Monday, December 22, 2008

[Interview] Wendy Mewes

Wendy Mewes lives and works in Finistere and has been teaching and writing about history for more than 25 years.

Her non-fiction books include Crossing Brittany (2008); The Nantes-Brest Canal: a Guide (2007) and Discovering the History of Brittany (2006) -- which focus on the history and attractions of Brittany.

She has also written and published two novels, Moon Garden (2004), a novel of love, growth and natural magic, and, The Five of Cups (2006), which explores explores love, loss and renewal.

In this email interview, Wendy Mewes talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was eight. It was about ancient Greece and I still have the faded pages of careful handwriting tied together with cotton. I remember consulting many books in the library and my father’s collection and enjoying the process of selecting information and telling things in my own words.

Since childhood I intended to be a writer, recognising it as a fundamental part of my nature. I thought then, however, that I would be a poet. Through my teens I wrote poetry and ran a poetry club at my school. I won prizes for poetry but it was not exactly an option for a profession.

I studied ancient history at university and wrote a serial set in ancient Rome. A very popular teen magazine said they liked the style but the story was too complicated for their readers and would I write a short story? Life got in the way and I didn’t follow up this opportunity. First mistake!

I worked seriously at my poetry during my twenties and submitted a collection for a major award at the age of thirty. Again, it was well-received, but I’d misread the rules and was six months too old. After this I was seriously ill and gave up writing for nearly ten years. Then, in a good phase of my life, I suddenly started a crime novel, set in England and Poland, which had a female heroine and a humorous tone. I was very confident that at last I’d found my niche and decided to give up my teaching career in London, move to the country and concentrate on writing. A reputable agent took on the novel and assured me I’d be a millionaire. The first editor rejected the book despite saying that I ‘had really got something’. After that the agent lost interest and I wasted 18 months, trying to write a sequel, but without any advice or encouragement. I could not even get the manuscript back from the agent.

I began writing articles for the editor of a local magazine who was also a publisher. We later married and together wrote a little walking book which was a sell-out locally. I then joined a professional writers’ group in Glastonbury, where I learnt a lot and benefited from serious criticism of my work from established writers.

I wrote another crime novel, rather dark this time, which I still think is one of the best things I’ve done, even though it has not been published. Another agent took it on, but did even less for me than the first. Second mistake -- bothering with agents!

I began writing a light-hearted novel about natural magic. Although my husband specialised in publishing transport and local interest books, he said he’d try publishing the novel. So Moon Garden came into the world and has in fact done well over the last few years, without any advertising or publicity. It is a bit of a cult book in pagan circles and has enjoyed many excellent reviews on the internet.

Next we moved to Brittany, north-west France, and my husband set up a new publishing company Red Dog Books, and I began to write guidebooks, walking books and a history of Brittany, coming back to my training and teaching experience. In the last few years I have written seven books about Brittany, including another novel set in the wild landscape where we live. All have been good sellers.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

In my non-fiction work I am trying to make the landscape and history of Brittany accessible to readers and visitors who may not speak French well. Many of my readers actually live here and want to discover the background of their adopted country in a language they can read easily. I try to write concisely but with clarity and good organisation of material. Simplifying the complexities of history is a challenge, but my skills seem to lie in this area.

As far as novels go, I write about making choices and hope to inspire people to move forward in their lives. The two published novels have a ‘feel-good’ factor, but I think the next may be something else altogether. It is true that I had the pagan world in mind when I began Moon Garden, but in fact it has been enjoyed equally by readers of all backgrounds.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

This is a hard one! In non-fiction I don’t feel I have models, but in fiction I admire enormously the fizzy skills of Janet Evanovich with her unique combination of humour and menace, especially in the earlier Stephanie Plum books. But I think the writers I most admire in serious fiction, such as Hilary Mantel, are doing something quite different from me. Maybe I consciously choose to read the opposite of what I write! When I read Thierry Guidet’s short account of his walk along the Nantes-Brest canal in French I thought I’d like to do the same and write about that journey myself, but my perspective as a foreigner and historian is completely different.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

In non-fiction I have always been motivated by producing quality work that is accessible to the general public but also academically sound. I am not interested in sensationalising history or sacrificing evidence to the demands of a good story. I believe that reality is just riveting as fantasy!

In fiction, so far I have thought about being entertaining and amusing in my characterisation and dialogue. I think in my next novel I want to explore my own emotional experience and understanding more deeply.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

In fiction I have drawn on events and people from my own life but circumstantially rather than profoundly. I was astonished to get a letter from a reader who met me years ago saying how easily he could see me in one of the characters in Moon Garden. In fact I had based this person on someone I knew and didn’t like very much! I’m not sure if there’s a lesson here or not!

The Five of Cups was a novel from my experience of coming to live in a foreign country with all the emotional upheaval that can bring, but the actual story is very different from my own. I found this book painful to write because it brought home to me many unsatisfactory aspects of my life. Since then I have not been able to ignore them!

In the novel I have just begun, Walking for the Broken-Hearted, I intend to draw much more closely on my own psychological experience. I feel the time has come for that and in a way I’ve been holding back up until now.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I suffer from too many ideas and too little time! I also find it difficult to reconcile the demands of writing fiction and non-fiction. I often feel I’d like to be free of the demands of constantly writing books and just concentrate on getting back to poetry. But financially I have to produce guidebooks. My novels take a huge effort and a lot of time to produce but do not have great financial returns, although I’m quite pleased with making a small profit from them. If there was no commercial imperative, sometimes I wonder if I’d write at all -- in many ways when it becomes simply work, the magic can ebb and flow.

Do you write everyday?

No, not every day. I am often out for days of walking or doing researching for historical books or having meetings with tourist organisations. (I also run an association here in Brittany for walks and visits to interesting places guided in English, and this takes up a lot of time).

For fiction, I am always reluctant to get started because there is not the easy agenda of a non-fiction book. The latter can be planned and then worked through in an orderly fashion. I don’t feel like that about fiction -- it churns me up emotionally and I often have to force myself to write. The Five of Cups only met its deadline by a strict 1,000 words a day which nearly drove me insane (but I always keep to deadlines)! Because I see the business from my husband’s point of view as a publisher, and how the delays of other writers cause him problems, I’m strict with myself about getting stuff in on time. Generally I am well-organised and disciplined as long as it’s non-fiction. Here I start work in my study at 9 am and make notes or write up all morning. My favoured method is to get something down one day and then review and refine it the next day before going on with a draft.

Afternoons are not good work times for me but I often come back to writing in the evenings. But nothing after 10 pm!

What is your latest book about?

In my most recent book, Crossing Brittany I describe a walk of 365 kilometres along the Nantes-Brest at a time when I was thinking a lot about the meaning of identity in my own life, so it’s both historical, personal and a bit of a nature study! It has taken me two years to write, despite being a short book, because it has been fitted in around other publications.

