Friday, September 26, 2008

Interview with Jayne Pupek on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today I'm interviewing Jayne Pupek, author of Tomato Girl and Forms of Intercession.

What was the most major roadblock you encountered along the way to getting published, and how did you overcome it?

Just writing the novel was my major roadblock. I'd written poetry for years, but had written very little fiction when I began writing Tomato Girl. I had so much to learn. Fortunately, I had the help of a writer's critique group and several good mentors. They taught me so much and encouraged me to keep going.

On your website, you talk about working in the mental health industry, being a mother, and having a large family of animals living with you. Do you think that writers have a higher than usual tendency towards empathy? In your experience, are good writers also good nurturers?

I think empathy is a good thing for a writer to have, but I can't really say that writers are more empathetic or better nurturers than other people. I haven't spent that much time in the company of writers. Most of my life has been spent on things other than writing. My work has primarily been in the field of mental health, and empathy there is critical. I do feel empathy for my characters, and I assume other writers feel similarly toward their characters.

You've been published in quite a few literary magazines! I've heard that having stories, poems and articles published makes it easier to get a book published. Did you find this to be true? Do you suggest emerging authors try to get stories, poems and articles published before full-length works?

Publishing is a risky business. The publishing house invests a lot of money, time, and hard work to produce and market each book. Unless your name is Stephen King, the publisher can't be sure that they will see a profit on your book. Having previous publishing credits doesn't guarantee that your manuscript will be accepted, but it does say to the prospective publisher that other editors found your work worthwhile. In terms of poetry, it is expected that you've published a number of individual poems in various journals before you submit a manuscript. Poets also usually publish a chapbook prior to the publishing of a full length collection.

Your novel Tomato Girl was released recently, and you had to do a lot of work on promotion (meaning not so much time spent on writing.) Has the time you've spent on promotion tapered off somewhat, allowing more time for writing? Do you have any suggestions for promotion tools that have worked really well for you? Any tips on 'having it all,' writing and promoting at the same time?

I still do a good bit of promotion, especially online, but not quite as much as in the first weeks. I'm spending more time writing now. I have found online communities like GoodReads and LibraryThing to be helpful. Also, book bloggers are a wonderful group of people who are usually more than willing to review books, conduct interviews, and host book giveaways. I'm not sure that it is possible to write and promote at the same time, at least not in the first month or so. Each person has to find the balance that works for them..

In addition to your novel, Tomato Girl, you've also published a book of poems. Some say that it's harder to get poetry published than novels. Was it difficult to get a book of poems published? Do you have any suggestions for aspiring poets who would like to be published?

Poetry is much harder to publish than fiction, mostly because poetry doesn't sell. The poetry aisle in any book store is usually a lonely place. It's sometimes even harder for poets who are outside of academia, because we don't have a captive audience at our disposal. My advice to any writer, poet or otherwise, is to focus on the work itself and not the publishing. Getting published comes down to persistence and good luck, but first you must have a manuscript worth publishing. I don't think a person who is lukewarm can succeed as a writer. You have to really, really love the work of words and storytelling. If rejection letters make you quit, you probably don't love the work enough.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

I have to sing the praises of Algonquin Books because they consistently produce books of quality and compete effectively against much bigger houses. Algonquin also focuses on Southern literature, which is near and dear to me.

There are a number of very small, independent publishers that impress me. My experiences with Mayapple Press were wonderful. I also find the books published by Tupelo Press to be consistently good. One of my favorite novelists, Lydia Millet, publishes with Soft Skull Press. I'm also impressed with Another Sky Press, the innovative small press based in Portland that publishes the writer Kristopher Young and the artist Jesse Reno, among others.

About the Author

Visit Jayne's website and blog for more information.

Update: Learn more! Read a review of Tomato Girl on Lisa's Books and Cooks blog, along with a guest blog post by Jayne Pupek.

© Emma Larkins and Jayne Pupek

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