Mik Everett, author of Turtle: The American Contrition of Franz Ferdinand, 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?
I’ve been a writer since I was a child. When I was probably two or three I told my grandmother that I was going to be a ‘bookmaker,’ unaware that what that word meant and what I was talking about were two completely different things. To be fair, I have had more success in writing than in bet-taking.
Tell me a little about your book.
Probably the most important thing about it, and the thing I hesitate to emphasize, is that it is non-fiction. It is a memoir. It’s daunting to remind people of that because they act like it makes no difference. The second thing is that it is not about me. I’m just the narrator. I’m the Nick Carraway. It’s about my mother. She’s the Gatsby of the story. The third thing is that it is not a story about the truth. If that seems contradictory, that it is a non-fiction memoir that isn’t about truth, you should think about how much of their daily lives most people spend deceiving each other. Or themselves.
The story starts with an accusation of rape, but it’s not a story about rape. It’s not a story about how a girl was raped or why she was raped or whether or not she was raped. Remember, it isn’t a story about the truth. If you’re more interested in the thematics of the story, it’s about a girl raised in poverty in the rural, isolated Deep South, raised with a certain set of morals and ideals and gender roles that are native to that culture. And now she’s living in two-car garage picket-fence All-American Midwest Suburbia and those morals and ideals gender roles don’t work anymore. You pick the values that make you a good, virtuous person in one culture, and they don’t necessarily make you a good, virtuous person in another culture. That can be very confusing, very heartbreaking, especially if you’ve sacrificed a great deal to conform to them.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Margaret Atwood is probably one of my greatest inspirations. I read The Blind Assassin my sophomore year of high school, about the same time I began work on Turtle. It was the first place I ever saw the F-word in print. At the time, it really smashed up my delusions about what great literature was supposed to be and what conventions it had to conform to. I re-read it again in the spring of 2012, and it was what really gave me the push to self-publish. The Blind Assassin is fictional, but it’s essentially about an old lady who redeems herself by finally writing the truth. I have a lot of that going on in my story. Some of my other biggest inspirations are Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S Thompson, and Maxine Hong Kingston.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
I’ve learned that you can’t force writing. I don’t have any routines or dogmas I prescribe to. I write when I feel like writing. My only habit is that I always carry a Moleskine notebook and a Uniball pen, so I can write an idea or a phrase down if something strikes me. I have this idea that if you don’t have a favorite brand of notebook or pen, you’re not a writer. I have all different sizes of Moleskines and thicknesses of Uniballs. So does my boyfriend. He’s a writer, too. They’re in my purse, in our car, in our bedroom, in the pockets of our jackets, all over our house. If I can’t find one of mine, I write something down in his, and vice-versa. We’re always getting our notebooks mixed up.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
I half-heartedly sent out a few query letters, but I really didn’t want to hand over my story to someone else to edit and change the wording and tell me how the plot should go. It seems that conventional publishing has become, as Henry Miller would say, a hard industry, like steel or cellophaned bread. Publishing isn’t like the old days. Scribner used to have a relationship with Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I knew I’d never be able to have that, so I just didn’t want to go that route.
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?
This book had been like a parasite or an infant, sucking my blood and soul for five years. Now that it finally stands on its own, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to live off of it for a while. I support myself through book sales and freelance writing for a few local magazines. To me, success is not having to be gainfully employed. I hate being gainfully employed. It’s really the worst.
But in all seriousness, I published the story. I told the truth. That’s success.
How have you marketed your book?
I have a moderate following on the internet, and that’s really helped me. Social media is invaluable. I wrote this dumb thing in five minutes called What Happens If You Fall in Love With a Writer? that went viral about six months ago, and that gained me some exposure. I’ve spent about $30 total on ads. From what I can tell, though, nothing is a substitute for people reading it and liking it. Your best advertisers are the ones you don’t have to pay because they feel they’ve already been reimbursed, just for getting to read your work.
Have you signed up for KDP Select?
Free promotions are the best. The vast majority of my truly excellent reviews are from people who read my ebook because it was free, and the vast majority of my paid sales are from people who bought the book because they were so impressed with the reviews. I’m pretty sure that half of the key to being successful as an author is getting people to actually read your book. The other half is people liking it. Note which half comes first.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
My novel is available from Barnes & Noble online, but I have no idea how. They must have gotten it from some outlet that CreateSpace provides. I know that people can request it to be shipped to the store if they don’t want to pay shipping. I don’t even know how Barnes & Noble works. I sell a lot of copies on consignment at local indie bookstores. That’s more work because you have to fill out a contract with each individual store, and make sure you have extra copies on hand to re-stock them when they run out. But it’s worth it. I want to see independent bookstores continue to not only survive, but thrive.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
Not as much as I worry about the ebook market gaining a monopoly in the book market.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
My next novel is actually fiction. Mostly. Think Through The Looking Glass but with logical proofs instead of a chess game. I’m a former logic instructor. The plot is more This Side of Paradise, though. It won’t be completed by the end of 2012. 2013 or 2014 if I’m lucky. I’m graduating from college in December of 2012, so there’s that. Oh, and my kids. Having a two-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son and keeping them from getting into household chemicals is really my main project right now. I’m teaching them to dress themselves and to not eat bugs and to write.