Walking with Elephants author Karen S. Bell talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
Writing anything has always come easy for me. I started to write a novel when my kids were small but raising them sapped my energy. I earned a Master’s in Mass Communication and started working as an editor when my youngest started school. I also wrote a column as a theater critic and celebrity interview for a small newspaper. I got serious as a writer in the ’90s when I began my debut novel, Walking with Elephants. To my surprise, I stuck with it and actually finished it. I took a writing class and wrote a short story, once. The teacher told the class to imagine a single, bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling and… go. I wrote a short story that seemed to write itself. I couldn’t get the words written fast enough. It had nothing to do with a light bulb by the way. I love it when that happens. It happens all the time when I am in the throes of creativity. Characters move the story in a direction I hadn’t expected. They even give me their names. And so I know there is a muse helping me, but I have asked this muse – Why couldn’t you give me Harry Potter?
Tell me about Walking With Elephants.
Walking With Elephants was a story that needed to be told (in my mind, LOL) because of the changing landscape of American families. I grew up before the Woman’s Movement and can remember when most moms stayed at home. Today, it has really become necessary for two-income families but what of the children? In this country women barely get maternity leave. I had gone into the ladies room one day and there was a young woman pumping her breast. Why isn’t she still home with her baby, I thought? There are countries where maternity leave is as much as two years, where mommy and baby can really bond. I felt that women weren’t pushing enough anymore to make families just as important as learning the latest software. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should turn back the clock and keep women barefoot and pregnant (although there seems to be a backlash that wants that). I’m trying to inspire women to take charge more. This light-hearted romp is filled with messages to women that maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift. Time for women to be in charge. Elephants are matriarchal societies, so let’s be like elephants – hence the title of the book. Here’s a lift from my pitch:
Suze Hall is rather ordinary in our “super mom” era. She is a late-in-life entry to the workforce, doesn’t have the BIG career, doesn’t have her youth, and doesn’t have the guts to assert change. What she does have is a husband who expects her to continue the homemaker role she established when raising their three kids and to keep that paycheck coming. When Suze meets the spirit of Juno, her Lucy Ricardo-esque predicaments begin and life’s coincidences become her cosmic dance partner.
Walking with Elephants is a light-hearted romp that brings to the table the serious work/family issues facing women today. It addresses the modern woman’s angst of career versus family while delving into the greater issues of how much can we really do? or want to do? And importantly, What would society be like if women—not mimicking men—were truly in charge? Given that there is a subtle message in the book, I believe that aspect is quite camouflaged by a plot driven by romantic fantasies and workplace politics. But Suze is not someone who would belong in the Sex and the City entourage or solve a murder mystery. Her virtue is that she is an ordinary woman facing the challenges of raising a family as she reassesses her life. This story could be any woman’s story; this heroine could be me or any one of my friends.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
I enjoy many authors. What inspires me is good writing, something that grabs me. I’m not faithful and I jump around and get into moods where I read a few by the same author and then move on. What inspires me is how someone writes an ebook as an indie and it takes off and become a best seller. I keep hoping that’s in store for me, sigh. To be validated by a wider audience than I currently have reached.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
Here’s the thing. After ten years of looking and finally finding a publisher, the company closed in December. So now, I’ve become an indie publisher and all the marketing and pushing falls on my shoulders. The publisher did very little of that but she did some and I was a newbie to this whole thing. My second novel, can’t grab the interest of anyone out there, but that was after sending a gazillion queries. I entered it in a contest for Florida writers so when that contest is over I will indie publish that. It is hard to settle my mind and work on the third novel, which I started. Part of me is like, I hate the process of getting a book marketed, so why continue writing? Part of me is – forget it and write for yourself. Powerful opposing forces that keep me paralyzed as well as the fear of writing. But everyday, I say this is the day I will begin. But here I am writing this interview instead. LOL.
Did I mention how much I hate the entire process? Only the shark agents come around. And then I see that Snookie has a book. A head scratching bewilderment.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
Here’s the thing. I have sold some books but it’s not really about the sales. It’s about acceptance as a writer. That this is not a hobby. But I don’t write stories about zombies, vampires, dystopias, S&M. So I can’t really compete in this new world. I have to be happy that a very high percentage of my readers have loved my book, loved my writing, loved my characters. So, if I look at this realistically, there is a lot of satisfaction. I don’t think I could ever enter the new world of best sellers because of my topic. But I never stop hoping. A book club invited me to speak and the audience were real fans. I have to hold on to the small successes. Have to kick the ego to the curb.