It is published with Red Dog Books as usual because they specialise in books about Brittany. The main problem has been over the title. I have always called it "The Long Thought", a theme of the book, but the publisher and representatives/distributors in the U.K. did not find that a very inviting prospect to publicise so at the last minute after a lot of soul-searching and arguing, I have agreed to change the title to Crossing Brittany (or as I think of it to myself, "Cross in Brittany"!).

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

This book is the most personal one I have written and it caused me to reflect deeply and often painfully on my life. I wrote it during a difficult time in my personal circumstances but not all of this can be easily exposed in the text, so I’ve had to make many compromises. It is also challenging to integrate a personal narrative with historical details and the description of my physical journey on this long walk.

I wanted to get a good balance between history, nature, walking, identity and observations about living in a foreign country. Constant reworking of the material was necessary to get this and, as the agreed length was quite short, I had to be extremely selective of material gathered over two years of research.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I liked the actual walk, which I did over four seasons, bit by bit. Sometimes I walked for several days, staying in accommodation overnight and carrying all my gear; other times I did a day’s stint of about 25 kilometres. My method of composition was to make notes in a dictaphone as I went along, as well as taking photos and talking to people on the way. So the research was great!

What sets the book apart from the other things you've written?

The personal tone is quite different from my objective historical voice, and the discipline and descriptive powers required in a travelogue to keep the reader interested poses new demands. I wanted them to be able to see what I saw but also to recognise my individual reactions during the trip.

In what way is it similar?

The subject matter -- the landscape and history of Brittany -- is my normal sphere of work. But both are so varied that I rarely find myself writing about the same things twice.

What will your next book be about?

My next project (for 2010) is Britons in Brittany, a book about links between Great Britain and Brittany through the centuries.

Also, not quite out of nowhere but very suddenly, a new novel has jumped into my head, and Walking for the Broken-Hearted is progressing slowly. I shall be looking for a main-stream publisher for this book.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Helping British people living in Brittany to feel a sense of connection and understanding with their chosen place of settlement in a foreign country even if they find the language barrier an insurmountable one. Making history a subject with life and energy has been very satisfying.

I am also proud of the fact that so many people have enjoyed my two novels and written to me about the sense of encouragement for change and growth in their lives that they got from the books.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

[Interview] Rachel Trezise

Rachel Trezise was born in the Rhondda Valley in south Wales in 1978.

She studied Journalism and English at Glamorgan University, and, Geography and History at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.

Her books have won two major awards and have been translated into Italian and Danish. Her autobigraphical novel, In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl (Parthian, 2000) won a place on the Orange Futures List in 2002. And her collection of short stories, Fresh Apples (Parthian Books, 2006) won the 2006 EDS Dylan Thomas Prize.

Trezise is also the author of a documentary about Welsh rock music, Dial M for Merthyr (Parthian, 2007), and a second novel, Sixteen Shades of Crazy, which is due out from HarperCollins in 2010.

In this interview, Rachel Trezise talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing at the age of sixteen. I thought I wanted to be a music journalist so I started a fanzine called Smack Rupunzel, interviewing and writing about local bands. Soon afterwards, I started writing what became my first novel, In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl, an autobiographical account of a girl growing up poverty stricken and sexually abused in the south Wales valleys.

One day a friend of mine gave me an advertisement he’d found in a local paper from an independent publisher looking for submissions for a Welsh short story anthology. By then I was studying journalism and doing creative writing as a minor so I had a short story set in Wales. It was accepted and I met the publishing editor at the launch of the book. He asked me if I’d written anything else and I sent him the novel, not expecting much because it had already been rejected by most of the major London publishing houses. A week later he told me he wanted to publish it. It came out a few months before I graduated from university.

How would you describe your writing?

It’s what’s generally called ‘literary fiction.’ I like to call it life with the names changed. That’s how people who don’t read literary fiction understand it, but there’s more to it than that obviously.

Who is your target audience?

I’ve never had a target audience. I always write for myself, and if at the end of a piece of work, I enjoy it, I just hope others will too. I’ve never tried to write for a specific age or class and I suspect that puts a lot of pressure on writers.

Actually, I did write an Afternoon Play recently for [BBC] Radio 4. It was about teenage pregnancy and I found writing dialogue a huge challenge because I wasn’t allowed to use ‘bad language.’ But teenagers do use ‘bad language,’ and it seemed unrealistic to leave it out. I worked my way around it eventually but it took up a lot of time.

Which authors influenced you most?

My favourite authors are Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, two African American women. I studied both for English Literature, A-Level, a time when I was seriously considering writing myself, and discovering the magic of other people’s literature. Some of my own experiences were similar to that of their characters and I identified with the themes of repression in their work.

More recently I’ve discovered Annie Proulx, another American woman who writes about rural areas and the lonely, downtrodden people who inhabit them, and her themes are also very close to the themes I explore.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My first novel was autobiographical so my personal experiences influenced that book in a very obvious way.

My second book, a collection of short stories, is set in the Rhondda Valley where I grew up and still live, and the characters are amalgamations of the people I grew up with and the everyday struggles they faced -- unemployment, drugs, poverty, the social issues of the day. The stories were fiction though; scenarios I’d heard about second hand or read about in newspapers.

To write about something well, you have to care about the subject, and usually you care about it because it’s happened to you or someone very close to you.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main objective as a writer is to tell a social commentary.

I think people and place are tantamount to one another, and my concern is to tell a truth. Not necessarily a true story but a true human condition, to explain what being a human being is about. If you can do that well, then I think your work transcends nationality, like that of Toni Morrison or Annie Proulx.

I think a lot of social issues are brushed under the carpet by the media, and it’s important to document them as an artist.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge I have at the moment is writing a completely fictional novel.

Those short stories I just mentioned were my fictional baby steps, as it were. For the first time ever, I’ve had to plot a fictional story over 200 pages. I’ve been working on it on and off for five years and am nearing the end now. I had to plan it in a very detailed way, making sure I left no room to lose my way.

It’s also a technically difficult piece of work because it’s told by three women who are very similar in age and background. It’s set in the south Wales valleys though, an area I’m very familiar with and my next challenge will be to set a novel in another country. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in America and I’m going to set my next book there which will be a terrific change.

Do you write everyday?

I write Monday to Friday and over the weekend if there’s a deadline approaching or I’m nearing the end of a project.

I start by re-reading and editing the previous day's work. After that I’m ready to proceed. I work to a strict word length, a 1,000 words a day and push to always hit it, even if what I’m writing isn’t of any quality. I can edit it later.

What is your latest book about?

The book I’m working on, and which I described briefly earlier, is about an English stranger who moves into a very small, close-knit south Wales village. He’s a drug-dealer who seduces three of the local women.

The story is about obsessive love, poverty and provincial attitudes to nationality, race and modern life. The three female characters have been effected at some time or another by different forms of abuse and so the story is also about how experiences of traumatic childhoods make people vulnerable in some ways but stronger in others.

For the first time, I’ve chosen a big London publisher. There are pros and cons to both independent and large publishing companies and my decision for going with a larger one this time is the marketing and distribution power a large house has. I want to reach as large and varied an audience as possible.

