeded in doing that. And I’ll admit I get a little irritated when people refer to it as a romance, not because I have anything against the genre, but because it’s no more a romance than it is a science fiction novel. I’ve also noticed that readers who tend not to like it bought it expecting to get a romance, so it’s not really fair to them to classify it that way. Also, I’ve read similar books written by men that would never be categorized as a romance, so there’s a bit of a feminist thing going on there as well.
3. Tess, the protagonist, is in some ways no less damaged or weak than Rachel, who’s a drug addict. What is it about Tess that allowed her to break free of destructive patterns, where Rachel could not?
That is such a great question. When I developed Rachel’s story, and as I was writing it, I always kept Tess’s back story in mind. They are so much alike. They’re both strong and independent, but very, very damaged. Tess recognizes that similarity almost instantly. She experimented with drugs and slept around when she was younger, for the same reasons Rachel does it. That’s the biggest reason Tess doesn’t realize exactly how deep a hole Rachel has fallen into. She figures, Hey, I went through this kind of thing when I was Rachel’s age and I came through it okay. All we have to do is wait for her to learn the lessons like I did. But the truth–at least the way I see it–is that if Tess had met a Tim when she was Rachel’s age, she might have traveled the same dark path Rachel ends up treading.
4. Very often in fiction that includes an element of romance, the protagonist is cast in the role of rescuer, or the rescued. Was it a conscious choice on your part to avoid that trope with Tess and the new man in her life?
YES, it was. I never even found myself accidentally falling into that trope, because I really hate that, both in real life and in fiction. One of the things I love about Tess is her resentment of Brian’s “Mr. Fix It” side. Even Brian comes to realize that this isn’t a healthy way to be, that he and Tess need to “rescue” themselves, not each other.
5. Waiting For Spring reads like a very personal story, yet it’s not described as autobiographical in any sense. What was your inspiration for the novel?
I like to say that the novel isn’t autobiographical factually, but it is emotionally. When I started writing it I was very lonely. My family had recently moved from a small, relatively poverty-stricken area where our roots ran deep–and where all of my friends lived–to a more populous, much wealthier area where we knew no one and didn’t quite fit in. Those feelings were exacerbated by the fact that I started exhibiting symptoms of an illness my doctor couldn’t diagnose (it was later identified as hemochromatosis) that left me feeling very weak physically and very, very useless. During this same period I almost lost my brother, then a very close friend went through a painful divorce, which kind of shook me. “If their marriage didn’t last, what chance to the rest of us have?” That kind of thing. And then, out of the blue, my father–whom I hadn’t seen in about twenty years–decided to get in touch with me. It was all very overwhelming. I could have gone to therapy, I suppose, but instead I created Tess and took it all out on her.
6. What’s next for R.J. Keller?
I recently quit my day job (I worked as a cashier) to write full time. Right now I’m working on a novel tentatively called The Wendy House. It follows a man named Rick during the course of one day as he prepares to kill the man who killed his daughter, all while having semi-drunken, hallucinatory conversations with his long-dead wife. Fortunately it has a better elevator pitch than Waiting For Spring.
Waiting For Spring – currently priced at $2.99 for the Kindle edition, and free to borrow for Prime members through the Kindle Lending Library.