Welcome to the three hundred and fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with article writer and philosophical travel adventure novelist Anthony Karakai. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Anthony. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Anthony: Hi Morgen, sure thing. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and first started writing songs at the age of 12. My family is very musical, especially my dad who can do some incredible things on the guitar! From the age of 7 I played the drums, which was probably one of the most defining things in my childhood and teenage years. I loved them, and would play from sunrise to sunset consistently.
When I turned 18, I went travelling with my best friend around England, Spain and Greece. He has a lot of family in Greece so we were fortunate enough to experience the authentic culture straight away; that trip changed my life forever. We just had so much fun, and every experience we encountered was brand new. Fresh faced and 18 in another culture- you couldn’t ask for anything better. My time overseas, especially in Greece, really set the tone for who I am today and ultimately, led me to writing ‘Vagabond’. I had the idea for this novel a few years ago, but I only really had the chance to write it as I had such a difficult time finding a job after graduation.
Morgen: Good from bad definitely, and your dad sounds like fun! What genre do you generally write?
Anthony: My stories are usually set in a travel narrative, with elements of magical realism. I want to convey the beautiful places I’ve experienced in words, while saying something that matters. I don’t want to just entertain, I want readers to gain something intrinsically when they pick up my books.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Anthony: ‘Vagabond’ is my first novel, and no, I don’t write under a pseudonym.
Morgen: You have a very unusual surname (in England anyway) so it’s memorable already. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Anthony: Yes! Some have been worded nicely, some have been quite rude and the majority have been the generic “we wish you all the best”. I’ve always found rejections funny, however. Writing, like music, is an art form, and all art is subjective. Some will love what you do, others will loathe it. There are books I love which others don’t like, and there are books I don’t like which others love. I think the worst feeling for a writer is not necessarily being rejected, but when the agent doesn’t reply at all. Then you start to wonder if they ever received your query in the first place… But in terms of handling rejections, I took a proactive approach: If no agent was willing to help me get published, then I’d publish myself. A few months down the line and I have the #1 Bestseller on iTunes. I looked at that list, and noticed I was the only one in the top 100 who didn’t have a publishing deal.
It just goes to show that the publishing industry is so subjective, they can be wrong. It’s human nature. I think commerce has crept in and decimated the industry for a lot of writers. It’s no longer about finding the unique, standout book in the stores or online. It’s about knocking out another novel in line with the current market trends. There can only be one Harry Potter, and there can only be one Twilight saga- as a writer, it’s painfully obvious when you see the bookshelves stacked with rip-offs. I’m all for giving a new writer with a new voice a chance. As somebody who has read my whole life, I love reading books which are totally different to anything I’ve ever read before- that’s what makes reading so enjoyable.
Morgen: I love the fact you find rejections funny. I had a couple of 1* reviews on Goodreads for one of my free eShorts and the lady said she was glad it was free as she would have asked for her money back (is that possible?) and that it’s put her off reading me for life (which I think is a shame, but then I would, wouldn’t I) and I sort of found it amusing (and clicked the ‘like’ button) that my story would make someone feel so strongly, albeit it not a good way. Strangely, it’s actually based on a true story so I wonder if the original newspaper article (which I still have) would have had the same effect. Hey ho. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Anthony: I only recently entered into my first competition, representing Australia and New Zealand in the IPPY Awards.
Morgen: Ooh, good luck with that. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Anthony: I’ve got an agent, PR executive, accountant, manager, web developer, marketing assistant all by the name of Anthony Karakai. Haha, no I don’t I’m independent but it’s so difficult to wear all these hats, when really I’m just a writer. I can’t do what an agent does, I just try my best to make do with what I can while I can. I think having an agent would definitely alleviate some pressure, and if it meant I could just concentrate on my writing, then I’d love to have one. Sometimes in the beginning though, you just have to do what you have to do.
