The conclusion of my interview with award winning author, Mara Purl. Here we discuss publishing and our mutual passion for traveling with our heart!
11.30.12 56 °F
Sorry for the delay. Thanksgiving celebrations took up most of last week.
Here as promised is part two of my interview with my friend Mara Purl, Award Winning Author of Where the Heart Lives.
Jane -- You have published books both with an independent publisher and now under a larger publishing house. Which do you prefer and what is the main benefit and challenge of each type of publishers?
Mara - I see the evolution of my publishing journey as a continuum. As we all know, publishing is no longer just the big publishing houses. Nor is the only other option self-publishing. For the past two decades what’s really experienced the most growth is the middle ground called independent publishing. The whole industry has gone through many changes and I believe it will continue to change as it has within the last few years. Publishing has become much more dynamic recently.
Just three years ago, E-books accounted for only 2% of the books sold. In 2012, E-books account for 40% of the books sold and these figures continue to shift.
I have heard people moan that it is a terrible time to be in publishing because “no one is reading anymore.” In fact, just the opposite is true! People are reading more than ever and on all platforms. The thing is we just aren’t reading the way we used to read. Now people are reading for critical, casual, professional, personal, and pleasurable information. We’re reading on phones, tablets, e-readers, computer monitors, paper printouts, hard cover books, soft cover printed paperbacks, and trade paperbacks. We are reading 3X5, 5X7, 8.5X 11, 20 X 30 coffee table books and every other shape and size imaginable. We’re reading not only passively but also interactively and dynamically. We’re even reading multiple texts and interactive texts at one time. With the new touch technology, we’re able to read and check the meanings of words from a single or multiple library resources to augment our reading.
Other shifts include the increase in the number of series or serials that are back in vogue. Charles Dickens wrote in installments with serialized stories and performed before live audiences. It helped him to connect to his reading public. He drew a large following at the time that determined how he was published. He proved their interest in serial story-telling.
But he was unusual, in that he was both author and performer. I have this in common with Mr. Dickens, and perhaps that accounts for my own interest in serial storytelling. But by the time I was first trying to sell my serial novels, no one was writing in this format. Publishers had a tried-and-true format of novels with beginning, middle and end.
When I first tried to publish my series, I sent samples to agents in New York. I knew I had a strong audience because they had followed the 100 episodes of the radio drama. They had been clamoring for the drama in a written format and already liked the serial style of storytelling. Despite the proven following, all the agents said that they would not be able to sell the series. Their research showed that bookstores didn’t want to commit too much space to any one author. They also didn’t want the added complexity of stocking each book in a series. Bottom line, if the store wouldn’t carry it, the agents would discourage writers from writing series. Such was the publishing landscape 15 years ago.
I was confident I had an audience and I wanted to keep the integrity of the serial episodes for the story telling from the original radio drama. I pressed on and found myself in independent publishing. I was never interested in self-publishing, which I think is perfect for very personal projects like family histories. So instead, I ended up co-founding a small press with an advisory board that included an editor from a major publisher, a former managing editor of the Associated Press, the CEO of New York Times Books. The creative team included six authors at the outset, plus professional designers and editors. Ultimately two of the authors left, and the four of us who stayed created very successful books. My series attracted the attention of a larger house, but I still do non-fiction and audio books with my original publisher.
Now that electronic publishing has begun to evolve, technology has finally caught up with me. I knew my stories were of value to my readers and now I have a new way to deliver them---not always in a printed format. We’re finding that people are eager for story segments in small increments, so I’m writing more short stories to augment my series. Readers can enjoy these as separate tales, but they also fit together in a bigger puzzle.
Jane – I am surprised at the comments about serials not selling because as I am aware, comics and series of books have always seemed to have an audience.
Mara – I really think readers have always enjoyed serial stories in many forms. Comics and graphic novels are perfect examples. Resistance on the part of the major publishers is partly because of their sheer size. It takes time for an ocean liner to change course. But independent publishers---smaller ships---can respond much more quickly to market demands. They’re less afraid and are more able to try new things.
