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Friday, 8 March 2013
Author interview with writer Kathryn Vercillo (revisited)
Back in February 2013, I interviewed author Kathryn Vercillo for my new interview-only WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Kathryn Vercillo. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Kathryn: Hi Morgen. Thanks for having me for an interview! My name is Kathryn Vercillo and I am a professional blogger and author based in San Francisco, California. I have loved writing ever since I was a little girl. When I was in my early twenties I realized that this was what I wanted to do for a living so I started seeking out freelance writing gigs. I took pretty much every gig that came along, which afforded me the terrific opportunity to learn about writing in many formats (academic, blogging, magazine writing, etc.), for many different audiences and across a diverse range of topics. This was terrific because it helped me get a better sense of who I am as a writer and what I truly enjoy writing about.
Morgen: You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Kathryn: I believe that each person in this world has her own unique experience and that all of the best writing comes from speaking directly from this experience. So my writing starts with me – my story, what I’m interested in, what motivates me. Then I try to take that and expand upon it to make it accessible to the widest base of readers. For example, my newest book, Crochet Saved My Life is at heart my own story of dealing with debilitating depression and learning creative ways (such as crafting) to get through that. It is supplemented with the stories of others and a lot of research that helps explain why crafts and hobbies are healing for people with a diverse array of ailments.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Kathryn: My most recent book, Crochet Saved My Life is the one of which I’m most proud. In 2011 I self-published a small booklet of articles about elderly women who crochet but also have other unique experiences (getting a GED at age 92, for example). It was fun to put together but was mostly an exercise in learning how to self-publish.
Prior to those books, I had two books published by Schiffer Publishing (Ghosts of San Francisco, 2007, and Ghosts of Alcatraz, 2008), which are about the ghosts that reportedly haunt the Bay Area. It was really fun to research the history of those areas and share that, especially for the book about Alcatraz.
I have also been a contributing author on a couple of other book projects, have had articles published in several different magazines (Latina Magazine, most recently) and am widely published on the Internet.
Morgen: You’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Kathryn: I debated for a while about whether to self publish or go the traditional route. I initially thought with Crochet Saved My Life that I wanted to work with an agent to pitch to large publishing companies. However I was really picky about the agent I wanted to work with and had a short list of just a few to contact and they didn’t take an interest in the title so at that point I had to decide whether to pursue a different agent, pitch directly to a small publisher or go the self-publishing route.
I chose self-publishing for several reasons. The core reason was that most authors today have to do an extensive amount of marketing and promotion on their own, even if they have a traditional publisher, so I felt like if I was going to be doing that work myself anyway then I wanted the maximum amount of creative control (as well as royalties). I have been self-publishing in small ways (‘zines, blogs) for over ten years so it was really a natural step for me to continue that when producing my own books. At heart I really have a DIY spirit and self-publishing allows for that. I’m also really self-motivated and willing to learn all aspects of production and promotion so I knew I was probably cut out for self-publishing despite the tougher aspects of it.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
My newest book, Crochet Saved My Life, is available as an eBook (currently only on Kindle). It has had a lot of success as a Kindle download and I’ve sold about as many copies there as I have in print. To be honest, I don’t really read ebooks myself. I’ve read a few on my Mac but I prefer the old-fashioned paper route. As a writer and blogger I am online all day (usually more than ten hours per day) so the last thing I want to do in my leisure time is be on a screen! That said, I do see the value of ebooks – their immediacy and convenience and I think it’s great that they’ve become so popular. I definitely want to make all of my future books available to readers who enjoy that option.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Kathryn: I self-directed everything for Crochet Saved My Life. I worked with a really terrific local photographer, Julie Michelle, on the cover images. I had worked with her once before on an amazing project she did called I Live Here: SF and really love her work so I knew it would be inspiring to come together on my cover. I gave her some ideas, she gave me some book, we did a full shoot and I was thrilled with what I ended up with.
Most of that type of stuff was done with the publisher when I worked with Schiffer, but I did get to work with my own photographer for the cover image on Alcatraz. I was just getting started in full-length writing work at that time so it was good for me to have them handle those details but at this later stage in my career I prefer to do all of that myself.
