Friday, 9 August 2013

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series – On not Being J.K. Rowling

Aug 3, 2013 Garneau Pub Patio, Edmonton Alberta

Part Seven – On Not Being J.K. Rowling or the Joys of Starting Out

Question:  Ok, just for the sake of full disclosure, you’re not really J.K. Rowling, right?

Answer:  You bet.

Question:  And you’re not a long lost twin, or an AI robot version of JK, or a doppelganger?   I just thought I should ask, since this blog specializes in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Answer:  Nope, I’m just a newish SF/romance writer, like hundreds of others out there.  Definitely not J.K. Rowling, who is in a class all by herself.

Question:  By way of explanation, I should note to blog readers that J.K. Rowling was recently ‘outed’ as writing a book under a pen-name.  Her decently selling, but not ‘flying off the shelves’ selling, crime novel written under that pen name did indeed start flying off the shelves as soon as people knew who the actual writer was.  This became a bit of a cause celebre, since it pointed out the inestimable value of having a well-known, or more accurately very famous name and brand.  Ms. Rowling’s stated purpose behind the experiment was to see how her work would be received independent of her reputation.  What do you think of that?

Answer:  Well, naturally part of me would love to have Joanne’s problems.  I think it’s safe to say that most writers would agree with that statement.  But on the other hand, part of me can imagine her predicament.  A new writer is constantly being discovered, and there’s a real joy in that.  People are looking at your baby, even if it’s not a huge number of people, the way it became for J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series.  In some ways, smaller numbers might be emotionally more satisfying than large numbers - you can still relate to each new reader who discovers you as an individual person, not a statistic, at least in your imagination.  You wonder what that person in Australia or Germany who bought your book is like.  Getting repeat readers is also a new thrill.  For example, Kati 1 has been out a little over a year, and Kati 2 has been out for a few months.  So, I am starting to see patterns in sales that indicate people who bought book 1 are buying book 2.  That’s very gratifying.   I imagine J.K. Rowling had experienced those things early on in her career and wanted to recapture that feeling.  Who could blame her?

Question:  That computes.  New experiences are almost always more exciting than repeated experiences, even the best repeated experiences.

Answer:  Another joy of starting out is that feeling that you are giving people pleasure, and taking them to new and exciting worlds, where characters like Kati and Mikal can overcome difficult obstacles and triumph against long odds.  Real life isn’t always like that, so you like the idea that you are giving people a lift.  Life can be a slog, so it’s nice to think that your fictional characters are bringing a smile to someone’s face. 

Question:  I suppose J.K. Rowling must have felt that way during the Harry Potter series.

Answer:  Yes, but maybe that feeling diminished with the kind of success that she had.  Maybe that’s another reason for her pen-name experiment.

Question:  Any other thoughts?

Answer:  I thought her books got a little darker as the series went on - maybe being so successful made her feel that she should write more ‘serious’ fiction, and to many people, more serious means darker.  Or maybe getting darker is inevitable when you stay with one set of characters for a long stretch.

Question:  Or perhaps her editors and publisher pushed her that way.

Answer:  Could be.  I guess that’s one of the other joys of starting out - you haven’t reached that point yet.  You don’t have to prove to yourself or to anyone else that you can write dark, serious stuff.  One of the nice things about the new opportunities of independent publishing is that I feel like I have control - I don’t have to go there unless I want to.  Perhaps J.K. Rowling should try that process the next time she wants to test the non-famous waters, rather than publish under a pen-name with a publisher that spills the beans, whether accidentally or not.

Question: Maybe she’s doing so right this moment.

Answer:  Maybe, but I can still safely say that I am not J.K. Rowling.

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