Jane – I always remember the words of Tom Peters when I went to a seminar on business. To succeed in today’s climate; a company has to be humble and agile!
Mara – Yes! The founder of Midpoint Books, Eric Kampmann, saw that wonderful titles were slipping through the cracks at the major houses, and he recognized the opportunity for this new publishing paradigm.
Jane – I do not have an e-reader and believe that even when I have one, I will still prefer “a real book”, or a book in print. How about your audience? Do they have a preference?
Mara – I, too, prefer a “real” book, but I also enjoy my e-reader. I have every imaginable e-reader App so that I can experience what my readers experience.
Jane – Do you think it’s primarily younger readers who are diving into the e-reading world?
Mara – No, I don’t think so. My readers, who tend to be adult women of many ages, are not limited on how they read. For example, senior readers enjoy the Kindle format because they can increase font size and they have begun to downsize their book collections. Yet small children need printed books, not technology. They’re still introduced to the wonder of books with printed picture books. Kindergarten to Tweens may be using computers for other readings, but they are also still into “a real book”. Think of all the Harry Potter readers who stood in line for hours during the release parties. When I poll my audiences, they are evenly split, with half preferring a printed book and half using the readers. Sixty percent of those who prefer the printed book say that they also have a reader.
Jane – I foresee that I will have a reader in the future, especially when I travel internationally. But I also know that I will visit all the bookstores I can during my trips to see what’s new and I’ll read printed books when I don’t have to pack them. I’m sure I’ll enjoy having my favorite travel guides books available to me in multiple formats in the future!
Mara – No doubt! And I imagine travel books will be perfect for some of the interactive features that will eventually be built into e-readers
Jane -- The last few times we spoke, I learned more about you and found that we share an experience of living abroad during part of our early school years. I have this experience called “Third Culture Kids”; they do not necessarily identify with the birth culture, or the foreign culture where they live temporarily, but they are of a “third culture.” I would like to ask you some questions about how your experience has formed your opinions about life and how it has influenced your story telling and writing. Will you share with us what it was like for you to return to the U.S. after such a long absence and how and when you acclimated?
Mara – I consider myself still working at it even today. For example, I think growing up in Tokyo, a city of 11 million at the time, brought me a fascination with what it might be like to live in a small town. I wanted to explore how life actually is in the U.S. and how life works in a small community.
When I first returned to the U.S., I attended a boarding school for my last two years of high school. I felt like a fish out of water flopping around. I did not understand the clothes, hair, TV, food or any of the cultural references. I found my sanity by befriending two foreign students, one from Germany and one from Beirut who, like me, understood what is was to live in a culture that was not your own. Within our small group there was no judgment, which we keenly felt from the other students. I learned quickly not to share too much with most of my classmates, because all it did was emphasize our different perspectives. I was also constantly shocked by things in the U.S. I looked like a “regular American” teenager, but I didn’t feel like one.
Jane – How do you feel this influenced you and your characters, especially in your current book WHERE THE HEART LIVES?
Mara – Traveling the world helped me see how precious the sense of home is. And it also helped me see that this sense of home can be anywhere on the globe. By following the path of least resistance, we might end up living in a place that doesn’t really suit who we are, or what our goals are. So in this book, I asked the question---what does it take to discover your true sense of home?
As you know, in my writing, the heart guides everything. It’s both the starting point and the destination of the journey. The circumference can be the trips someone takes physically, or virtually, even if they stay in one location. This is embodied by the image on the cover of Where the Heart Lives with the magnifying glass over the map. Think of a compass – the fixed foot holds you in one place, while the travel foot wanders in widening circles. It is best if both are in play and in balance.
If a person has too much wanderlust, they’re out of balance. Similarly, a homebody who has never left home is out of balance in a different way. It is up to each person to look within himself or herself to determine who they are and what is the right balance for them. Some people find their center by traveling, others find where they want to travel to by staying at home. Bottom line, each person must follow their heart and it is up to them to know if what and how they are traveling is right for them.
