Most of what follows is true.
Okay, some of what follows is true.
Truth is subjective, and so when I say true, you should take it with a grain of salt.
Okay, bottom line? Charles never really interviewed Penny and I, and so the words coming out of “Charles’ mouth” here are also just the coinage of my brain, as is the suggestion that Charles is anything like James Lipton from Inside the Actor’s Studio.
However, everything that I say is absolutely, one hundred percent true. Except for when I’m stretching the truth for the sake of narrative, or telling outright porky pies.
Without further ado, I present to you, Inside the Author’s Studio, hosted by Charles E. Yallowitz (in the guise of James Lipton. You know. This guy.) With special guests, Helena Hann-Basquiat and her strange but lovely niece, the Countess Penelope of Arcadia.
Charles: Thank you for coming, Helena; Penny.
Helena: Thank you, Charles. May I call you Charlie?
Penny: Can I? Or how ’bout Chuck?
Charles: I’d really prefer Charles, if you don’t mind. Now, tell us about your new book, Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One.
Helena: Well, it’s really unconventional, darling. It’s not a novel, and it’s not a straight biography, either. It’s got autobiographical aspects, but it’s also an experiment with narrative. I poke fun of conventional writing, flaunting the fact that I often ignore a lot of dos and don’ts of writing, and I think that a lot of people are going to miss that. It’s not going to make sense to them, or they’re going to get lost in my many diversions and digressions. So it’s been both rewarding and frustrating trying to find an audience for my writing. Those who get it, love it and are enthusiastic about it, and those who don’t, well…
Penny: Fuck ’em. Oh shit, can I say fuck on the air?
Charles: If you could limit your profanity, I’d very much appreciate it. Can you do that?
Penny: Hell, yes!
Helena: (shaking her head) Never underestimate the power of an obscure Simpsons reference.
Charles: Indeed. So, why self-publish? Why not try to find a home for this book with a publishing house?
Helena: Because I’m impatient. Weren’t expecting that answer, were you? I’ve got so many other ideas, and Memoirs of a Dilettante is only one of them. And I know it’s terribly odd, and a tough sell, and so I wanted to get it out there and have complete creative control over it.
Charles: Then why do the Kickstarter campaign? Why raise money for a book that you knew traditional publishers weren’t going to see?
Helena: You know, when Jim and I started the Kickstarter (that’s my friend Jim Squires, who launched the whole thing) we weren’t sure if it would be successful. Or rather, Jim said he was, but as we went into week two, and the pledges slowed to a stop, I started trying to wrap my mind around the possibility that it would fail. That’s when Jim told me that the point of the Kickstarter wasn’t to raise money, but to raise awareness. Thankfully, in the end, we were successful, and I count that as a win, but the fact of the matter is, all the Kickstarter did for me financially was allow me to buy a box of books to use for either promotional purposes or to sell at indie writer events or shows. Which is not bad.
Penny: Aunt Helena is a terrible pessimist, Chuck.
Charles: Um, it’s Charles.
Penny: I’ll let you call me Penelope if you let me call you Chuck.
Charles: Well, if you be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal
Penny: (squealing with delight) I can call you Betty, and Betty when you call me…
Charles: …you can call me Al.
(At this point in the interview, Charles and Penny launched into an impromptu version of Paul Simon’s classic, “You Can Call Me Al.” Here, darlings, play along at home:)
Penny: As I was saying, Aunt Helena is a terrible pessimist. She was driving me posalutely bat guano, checking the Kickstarter page every fifteen minutes, and then cursing a blue streak when nothing changed. The fact of the matter is, from the time she wrote that first amazing post (co-starring yours truly in the land of le boisson chaud — careful with those Bs and Ps, you don’t accidentally want to order a hot fish) to the time she published was almost exactly one year. That means she wrote, edited, formatted, promoted, ran a successful fundraising campaign, grew her audience from exactly ZERO people to somewhere much greater than ZERO (who cares about numbers) all in one year. And I’m not even going to mention all the other stuff she did during that year. Oh hell, yes I am. She’s also got about 3/4 of that creepy swamp novel done, too, and is probably only about three or four stories away (if that) from finishing Volume Two of the Memoirs. And it’s taken its toll on her.
