Monday, October 24, 2011

Kate Whouley answers our Author Questionnaire

Kate Whouley lives and writes on Cape Cod, in the home that inspired her to write Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved. A Book Sense Book of-the-Year nominee in the nonfiction category, Cottage for Sale received kudos from booksellers and reviewers, and is a popular selection for reading groups.

An avocational musician, Kate has played principal flute in the Cape Cod Conservatory Concert Band since 1995. "When I began working on the new memoir, I thought I was writing a book about the band and my personal musical journey. But as I began to write, I couldn’t help but notice that my mother was turning up on every page."

Many booksellers know Kate from her work in the book industry consulting with bookstores on design, renovation and other matters for her company Books In Common. Her latest book is Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia.

1. What's on your nightstand right now?

Alexander Maksik: You Deserve Nothing

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Orhan Pamuk: Other Colors

Emberto Eco: Baudelino

Milan Kundera: The Curtain

Mavis Gallant: Paris Stories

2. How do you write?

My working life has been spent in the book business. I know the crush of books, the confusion of titles, the way that publishers push a few big books each season—mostly by established authors and celebrities. I know how difficult it is for any book to find an audience. I know that some folks believe that books and bookstores may soon be obsolete. When I begin to write, I must forget everything that I know about the marketplace for books, and choose, instead, to learn the truth of the story I am telling. I work in a separate silence—away from my desk, away from the telephone, and away from my desktop computer. Wherever I open up my laptop, I have a cup of hot white tea—and if I am lucky, a black and white cat—within arm’s reach.

3. Name the first time or moment you realized you were a writer.

I was first published—at age fourteen—in a magazine for collectors of insulators—those little glass and porcelain knobby things that used to sit on the crossbars of telephone and electric poles. In the years since, I’ve written Hallmark cards, radio commercials, catalogue copy, publicity material, feature articles, personal essays, a long-running column in a bookselling magazine, and I’ve authored, edited and contributed to several professional books. Yet—and this may be because I have worked in the book business, too—I didn’t consider myself a “real” writer until my first memoir—Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved—was published. Around that time, I revealed this secret to a magazine editor. He corrected me: “Kate, you aren’t a writer. You’ve crossed over. You’re an author now.” Seven years later, I am still processing that information.

4. What are you working on now?

In the book tour whirlwind, I’m mostly working on showing up at the right place at the right time. But as the travel begins to slow down, I plan to return to a fiction project set in the ninth century. (When that one sees print, maybe I’ll be able to introduce myself as an author.)

5. Favorite recent find?
My cat, Mojo, although he found me. Formerly feral, he now enjoys the full privileges of Cat-of-the-House.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

tidying the beside-the-bed-book-pile

I know lots of people have stacks of books on their bedside table. I realize that's a thing. But if you work with books in any capacity (bookselling, publishing, editing, etc.), my guess is that you don't have a stack of books, you have PILES OF BOOKS. There is totally a difference. The difference is that a stack of books is manageable and normal and a GIGANTIC UNRULY PILE OF BOOKS quickly becomes unmanageable and a one-way ticket to crazytown.

Every few months I come to a frightening conclusion: there are too many damn books in the GIGANTIC UNRULY PILE and someday I'm going to jump out of bed and break my ankle or at least slip and get really annoyed. My test for this is when I notice Marc has to balance his hands precariously on the edge of the bed with his feet up against the PILE and leeeeeaaaaaan in to kiss me goodbye in the morning. No good will come of this: either he'll knock the PILE over or he'll just get too fed up with me and I'll die a spinster. So, not to be dramatic or anything, but last night it was time to tidy. Here's my scientific system: I create new PILES, hopefully smaller, but usually just more, which I then scatter about the apartment in a way that makes me feel like I dealt with them. Feel free to use my system with your own crazy book problem if you like.

Here are the PILES I create:
1. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY.
2. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY because they look amazing.
3. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY because I promised the sales rep I would.
4. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY because they come out in 6 months and I want to be able to tweet about them and make people jealous.
5. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY because they come out next month and crap how have I not read this yet? (in descending order of how quickly I can read them)
6. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY because they are already out, and oh never mind I'm never going to get to them (but obviously I'm going to keep them = New Pile)
7. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY because I read the first half and why the hell can't I just commit already?
8. Books I have to read IMMEDIATELY because I bought them and they are so beautiful and shiny and hardcovery, okay never mind, it's not in the cards, they'll just go in the shelving PILE.
9. And the tiniest pile: why did I bring this book home in the first place and how should I get rid of it?

The next day, I'll point to the smaller piles by the bed and say, "Look Marc, I tidied!" hoping against hope that he won't ask any questions about ALL THE OTHER PILES SCATTERED ALL OVER THE APARTMENT.