The Interview — Part II

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You’ve done a lot of work through e-publishing, Internet, Websites, how did you come to work in this “medium” — what are the advantages/disadvantages of these technologies and opportunities for writers?
Well online magazines have become more and more ubiquitous and respected since I seriously started writing 14ish years ago. I’ve been published in online and print literary magazines, and I value both. There’s not much money in either, so that’s not much of a factor. Depending on the mag, there may be more prestige in print, but the difference there is becoming negligible. The pluses for online mags are that the work is easier to share; it’s easier for people to find your stuff; and the writing hangs around archived in the electronic ether for a long time for potential people to potentially find and read. 

The trend just seems to be reading online and on devices more and more. In terms of book length works, the publishing industry is in shambles. The big five publishers used to be vilified; now Amazon is often vilified. I’m not necessarily a big fan of either, but both have a function, and Amazon has done a lot to push publishing into the electronic future whether we like it or not, and made it easier for authors and small presses to publish and reach readers, even if Amazon is a little icky too. 

The disadvantages of independent publishing, I suppose, are that you must do everything yourself (or contract it), a feeling of a lack of stability because no institution has your back, and reaching readers. These same negatives apply to big publishers, or else the inverse does depending on one’s mood: the author isn’t involved enough, the author has to do their own publicity or their book and possibly career is gonna die a fast death, the institution doesn’t have your back or care about you as an author, and it’s hard to reach readers as a less-than mid-list author. 

A plus of independent publishing is you are beholden to no one: you don’t owe anyone another book, you won’t be pushed to make the current one more salable, you don’t have to accept crappy cover art. I can use semicolons when and where I want (one must be self-critical, however). One of the big roles of the publishing houses has been as gatekeepers, and when I’m not pounding on the gate and being denied entry, I can appreciate the need for gatekeepers because there is so much stuff out there, a flood of content, an inundation of writing … without someone telling us where to start, how are we to find the good? 

On the other hand, I think that mode of gatekeeper is dying. I don’t know what’s to come, except that I hope we don’t end up in an even more consumerist mode of reinforcing bestsellers without the ability to spotlight or validate less mass market books. I read print, and I’m a big supporter of local bookstores, but everything is moving electronic and it’s silly to miss out on that. In all this too, there is the issue of respect or prestige or recognition or whathaveyou with independent publishing. I think there’s still a sense of being looked down on for independent publishing, perhaps less so for genre work and more so for “literary” work, not to start an argument about the difference between those categories here. But again, I think it’s all in flux and changing and overall the system is moving towards creator produced content connecting directly to users (readers, viewers, listeners, etc.).

Your life has been very eclectic, from high school Physics teacher to mule packer, how has your life outside writing impacted your life inside writing?
Material! Expanded knowledge, varied experiences, greater understanding and even empathy. The old saw that you have to live to write is true, I think. I’ve also worked a fair amount of labor jobs, and I’ve worked with a lot of people who are not “literary”. Though they’re intelligent. More people are smart and insightful than one knows. And it’s important to be connected in some way to “real life,” to everyday people, which sounds deprecating but I mean if we’re just writing for academics or writers without the average person in mind, what’s the point? 

I feel that way even though I write in non-mainstream styles. And all the other jobs, some of which I love, some of which I did for a paycheck, some of them both, have reinforced my belief that I should write. While working outdoors, packing mules for example, fulfills part of me that writing does not, writing also fulfills (or at least engages) part of me that other activities do not. Also, I’m a dad, which influences my writing in so many ways, but is most of all my bedrock.

What are you working on now?

I always have a few short prose pieces in the mill, but right now most of my writing energy is going into editing what I call an (anti)-choose-your-own-adventure novel. It has a very long title, but “You Choose” for short. It follows the traditional choose-your-own-adventure format (numbered passages, jumping around, interwoven narratives). Sometimes you have a choice, sometimes you don’t, sometimes you think you do and don’t, and sometimes you don’t and do. 

The tagline might be: Sitting in your chair, you hear a scream; what do you do about it? It concerns choice, indeterminacy, many worlds theory, quantum mechanics, labyrinths, the functioning of the ear, pizza delivery, and a whole host of things. It’s intended to be immersive, about You. It’s messed up and fun for me and hard to wrap my head around. A selection from it was recently published in an online mag, Bumf, out of Australia. This fall I’m going to have to decide what the next step is for it. How to try and publish it? 

Final Words of Wisdom
Write big; write with desperation; write for yourself for others.

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.