I don’t know if an agent is vital to an author’s success, but a writer who has one is definitely a step ahead of one who doesn’t. They have the knowledge, skills, and networks required to really make a career for a client. But if you’re an independent author at the start like me, you know that you’ve just got to get your work out there. Agent or no agent, if you can try your best to garner a following, then you can show to an agent that a market really does exist for your work. Sometimes I think that I should become an agent, because I’d really love to deliver the unique work of some authors to the masses. The gap in the market for a unique read is so obvious, it’d be great if there were more agents out there who wanted to discover a unique voice and a unique style of writing.
Morgen: That’s the thing. The time we spend doing everything but writing is doing everything but writing and we’re writers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that (note to self: you’re a writer, write!). Is your book available as an eBook? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Anthony: Yes, my novel ‘Vagabond’ is available through Amazon and iTunes in 32 countries. My books will always be available as eBooks, maybe even solely. It’s the way of the future; I love a hardcover just as much as the next person, but when you’re offering readers their book of choice, at a third of the RRP, and instantly into the palms of their hands, instant gratification will eventually win over. I have an iPad and I’ve been downloading books by unknown authors left, right and centre. I love it.
Not only was I involved in the eBook process, but I did everything myself. This actually took longer for me to learn than writing ‘Vagabond’ itself. I learnt how to use programs such as Calibre and Sigil, I taught myself HTML programming, I formatted, designed and produced the entire eBook myself. Originally, I paid somebody to do this for me but they butchered my work, which as a writer, is horrifying. You don’t want to know how stressed out I was over that.
Anthony: Once I had created the entire product from scratch, I then used FlightCrew to help me rectify any outstanding flaws, so that when Apple and Amazon took it onboard, it’d pass with flying colours. It’s quite a process, and if you can find somebody to do it and you have the money, then it’s best to do it that way. I had to learn to do it myself as I was broke.
I read a lot of eBooks and paperbacks. I’m starting to buy every paperback I’m interested in as in the future, they’ll be a rare commodity and a collectors item. Ten years from now the world won’t be producing paperbacks.
Morgen: Certainly less but I hope it’s not none. I’d like to think we’ll still have both and most of the authors I’ve spoken to still read both but it’s how the general public will go. Interesting times, indeed. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Anthony: I do all of my marketing myself, but to be honest, I’ve barely spent a cent. I use social media to help connect with people, which has been great as it really breaks down any barriers of communication. Marketing is the golden nugget for any product or service in the world, it really is the deal breaker. You see record labels and publishing houses spending hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars on marketing campaigns just to get the name out there. I don’t have that type of money, so my sales and fans have been very organic and dedicated. I think that’s why I was so happy when ‘Vagabond’ went number one, ahead of all these fantastic and famous authors who have amazing financial backing. It reiterated my belief that a good book will be read, and no amount of money can change a reader’s mind.
Morgen: iTunes and social media are online so it does make sense that they’d go hand in hand. I’ve been on Twitter and Facebook Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Anthony: ‘Vagabond’ would definitely have to be my favourite book to date, seeing as it’s my only one, but I have recently started writing another which I think people will really love! My favourite character from ‘Vagabond’ is Leonardo, as his thought processes and learning curve while travelling is based largely on my own experiences. The thirst for adventure, the desire for happiness, the naivety at times and the internal struggle with wanting to be who I am, in opposition with what society dictates I should be, is a reflection of a young man trying to find his place in the world. That’s me.
It’s funny you ask about the film aspect, I often think about this. For Leonardo, I’d like Leonardo Dicaprio circa ‘The Beach’ as I think that character fits him perfectly. Otherwise Emile Hirsch would probably fit the bill- he has a young Dicaprio aura about him. For Rafael, Javier Bardem would have to be the actor- I cannot imagine anyone but him fulfilling that role. Carmen would be played by Penelope Cruz.
Morgen: Seeing that Javier and Penelope are married may help if you did ask. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Anthony: I create all the artwork myself for my books, and I think they are incredibly important. Maybe it’s because I have synesthesia, but I believe the cover of a book will be judged, and the cover should reflect the feeling of the story within. My brain automatically associates sounds and words with colours, so for me it’s absolutely crucial that I get the cover right. When I hear a song I immediately see colours and associate that song with colours forever. The same with books. To me, ‘The Alchemist’ is tan and yellow. The song ‘Changes’ by Tupac Shakur is white and light blue.
