[Interview] Mary Arensberg

Award-winning novelist Mary Katherine Arensberg grew up in rural Ohio in the United States. She attended Utica High and the Ohio State University.

Her debut novel, Willa (Xlibris, 2007) received first prize in the novel category of the Arizona Press Women’s 2008 Communicator’s Competition. The novel also received second prize in the 2008 National Federation of Press Women’s competition.

Willa was followed by Woman of the Wind (Xlibris, 2007); Naomi of the Arizona Territory (Xlibris, 2008) and Miracle from the Mountain which is due out late October 2008.

In this email interview, Mary Arensberg talks about why she decided to self publish.

When did you start writing?

I started writing with the idea of publishing in 1993. I knew I wanted to become an author in high school and was encouraged by several of my teachers, but as often happens, life gets in the way. I married and had four children and I happily traded my goals for them. The youngest graduated in 1995 and I could devote my efforts towards writing.

I began by writing my first novel, Willa and found I had a well spring of stories tucked away in my brain. Once the story was finished I let a friend read it and she loved it, said I was as good as Jude Deveraux (one of my personal favorites.)

With the knowledge that I could produce a story people liked, I sought an agent. I checked out books from the library on agents; picked one and sent off the first 50 pages. I received a mimeographed rejection letter with every item checked as to why my work was bad! Right then I realized I had to learn about the publishing business as well as the business of writing.

How would you describe your writing?

I write good stories, nice to read with happy endings. I believe there is a place for good, nice and happy.

So far, all my novels are historical fiction with women of character, honor and a sense of duty as the main characters. They are set through the United States in varying time periods and range over cultures, nationalities and ethnicities.

Who is your target audience?

I write for mature women, women with experience in life, women who have out-grown the breathless romance novels and want to read about women of substance.

Don’t get me wrong -- I read romance novels for years but when I neared my fifties I wanted something different and when I couldn’t find any I decided there were thousands of ‘women of age’ who might be looking for just the stories I wanted to write.

Who influenced you most?

I was most influenced by my upbringing, my mother and father. They were ordinary farm people who lived, loved, laughed and gave me a wonderful childhood.

As I look back, I realize that while to a child my life seemed ordinary, it was very exotic to a kid who lived in a big city. That’s what I liked about Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, even Edgar Allan Poe... their characters seem fantastic to modern day readers, but they actually knew people like they wrote about.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I believe that every writer puts a piece of themselves into their stories. For me, it’s the "What would it have been like to live during the civil war?", "How would I have dealt with the social mores of the 1880’s?" or "How hard it would have been living on an isolated mountain?" I have beliefs that I adhere to.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is writing the way I want to write. I’m not sensational, spiced up with sex or outrageous. I write good, nice stories with happy endings!

My biggest challenges have always been the fear of success! I take it hard if I send a press release out and no story comes from it and this after winning a national award!

Do you write everyday?

Writing is work. I took several writing seminars to help me realize this.

I do not write everyday. I work on more than one novel at a time, but when the deadline approaches I settle on the next to be published.

I write in the afternoon, I put on my headphones, shut out the world and time travel to the setting of story. I make an outline, gather my research material and have them and my encyclopedias at hand. I write until I run out ideas. I find my brain must keep the story true to the character and if I slow down, I re-read the manuscript.

I try to write at least a thousand words at each sitting and have, on a good day, accomplished 6,000 words.

How long did it take you to write your latest book?

My latest book is Miracle from the Mountain and I love this story. It was joy to write and I finished it in six weeks. It is in the process of being published and will be released in late fall 2008.

I chose to self publish [because] I had an agent who represented me for three years, all my novels were viewed at the publishing houses they were represented to and all were rejected: too long, too short, already have a similar one, don’t do that genre. Never once were they rejected because they were not good stories.

I decided to self publish and researched the industry thoroughly.

What made you decide to publish your books through Xlibris?

Xlibris was recommended by another author. This is why I chose Xlibris: They are a print on demand, no huge investment up front. Packages range from under a thousand dollars to over fifteen thousand dollars. They deliver what they promise.

They have an online bookstore and my books never go out of print and are always available. They use Ingram book distributors and my books are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Target and MSN shopping online outlets as well as small bookstores. My books are sold internationally through Amazon U.K. and in Germany.

They provide copyright and Library of Congress service and ISBN. The royalty payments are better than traditional publishers. They provide me with 10 to 20 free paperbacks and 5 to 10 hardcovers and when I hand sell those I make enough to pay for the publishing package.

They also have marketing and publicity packages, including AP Newswire, Online listings and direct emails.

What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?

The advantage to this is that I own my work, it is never pulled from the shelf and I have complete control over the content. I look at this opportunity as my business. I will get out of it what I put into it.

The disadvantage is that self publishing is still looked upon as a vanity and many opportunities are denied in the traditional world of books and that’s not fair to readers who are looking for new stories in their favorite genre.

I believe self publishers like Xlibris will become the way of the future.

What did you find most difficult about the work you put into Miracle from the Mountain?

I find editing the most difficult. I have very poor eyesight. I can direct the story straight from my brain and through the keyboard into reality, but I can’t see those darned small letters!

When the manuscript is finished I run it through spell check and then print it out. I spend a week reading it and marking typos and errors and then make the changes in the saved file and then I print it out again and read it aloud to my husband where I catch another 20 to 30 mistakes, I correct those and burn it to a disc.

What did you enjoy most?

I love the characters in my stories, they are like meeting new friends, and they take on a life of their own and balk when I try to reshape them.

How different is Miracle from the Mountain from other novels you've written?

While all of my books are historical fiction they are set in different times and locales, the heroines are different ages and social backgrounds. Miracle from the Mountain is a semi-mystery. It’s a little spooky, a cross between Poe and Twain.

What is your most significant achievement as a writer?

My most significant achievement was when my first book Willa won first place in the novel category of the Arizona Press Women’s 2008 Communicator’s Competition and then going on to win second place at the National Federation of Press Women’s competition.

Related article: Mary K. Arensberg, AllTheseBooks.com.

More at OhmyNews International.

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