What will your next book be about?

I’ve got two new projects in mind. The first is a novel about a girl who’s sold into prostitution by her poverty stricken mother and who suffers throughout her twenties and thirties but eventually becomes a high class call girl and then in the autumn of her life finds love with an Orthodox Jewish man who leaves his religious fold to marry her. A rags to riches story set in West Virginia and Brooklyn, New York.

The other project is also loosely based around the theme of prostitution, a collection of short stories that’s half written at the moment. I’m not sure which’ll be first.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

In my relatively short time as a published writer -- it’s coming up to the 10 year anniversary, I’ve been lucky enough to win two literary prizes, The Orange Futures Prize for In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl and the Dylan Thomas Prize for Fresh Apples.

The second came with a £60,000 cheque and that’s enabled me to be able to write for the past two years without any financial worries, a rare situation for an author, so obviously that’s been a significant achievement and a great reward for all the time and energy I put into my work beforehand but I’m always thrilled when I see a manuscript turn into a book with a proper cover and blurb, perhaps even more so when it happens to be in a different language.

My first hard back book came out in Denmark last year, Ned i akvariet og op igen, a translation of In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl, and Fresh Apples comes out in Italy next year.

More on OhmyNews International.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

[Interview] Benjamin Stainton

Benjamin Stainton was born in Bury St. Edmunds and grew up in and around the Suffolk countryside.

His debut collection of poems, The Jealousies, was published by Bewrite Books in October 2008.

In this email interview, Ben Stainton talks about his writing:

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Quite late really, I was 26 or 27. At that time, I thought of myself as a musician who occasionally wrote poetry, quite badly.

Around autumn 2005, I’d written some newer poems that seemed better, a little more assured, so I submitted a few for an anthology called The Soul Gatherer, and the editors accepted one called "9th of October".

The Jealousies was being published three years later, to the day.

Who is your target audience?

As this is my first book, just anyone who reads or has an interest in modern poetry I suppose. I'll be booking myself in for some readings shortly, so my target audience will be whoever's in the room.

How would you describe your writing?

Poetry comes more easily than prose, for me. My prose is a bit tepid, usually.

I prefer to write in a non-linear, abstract way, but keep it accessible, hopefully retain an emotional point of contact with the reader, somehow.

I think my style changes from day to day. I don't feel settled into one particular mode of writing yet, and I'm unsure if a writer has to do that -- to "find their own voice" as the saying goes. I prefer speaking in a number of voices.

At the moment, I’m writing about contemporary and historical figures, real and fictional, usually people approaching a crossroads or involved in a drama of some kind. I see it as empathetic poetry; attempts to identify someone else’s interior world.

Who influenced you most?

When I started writing seriously, Arthur Rimbaud and Sylvia Plath were major influences.

Others included Keats, Berryman, Eliot, Hemingway, maybe Dylan Thomas.

Outside of literature, Van Gogh and the abstract-expressionists; a huge range of music, films, adverts... too many sources and people to name.

I also think poetry, and other art forms that may rely on the subconscious, draw on influences already forgotten by the artist.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

The Jealousies is quite autobiographical, not entirely, but about two thirds of the poems are based on personal experience. It's very preoccupied with the past. Almost a sloughing off of the past, in a way. My newer writing is moving away from the personal, perhaps becoming a little more expansive.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is to make an emotive or unconscious connection with the reader, but also to reveal or propose something about myself, to myself.

I deal with those concerns as best I can, by writing in a way that moves me, and I hope others can relate to.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

To keep improving, I suppose. No one wants their first book to be their best. Bob Dylan said something like -- an artist who feels he's arrived is finished. I hope to always be on my way somewhere.

Do you write everyday?

Well, hopefully my charming employers won't read this, but I have quite a superfluous job where there isn't much to do, so I write at work. Usually I'll have a vague idea about what I want, or where it's heading, or a certain feeling will come over me -- a little scenario or tableaux pops into my head -- which can happen anytime. I'll then write, edit, re-write and arrange until the poem is finished. This could take minutes, or weeks.

What would you say The Jealousies is about?

The book is about me, essentially. It's determinedly personal. The section titled "Film" purports to be about other, famous people -- Thomas Chatterton, Lucrezia Borgia, Amy Winehouse -- but my own personality creeps in.

Most of the poems were written in 2007, although a handful are older.

I sent an abbreviated version of the book to Sam Smith at The Journal, who’d accepted a few of my poems, and on his recommendation Bewrite agreed to publish.

What did you find most difficult when you were working on the book?

I'm something of a perfectionist, so I have major difficulties finishing anything I care about. Think I drove Sam (who also edited the book) slightly insane with my constant revisions, additions, deletions etc. In the end he had to tell me to stop.

What did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed the whole process really. For someone who has been creating for years, learning the book would be published and fleshing it out with new work was a good feeling, like a justification.

What sets the book apart from other things you have written?

Well, although this is my first book, I can compare it to earlier poems, which tended towards a more surrealistic style -- automatic writing with no prior considerations at all. I was basically writing for the sake of it. Hopefully there's a little more coherence and fluidity to what I'm doing now.

In what way is it similar?

I think I still approach and attack from similar angles, with surreal elements, but my stuff now tends to be rooted in reality. Maybe a deformed version of reality.

What will your next book be about?

It will probably be a series of longish poems or dialogues, each told as a first person narrative. I'd like to express something about the modern world, make use of colloquial language, be a little less "poetic" in the old-fashioned sense, but hopefully retain a dreamlike sensibility. Strong characterisation is paramount. They'll be character poems: life-affirming, life-despairing.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

The fact a small group of people, unknown to me personally, have trusted my writing enough to publish it, is my only accomplishment so far. But I'm very, very ambitious. I want to write poetry that endures, that sums up a certain level of existence. I want to push myself over the edge.

Possibly related books:

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Friday, November 14, 2008

[Interview_1] Zukiswa Wanner

South African author Zukiswa Wanner has a degree in journalism from Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, Hawaii.

She has contributed material to newspapers and magazines that include the Sunday Independent, Oprah, Elle, Juice and Afropolitan.

Her debut novel The Madams (Oshun Books, 2006) explores race relations while her second novel, Behind Every Successful Man (Kwela Books, 2008) looks at what happens when husband and wife roles are reversed. Both novels are set in post-apartheid South Africa.

In this email interview, Zukiswa Wanner talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was five. As a prospective published writer though, I was kind of pushed into it by South African writer Lewis Nkosi who had seen some of my opinion pieces and suggested that I should consider writing fiction. I told him I was too much of a realist to write fiction and he told me it was the greatest bull he had ever heard.

I thought it a challenge and in two weeks I had written the first draft of The Madams. I sent it in its rawness to another Drum-era journalist -- the now late Doc Bikitsha -- and he loved it and suggested that I make it longer. He also sent me a list of five publishers to send the manuscript to and of the five, three accepted it. I picked one out of those three, went through a rigorous editing process and the rest, as they say, is history.

