Kristen Tsetsi was one of the first selfpublishing authors I met, and has always done a lot to help other writers find a way to get the word out. She has a MFA from Minnesota State University Moorhead, and is the editor of this year's American Fiction: Vol.11, 2010 available in October from New Rivers Press.
Kristen helped me out with a guest review also, of RJ Keller's Waiting For Spring. Her story collection Carol's Aquarium is discussed below, available as an ebook. Her novel Homefront has found a new publisher, but there are still copies available.
Kristen, tell us about the military connections in your bio, and their influence on your writing.
Well, I grew up in Germany and went to school with Army brats and children of government contractors (GS workers), and so I spent several years going on and off military posts, through military housing areas, and shopping and working at the military shopping center (specifically, bagging groceries at the commissary between the ages of 14 and 17, and selling liquor at the Class Six once I turned 18). I’m also married to someone who is former Army, and who’s currently in the National Guard.
But whatever military connection I have hasn’t had an influence on my writing as much as it’s inspired a couple of short stories (Storyglossia Fiction Prize winner “They Three at Once Were One” and “Suburban Warfare,” included in my collection Carol’s Aquarium) and a novel (Homefront, inspired by my husband’s deployment and the suffocatingly awkward political state of the country at the start of the Iraq war, and what it all looked like from the very raw and revealing point of view of a woman whose lover has just been sent to Iraq - currently available on Kindle, but soon to be removed pending publication with a Connecticut press). What influenced, and continues to influence, my writing are other writers and the stories I think are interesting to tell.
You went indie years ago. What’s that experience been like?
Oh, you know… Good and bad. But mostly good. I’ve enjoyed the control a lot. Before self-publishing, I queried many, many, many agents, and I received enough feedback from a couple of big ones to convince me the book was worth publishing. (Each of them said the book was very good, but that the state of the industry would make it difficult to market. They wanted something more commercial, more of a quick sale.) Later, a very big NYC agent looked at Homefront at the recommendation of one of her clients, and she said if I wanted their representation I’d have to make “significant changes.” They were the kind of changes that would commercialize it and completely mangle the very intentional style, pacing, and voice of the book, and I wasn’t interested. Therein lies the power of self-publishing: if there’s reason to believe the book works as is, there’s no need to turn it into something different in order to get it to readers. There’s great freedom in not being afraid to trust your intuition.
Self-publishing was incredibly educational, and marketing kept me very, very busy. And anxious. And there were thrilling moments and moments I wanted to beat my own head with a bat. But I think I was moderately successful, because I managed to secure some pretty decent interviews, as well as reviews in publications I was afraid were way beyond my reach. I think the most important thing I learned is to reach, anyway.
Tell about the NPR interview. Is it available somewhere?
It is. It’s tricky to get to, because you can’t easily skip ahead from the first topic to the next, but in the NPR interview – about halfway through the podcast - Faith Middleton asks some questions and I answer them. I’ve learned a lot since that day, such as how important it is to steer the interview when you feel the conversation isn’t going in the direction you’d expected (or hoped) it would. Another NPR interview I favor was conducted by Mark Welch in Kentucky, and most exciting (to me) was a TV interview on a Nashville NBC program, “Better Nashville.” An exciting, sweaty, and nerve wracking experience, but people say they can’t tell I’m sweating. Or shaking.
Are your books available in print? Where?
Homefront can still be found in print at Amazon.com until supplies run out (I halted distribution). Carol’s Aquarium is an ebook with someday-plans for print, when I have the time.
The stories in Carol’s Aquarium feature quirky female characters and men trying to understand them. Would that be fair to say? It seems like the difficulty in communication between men and women gives thematic structure to the collection.
Hm. I don’t know that I was too concerned with men trying to understand women in any of the stories outside of the short story “Carol’s Aquarium.” And I don’t think the women are as “quirky” as they are exposed. As in any story with any protagonist, whether male or female, there’s a desire to strip away the layer we show others and really get inside. I like to normalize the things we don’t necessarily like when we see them in others. Maybe “normalize” isn’t the right way to say it… I like to inspire sympathy for characters who, on the surface, would seem to have no redeeming qualities. I also like to explore the “little” fears or flaws we have that are actually pretty overwhelming to the person experiencing them, no matter how inconsequential they seem to others.
Editor's note: There was a Q&A here I took out. Kristen asks for it to be restored. NC
What are you working on now?
Nothing. I imagine I’ll write again when there’s something I feel the need to write. Or when there’s a very, very short fiction contest I want to participate in.
What is Paper Rats?
Fun, that’s what! Paper Rats is the name of the production company created by me and fellow Backword Books author R.J. Keller. Our video series, “Inside the Writers’ Studio,” is a comic relief break for writers. Our characters in the series both empathize with writers and make horrible fun of them – because no one should make fun of writers but other writers. We currently have 5.5 episodes online and are preparing to start filming the next. Keller films in Maine, and I film my scenes in CT, and then Keller brilliantly edits everything together. Writers really should watch the series. Seriously.
Backword Books features other Smashwords authors, right? What is your role there?
Yes, many of us are on Smashwords. My role, and the role of others, is just to sort of hang out and be part of the indie author collective imagined, and then started, by author Henry Baum. The role of Backword Books is primarily to communicate there are quality books released by authors
who haven’t gone the route of traditional publishing, that the book itself is the value, not a publisher’s stamp of approval.
There are websites offering authors exposure, and there are readers groups. Have you had any experience with them?
Not too much, no. I was so busy trying to market myself in other ways that I had little time to make valuable use of such sites or groups. My book is listed in several places meant to promote authors, such as FiledBy and…another one whose name I can’t remember, but I think for those places to work you have to work them. Or maybe they don’t work at all. I still haven’t really figured out what works and what doesn’t, and what “work” even means in this context. What’s “success” for an independent author? I don’t know. It probably depends on who you ask.
What do you look for when you go to the internet each day?
No, not really. (But sometimes.) I don’t know. News bites, facebook activity, and scrabble, mostly.
How can people contact you?
By visiting my website – http://www.kristentsetsi.com./ I love my contact form page and wish more people would use it. The picture in the background of a bright orange door to an equally bright blue house was taken in Stonington, CT. It’s a great door.