According to your website, your book “Pulchritude” is a “Darker side of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Could you please tell us a little more about this?
Sure! (Getting me to talk about my writings is easy; it's getting me to hush up that's the hard part.) "Pulchritude" is a fairy-tale retelling that tries to take the original Beauty and the Beast tale back to its feminist origins as a commentary text on social ills. But where the original author -- Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve -- believed that equality in relationships could be achieved if women are magically granted choice and agency, I take an opposing stance and suggest that patriarchal societies may potentially damage us so deeply that happy endings sometimes simply aren't possible. It's something of a sad tale, not so much cynical, but definitely expressing deep concern.
What was your motivation for writing this particular story?
I was daydreaming about how so many protagonists in fairy-tale and fantasy stories are named after their beauty. The lady in "Beauty and the Beast" is simply called "la Belle", and we see this trend continue in recent books like "Twilight", where the protagonist is named "Bella". It struck me that being named after "beauty" -- something which is a complex combination of genetics, social expectations, and artifice -- might very possible have serious repercussions on the poor girl saddled with this name. Would she be nervous and fretful, constantly aware that she was being gazed upon and judged by everyone around her?
That fleeting thought intersected in my mind with the feminist concept of "Gaze", and in that moment my "Bella" was born: a girl who benefits from yet is deeply harmed by the surrounding patriarchal society. After that, everything else fell into place around her.
Since there are lots of themes about feminism in your writing, is there any particular female authors that have inspired you to write about these subjects?
I absolutely adore Margaret Atwood, Patricia C. Wrede, and Tanith Lee. Each of them has explored fairy tales with feminist themes and with women who are hurt by patriarchal societies and have to struggle in order to survive: Atwood's "The Robber Bride", Wrede's "Snow White and Red Rose", and Lee's "White as Snow".
I think that fairy tales are a part of our cultural vocabulary: if you've seen a Disney animated film, or if you've held a Grimms' volume in your hands, or if you've been exposed to any number of fairy-tale themed films or books, then you become a part of the conversation that our culture has with fairy tales. And because we know them so well and so deeply, they're a perfect starting place to talk to people about our surrounding culture. When you dive into a fairy tale by Atwood or Wrede or Lee, you immediately know where you are and what you're about to see -- the trick, though, is that you're going to be viewing the story you thought you knew through new eyes and a fresh perspective.
What got you into writing in the first place?
I've been writing pretty much since I was a child, though with yearly purges of the material that was too embarrassing to read a second time. (Writing is something that I am still improving at, and I hope never to stop becoming better.)
I got into self-publishing because of serendipitous timing. I'd never considered traditional publishing an option for me because I knew that waiting for responses would be too stressful. Self-publishing provided an end-run around that, and I didn't look back. As for why I published at all, rather than just letting my manuscript sit on the shelf ... well, my husband and I learned the hard way after a major surgery and two IVF attempts that we wouldn't be able to have children together, and in the absence of children I wanted something permanent to be left behind when I die. I guess in that sense, my book really is my baby.
You were twice an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award judge, how did this happen and what did you gain from this?
ABNA judging is absolutely the most wonderful experience, and I heartily recommend it to anyone and everyone. I believe I was selected for the experience because I'm an Amazon Vine Voice, and I believe I was selected for that because I'm an avid hobbyist reviewer on Amazon. But no one knows for certain how or why Amazon picks who they pick.
As for the experience itself, it's an absolutely heady experience to read 40 excerpted manuscripts in 2 weeks and try to rank and judge a plethora of different genres and literary approaches on some kind of objective scale. There's always a handful of manuscripts that needed a little more polish before submission -- it probably doesn't help that the time between NaNoWriMo and ABNA submission is only a few short weeks -- but it's still wonderful to read so many fresh ideas and see stories taking shape. The only thing bad about the experience is that, as a judge, you read excerpts where you desperately want to finish the whole story, but unless the author wins or they self-publish, you may never get that chance. (And heaven help you if they are picked up for traditional publishing where the title often gets changed in the process.) That's genuinely heart-breaking at times -- never getting to hear what happens to characters you've fallen in love with.