How would you describe your writing?

I write stories of contemporary South Africa.

In my writing, I generally focus on the middle class because I believe I see enough of poor stories in Africa on CNN.

Who is your target audience?

I write something that resonates with me and that I would enjoy. It's just coincidental that there are people who have read my work who seem to enjoy it -- which I suppose is an indication that ultimately, many of us have similar aspirations.

Which authors influenced you most?

Zimbabwean author, Shimmer Chinodya because I love the way he manages to bring out serious issues through humour (and therefore not sound preachy). I also love George Orwell's cynicism.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Apart from language usage, not much.

I tend to use other people's stories -- so some of my friends have been bastardized in the two books that I have written, in one way or other.

What is your main concern as a writer?

My main concern is probably writing something that's entertaining enough for people to keep turning the pages in these days of short attention spans.

How do you deal with this concern?

I am yet to know how to deal with it because traditional 'intellectual' readers want me to be more serious when writing while people who generally have never read tell me how much they enjoy my conversational style. I shall have to keep 'practicing' so I can create a balance between the two.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

My greatest challenge is being referred to as 'a good female writer' as opposed to just being a good or bad writer. I think it's awfully patronizing and I tend to dismiss people who refer to me as that because my writing (essays, blogs et al) is not limited to 'female issues' (whatever that is) and even if it was, women make up half the world anyway.

Do you write everyday?

I write every day. Mostly emails and responses to people on facebook. But I also generally wake up at about midnight and write throughout the night daily.

I then take a shower, take my son to creche, and then come and sleep for most of the day unless I have assignments that just can't be put on hold.

How many books have you written so far?

Two.

The Madams (Oshun, Nov 2006) is a story of the friendship of three women in today's Johannesburg and the issues they experience.

The novel explores questions like: Is HIV/AIDS just a disease of those under 35? Does our Rainbow Nation tag mean we, in South Africa, are truly over our racial issues and racial labels? Is domestic violence merely a disease of the lower classes? In spite of women getting top jobs and the best Constitution in the world, are women really equal [to men] in today's South Africa?

The book is written in first person and the voice is that of one of the female protagonists.

My latest novel, Behind Every Successful Man (Kwela Books, June 2008) deals with traditionalism versus modernity and questions whether a woman can ultimately be satisfied with just being there for her husband and her children without pursuing her own dreams (well unless of course her dream is to be stay-at-home mom). It's written in third person and gives both the husband's and the wife's perspectives.

In Behind Every Successful Man, Nobantu decides she is going to leave her house to pursue her dreams, to the horror of her CEO husband Andile. He then has to learn how to be a father to his children as opposed to being a cheque book dad, while she has to learn how to be in business without the security of his money to fall back on.

How did you chose a publisher for your latest novel?

I left Oshun because the team that I had worked with on The Madams had all quit and I tend to like working with people I am familiar with (the royalty fee I was being offered at Kwela didn't hurt either!).

I chose Kwela because I was already friends with a lot of their writers and knew the inside scoop, I also knew their publisher and many in their team.

The advantage, in addition to the aforementioned higher royalty percentage, is that they have a better publicity team. People actually stop me in malls now to tell me how much they enjoy my books (the down side is that I can't walk around wearing sweats anymore!)

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Nothing because I was commenting on a time I am living (the present) unlike I suspect, if I had been writing a historical novel (yet another reason why I think Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is so brilliant).

What did you enjoy most

Sometimes I just have a line that feels right. In Behind Every Successful Man that line was from Nobantu's mom as repeated by her mother, "Better to cry in a limo than laugh in a taxi".

What sets Behind Every Successful Man apart from The Madams?

The style as I have highlighted above. And the fact that I actually have a male voice in Behind Every Successful Man.

Are there any similarities?

They both deal with issues that women I know have struggled with at one time or other.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Being featured as one of South Africa's Most Phenominal Women this year and my nomination for a South African Literary Award.

Related books:

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Monday, November 10, 2008

[Interview] Harry Hughes

Harry Hughes is an award winning song writer, a professor of psychology and an author.

His first novel, The Bait Shack was published by BeWrite Books in October 2008.

Hughes is also the subject of the National Book Critics Circle Award nominated book, Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America (Harper Collins Press, 1992), by Donald Katz.

In this email interview, Harry Hughes talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

In 7th grade, at the age of 12, I was struck by a desire to both read and write fiction. The book that started it all for me was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. But the writer who really grabbed me and refused to let go was Edgar Allan Poe.

My father had bought me an LP record on the Vanguard label of Nelson Olmstead reading six highly abridged stories by Poe. I played it so many times that my parents were on the verge of breaking it over my head.

I then staring reading Poe’s works at full-throttle. Still 12 years old, I started writing short stories in dreadful penmanship on school notebook paper. Of course, they were terrible. They were speciously derivative of Poe, filled with gore but totally lacking in any sense of poetic prose. Yet, I persisted.

How would you describe the writing you are doing now?

Currently, I’m in a modern noir kind of groove that relies heavily on what I call the two eyes, irony and irreverence. But that could change.

I don’t write to a particular audience. But because I am of the so-called “baby-boomer” generation in the USA, the many references to that cohort’s culture in my works probably invite people of my age to be drawn to my fiction. But I certainly hope, that is not strictly the case. I, like most writers, would appreciate a wide readership.

What motivated you to write in this genre?

If I said that I wasn’t necessarily motivated to write in any genre, that would only be partly true. My personal experiences and favorite authors drew me to a style of writing that is best expressed in that genre, but I hope to expand.

Who influenced you most?

Almost everything I write derives from some personal experience, even if not directly. I believe firmly in the old adage, “Write what you know about.” When I violate that principle, I sense a palpable fakery in my work.

Without doubt, the two living authors who have most influenced me are Thomas McGuane and Don DeLillo, and other writers of the same generation who seem eager to shed the overly introspective style of the past’s great authors and instead pursue crisp narratives whose most salient feature is an underlying sense of irony and brooding menace. These authors seemed to be saying more with less words. And, I feel as though they are speaking directly to me.

My early Poe obsession did not carry over into my adult writing.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Quite honestly, my main concern is for my books to sell by the busload. Having said that, however, when my readers finish one of my works, I would like them to feel that the time spent doing so was well worth the effort.

No doubt, the biggest challenge is recruiting a loyal following in an age when cut and paste, word processing devices allow anybody, talented or not, to cobble a farrago of paragraphs that might qualify as a “novel” in the loosest interpretation of that word.

How do you deal with this?

There is only one way of dealing with that challenge that I can think of. Just keep plugging away. Try to make each book or story better than the last one.

Even if one spends a year writing something that turns out to be less than what one’s standards dictate, don’t try to get it published. Dump it or rewrite the thing.

Do you write everyday?

My ability to write fiction arrives in spurts. When I’m on a roll, then yes, I’m tapping away on the keyboard every day. But I cannot force inspiration. It needs to develop naturally, usually from an interesting event or idea that sort of pours through me instantly. Then I become a man possessed.

