Welcome to the four hundred and thirty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Jeanine Kitchel. 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, Jeanine. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Jeanine: Hello. Jeanine Kitchel here. I’m a former expat living in Maya Mexico (south of Cancun in a small fishing village, Puerto Morelos) for 15 years and have just recently moved back to the US. I’m now in Santa Barbara, CA. I have a B/S in Journalism, worked in San Francisco in publishing and sales til 1997 when I moved to Mexico. Had been a west coast Mexico traveler for years and in the 80s began traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula, home to the Maya pyramids. Both my husband and I fell in love with southern Mexico–the white sand beaches, turquoise sea, pyramids, the Maya. In 1990 we bought land and built a house in Puerto Morelos, then in 1997 we left CA and moved to Mexico for a more relaxing lifestyle. Opened a bookstore in our little pueblo and in my spare time started writing about Mexico, the Maya and their pyramids.
Morgen: My lodger is Mexican so I’ll have to show her this interview. You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Jeanine: Since I started writing again while in Mexico, it was easy to “write what you know”. Mexico culture was all around me, I was surrounded by the Maya people, and it was like an immersion course. It was if I couldn’t NOT write about Mexico and the Maya. I was in the heart of Maya land and I traveled to every known site I could find. It was easy pickings for writing non-fiction. I had an immense palate. A huge landscape to choose from.
Morgen: I’ve never been but I’ve seen pictures and heard about the country first hand. It does look and sound beautiful. What have you had published to-date?
Jeanine: As for books, I’ve written a travel memoir in 2003, now out in paperback again and e-format, Where the Sky is Born: Living in the Land of the Maya. My new non-fiction is Maya 2012 Revealed, Demystifying the Prophecy. It’s a realistic look at the Maya 2012 end date debate, with an emphasis on who are the Maya, their calendars, breaking the code, Maya astronomy and the night sky, 2012ology and the prophecy as seen by Maya elders.
Morgen: You’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Jeanine: I’d had hopes for a publisher or agent after attending the Maui Writers Conference in 2002, but another Mexico travel memoir had just come out, On Mexican Time, and it didn’t look promising for another Mexico memoir so close on its heels. So I decided to go for it on my own.
Morgen: You mentioned that your memoir is available as an eBook, do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Jeanine: Both my books are in e-book format, as well as paperback. I mostly read paperbacks. After having the bookstore in Mexico, I just am pretty much into the written word on the printed page. Old habits die hard – what can I say?
Morgen: I don’t blame you. Only a handful of people I’ve spoken to have forgone paper books for eBooks. Presumably you chose the titles / covers of your books, how important do you think they are?
Jeanine: Except for my writing group, it was pretty much my determination on book titles and cover choices. I was lucky in that my husband is a great photographer, and again, Mexico is a willing subject when photos are needed. Hard to take a bad shot down there.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jeanine: Right now I’m working mostly on my promo and marketing for Maya 2012 Revealed. I’m booked on a lot of radio shows, which is great, and will start my lectures soon. I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, CA, on December 21, 2012, D-day! Very excited about that. But I have a new book of (hopefully) 100 vignettes about life in Mexico titled, possibly, Next Stop-Margartitaville, if Buffett doesn’t have a trademark on it. It will be Next Stop something else if he does! After my first book, the memoir, found people really liked my stories and my voice, so thought I may as well continue on with them. Plus I write for several Mexico and travel websites mostly about Mexico, the Yucatan, the Maya, Latin and South America. After Next Stop, it’s fiction. I started it before Maya 2012 Revealed, but had to put it on hold until I got Maya 2012 out.
Morgen: Wow, that’s a busy schedule. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Jeanine: If I am not promoting a book, I usually do write every day. I don’t think I suffer from writer’s block per se – but instead I will go for months without writing just because nothing interests me. It seems I don’t have to worry about that now, though, as I think I’ve found my stride. I have a lot on the back burners these days and am happy about that! I really enjoy writing articles about the Maya calendar, in between the book promotion, for websites now, as I am still continuing to learn about the Maya. That kind of blows my mind as I’d read so much to research the book, I kind of thought I knew – well – almost everything. Wrong! I’m learning it is impossible to know All about the Maya!
Morgen: I imagine the culture being so old that there’s so much to know. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jeanine: I constantly edit. I can’t help myself. I read that – think it was Dickens – he would edit while the book was at the printer’s! I don’t think I’m that bad, but I do tend to read and re-read my work. Possibly, too, because I am not in a writer’s group right now, so that task does fall on me.