I’d go as far as saying that the cover of my book influences whether or not somebody decides to read it. It’s vital- to me, anyway.
Morgen: There was a discussion recently on LinkedIn with some saying covers weren’t important but they were soon shot down. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Anthony: I’m working on a manuscript called ‘The end of Athens’, which is set in the not too distant future, where the ability to dream has become a recessive gene. I won’t say anything more than that!
Morgen: Okey doke. Your secret is safe with me. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Anthony: If I’m not working on my book, I’m usually working as a freelance journalist or conducting corporate communications for different companies. I’m a fast writer. I sometimes can suffer from writer’s block, but it doesn’t last more than a few hours at most. My style of writing is very free flowing; I think if you try to force yourself to think of something good, you run the risk of encountering writer’s block. I’ve done that in the past, it’s painful.
Morgen: You can put too much pressure on yourself and free flowing is great. My writing gushes out then the editing process is much slower, the best way round certainly. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Anthony: With ‘Vagabond’ and ‘The end of Athens’, the idea for the entire story came to me in an instant. I try not to think up stories, or force something creatively. When it comes, it comes. I know immediately what will happen at the start, middle and end. Then I freestyle write, and let it all come naturally, which allows the story to take shape organically.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Anthony: In ‘Vagabond’, believe it or not the characters aren’t really the focus of the story. It’s an unorthodox style. They are more the vessel for the message, I like to think of it as a fable. I name my characters based on where they’re situated- I’m fond of classic names, I find them strong and commanding. Readers have told me they connected so well with ‘Vagabond’ as it’s relatable on a human level. They can see themselves as Leonardo or Carmen. My characters aren’t necessarily outstanding in an unbelievable way, they are very normal, everyday people. I think that’s why so many people enjoyed ‘Vagabond’, they were reading a mirror of themselves and identified with the thoughts, problems and dreams each character has. We’re each trying to find our way in the world, and there are so many questioning whether the social blueprint of society is a healthy thing. There has to be more to life than being another clog in the economy.
Morgen: That’s the thing; a book has to be relatable – even something like fantasy. You don’t want anything that will switch your reader off. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Anthony: I’ve written thousands of pages worth of poetry since the age of 12, maybe I’ll publish some of it someday. I don’t write short stories, but I can definitely see myself writing non-fiction in the future. I’d like to write about the Hungarian uprising of 1956- from my family’s perspective, and how it changed their lives when they migrated to Australia. There are some incredible stories of migration in Australia, which you just don’t hear enough about. Australia really needs to unite as one and celebrate the great things so many cultures have contributed to this country. We need to shake that binge-drinking, larrikin stereotype and take control of who we are today.
Morgen: Ditto Britain. I mentioned editing a moment ago, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Anthony: I do a lot of editing post-writing, but only for grammar. I’m fascinated with the fact that, no matter how many times you read your manuscript, something still misses your eye. It’s crazy, ask any writer. I’m going to try to edit as I write my next novel, and see if it makes a difference. I don’t particularly re-visit passages in my books and re-write them though.
Morgen: I know! I edited my chick lit (from 117,540 to 105K) four times and was still spotting things. Grrr. This is why you need a second opinion. Do you have to do much research?
Anthony: Yes, a lot. Much of my research comes from personal experience, which is priceless. Sometimes I need to research into subjects thoroughly, far deeper than what is probably necessary, as I want to completely understand a subject from start to finish. I want to become an expert on anything I write. For example, the start of ‘Vagabond’ sees Rafael discuss the old process of drying out tobacco leaves. I researched that day and night for a solid week, I read every bit of literature on that process as it was done 30 years ago. Everything I write has to be 100% accurate, that’s my rule. I’d never want to mislead a reader for anything, not even something as miniscule as that.