Books or stories need to end themselves. I once started a novel that I felt others would find very funny, but I couldn’t stretch the tale into a whole novel without diluting the humor, so the work became an 81-page novella. If I had pushed it beyond its natural ending, the result would have amounted to an exercise in contrivance.

How many books have you written so far?

Before I seriously turned to writing fiction, I was a scientist (now I’m a college professor). So, I had been published only in hard-core science journals.

In 1998, Barbara Stone, editor of a monthly volume of short stories titled Hampton Shorts was looking for new material. I submitted "A River too Distant" and it was accepted for publication along with works by Joseph Heller and Albert Albee in Hampton Shorts, Volume 3, 1998.

My debut novel, The Bait Shack was published by BeWrite Books in October 2008.

How long did it take you to write The Bait Shack?

The first draft of The Bait Shack took nine weeks to complete. But multiple drafts of the manuscript followed until I felt it was publishable. Writing these subsequent drafts consumed much more time than the nine weeks of the first draft.

How did you chose a publisher for the book?

I signed a contract with BeWrite Books on February 21, 2008.

BeWrite had been favorably referred to me by a very dear and close individual who had already published a novel with them. I find the BeWrite team to be amazingly supportive and have yet to come upon any regrets for signing with them.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book was most difficult?

As a first-time, unknown author, the most difficult aspect of the whole writing process was to find an agent even willing to consider the manuscript.

My spirits were lifted temporarily when a literary agency in Dallas, Texas (Karen Lewis & Company) liked the manuscript enough to take me on as a client. But, they couldn’t find a publisher for me.

Truthfully, I wasn’t surprised. I knew that the book still needed some serious revisions. After making those revisions, and knowing that I now had something of value to submit, I considered an e-publisher for the reasons stated above so as not to undergo the whole agent excavation project again.

What did you enjoy most?

The most enjoyable part of the writing process was creating a circuit that began with ideas, then choosing the right words to express them, then watching the words appear on the screen as I typed, then having these words feed back into my mind, which lastly created a visual “movie” of the book in my head as it went along. If you know you are on to something good, then the circuit I’ve just described results in a feeling like no other.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is already finished and ready to go. The title is Horseshoes, which is the novella that I spoke of above. With it are five (long) short stories, one of which is "A River Too Distant" that was published by Hampton Shorts as noted above.

Horseshoes is a comic novella about an aeronautical engineer's mid-life crisis precipitated by one too many trips to the drawing board. His irrational fugue state carries him from East Hampton to Dallas to New York City with relentless irony shredding the seat of his pants.

How would you describe the other short stories in the collection?

In "Swoop", two U.S. Marine combat veterans concoct an outrageous plan to keep a young surfer from being shipped to Viet Nam.

In "A Dollar Twenty-Five Per Mile", a Long Island night-shift hacker eyes the beautiful day driver Althea from an immeasurable distance. One morning, he cashes in and drops to the back seat of her taxi. "California," he tells her.

"A River Too Distant" is about an African-American repo man who reclaims the Honda Civic of a white southerner abruptly fired from his job at the lumberyard. But Duck and his chainsaw are ready for him.

"Hector's Drunken Buddha" tells the story of an aimless, underachieving Latino who rediscovers his self-worth following a nightmarish weekend of migraine headaches, prescription drug abuse and the death of two close friends.

And in "Fry Cook", a North Carolinian woman named Marnee tells the story of her otherwise gentle husband’s grotesque plan for revenge and its inevitable execution, an act that is both unnerving yet strangely reasonable.

More at OhmyNews International.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Interview _ Group Captain Peter Petter-Bowyer

Peter Petter-Bowyer was born in 1936 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe).

He joined the Royal Rhodesian Air Force in 1957 and was a senior operational pilot during Zimbabwe's war of independence. He was also instrumental in designing and producing a range of aeronautical weapons systems that were used in the conflict. In 1980, with the advent of President Robert Mugabe’s rule, Petter-Bower retired as group captain.

His autobiography, Winds of Destruction (30° South Publishers, 2008) has been described as "a unique account" of service in the Rhodesian Air Force.

In this email interview, Group Captain Peter Petter-Bowyer talks about the concerns which informed his writing.

When did you start writing?

In 1984, I started recording the story of my life for my family. However, in 2000, friends read what I had written and persuaded me to expand the information as nobody had yet written an autobiography that covered the Rhodesian post-WW2 story of the Rhodesian forces and the political issues leading to the Zimbabwean era.

I ignored all the work I had previously recorded and, in January 2001, simply started from the beginning of my life in 1936 and kept going until the time I left Zimbabwe in 1983.

Why did you leave?

Having fought communism for 13 years, I had no desire to remain in a Marxist one-party state.

I moved to South Africa in early 1983 because my air weapons development work and operations knowledge were needed there. Settling in was not difficult because I was working and living amongst Rhodesians and English South Africans (i.e. not Apartheid Afrikaners).

What sets your book apart from the writings of others who grew up and lived in the same environment?

Mine was a unique situation. However, the big difference is that I made a record whereas others did not.

What were the biggest challenges that you faced?

All my diaries had been destroyed so I was almost wholly reliant upon my own memory.

I realized that some details may have been corrupted by time and that my own recall of any particular situation might differ from others. Nevertheless, I knew the essence of my story to be honest and correct — so I simply told of things the way I remembered them.

How and why were the diaries destroyed?

Upon gaining power, Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF cohorts became paranoid about the security of their personal positions. This led to the implementation of laws that ensured white Zimbabweans were denuded of personal weapons, military paraphernalia and any Rhodesian documentation that might be used against ZANU.

Having handed in my own weapons in 1980, I took the precaution of destroying all my diaries. My book reveals some of the reasons why such hasty action was taken but I have lived to regret dumping 20 diaries into the septic tank of our Harare (then Salisbury) home. In hindsight, I realise that I should have buried them deep for later recovery. Nonetheless, the consequence of my error is that my book is, for the most part, written from memory.

Do you write everyday?

I wrote almost every day during working hours (my own business) and in the evening. Probably averaging six hours per day.

Which aspects of the work you put into Winds of Destruction was most difficult?

Memory was the most difficult aspect, particularly in remembering names and dates.

If it took too long to run through the alphabet to recall a name, I simply ran a dotted line … to be dealt with later. This worked fine.

What did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed the fact that I was able to remember my life in an amazingly ordered sequence. I also enjoyed sharing amusing stories along the way.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Receiving thanks and complements for the quality of my story from diverse individuals from all over the world (including Russia). This let me know that I was right to expose Rhodesia for what it really was.

Who is your target audience?

Primarily I wrote for Rhodesians. However, my book has attracted a great deal more interest from politicians and historians than I expected.

Given that Rhodesia no longer exists, who are the Rhodesians? Where are they? What are their hopes and dreams?