I definitely think titles and covers are really important. I am not a very visual person myself so for me personally it’s the title that captures me. I’ll walk down a library aisle and just pull books based on their title alone. A lot of people are more visual, though, and they buy/ read based on cover images so that’s equally important.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kathryn: The book that will follow Crochet Saved My Life is going to be a book of creativity exercises for crocheters. I have my own fairly successful crochet blog, Crochet Concupiscence, and I have a really terrific following there. I want to do what I can to provide them with great material that they can’t find anywhere else. This book is designed to help expand creative experiences and add to a more artful way of life through the craft of crochet.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Kathryn: I write something every day. I keep a journal, I maintain several different blogs, I do freelance writing from time to time, I have my book projects, I’m an active e-mailer … so yes, I write every day. However, I definitely struggle with writer’s block from time to time. I don’t always want to write. I don’t always feel like what I’m writing is good. I don’t always feel motivated to write. When I was younger I thought I had to be inspired to write but then I learned that successful working writers can’t do that, not if they want to put food on the table! I’ve learned that there’s generally an ebb and flow for me, so I allow myself to pour time and energy into my most creative works (such as my own books) when I am really feeling “in the zone” and then when I’m not feeling as inspired I’ll use that time to jot ideas, work on editing older projects, do business / promotional writing, etc.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Kathryn: I have always been someone who writes a really strong first draft. I tend to sort the basic story out in my head first and it comes out on paper really well, so I don’t do major editing most of the time. However, I do minor edits and I do lots of them when working on long projects. I must have read through Crochet Saved My Life half a dozen times once it was “finished” to continue to add and make small edits. I am much less inclined to do that with short, immediate writing such as blog posts, though, because there’s a time crunch, so I’m glad that I do tend to write decent first drafts for that reason!
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Kathryn: I don’t know if I have to but I certainly do. I start by writing from my own mind and heart and sharing what I already have in there to share. Then I move forward with lots and lots of research. For Crochet Saved My Life I did personal interviews with more than two dozen women, read countless blog posts, looked into studies done by various organizations, research studies in academic journals and read through at least a dozen full-length books. I do this because I believe it adds to the information that I’m sharing with others. I also do it because I genuinely enjoy immersing myself in a subject!
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Kathryn: Oh yes! I have half a novel that I wrote when I was about nineteen that just isn’t ever going to go anywhere. It can’t be published as anything the way that it is and I’ve lost enthusiasm for it over the years. There are smaller projects like that as well. And I’m totally fine with that. I believe in constantly moving forward. That said, I also have some pieces that I do hope to develop and finish someday, including a book about the experiences I had working at a group home for children in the foster care system. I did a draft at the time but I was too close to the subject and too immature as a writer for it to be good and I sense that at some point it will be right to edit and publish that one.
Morgen: Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Kathryn: I go through phases with this. In an ideal world I would just write whatever I wanted to write and it would sell and that would support me. However, I do freelance work from time to time, plus I have to write articles to promote my own work, so that means that I pitch to people. I also have clients I’ve worked for a lot in the past, when I was doing much more freelance work, and they’ll commission me to write for them sometimes. It’s a good gig; I can’t complain.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Kathryn: Who hasn’t? I try to look at the core of why I was rejected. Sometimes what you submit just isn’t right for someone else at that time. Sometimes it needs more work and the rejection can be a way to identify what needs to be changed, improve upon it and resubmit. It’s a process. It’s important to not take it personally. I also keep a journal of my successes to look back on when the rejections get me down.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kathryn: As a solopreneur I have to market myself constantly. I try to do at least one thing each day to market myself. That might be something small, like posting to my social media accounts. Alternatively, it might be a larger action like reaching out with a “cold call” to someone who I think could help me in my writing career. Whether it’s small or large, the actions add up.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Kathryn: I’m in love with most aspects of the writing life. I love the freedom of schedule that I have. I work A LOT but I can choose when my days off will be and I don’t have to account to anyone for that. I like working from home. I like working mostly on my own (although I collaborate with various other professionals from time to time, which I do think is important to do). I enjoy doing work that I find creative, inspiring and constantly changing.