Morgen: Because if you don’t someone will pick you up on it. Someone is an expert on something. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Anthony: I’ve tried all, and I don’t have a preference. I find first person interesting, I’m using it in my next novel. ‘Vagabond’ employs third person.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Anthony: All of my poetry, all of the music I’ve created. I don’t think I’d write a novel and not release it, I would feel as though all that work was for nothing. My writing is important to me, and I don’t take any aspect of it lightly. I implore anybody who has a dusty manuscript to get it out there- even send it to me, I’ll read it!
Morgen: I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo 2010 that I’d get sued it I published it as it is (based on a true story, no names changed and lots of embellishments) but I like the story so it may undergo a major reworking and get out in the ether eventually. Maybe. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Anthony: My favourite aspect is using travel as a tongue-in-cheek excuse to do ‘research’. My least favourite would be having to stop, and breaking that concentration cycle all writers get into once they get on a roll. I really hate that.
Morgen: You’re lucky that you have the time to get going – I have that trouble at the moment – but yes, stopping is frustrating. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Anthony: Write a story that you want to read, don’t write for other people. Be totally selfish and write what to you, is the perfect novel. Try to carve out your own distinct style, and break away from the trends. The industry is in dire need of innovators, not imitators! And above all, just believe in yourself. Believe that you can finish the manuscript, and if you get rejected by agents, don’t worry. Self-publish! I like to remember that at one stage, nobody wanted to give Jay-Z a record deal, they said he was horrible. So he gave himself a record deal, and did it his own way. The same with Sylvester Stallone- keep knocking on doors, and if they all close on you, break them down! Remember that one person’s opinion is just that- an opinion.
Morgen: Absolutely – that’s what I tell my podcast red pen and short story review guinea p… er, authors. That I’m firm but fair and it’s only my opinion. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Anthony: Plato, Tupac Shakur and Paulo Coelho. Three of the greatest and most diverse minds. I’d probably cook Spanish Paella, grab a few bottles of red wine, and invite them to a tavern in Santorini or down by the waters of the Amalfi Coast.
Morgen: Paella. Yum. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Anthony: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Morgen: Absolutely. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Anthony: I’m a freelance journalist for several magazines and online publications, mostly European football editorials and opinion pieces. They’ve been featured on Australia’s premier television network, Channel Ten, as well as a host of other places. I’m just starting to get behind an exciting project now, which we are trying to build from the ground up. I have an entrepreneurial spirit, so I’m relishing the chance to be a part of something from its inception, and following it into success.
Morgen: Ooh, how exciting. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Anthony: When I’m not writing, you’ll catch me with a mountain of books in my backpack, even though I don’t have time to read them all. I listen to a lot of music, I enjoy following football and playing chess. I love chess – I collect chessboards, which is an awkward, difficult and expensive habit. I also exercise a lot.
Morgen: Just having a mountain of books in your backpack sounds like exercise to me. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Anthony: Actually, no. Is that strange?
Morgen: I wouldn’t say so. Sounds like you don’t get caught up in the procrastination that websites tempt the rest of us away from our writing. So I take it you’re not on any forums or networking sites?
Anthony: I’m not much of an online presence in that regard, however I do have a Facebook fan page that I update regularly with inspiring images and quotes. My aim is to give everybody a little something to think about before they start their day. I know how important social media is for connecting with fans. The most interesting story I have from it, is a fan who found out about ‘Vagabond’ and asked where he could buy it in Tanzania! That was a wow moment for me… I hadn’t thought about my novel reaching Africa.
Morgen: I’ve only just had a view by country table appear on my WordPress stats and that’s fascinating (I had two from Mongolia on Thursday!). It’s funny, having the countries listed makes it feel more real, not sure why. We’ve talked a little about eBooks and self-publishing, what do you think the future holds for a writer?
Anthony: I think there are massive parallels between the music industry and the publishing industry, due to the rapid progressions in technology- namely peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Artists these days aren’t making as much money as they were say, 10 years ago. Musicians aren’t experiencing the same level of album sales as they once were- consumers are downloading the material illegally, or buying a song here and there off iTunes. Once they buy it, they burn it to a CD or share it with their friends on their iPods. The same event is happening with books- the industry is starting to break a part. With the introduction of the ebook, paperback sales will naturally fall, and consumers will start to download books like ‘Vagabond’ illegally to read. In one aspect, it allows more people to be exposed to your work and the opportunity to grow your fan base is exponential. But in terms of livelihood, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to make a living from this. If people have the choice of buying it, even though ebooks in general are dirt cheap, or downloading it for free, most people will get it for free.
