Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Straight From the Mouth of 'An Alien's Guide to World Domination'

Elizabeth Fountain left a demanding job as a university administrator in Seattle to move to the small town of Ellensburg, Washington, and pursue her dream of writing novels.  She started writing in grade school; fortunately, most of her tortured high school poetry and song lyrics are lost to posterity. Her first book, An Alien’s Guide to World Domination, was five years in the making, and offered lots of opportunities to give up along the way; that might be why it’s a tale of people, aliens, and dogs who face the impossible, and do it anyway.  An independent publishing house in Calgary, Champagne Book Group, released the novel in April. Now Liz has three more novels in progress. She takes breaks from writing to teach university courses, spend time with family and friends, and take long walks while leaning into the diabolical Kittitas valley wind.  She holds degrees in philosophy, psychology, and leadership, which contribute to a gently humorous view of humanity well suited to tales of aliens and angels, love and death, friendship and dogs. Liz strives to live according to a line from British singer-songwriter Chris Rea: “Every day, good luck comes in the strangest of ways.”

Thanks for letting us interrogate interview you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

Well, the fame and fortune, of course! Seriously, I’ve always loved telling stories, and painting with words. Up until the last few years, though, I didn’t believe my stories were worthy of telling to a “real” audience (other than the one in my head, you know). Then I took a writing workshop at Richard Hugo House in Seattle, and we read each other’s work out loud and gave our reactions. When I heard what my fellow writers took from the little piece I wrote, I was hooked. Connecting with readers is amazing, beautiful, frightening, and wondrous.

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?

Perks? There are meant to be perks? I think I need to go review my contract… The demands are the same as any artistic endeavor: discipline melded to wild creativity. Discipline means writing every day, whether it’s a first draft, or revising, or line editing, or writing about your writing. It means the hard slogging work of making your words sing on the page, eliminating what’s unnecessary, adding what’s needed to spark the reader’s imagination. Wild creativity, for me anyway, means binges of pure production – words upon words, without a care for the “finished product” – just letting the sentences, scenes, and plots flow. You need both to make anything worthwhile.
And that’s the main perk, too. You get to immerse yourself in the discipline that brings forth beautiful new art, done in words.

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

I found a small independent publisher willing to give An Alien’s Guide a chance at finding its audience by publishing it as an e-book. From contract signing to publication took a bit over a year. Much of that time was editing the manuscript, making sure it was as polished as could be. I think we had three or four rounds of editing, from a few major revisions down to line editing. I find line editing to be very taxing and time-consuming; I can only read a small amount before my eyes start to lose focus and I miss errors. Then there’s the whole promotion and marketing aspect. While the publisher’s done a lot, these days, so much is up to an author to build a “platform” – website, blog, social media. There have been times in the last few months that I’ve said “I’m ready to stop selling and start writing!”

What’s the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry (e.g. rejections, the long wait, etc.)

The snarkiest thing I can say is simply “get over yourselves.” There’s a lot of elitism in the industry, judgments about what is “real” literature versus “genre fiction.” I say, good storytelling is good storytelling. If you find it in fantasy, romance, science fiction, or thriller, terrific. If you find it in a “literary” novel, awesome. Just enjoy it. Readers should rule the day, and at heart, all the best writers are readers, too. We want to experience the joy of being carried away by a ripping yarn.

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?

Truly, they’ve all been so supportive. In fact, they nag me about getting back to work on my latest manuscript. “What are you writing now?” they ask, giving me that squint-eye that says, “You can’t get away with resting on previous accomplishments with us. We’re family. We know you better than that. Now get back to work!”

What was the craziest or most insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

When my publisher sent me the ARC (advance reader copy), the next-to-final, for our last round of proofreading, I decided to print it out. I believed I could find errors more easily on paper than on the screen. So I printed all 280 pages, and sat down with my blue highlighter. By about page 25, the pages were bleeding blue ink. I found letters missing, words dropped, all kinds of weird problems. Panic set in. What was my editor up to, letting all this get through?

Being a newbie, I plugged away to meet the quick turnaround. I logged something like 200 errors, and sent the errata sheet back to the publisher.
Almost immediately, I got an email from them: where are all these errors you logged? We don’t see them on our ARC.

Heart in throat, I pulled the ARC back up on my computer screen. Sure enough, none of the weird errors were there. The problem, it turned out, was in my cheap home printer. It didn’t recognize the specialized font, so it spit out tons of errors. My graphic designer friend told me this is a common problem, and why they always edit on-screen. Had I taken five minutes to check the electronic copy of the ARC, I would have saved myself hours of work, not to mention stress on my heart, and my poor publisher, who thought I’d gone insane.

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

I think they all probably “help” if you know how and when to use them. Right now I’m focused on Facebook, and doing these interviews for great book-oriented sites. Doing that, and keeping something interesting and current on my own blog, takes enough time. I don’t want readers to find my name on a lot of random posts; I’d rather they find something interesting, thoughtful, encouraging, or fun.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

I haven’t received my first statement yet, so I don’t really know how many copies sold so far. After the first couple of weeks post-release, I stopped trying to track sales. It doesn’t seem as important as focusing on connecting with readers, and crafting the best work I can. (Now if I hit the New York Times bestseller list, I’ll revise that answer…)

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

When An Alien’s Guide released, I told a friend my goal was to have one person who didn’t know me before the book was published read it, and love it. Well, that wish came true on May 29, when the reviewer for Long and Short Reviews posted a four (out of four) star review on their site. She said:” Elizabeth Fountain has written an unbelievably clever, witty, tongue-in-cheek novel with some truly marvelous characters.” Wow, I thought, one reader truly loved this book!

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?

Um… well… all those things above don’t matter because… well… You know, it’s true. Every artistic path winds through rocky uphill patches and easy downslopes. The real privilege is in getting to walk (climb, slide, saunter, struggle, and sashay) the path itself.

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