Let me turn the tables on you and ask---what are the main things you look for and are at the core of why you travel?
Jane – Good question. As I pause and think about it, the main reason I travel is for self-knowledge. I find that I am at my best when I travel because I am so curious and hungry to learn about the world and myself at the same time. I can to do this best when I get away from my routine, my support system, and I have to rely on my inner guidance and myself. When I travel everything in my life is in flux and I love it.
Next, when I am away from home, I find that my compassion and understanding increases, not only for others but also with myself. I meet people who appear different in so many ways, and yet when I spend time with them, there is a fundamental core that everyone has that I believe is more similar than may be clear upon first acquaintance.
Thirdly, my patience increases, not only with others but also myself. I spend less time pushing boulders up hill, and allow things to unfold naturally.
Perhaps it’s because I was a military child and we moved so often, or perhaps it’s in my genes, but I’m always interested in seeing what’s over that hill, just around the corner, or on the other side of the world.
While I lived in Thailand between third and sixth grade, I found for the first time that the people that I meet not only from Thailand but all the other cultures around me in my school, that they thought and saw things in a new way. It was confronting at times, until I realized that it was not a judgment of me, but simply a different way to view life.
Mara – Yes! I realized early on that you can think and speak in a totally different language, and still be smart. Sounds so obvious! But it’s a subtle distinction. I came from one culture with a clear understanding about how things should be, but soon realized that there were other ways that had equal value. Making a bed for instance in the U.S. means a bedroom with a bed, dresser, closet, etc. I saw in Japan how a room could have many uses during the day. The four walls stayed the same but depending on where the moveable panels were arranged, it could be an intimate bedroom, a meeting room streaming with light in the middle of the day, or a breakfast room with the bed cleared way and small table laden with food.
How a house is laid out changes between the different cultures. But the qualities remain the same. So, for example, what’s required for a bedroom in any culture are qualities of calm and rest, comfort, security, a cozy sense of intimacy. Both styles can accomplish the same thing in different ways. I found it fascinating.
Food is another thing that is so different from culture to culture, yes every culture has its treats. We didn’t really know what American treats were, but on Home Leave we sometimes would have something called a milk shake that was pretty wow.
Jane – Your milk shake reminds me how much I longed for McDonalds French Fries when I was in Thailand. All they had was a fast food chain from the UK called Wimpies. They were a pale comparison in my mind, and they had ONIONS in their hamburger meat! YUK!
Yet, while I missed some special food and TV from the U.S., I was having a blast exploring all the exotic fruits and falling in love with Thai delicacies such as dried plum pits rolled in salt and alum and other candy.
Mara –When we went to the movies in Tokyo, my sister and I used to eat “rubber bands”---salty, chewy dried squid---not popcorn. We thought it was a great treat!
Jane – I think my early foreign travel helped me appreciate being able to do every day things in a foreign country. I love to go to the movies, find the post office and buy stamps, go the local groceries and markets and buy shampoo, tooth paste, candy and Kleenex. Doing those things helps me feel accomplished when I am a little overwhelmed and it also gets me out and into the community to see how things work.
Mara – I remember that during a trip to France and England, in France my husband depended on me as I spoke the language. Once we got to England however, he left the hotel saying he needed to run to the store for a few things and he was gone for hours. He returned glowing and laden with bags of things we didn’t necessarily need, because he had such a good time shopping in a place where he felt comfortable and could understand the language.
Jane – You bring up an interesting point about languages. In Thailand, I was in an international school where we were taught in English, but also took classes in Thai and Spanish. I never was very accomplished in Thai and my Spanish (10 years in grade school) is still at an intermediate level in comprehension, but only advanced beginning when speaking. How many languages did you learn in Japan?