The rationale behind that is, why should they pay if they can’t get caught? I’m against it of course, but realistically neither the music industry nor the publishing industry saw this coming. This rapid shift in technology has broken both industries, and all actions to salvage what’s left are reactive, instead of proactive. The young guns are creating this powerful technology while many senior professionals are hesitant to adapt to change. It’s punching holes in the moneybag, and everyone suffers as a result. There’s an argument by the pirates that corporations are greedy, and consumers should have the right to these products for their own enjoyment. It’s an incredibly selfish, and one-sided view, but if we are going to be real about it, we need to realize that nothing can stop this from happening. It will continue. In twenty years, I doubt there will be too many rich musicians or writers out there making a living- they’ll have to find something else to do.
In one way, it levels the playing field for authors as it shows that a good book will be read, and you don’t need a million-dollar marketing budget or publishing stamp of approval on your novel, in order for you to be read. I’m not sure if a publishing house would decide to endorse me or not, if I had direct contact with the editor. But my book went #1 ahead of everyone else who has a deal, and I was the only author on the charts who didn’t. That’s a statement in itself for independent authors- the readers and the fans put me there. If I can do that, I think anyone can.
Eventually though, good musicians and good writers will be recognized and truly endorsed by the people. If people aren’t forced to pay money for something, and if they are desensitized and unresponsive to all the advertising put in front of their faces, then the choices they make in who they read or who they listen to, are organic and pure. It puts the power back in the people’s hands at the end of the day, so I definitely see both sides of the equation. We might not necessarily make a living out of it, but the respect is real, and our work is valued. You can’t put a price on that.
Morgen: Absolutely. I love having reviews and feedback on my free eShorts (and of course my $1.49 eBooks) and I think it’s a really exciting, if not daunting, time to be an author. As someone leaving their job on Friday, I’m definitely feeling both right now. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Anthony: To find out more about me, you can follow my website which I update frequently at http://www.anthonykarakai.com, or http://www.akarakai.com (if it’s easier to remember, as I have a very unique surname). I post articles on anything and everything really. I keep people updated with my book, I sometimes talk about issues affecting the industry, sometimes I even talk about totally unrelated things, like tennis. I really love talking to the people who stop by, so please visit regularly, get in touch, post comments, and if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to start a discussion about, we can do it! I’m also giving an open invitation right now to everybody to come on as a guest blogger- both writers and non-writers. Talk about anything you like, you can find the contact form on my website. Also feel free to drop a line on my Facebook fan page.
Morgen: Please do, folks. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Anthony: Keep a look out for ‘The end of Athens’ later this year!
Morgen: I will! But give me a shout when it does and I’d gladly have you back here in some capacity to tell everyone else. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Anthony: How did this awesome website all begin?
Morgen: Thank you. :*) I started it (31st March 2011) because I’d heard it was a good idea. It was just going to be me and my writing-related opinions (of which I have many) and useful stuff (there’s still plenty of that) but then I was invited to do a blog interview and thought what a wonderful idea it was. I’d been doing in-person / Skype interviews for my podcast since the summer of 2010 but blog Q&As were so much easier so phased out the recorded ones and stuck with these. And here we are over 300 later. Thank you, Anthony. It’s been a pleasure.
Anthony Karakai was born in Melbourne, Australia and published his first book ‘Vagabond’ at 24. ‘Vagabond’ went on to become a #1 Bestseller, and is partially inspired by his experiences and thoughts travelling the world. He has since been invited to radio shows in New York City and Las Vegas, and as a guest speaker to final year students at high schools.
He loves to write and travel, and is constantly planning his next adventure overseas.
A free agent, he is open to communications from both literary agents and publishing houses. ‘The end of Athens’ will be his next novel, due out later this year.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
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