It is my distinct honor to host Margaret Evans Porter, whose gorgeous covers are sure to catch your eye. Raised in a family of avid readers and travelers, she views the past with an artist's eye.
MJN: Your publishing initiative dates back to when you were 10 years old. You actually co-founded and published grammar school newsletter. Did anyone sensor the content? Did it provide a venue for your classmates to voice their ideas?
MP: Oh, yes, it was definitely a venue for others. As I recall there were several of us involved, two girls and a boy that I remember, possibly more. One of the girls was an illustrator, she drew wonderful pictures. We included stories and news about classmates. There wouldn't have been anything in the content to censor. I typed it up, and it was copied in the school office, either by the teacher or the school administrator. It was a thoroughly legit publication, not an underground press!
MJN: Your past employment included producing documentary films and acting on stage. Do you find documentary film a restricting or liberating media, given that you need to focus on facts and not imaginings? Is there wiggle room for editorial input? Can you still present facts in a creative manner? You have a Fact into Fiction page, after all.
MP: Filmmaking has always been a highly creative endeavour for me. Sometimes I worked on projects for a client, and there were certain specifications and necessary inclusions, but within the parameters I had plenty of room for creativity and collaboration. Many times the end product was intended to be informational or educational, as for public television, and there was an openness to the concept without strict guidelines--or any at all.
MJN: One of your jobs was doing voice-over recordings. I've heard one colleague tell me that he was terrified of hearing his voice on record, because it did not sound like him at all. Did you have similar anxieties?
MP: Well, there's no point being terrified. The recorded voice definitely sounds different than what we hear in our own ears, because of the way sound reverberates in the skull. But when you're professional, you become so accustomed to hearing playback, and having to re-record sections, that you gain a certain objectivity about your own voice. I have no idea what my voice sounds like to other people, either, but it doesn't induce any anxiety. I definitely have a casual "me" colloquial voice, and a "stage" voice, and a "microphone" voice--different activities require different enunciation and amplification and articulation and modulation. As an author, and a writing instructor, and having served in public office, I've had to do plenty of public speaking. Playing a character used to seem easier than being myself in front of a crowd, but over time I got used to it.
MJN: You come from a family of readers and travelers. Can that be intimidating at times, showing your literary works to people who are so versed? I am asking because my parents are classical musicians and also very versed in world literature, so they can be very critical of my work.
MP: My family have been supportive in every possible way. Always interested in what I'm working on--sometimes too interested, I tend to be fairly guarded in discussing works-in-progress. Nobody but agent and editor see the work prior to publication. I used to make my husband wait to read my novels until he could take them away on a business trip, I was weirded out by having him read in front of me. But I think I might be over that now. He'd rather read a book in its finished state, no manuscript or galleys. Family members do seem impressed and appreciative of all the research and travel involved in my process. When you go to so much effort, it's nice having acknowledged!
MJN: When you market your books, do you use your existing circles of friends and colleagues as a platform? You seem to have such a wide network of peers who would find your work interesting. Do most of them follow your writing career?
MP: Like everybody I have many circles of friends and their knowledge of and involvement in my professional life varies a lot. Some people have followed my career from the beginning. Others I've known for years, yet are only just now discovering that I'm an author. And when they hear I've written a book they assume it's my first--not my twelfth. Writers of historical fiction tend to be supportive of one another, at least in my experience. Our books can take a long time to write, and when you've followed someone's progress from initial idea through completion, you tend to get excited when the book finally becomes available! For those of us who write fiction about real-life historical persons, we definitely pay attention to who is writing about whom, and what's going on in the market. Reader interaction is key, and there's always the hope that by banding together we can expand our fan base--a rising tide lifts all boats. We sometimes recommend agents or cover artists or copy editors to each other. We meet at conferences, and hang out together online. I'm always glad to share news of my colleagues' new books, and that generosity of spirit is reciprocal. Marketing and publicity can be the most challenging for writers. We sit around all day in solitary confinement (well, not those coffee shop writers), longing for the day we can share the book with the world. But planning a publicity campaign eats into writing time, it's a huge distraction. I've worked in marketing and publicity and I happen to enjoy that aspect, but there's no denying that at times it's a juggling act.