The toughest part for me has been to learn balance in my life. I love working on my own but humans are naturally social creatures and it’s not emotionally healthy to be holed up inside your house every day so I’ve had to develop an active, outgoing social life. I love having a free schedule but I work best when my life is structured so I’ve had to learn to create a structure with some flexibility that works for me.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kathryn: You have to be in it for the long haul. There is so much to learn – about the writing world and about yourself as a writer – and it’s truly a lifelong process.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Kathryn: Frida Kahlo, the fictional Scarlett O’Hara and my little sister. We’d go out to eat somewhere, Ethiopian or Thai probably, because I really don’t cook.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Kathryn: That sounds terrible! I believe in constantly growing and changing and experiencing new things so I think having to just live the same experience again and again would be stagnating and awful.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Kathryn: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.” – Martha Graham
Morgen: Do you write fiction? If so, are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Kathryn: I don’t typically write fiction, although I have in the past. I think perhaps I haven’t found the right way to write it for me, yet.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kathryn: I get an idea and run with it for awhile. At some point that will stall out and that’s when I sit down and write an outline.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Kathryn: I tend to prefer first person, both as a writer and as a reader. I think personal stories are so powerful and they are told best through the first person lens.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Kathryn: I crochet (obviously, since my book is called Crochet Saved My Life and my blog is about crochet). I do collage and scrapbooking sometimes. I hike and occasionally do yoga / pilates. I really love just attending different events and seeing different attractions, just constantly exposing myself to new things. And I read pretty much every day.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Kathryn: Some of my favorites:
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Kathryn: I think that forums can be terrific for marketing and networking but I have to confess that I rarely use them because I loathe the format. I do use the major social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest). I don’t honestly enjoy them all that much either but they’re the best way to connect with a lot of people and do drive traffic to my sites so overall they’re a good thing. I’m starting to get more active on the writing / reading sites (Goodreads, for example) but there is only so much time in the day for that kind of stuff!
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Kathryn: I think each individual writer’s path is going to be different since writing is such a self-directed thing. People who want to take advantage of twenty-first century technologies and writing in a digital age will definitely have a lot of opportunities to do so. People who prefer to write in a more traditional way may have a tougher sell marketing-wise but those who are passionate about it will still succeed.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Kathryn: My website: www.kathrynvercillo.com
My book’s page: www.crochetsavedmylife.com
My Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Kathryn-Vercillo/e/B001JPC6IO
I then invited Kathryn to include an extract of her writing and this is from the intro to Crochet Saved My Life:
“Prior to this terrible period, I had suffered with undiagnosed, sometimes debilitating, always untreated depression for nearly fifteen years. I didn’t know that depression was the problem and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with it. The delay in diagnosis was due in large part to stubbornness. I was very anti-medication, mostly anti-psychologists and believed that whatever was wrong was something I could solve on my own. The delay also had to do with my youth (I was a young teen when the problem started), a lack of self-awareness and an abundance of intelligence and creativity that made me generally keep going in some form despite many tough battles with deep sadness. In later years, I did try to reach out for help but the professionals I worked with didn’t properly diagnose me or help me in any way.
All of this is to say that by the time that I reached the desperate stage of readiness where I would accept any help of any kind (despite feeling certain that nothing could ever help) the problem was nearly out of control. I was barely functioning. I cried most of the day every day. I could hardly move. I could hardly breathe. The idea of trying to make doctors’ appointments or hold down “real” jobs was so far-fetched it may as well have filtered into my mind in another language. I couldn’t do almost anything and yet the one thing that I could do was to move a crochet hook back and forth through yarn, repeatedly pulling one loop through the next to create fabric out of air so thin I could barely breathe in it. Since it was one of the only things that I could do, it became imperative to my mental health that I go ahead and do it. When I first started to crochet, that feeling of temporary relief from the muted chaos of depression was the only reason I was crocheting.”
And a synopsis…
Crochet Saved My Life is a book about the mental and physical health benefits of crafts and hobbies. The author shares her own mini-memoir of crafting to heal from depression. It includes additional stories from people who crafted to heal through PTSD, OCD, grief, schizophrenia, pregnancy complications and chronic pain conditions. The stories are supplemented by research to support the theory that “handmade heals”.
Kathryn Vercillo is a San Francisco based writer and blogger. She reaches into the core of personal experience and digs out the gems to share in her non-fiction writing.
She fervently believes that writing is both cathartic and a means to connection with others.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on the main blog) is free.
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