Believe me, Rhodesians are very much alive. I was born, raised and served as a Rhodesian. Like me, those who came from any place in the world and accepted that they were Rhodesians have continued to call themselves Rhodesians. The country’s name changed but not the fact of our nationality and patriotism.

Today Rhodesians are spread throughout the world and most who are able to work are doing well for themselves. Yet, almost without exception, their memories dwell on the joys of the life they experienced in Rhodesia.

Many black people who are old enough to remember also hanker for the days before Mugabe when jobs were plentiful, stomachs were full and their families were healthy and well provided for with proper schools and good medical services.

What are your views on what is happening in Zimbabwe at present? Do you think the situation will improve?

We fought a war to prevent precisely what is happening now. Admittedly, it took almost 20 years to occur whereas I thought it would take 10.

Mugabe was well-schooled in Marxism and has followed strictly the line “gain power then hold it forever by all means whether fair and foul”. He knows the world will not act against him and only fears that his armed forces may turn against him and his junta. Hence his militia thugs and Chinese Army forces sited north of Harare.

The [main opposition, Movement for Democratic Change] MDC can do absolutely nothing by following their democratic line. Only a disgruntled army can dislodge the present government. Rising levels of starvation and death have no effects on the fat cats in power. But the underpaid army is often hungry and soldiers hate the suffering of their families. I see this as the only hope of removing Mugabe and his junta, other than the death of Mugabe. But in that case the Junta may very well take over government in its present form.

How would you describe your writing?

Winds of Destruction is an autobiography which is the vehicle I used to tell of my involvement as an operational pilot with the Rhodesian Air Force, army, special forces and police and also to explain the political issues as they appeared to me.

I wanted to record the Rhodesian situation as I knew it. In so doing, I sought also to counter world-wide misconceptions of Rhodesia as created by British politicians and the media which, in turn, had been heavily influenced by world conditions arising from the Cold War.

What was the Rhodesia situation?

We wanted to retain government in responsible hands. Colour of the government was expected but at a sensible pace.

What were some of the misconceptions about the situtation? And, how did they come about?

Communist propaganda was amazingly effective during the Cold War. Added to communist propaganda were the socialist leanings of the British Labour party and its liberal media.

The world was persuaded that Rhodesians were racist supremacists dedicated to the retention of power in white hands. This was induced communist and socialist propaganda. Anyone who knows that we were governed by the 1961 Rhodesian Constitution will know that we desired to abide by the entrenched clauses that bound us to ‘unimpeded progress to majority rule’.

We knew that it was essential to retain government in responsible hands as we moved cautiously and sensibly to an eventual government majority of educated and experienced black people. The failure of African governments to our north was all too obvious. But our whole outlook was totally different to South Africa’s Apartheid system which we detested.

Yet, the USSR persuaded the west and its media to think otherwise. They did this to induce forced majority rule rather than allow a progressive move towards black government because that would destroy their need for broken down governments quickly. Their solution was to induce in their surrogates the need for ‘Immediate majority rule’. The British government extended this in Rhodesia’s case by demanding NIBMAR (No Independence Before Majority Rule)

As in all its actions to gain world power, the communists used other people to fight and bleed for them. In all situations, they knew that they were promoting unsuitable people to take power by force so as to destroy western and Islamic influence (in our case to destroy Britain’s colonies). In particular, they recognised that those countries overrun by their surrogate allies would ruin their countries through greed, inefficiency and corruption. This the communists welcomed because it would facilitate a bloodless take over when things got out of hand.

Well, Africa moved in the direction the USSR had hoped, but their form of communism failed and broke up even what they had achieved. In the meanwhile, the patient Chinese communist style continues in working slowly and quietly to bring about Chinese control of Africa. By 2050, they need to have found space for over 300 million Chinese people. This will be achieved by the surreptitious and progressive assumption of power from useless black politicians.

I have been saying, for over 40 years, that all of Africa will become a major component of the Chinese Empire. This can be seen already and will have full effect before 2050. Already the Chinese have gained control of some of Zambia’s copper mines and imported Chinese workers rather than use black workers. They ignore protests of the blacks who have lost their jobs and only pay the Chinese workers half of what the blacks would expect. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe has already given away mines and land which the Chinese will man with their own people at low cost. Similar things are occurring in Zaire and other African countries. The writing is on the wall but the blacks cannot see what is coming. Real racist oppression is on its way to the poor ordinary black folk.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.

Monday, November 3, 2008

[Interview] L. Lee Lowe

Short story writer and novelist, L. Lee Lowe holds an M.A. in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Heidelberg.

She publishes her short stories on the blog, Into the Lowelands.

Her debut novel, Mortal Ghost, is also available in a variety of formats online. Readers have the added options of being able to listen to podcasts of the novel or to download it as a PDF file or e-book.

Lee Lowe was born in the United States but now lives in Germany. Before that, she spent 18 years in Zimbabwe. Currently she is working on a second novel, Corvus.

In this email interview, she talks about her concerns as a writer.

Do you write every day?

I write every day unless ill, or when family events make it impossible.

I begin with checking my email and a few blogs, then reading a new or favourite poem and one entry from an etymological dictionary.

After that, I revise what I've written the day before, sometimes more, then write till I've at least reached my daily quota, which at the moment stands at 500 words. I never stop unless I know what I'm going to try to write the next morning and will often break off in the middle of a sentence so I don't have to face a blank page, so to speak.

I'm a slow and painstaking writer and cannot just let the words flow, but rewrite and revise each sentence obsessively.

How long did it take you to write Mortal Ghost?

Mortal Ghost is the story of a homeless lad with certain uncanny gifts and a past which he's trying to escape.

It took me two years to write it, after which time I cut it to less than half its original length on the advice of my former agent. When we couldn't agree any further, I decided to publish it online, which I've not regretted. Though there's a stigma attached to this sort of literary endeavor, and the disadvantage of not having an editor, I find myself quite happy with my independence. No one tells me what to write! Undoubtedly the novel is flawed, but the flaws are at least my own, and I hope to become better at self-editing in time.

The other major disadvantage to this form of publishing is developing a readership. I don't have a publisher or publicist behind me and am obliged to do all my own 'marketing' -- not easy for someone like myself, who dislikes any form of self-promotion.

How many books have you published so far?

I'm not a published writer in the conventional sense of the word, since my fiction is only available online. I prefer to leave writing careers to those who are younger. And as far as I'm concerned, the only real satisfaction is in the process, not in number of books sold or prizes collected or dollars earned.

My young adults' fantasy novel, Mortal Ghost is available online.

With the help of theatre student, Bill Uden, and the staff of Carmarthenshire College in Wales, the novel is also being podcast as an audiobook.

What did you find most difficult when you were working on the novel?

I'm weak at plotting, since I don't plan my novel in detail -- only a few scenes and a general narrative arc -- before I begin to write.

With my second novel, Corvus -- I've tried to plot more carefully, but it seems that I can't write this way. So I now look at my first draft as a beginning and rewrite from there. Very inefficient, but the characters and their concerns need to grow in some sort of organic fashion. And I find that I like to live with them for a long time.