You have scanned an extremely large number of books with us and have written many books. How many books do you read on average ?
I read pretty much daily, but my book average fluctuates wildly. When I wasn't blogging and writing, I was reading 300 books a year. Now that I sink so much time into producing words, I'm lucky to read 100 books in a year.
1DollarScan has been a godsend for me in that regard, though. I have a physical disability that has increased rapidly over the past few years. There are literally books out there that I physically cannot pick up: think about how heavy the Harry Potter books are, for example. Or cookbooks, or crafting books -- many of which are not made available for sale in electronic versions because the publishers assume that readers won't want to view quilt patterns on an eReader. They're slowly catching on to the fact that disabled readers exist in large enough numbers to make electronic versions of nonfiction books a profitable enterprise, but that doesn't help for the out-of-print material that is in copyright limbo for the next eleventh-billion years.
Laws that allow people to cut and scan their own books is a start -- a great start -- towards helping disabled readers, but if you're disabled enough that you can't even pick up a book, how easy is it going to be to carefully tear it apart and scan each page? (Answer: Not very.) That's where I owe so much to 1DollarScan, because they make it possible to shift that burden of effort to someone with abilities that I lack. It means the difference between never being able to read a favorite cookbook again, or not being able to read some wonderful science fiction book from the 1950s because the author died two years back without any clear heirs, versus being able to enjoy the same full and rich reading life that able-bodied people have available to them.
Your blog gives lots of advice on self-publishing. What�s the first step to self-publish a book for writers that just finished writing their first manuscript?
This will probably sound like corporate double-speak, but my advice is: "drive to completion".
Sit down and list out what your book needs in order to be a published book. A good partial list is: editing, cover art, electronic formatting, and uploading. Once you have those things listed out, you can find solutions online. There are indie editors who produce quality work and charge reasonable rates by the page (I even link to some on my website). You can find a good indie artists on places like DeviantArt. Electronic formatting can be done with free tools like Sigil. Uploading to stores like Barnes & Noble and Amazon can be accomplished by following the guides available at those stores or -- in extreme cases -- by hiring help.
Once you have a list, you always know at a glance what remains to be done before you're finished, and then you can work towards that. I've seen too many indie authors give up because the process seemed too overwhelming, or who didn't really want to be traditionally published but thought they had to be because only traditional publishers would know how to do these things. For me, that breaks my heart, because help is out there. It isn't always easy to find, but I always encourage people to email me if they need a push in the right direction!
What enticed you to use 1DollarScan?
I'd already been in the process of cutting and scanning my books because I could foresee my disability worsening, but I was overwhelmed by how huge the task was. My library at home was at least a thousand books, and though about 2/3 of those books could be re-purchased as eBooks, that still left 300+ books that would need to be manually cut and scanned. I'd learned that it took me about two days of solid effort to cut and scan a book on my own -- and I'd already accidentally butchered a few pages when my cutter slipped because I don't have the steadiest hands in the world.
I was a member of the MobileRead forums when someone linked to 1DollarScan and asked if anyone had used the service before. I sent off a "test book" for scanning and was stunned at the quick turn-around and the high quality of the scans. I use an OCR program to turn PDFs into scannable text, and where my own "at home" scans were tracking at 70% recognition, the 1DollarScan scans were so clear that I was able to get much higher than 99%. Switching over a paid service was, at that point, a far preferable use of my time and money.
What are your plans for future writings?
Right now I'm working on a Young Adult series about four girls who become pregnant in high school and have to rely on each other in order to find shared housing, quality childcare, and college aid. I want to explore what life looks like when it seems like everything is falling apart, and to find something positive and meaningful in the act of people coming together to help each other through common hard times. After that, I want to return to fairy tales again for a time: I have a "Hansel and Gretel" tale in my head that looks at family dynamics from a step-mother's perspective, and which I'm very excited about.