When Marie Bacigalupo was nine, she read Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and was instantly hooked on fiction. She grew up to teach high school English before focusing exclusively on fiction writing, studying under Gordon Lish at The Center for Fiction, taking classes at the Writers Studio, and attending a number of university-sponsored craft workshops.
Marie won First Prize among 7000 entries in the Writer’s Digest 13th Annual Short-Short Story Competition with her entry, “Excavation.” Her other works have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Journal of Microliterature, The Examined Life Journal, Romance Magazine, and elsewhere. Ninth-Month Midnight is her debut novella.
The author is a native New Yorker who lives and writes in Brooklyn. Visit her at : www.mariebacigalupo.com.
Find out more on Amazon.
Thanks for letting us interrogate you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
Reading and writing have always been my main passions (cerebrally, that is!). I escaped a lonely childhood by eagerly entering a multitude of fictional worlds, and to this day I keep re-reading my favorites.
I had to work a little harder at writing. After earning an M. A. cum laude (the M.F.A. was not widely offered at the time), I worked as a copywriter for a couple of years. But my dream was to write creatively, and I realized I couldn’t seriously tackle fiction unless I addressed my shortcomings in craft. The fix: I went back to school, so to speak.
I attended The Writers Studio, took a number of workshops at NYU and The New School, studied at the Center for Fiction, and participated in Narrative Magazine and One Story summer programs. This background, along with the publication of my short stories, gave me the confidence to write a book.
Ninth-Month Midnight focuses on a woman who, grieving for her dead child, develops a desperate attachment to a male psychic. The first draft was the hardest. Helping me over the rough spots were some words of wisdom that never fail me: Allow yourself to write garbage, said the wise person whose name I can’t remember. In other words, just get the words on paper. Once purged, I searched for kernels of value that I could expand and revise into a finished manuscript.
Here’s the short answer to your question: one of the reasons I wanted to be an author was that fiction allowed me to express myself, to deal creatively with compelling ideas and issues, like the nature of life and the possibility of an after-life. For Ninth-Month Midnight, I asked myself: What if the souls of the dead linger among us for a while? Would we be able to communicate with them on some level?
Another idea I wanted to probe involved the inner life of women. I think their strengths are too often unacknowledged, their feelings and judgments too often dismissed, and their spirit too often crushed by socially defined limitations. My book combines the idea of a spirit world with the story of a troubled woman who develops a desperate attachment to a male psychic.
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
One obvious perk is the freedom to work when, where, how it suits me, in pj’s or buck naked if the spirit moves me (and . . . ahem . . . no one else is around). Most important, however, is the exhilaration I feel when my work is published and I can see and touch what my creative throes labored into being.
One of the demands of the writing life is the flip side of its freedom. Since there’s no one telling me what to do, I have to discipline myself by developing routines that maximize productivity.
My daily routine gets me up around 7:00 a.m. If family obligations don’t interfere, I write for a couple of hours in the morning. After a late lunch break, I return to the computer for another hour or two. If the writing goes very well—and this is rare—I’ll write continuously for five hours.
Marketing a book is also demanding, especially since I’m a private person, an introvert really. The necessity of promoting Ninth-Month Midnight and engaging with readers through social media was hard for me in the beginning, as was asking for reviews. I had to shake the feeling that I was imposing on my readers’ time because, let’s face it, the most saleable book in the world won’t sell a single copy if your readers don’t know it exists.
Still, despite its demands, I’d have to say the writing life definitely is all it’s cracked up to be.
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
When I had the final draft of Ninth-Month Midnight in hand, I thought about shopping out the manuscript. I weighed the prestige of traditional publication against reports about the difficulty of getting past the gatekeepers. I had also read that traditional publishers considered only agented manuscripts and were providing less and less support in promotion and marketing.
Self-publication, on the other hand, had significant advantages. Besides putting the writer at the helm, it’s relatively quick to pull off. The turn-around between manuscript upload and Amazon epublication is about 24 hours; the CreateSpace paperback is ready in two or three days. That’s a lot sooner than the yearlong wait between contract signing and publication by the Big Five.
Another advantage: self-published authors exercise control over content and pricing; their royalties go as high as 70% of sales (as opposed to about 25% minus the agent’s fee).
The balance tilted in favor of the direct approach: I decided to self-publish through Amazon and its paperback arm, CreateSpace. I accepted the fact that my book would probably never grace the shelves of a retail store without the mojo of a traditional publisher.
It was obvious from the beginning that professionalism would be the key to my credibility as a serious author. I knew I didn’t have certain technical skills to go it alone, so I searched the Internet for people who could assist me and who charged reasonable rates. Ultimately, I hired Polgarus to do the layout for my book and Ellie Augsburger of Creative Digital Studios to create the cover.