What did you enjoy most?

Honing phrases and sentences. I enjoy playing with words, and there is no high like the high of getting it right!

What will your next book be about?

Corvus is a science fiction/fantasy hybrid set in a slightly alternate future in which the minds of teen offenders are uploaded into computers on the pretext of rehabilitation -- a form of virtual wilderness therapy. The novel is part thriller, part love story, part riff on the nature of consciousness.

The first chapter, subject to revision, is available online.

When did you start writing?

I've been writing off and on since childhood -- poems, school plays, stories -- but only began to work in a disciplined manner when my children were starting to leave home.

I had taken a job in public relations at the University of Bonn, which I detested. It soon struck me that it was a 'now or never' situation -- either fulfill my lifelong dream to write properly or see 'office drone' carved on my tombstone.

How would you describe your writing?

I write fiction, both short stories and novels. If I had a true poetic sensibility, I would love to write poetry.

Who is your target audience?

Though I have termed my first novel a young adult fantasy, it's a category I'm uncomfortable with. I don't ever think of my readers when writing, just the text itself.

Genre is more about marketing than literature.

Who influenced you most?

In my personal life, I'd have to say my father -- and not necessarily in a positive sense. It's very difficult to grow up the child of a brilliant and impatient man.

In terms of writers, there are too many to list, though at the moment I'm particularly fascinated by the work of Breece D'J Pancake, Amy Hempel, and poet Ron Slate. Next month you'll probably get a different answer!

Also, living overseas -- in self-imposed exile, so to speak -- means that I have neither home nor language in which I'm entirely comfortable. Who am I? Where do I belong? Which English is truly mine? are questions that underlie all my attempts to find an authentic fictional voice.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Writing beautiful and authentic sentences.

How do you deal with these concerns?

Read and read and read; write and rewrite.

The biggest challenge, of course, is to write well, but I find it very difficult to battle envy -- not of material success, but of the skill and gifts of others. I'm easily depressed by the huge gap between how I'd like to write and how I actually do. And I'm lazy as well!

How do you deal with these challenges?

Discipline has been hard-won, mostly by viewing my writing as a job and setting myself daily goals: so many words before I leave my study.

A sense of inadequacy is far more difficult to cope with, and my husband and children are very supportive in this regard. Still, I'm often frustrated and depressed.

More at OhmyNews International.

Possibly related books:

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Related article:

[Interview] Robert Gould, Conversations with Writers, September 19, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

[Interview] Patricia Fry: editorial consultant, publisher and freelance writer

Patricia Fry is an editorial consultant, a publisher and a freelance writer. She is also president of the Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN).

In 1983, she set up her own publishing company, Matilija Press and went on to publish over 28 books, among them, Over 75 Good Ideas for Promoting Your Book (Matilija Press, 2000); The Successful Writer’s Handbook (Matilija Press, 2003) and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book (Matilija Press, 2007).

Patricia Fry talks about her writing and the work she is doing with authors who want to break into the publishing industry:

When did you start writing?

I was married with small children when I discovered that I loved to write. I wrote endless letters, stories for my three daughters and poetry for greeting cards. I knew that someday I wanted to write for magazines and I began studying writers’ magazines and the publications for which I wanted to write. But I didn’t start my writing career until my daughters were teenagers.

In 1973, I set up a small desk in a corner of my bedroom, borrowed a manual typewriter and wrote my first magazine article. They say to write about what you know. Our family was involved with horses, at the time, and my first article sold to a magazine called, Horse and Horseman.

I wrote several more articles for a variety of horse magazines and then decided to write a book.

In 1978, Hints For the Backyard Rider was accepted by A. S. Barnes, a publisher with offices in New York and London.

I’ve spent the last 35 years writing articles for all variety of magazines: business, animal/pet, parenting, lifestyle, religious/spiritual, writing, health/fitness, travel, regional, specialty and others. My writing has supported me for the last 20 years.

I established my own publishing company in 1983 before it was fashionable. I did so in order to produce a 360-page local history book, The Ojai Valley, An Illustrated History. I’ve since published several additional books through my company, Matilija Press.

How would you describe the writing you are doing now?

I continue to write non-fiction articles for magazines, newsletters and the web, only most of them relate to writing and publishing. I also have 28 published books, 11 of them related to writing and publishing. My hallmark book is The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book (Matilija Press, 2007)

But mainly, I work as a mentor/consultant, teacher, lecturer and editor for freelance writers and authors who want to break into the highly competitive publishing business.

I also write an almost daily publishing blog and I teach online courses on book promotion, writing a book proposal, freelance article writing and self-publishing.

As a teacher, workshop leader, national speaker, book promoter and president of the Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network(SPAWN), a 12-year-old networking organization, I meet a lot of disillusioned, disgruntled and broke authors. They tell me, in so many words, “If only I had known my options before getting involved in publishing and if only I’d known the possible consequences of my choices…” Most of them don’t even understand that it is up to them (the author) to promote his or her book. When I realized that most of these authors fail (and there are statistics to prove this) and it is basically due to their ignorance, I began gearing practically all of my writing efforts toward the hopeful and struggling author.

My goal is to educate and inform them so they make the right choices on behalf of their particular projects.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I think the biggest challenge for most writers and authors is promotion -- getting known, attracting an audience. And it is no different for me. Like most writers and authors, I want to write. But I find that I must spend more hours in marketing mode than I can spend writing. Unfortunately, most writer types aren’t exactly “built” to advertise themselves. We want to create, not promote. This challenge is, indeed, universal.

And that’s why I include several chapters in my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, on promotion. And my book, Over 75 Good Ideas for Promoting Your Book is number 13 on a short list of most popular books on book promotion. I was surprised to discover this week that this little book beat out books by some well-known professionals within the book promotion realm.

Do you write every day?

I do write (or at least work in my home office) everyday. I support myself through my writing and editorial work with clients. So, of course, I must put in the time.

When I’m not writing or working with a client, I am promoting which includes scheduling workshops, writing articles for writing/publishing-related publications or sites, sending press releases, etc.

I come to work here in my home office around 5 every morning and work until around 4 each afternoon. I break for a morning walk everyday and to run a quick errand or two. Otherwise, I am generally in work mode.

How did you choose a publisher for your latest book?

One question I get often is, “What is the best publishing option?”

I always respond with this: “It depends on you and it depends on your project.”

I chose to self-publish (through my own publishing company) all of my writing/publishing books because I figure I have a strong platform (my following -- my way of attracting the appropriate audience) and because I don’t want to share the profits. I actually had a traditional publisher ready to produce my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book and decided to fire him and publish it myself. It turned out to be a wise decision.

What are the advantages in this case? I got to keep my title and nothing important got edited out. I set the price and I am free to work with and negotiate with distributors, wholesalers, booksellers, etc. I have no problem getting books when I need them for a signing, book festival or such. And I get to keep all of the profits. This is not the case with some other publishing options.

