Friday, July 11, 2008
FEATURED AUTHOR: Karen Siplin
KAREN SIPLIN was born in Brooklyn, New York and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Film Production from CUNY's Hunter College. Her first novel, His Insignificant Other was a Borders Original Voices selection. It was published in Serbia in June 2004. Her second novel, Such a Girl was a Main Selection of Black Expressions Book Club in 2005. She has worked as a telephone operator at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City and as a celebrity personal assistant. Visit her at http://www.karensiplin.com/
After one too many run-ins with irate A-List celebrities and their bodyguards on the streets of Los Angeles, paparazza Jimi Anne Hamilton has decided to throw in the towel. But when she planned to ride her BMW K 1200 motorcycle from California to New York, she didn't count on having her cross-country adventure interrupted by a motorcycle thief. Disillusioned and hurt after the attack, Jimi chooses to recuperate in a nearby town where she meets Caleb Atwood, a local contractor fighting his own demons. Jimi and Caleb make a mismatched pair: black and white, highbrow and low. But in Caleb, Jimi believes she has found someone who is as much of an outsider as she feels.
What would you like your readers to take away from your book?
Whiskey Road tells the story of a Black female celebrity photographer named Jimi who ends up in a small town in rural New York after a brutal attack during a cross-country trip from California. Jimi meets Caleb, a white contractor born and raised in the small town she ends up in. Whiskey Road asks the question where does a black woman born and raised in the big city go when she wants to escape, and what happens when she gets there? I wanted to create a character whose life has been spent in the city, and in a moment out of necessity she seeks refuge in a rural white community. Her experience can go either way, but I chose to explore the idea that black people do have a reason to fear small white towns in America. And that sometimes, white men in small towns are dangerous. I want the reader to ask: How do you know the difference? And I want the reader to come away with the same answer Jimi and I came up with: You don't. You don't know the difference between a dangerous man in a small white town and a nice man in a small white town until you have an actual conversation. The same can go for a small black town, of course, but for the book I wrote, I chose to exclusively explore a black woman's experience in a small white town. The experiences aren't comparable or interchangeable because every individual experience is different.
What did you learn while writing this book?
After the terrorist attacks in 2001, I had a strong desire to leave New York City - the city I was born and raised in - to find refuge in a small, peaceful community in America. But having traveled by car through several rural communities in the United States, I wasn't sure I would be able to live easily or comfortably in the kind of town I imagined moving to. People stared when I passed through those small towns and I took those stares to mean I was unwelcome in certain places.
As I was writing Whiskey Road, a few things started to become clear to me. Sometimes working class white people in small towns are racist. Sometimes working class white people in small towns are just tired from a long day at work and really don't care whether you're Black, White or blue as long as you don't bother them. But it's impossible to know what's in a person's heart until you have a conversation and learn about one another.
I learned that I fear small towns for the same reason Jimi fears them. There always seems to be a threat of small town lawlessness and a sheriff who will protect his own.
What is the hardest part about the writing business?
Uncertainty is one of the hardest aspects of the business. It's been reported that nearly 300,000 books are published each year. With so many books coming out, it's a real challenge to get people to notice yours. The book business seems to be a lot like the film and television business to me. Everyone is looking for the next blockbuster. Books don't stay on bookstore shelves indefinitely, so a great book can easily get lost. Many authors don't know whether their next book will sell, so each experience is almost like selling that first novel all over again.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
I do. I never know how my audience is going to receive my next book. Whiskey Road is my third novel and it's different from my previous two, His Insignificant Other and Such a Girl. Whiskey Road is darker and addresses issues of race and class in a way my first two books did not. While I was writing it, I worried my readers would be disappointed. But it's terrible to write that way. It makes the writing more difficult and I found that I was cutting out things I really wanted to write because I feared readers would reject them.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I think a lot of non-writers view writing as a hobby, not a real job. I also have a feeling a lot of non-writers think writing a novel is easy. I often feel weird when someone catches me thinking or reading. Thinking, imagining and reading are really important aspects of writing, but writers can often seem to be hanging out or goofing off when we're really working.
What marketing have you found that particularly works well for you?
Internet presence has been really helpful. Interviews, blog posts and my myspace page have worked well as a way to reach readers and let them know I exist.
What are three things you wish you'd known before you reached where you are now?
Almost everything I wish I'd known before now has to do with marketing and publicity. Since a lot of self-published Black authors have been incredibly successful, the publishing business seems to expect Black authors to adopt the same marketing strategies self-published authors adopted when it was still a fairly new way to get books out there. I was completely unfamiliar with the marketing strategies of self-published authors when my first book was published, so I had a certain expectation of what I would get from my publisher. But I've learned that being published by a big house doesn't mean you can sit back and expect someone else to do all the work for you.
I also wish I'd known how important book festivals, book clubs and signings at independent Black bookstores are. I had a lot of time to travel when my first two books were published, so I wish I'd taken advantage of that.
This month our theme is Agent Hunting. Do you have any advice for finding an agent?
Research is very important. Buying a guide to literary agents is an excellent investment. But the aspiring writer shouldn't send queries blindly to every agent in the guide. Many agents are blogging on the Internet these days. And many agents have websites. They make it very easy for aspiring writers to learn what they're looking for. In many cases, they list their clients and the books they've recently sold. The aspiring writer should look for an agent who represents books similar to the book she has written, find out if that agent is taking on new clients (they usually state whether they are open to unsolicited manuscripts) and pay close attention to whether the agent wants a query or sample chapters. It's important to follow an agency's submission guidelines, if they've been made available on the site.
Do you have any advice for the aspiring writer?
Write everyday, even if it's in a journal, and read everything. Writing everyday is the only way you will find your voice. Reading as much as possible broadens a writer's horizons. I'm always shocked when I meet people who are writing books but say they don't have time to read.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
Visit my website at http://www.karensiplin.com/. There you will find links to my MySpace page and blog.
- I believe in promoting authors and their books. Let me introduce you and your books to online readers.
I'm also a happily married mother of three who's trying to break into the Christian writing field. The writing road can be rocky.
I’m available for:
Online promotion coaching
Contact me at:firstname.lastname@example.org