Charles: In what way?
Penny: She’s stressed out. All that self-promotion, it was, like, murder on Aunt Helena. She’ll promote the hell out of someone else, but when it comes to herself, she finds it, I dunno, distasteful. I think that if Helena had her way, she’d lock herself up in her room, blast Smiths records all day, and just write, write, write, write.
Helena: That’s not true. I wouldn’t just listen to The Smiths.
Penny: Right. You’d switch it up with some Morrissey. Whatever. What Aunt Helena really needs is some rich benefactor to just pay her to write.
Helena: Where’s Andy Warhol when you need him?
Charles: So what are the alternatives?
Helena: Finding balance. I get fixated on pouring all my energy into one thing at a time, and when I get spread out, I can’t handle the strain. The whole month the Kickstarter was going on, every waking moment (and sometimes when I was asleep) was consumed with raising the funds. When I launched the Kickstarter with Jim, I just figured that I’d put it out there, Tweet reminders every so often, and that people would come and pledge. But what I encountered was that launching the Kickstarter was almost akin to self-publishing a book on Amazon and not doing any promotion at all. I needed to sell the Kickstarter! Which felt like doing all the work twice. There were all kinds of people who had never heard of it, or weren’t comfortable with it, or didn’t understand how it worked. In the end, I felt like I was a telemarketer, haranguing people and hocking myself. And that’s not what I wanted to be doing. Promotion is much harder work than writing.
Charles: Promotion is a big part of publishing. Do you think you’d do it again? Self-publish, and Kickstarter?
Helena: I think I will self-publish Volume Two of the Memoirs, and I am looking into other crowdfunding platforms, some specifically tailored to writers, as well as some other ongoing funding options. There are subscription type services that some writers are using, which makes sense to me — I’ve been giving away for free what other writers charge for. I just have to be patient and continue building an audience.
Charles: And how do you do that?
Helena: Hell if I know. Continue to write quality material, and hope the word spreads. Actively seek out other writers and build rapport with that. I’d say “find a community” but I’ve got community — I’m just not much of a joiner. I want people to like my writing without necessarily feeling the need to be my friend. I can only handle so many friends. Does that make me sound like a bitch?
Penny: A little bit.
Helena: Then I’m a bitch. No, I’m not. I just can’t be stretched too thin. Accept what I can give you — and sometimes that’s just my stories. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again. You don’t know me. I’m a writer. Helena’s a character. If you think you know me from my stories, let me remind you that I am a notoriously unreliable narrator, and what you think you know may not be exactly accurate. My life is not an open book. My writing is not meant to draw attention to the dilettante behind the curtain — it’s about the stories, and what they mean to you. If they make you laugh, if they make you cry, if they make you angry, let that be enough. But I’m a terrible friend — anyone who has read my stories should know that I have a tendency to run away any time someone gets too close. I am only a blogger by accident — I am first and foremost a writer. I started the blog just to have somewhere to develop an audience. I had no idea how big it would get.
Charles: So what’s next for the two of you?
Helena: Well, I’m going to try to dial things back a bit when it comes to blogging. Take some breaks to allow myself to write, and then make sure I schedule some time for reading and socializing in there. I’m doing my best to wrap up the Bayou story by the summertime, as well as compiling a Jessica B. Bell anthology of short stories, tentatively titled “Stories to Scare the Shit Out of You.” So it’s a dual purpose entertainment/laxative.
Penny: And I’m going to try to nab a rich and generous husband and convince him to support Aunt Helena in all her artistic endeavours. And then stage an accident, collect the insurance/inheritance, retire to the Bahamas, and join a calypso band. But you probably shouldn’t leave that last bit in. You’re going to edit this, right?
Charles: Actually, we’re live. And that’s all the time we have for today’s show. Tune in next time when our guests will be the ghosts of Norman Mailer and Sylvia Plath engaging in a debate on Feminism. Thanks for tuning in to Inside the Author’s Studio.
Thank you, Charles, for hosting me on your site today, and for letting me put words in your mouth***
*** This insinuates that I asked, but I didn’t, though I’m confident Charles would have given consent had he known about it.