Which aspect of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

For a non-fiction book of the scope and depth of The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, it takes a lot of research and fact-checking. That, along with the fine-tuning of the book, was probably the most difficult aspect.

What did you enjoy most?

I think most writers enjoy the writing the most. Yes, that is what I enjoyed most -- that, and the organizing of it. I enjoy organizational tasks such as creating an index and organizing text into chapters.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Probably the number and range of books I’ve produced and the scope of writing I’ve done.

I also pride myself for the work I seem to be able to do naturally to assist other writers along the competitive and bumpy road to publishing success.

My primary goal is to help writers produce quality work, of course, but more than that, they must understand that publishing is not an extension of their writing. In other words, they cannot expect to shift easily from writing mode into the world of publishing. It takes a transition from right to left brain thinking. In order to succeed, hopeful authors and, even freelance writers, must truly comprehend that writing is a creative endeavor, but publishing is definitely a business.

More at Ohmynews International.

Possibly related books:

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Monday, October 20, 2008

[Interview] Mary Arensberg

Award-winning novelist Mary Katherine Arensberg grew up in rural Ohio in the United States. She attended Utica High and the Ohio State University.

Her debut novel, Willa (Xlibris, 2007) received first prize in the novel category of the Arizona Press Women’s 2008 Communicator’s Competition. The novel also received second prize in the 2008 National Federation of Press Women’s competition.

Willa was followed by Woman of the Wind (Xlibris, 2007); Naomi of the Arizona Territory (Xlibris, 2008) and Miracle from the Mountain which is due out late October 2008.

In this email interview, Mary Arensberg talks about why she decided to self publish.

When did you start writing?

I started writing with the idea of publishing in 1993. I knew I wanted to become an author in high school and was encouraged by several of my teachers, but as often happens, life gets in the way. I married and had four children and I happily traded my goals for them. The youngest graduated in 1995 and I could devote my efforts towards writing.

I began by writing my first novel, Willa and found I had a well spring of stories tucked away in my brain. Once the story was finished I let a friend read it and she loved it, said I was as good as Jude Deveraux (one of my personal favorites.)

With the knowledge that I could produce a story people liked, I sought an agent. I checked out books from the library on agents; picked one and sent off the first 50 pages. I received a mimeographed rejection letter with every item checked as to why my work was bad! Right then I realized I had to learn about the publishing business as well as the business of writing.

How would you describe your writing?

I write good stories, nice to read with happy endings. I believe there is a place for good, nice and happy.

So far, all my novels are historical fiction with women of character, honor and a sense of duty as the main characters. They are set through the United States in varying time periods and range over cultures, nationalities and ethnicities.

Who is your target audience?

I write for mature women, women with experience in life, women who have out-grown the breathless romance novels and want to read about women of substance.

Don’t get me wrong -- I read romance novels for years but when I neared my fifties I wanted something different and when I couldn’t find any I decided there were thousands of ‘women of age’ who might be looking for just the stories I wanted to write.

Who influenced you most?

I was most influenced by my upbringing, my mother and father. They were ordinary farm people who lived, loved, laughed and gave me a wonderful childhood.

As I look back, I realize that while to a child my life seemed ordinary, it was very exotic to a kid who lived in a big city. That’s what I liked about Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, even Edgar Allan Poe... their characters seem fantastic to modern day readers, but they actually knew people like they wrote about.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I believe that every writer puts a piece of themselves into their stories. For me, it’s the "What would it have been like to live during the civil war?", "How would I have dealt with the social mores of the 1880’s?" or "How hard it would have been living on an isolated mountain?" I have beliefs that I adhere to.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is writing the way I want to write. I’m not sensational, spiced up with sex or outrageous. I write good, nice stories with happy endings!

My biggest challenges have always been the fear of success! I take it hard if I send a press release out and no story comes from it and this after winning a national award!

Do you write everyday?

Writing is work. I took several writing seminars to help me realize this.

I do not write everyday. I work on more than one novel at a time, but when the deadline approaches I settle on the next to be published.

I write in the afternoon, I put on my headphones, shut out the world and time travel to the setting of story. I make an outline, gather my research material and have them and my encyclopedias at hand. I write until I run out ideas. I find my brain must keep the story true to the character and if I slow down, I re-read the manuscript.

I try to write at least a thousand words at each sitting and have, on a good day, accomplished 6,000 words.

How long did it take you to write your latest book?

My latest book is Miracle from the Mountain and I love this story. It was joy to write and I finished it in six weeks. It is in the process of being published and will be released in late fall 2008.

I chose to self publish [because] I had an agent who represented me for three years, all my novels were viewed at the publishing houses they were represented to and all were rejected: too long, too short, already have a similar one, don’t do that genre. Never once were they rejected because they were not good stories.

I decided to self publish and researched the industry thoroughly.

What made you decide to publish your books through Xlibris?

Xlibris was recommended by another author. This is why I chose Xlibris: They are a print on demand, no huge investment up front. Packages range from under a thousand dollars to over fifteen thousand dollars. They deliver what they promise.

They have an online bookstore and my books never go out of print and are always available. They use Ingram book distributors and my books are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Target and MSN shopping online outlets as well as small bookstores. My books are sold internationally through Amazon U.K. and in Germany.

They provide copyright and Library of Congress service and ISBN. The royalty payments are better than traditional publishers. They provide me with 10 to 20 free paperbacks and 5 to 10 hardcovers and when I hand sell those I make enough to pay for the publishing package.

They also have marketing and publicity packages, including AP Newswire, Online listings and direct emails.

What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?

The advantage to this is that I own my work, it is never pulled from the shelf and I have complete control over the content. I look at this opportunity as my business. I will get out of it what I put into it.

The disadvantage is that self publishing is still looked upon as a vanity and many opportunities are denied in the traditional world of books and that’s not fair to readers who are looking for new stories in their favorite genre.

I believe self publishers like Xlibris will become the way of the future.

What did you find most difficult about the work you put into Miracle from the Mountain?

I find editing the most difficult. I have very poor eyesight. I can direct the story straight from my brain and through the keyboard into reality, but I can’t see those darned small letters!

When the manuscript is finished I run it through spell check and then print it out. I spend a week reading it and marking typos and errors and then make the changes in the saved file and then I print it out again and read it aloud to my husband where I catch another 20 to 30 mistakes, I correct those and burn it to a disc.

What did you enjoy most?

I love the characters in my stories, they are like meeting new friends, and they take on a life of their own and balk when I try to reshape them.

How different is Miracle from the Mountain from other novels you've written?

While all of my books are historical fiction they are set in different times and locales, the heroines are different ages and social backgrounds. Miracle from the Mountain is a semi-mystery. It’s a little spooky, a cross between Poe and Twain.

What is your most significant achievement as a writer?

My most significant achievement was when my first book Willa won first place in the novel category of the Arizona Press Women’s 2008 Communicator’s Competition and then going on to win second place at the National Federation of Press Women’s competition.

Related article: Mary K. Arensberg, AllTheseBooks.com.

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