Mara – I went to the American School in Japan (ASIJ), so named because the curriculum was American and classes were taught in American English. But there were 40 nationalities represented in the student body. We were required to study Japanese and one additional language and I took French. In addition to my school language lessons, I had a job performing on a local TV show (similar to PBS) where I performed in a drama designed to teach spoken English to Japanese students. As the students were following the lesson at home on the TV, I had to be letter perfect with the script.
After I had been on TV for a while, my sister and I were walking home from school when some older boys were taunting us that we were stupid. After a while, we spun around and snapped at them that “We’re not so stupid if we can speak your language!” They apologized and we ended up being great friends, with each of us helping the others learn our native language.
Jane – During our discussions, it’s clear that we both have a passion about using our heart as we map the journey of our lives. This is a strong theme through both my book and your current book Where the Heart Lives. What do you feel is the most important take away when people read your books and travel?
Let the journey unfold naturally. That is the most important part of good travel. Preparation is important, but leave some room for exploring and getting lost.
There was one business/pleasure trip that my husband and I took to France that shows how to plan and also allow a trip to unfold naturally. The first part was a business trip where I was performing music with the New York City Ballet. I had to be in certain places at very specific times. But for the second half of the trip, we rented a car, drove straight to the south of France, and then meandered our way back to Paris. We followed our hearts and would stop in a village that looked interesting. We would find a market a buy local cheese, fruit, baguette and wine and we ended up meeting wonderful people. At one point, we were looking for a room and everything was shut for the season. After two attempts with no luck, we knocked on another B & B without much expectation. When the woman opened the door and I explained who we were and what were doing, she must’ve decided we sounded interesting enough that she let us in. She reopened her hotel just for us. On another day, we’d stopped in the town of Le Puy. I explained to the owners that my ancestor DePuy was from this town and that I was from the U.S. The wife asked when DePuy went to America and I explained that he’d accompanied Lafayette and fought beside him in the Revolutionary War. She then explained that her ancestor had greeted Lafayette when he arrived in the New World. We realized our ancestors had to have known each other. How could I have planned this, and how could it have turned out any better?
Jane – Yes, that type of travel, both planning a bit and leaving the rest up to chance allows both sides of the brain to influence your heart. Mara, I know that when you speak, write, or travel, you are always connecting with local not-for-profit causes. How do you pick the agencies you support with our work?
Mara – For over 30 years, I’ve been involved with agencies that support women’s causes in all areas of their life. I’ve been on the board of Haven House in Los Angeles, the oldest shelter for battered women in the U.S. Now I work with charities in several cities to create special book tea events and I name each of them---Generosi-Tea, Connectivi-Tea, Possibili-Tea. . . .
And in some instances, I’m the keynote speaker for events organized by the charities themselves. As my book titles all mention the heart, I’m thrilled that recently the American Heart Association has asked me to speak to their regional Go Red for Women event in Colorado. I was unsure how an important medical association would receive my talks. They said, “we want you to do what you do and help us and our clients from a metaphorical perspective.” This is serendipity at its best when a group organically presents itself to me with an amazing opportunity to share and support them. I’m very involved with veterans groups and my second novel is dedicated to our service men and their families.
I find my greatest joy when I open and follow my heart. I find and I am sure you agree that we gain most through helping and supporting others. It is enriching, humbling and always inspiring.
To find out more about Mara Purl and the Milford Haven novels, go to www.MaraPurl.com. Through the end of the year, Mara is offering a FREE short story for her readers and blog tour followers! When Whales Watch is a great adventure tale, a complete story to enjoy! Visit www.MaraPurl.com/downloads to find links for all e-readers, plus a pdf file you may download if you do not have an e-reader.
As you can see, there are many ways to travel with your heart; with books, while staying at home, or while you explore new places near and far from home. As long as it is your heart that is leading, you cannot fail to have an amazing journey.
I wish you the best as you travel to complete this year of 2012. With the ending of the Mayan calendar and the new year approaching, I can only imagine all the incredible things that we will have to share the next time we meet.
Until then, please
Travel in Safety and where ever you go,
Hold the world in your Heart..... Volunteer!