How have you marketed your book(s)? Have you used social media (Twitter, Facebook etc)? Have you paid for any advertising (Facebook Ads, Google Ads etc)? And how did it go?
I have used all of it. I have 353 fans on FB from an ad but I don’t think any of them actually bought the book. The hard part is turning all the social media outlets into sales. I ran an ad on Goodreads and 78 people added my book on their to-read list. Exciting. But when I looked most of them had hundreds of books on that list, some had thousands. I’m thinking about Google ads but I can’t figure if I can control the cost. People click but don’t seem to buy. I will be running an ad in Kindle News Daily. I discovered that from a contact on Twitter who said he had 1,000 downloads from his ad. Fingers crossed.
Have you signed up for KDP Select? If you have, how has it gone for you? Do you think free promotions are helping with your paid sales? If you haven’t signed up, why not? Are you worried about the exclusivity clause?
I will definitely do that for my second novel as soon as the contest is over (I entered it in the unpublished category.) When I took over as publisher of Walking With Elephants, I continued to use Lightning Source, where it was published by Literary Road Press. I decided also to use their digital distribution, so I would have to pull it to do KDP Select. But I’ll try it with Sunspots. And I don’t really worry about giving the book away – if that brings readers. A writer needs to read. However, I gave away 50 books on librarything in exchange for reviews and so far only two reviews. Very disheartening. They were excellent reviews though. So it remains to be seen whether the Kindle program is a good strategy.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
I use all outlets. Sold a few, just like on Amazon. Last year through all the Ingram outlets, B&N (through Smashwords), and Amazon I made some sales. I have yet to get a royalty report as the publisher for this first quarter. But my guess is sales have slowed.
Not at all. I have some bitterness toward traditional publishing, so I hope they kick some butt. And most people seem to buy through Amazon anyway. It’s amazing how ebooks outsell hard copies. I’ve seen a lot of changes in my long life. Nay sayers who said that ebooks would never sell. I have like ten books on my iPad and only read that way now. I moved a few years ago. Books and books and books put into boxes and boxes and boxes. Ridiculous. Even Britannica will be in eformat. Had to giveaway an entire set when I moved. Heavy, out of date and so old school. Amazon has set the standard, keeps innovating. Got to love Jeff Bezos. I don’t think there is a product out there that can’t be bought through Amazon – even the iPad.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
My second novel is called Sunspots. It will come in the fall. Here’s my pitch:
“One can never be smug about life,” says Aurora Goldberg Stein. An aspiring New York actress who has never realized her dreams, Aurora keeps herself afloat by doing odd temp jobs where her rich fantasy life helps her get through the day. Aurora sees the world through the lens of characters in literature and film and these fictionalizations are woven into her interpretation of reality. On one of her temp assignments she meets Jake Stein, a man who could “charm the skin off a snake” and she decides to follow her destiny as his wife in Austin, Texas. But Jake’s sudden death after two short years disintegrates her world and Aurora must reevaluate her life and let go of a love that has become an obsession.
Sunspots takes the reader on a journey of high emotion as Aurora uncovers Jake’s secret life and her own internal conflicts as she matures to self-awareness. Narrated by Aurora, the novel’s tone vacillates from irreverent humor to solemnity as she relates her previous life with Jake and her present challenges. The title refers to the solar maximum which became the backdrop for Aurora’s conception when her hippy parents went to Canada to observe the Aurora Borealis. In name and in spirit, Aurora is connected to the observable and non-observable energy around us.
With the help of friends, family, and the ghost of Viola Parker (her home’s original owner), Aurora accepts her fate and the secrets revealed about Jake’s true character. She realizes that in this life she will finally break the cycle of pain caused by her love for this man, Jake Stein, through the centuries.
Embedded in the novel is the question of the afterlife and paranormal events abound. The incidents are left vague enough so the reader is not certain if they are external events witnessed by Aurora or exist only in her own mind. My approach to the extraordinary has always been with keen interest and skepticism. Just as we cannot see unaided that at the quantum level solid objects consist of vast spaces and swirling particles, so too, we define our human existence with only our limited five senses, three dimensional orientation, and our perceived space/time continuum. So then, what can one say with any certainty is reality?
I like to weave magical elements into my stories. This are also the kinds of books I like to read. Like the works of Isabelle Allende and Alice Hoffman. So I guess, I consider myself a writer of magical realism.
Karen S. Bell’s Walking with Elephants is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other retailers. You can also visit Karen S. Bell’s website.
*This post was originally posted on IndieBookSpot.