Once Ninth-Month Midnight was available for purchase, promotion became critical to sales. To let people know about the book, I established a website and blog, created author pages on Goodreads and Facebook, opened a Twitter account, and did a virtual blog tour. My challenge now is to maintain a media presence that leaves me enough time to write.
To authors who ask if I would recommend self-publication, I say, Go for it if you’re organized and multi-talented, or willing to hire people to do what you can’t do yourself. However you take the journey, success depends ultimately on the three p’s: patience, persistence, and professionalism.
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
For real, my husband is proud of my publications and seems fine with watching a ball game, if he has to, while I’m working.
If my husband questions anything, it’s my reading habits. He wonders how I can keep reading the same books over and over. I tell him I like to hang out with old friends like Elizabeth Bennett, Holden Caulfield, George Smiley, and the list goes on.
Oh, yes, he does occasionally express dismay when he compares the amount of work I do with the amount of profit I make. But then, so do I!
This is for pet lovers. If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?
While I don’t live with a pet at the moment, I was once the guardian of a cat named Ariel, whose death after fourteen years pierced my heart.
As I worked, Ariel would lie at the side of the computer while I absentmindedly stroked her back, her purrs lulling me into a creative daydream, her serene presence erasing petty distractions.
Ariel never showed impatience; on the contrary, her stillness was unflappable as long as I was working. She was a boon, never an impediment, to my writing life.
This is for plant lovers. If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?
I was born and bred in New York City, so plants haven’t been a big part of my life. Be it noted, however, that the poinsettia plant I bought before Christmas is still thriving, and I think know why. Like my writing life, I integrate watering the gorgeous red blooms into a daily routine: I boot up my computer, then a swig of Evian for me and a swig for the pretty plant.
In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
Routine. Routine. Routine. My family knew when I was writing and didn’t disturb me. I didn’t turn off the phone because I feared an emergency. Instead, I let someone else pick it up or excused myself and, when appropriate, promised to call back later.
As for dinner, my husband is the cook in our family (I shrewdly burned one too many dinners), so there’s never an argument about mealtimes in our house.
What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
I needed to change an ISBN on the epub version of my book. I discovered the error at the same time as the formatter’s wife took ill and had to go to the hospital. The formatter was, understandably, distraught. I couldn’t persuade him to make a change that would have taken two or three minutes, and I couldn’t wait for his wife to recover because I wanted the epub and mobi versions to appear simultaneously.
I considered using Calibre and making the change myself, but I didn’t know the program and was sure I’d bungle the effort. I wanted the book to look professional.
In desperation, I searched the Internet, and though I can’t retrace my route today, I found a young guy who took care of the problem for $15, but by then I had decided to forgo the epub version.
P.S. The formatter got back to me with the correction after the book was published.
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
Most, I think, are worthwhile.
For sheer audience mass, Facebook serves writers well. I like Goodreads because it’s dedicated to books and authors although it’s so feature-rich, it can be intimidating.
I like Twitter, too, and should use it more, but sometimes the 140-character limit deters me. Mark Twain, who said, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” knew what I’m talking about.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
To make sales happen, I started by writing the best book I could. Then I worked with an illustrator to produce the best cover, a critical promotional tool. I hired a professional to do the formatting and another to create my website.
After the book was published, I tried to drum up interest through social media. Later, I did a short-term price reduction through Amazon to encourage sales.
I also tried to make it easy for readers to purchase my book by offering it through three outlets: Amazon, Goodreads, and my website (www.mariebacigalupo.com).
So how are my sales? Don’t ask!
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
Hmmm. Is that a scream of joy or frustration? I screamed for joy when my book finally came out. I screamed in frustration when the writing was going poorly, when I couldn’t get the dialogue right, when the structure wasn’t working, when the Are you kidding? voice sounded inside my head, as in, “Are you kidding, taking yourself seriously?”
Writing is hard work. From the outside, it might look easy, but, in fact, it’s a struggle to align words with ideas, forge credible characters, and shape engaging plots. To those onlookers who say, I can do that, I want to scream, Prove it! Sit down day after day, month after month gestating a novel, and don’t stop till the baby is born. You may succeed in producing a book, but I guarantee you’ll never again call it easy.
Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
I love generating situations in which recognizable people, people like us, feel joy and pain, face surmountable and insurmountable problems, do good and evil.
I love the fact that readers take pleasure in the company of characters I created, that they respond to their plights with real emotion.
I love populating a reader’s imagination with worlds that did not exist before I put pen to paper or, rather, fingers to computer. It’s magical, a little like playing God.