Morgen: I’d heard that too, about Dickens. I tend to do four or five read-throughs and let it go. Do you have to do much research?
Jeanine: Definitely, all the time. With my subject matter it’s kind of all about research. My goal is to try and keep it interesting! I’ll throw in little life vignettes also about the places I’ve traveled if I feel the storyline is getting a bit ‘booky’ shall we say.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jeanine: No. I always publish my stuff. Since I write a lot of articles, I’m fairly well directed with getting things off my desk and onto someone else’s.
Morgen: How very disciplined. I’m gradually going through my old stuff but I produce so much new stuff that I have paperwork everywhere. Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Jeanine: I haven’t submitted much of late to magazines, but I really should, especially with my subject matter. I actually do quite a bit of pro bono work on Mexico and Maya sites I feel are worthwhile. I believe it all comes back to you, so I don’t mind writing in exchange for exposure. That may change in the future, but right now, as I build my base again, it’s a good way for me to go.
Morgen: Everything I do on this blog (over 1,150 posts in the last 15 months) has been for free but like you, I feel you get back what you put out and I love ‘meeting’ everyone. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jeanine: Not getting a publisher in 2002 wasn’t fun. I really thought I’d land one. But then I pulled myself out of it and self-published and the book did rather well.
Morgen: Congratulations. I’m sure publishers are more approachable these days… with more authors going directly to them rather than through an agent. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jeanine: I do not have an agent. I am hearing more and more that agents are not the commodity they were a few years ago.
Morgen: Certainly for some, I’m sure, and have heard of some agents becoming publishers. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jeanine: I actually do all my own marketing, and it’s been a pretty intense go for the past month since the book launched. I put on my marketing cap, and every day I toil away at it. I’m learning how to shape my brand, through social networking sites and through the articles I write for websites. I have a blog and have to get back at it more. It’s fallen a bit to the wayside with my book promo taking up so much of my time.
Morgen: That’s the trouble, there are only so many hours in the day. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Jeanine: I think knowing that I created something is my favorite part of writing. And making other people laugh with what I’ve written. The least favorite aspect is sometimes the singularity of the writer’s life. I gotta find a writer’s group again, because it really grounds me.
Morgen: I belong to four and they’re great, all very different and valuable for that very reason. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jeanine: Write every day. Even a sentence. And don’t give up.
Morgen: Absolutely. I write a short story a day for my 5pm Fiction slot and sometimes it feels too little (as they’re often less than 200 words) but 300 words a day is 100,000 in a year so that’s pretty astounding when you think about it. Even if I wrote 150 words a day I write 50,000+ every November for NaNoWriMo so I get to the 100K. 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)?
Jeanine: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Paella.
F. Scott Fitzgerald. Dom Perignon champagne and caviar.
Anais Nin. Oysters on the halfshell, caviar, ahi sashimi.
Morgen: Wow. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Jeanine: “All who wander are not lost.” J.R. Tolkien
Morgen: I like that. Do you write fiction? If so, are there any differences or similarities between writing nonfiction and fiction?
Jeanine: Just started writing fiction last year; totally different, and much harder in my mind than non.
Morgen: Is it? I write little non-fiction and then it tends to be about writing. I guess you have to be far more accurate. 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?
Jeanine: In my memoir, it’s me. I’d have Claire Danes play me.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jeanine: Right now, the latter…
Morgen: Most authors I speak to are the same, as am I. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Jeanine: First person and third.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Jeanine: I read, travel, do yoga, walks.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Jeanine: JA Konrath, author website and self promotion. Anne Lamott’s books.
Morgen: Both names come up quite regularly and Joe especially is an inspiration to eBookers. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Jeanine: LinkedIn, Facebook. They are pretty important these days.
Morgen: They are great. I was running low on interviewees earlier this year and put a shout-out on LinkedIn and have been swamped ever since (currently booking into March next year!). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jeanine: A great deal of potential. It’s a time of change right now, with e-publishing becoming so important.
Morgen: It’s a great opportunity… we’re competing with so many authors but we have social networking so we just have to keep plodding on, don’t we? Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jeanine: After living in Maya, Mexico for 15 years and studying the Maya culture for the past 20 years, I am still amazed and dazzled by this ancient civilization. I’ve uncovered the tip of the iceberg and think I’ve managed to unveil it nicely for readers. The ancient Maya were a fascinating mystery, and with the recent breaking of the Maya code, in the late 90s, we can now know the Maya in their own words, through their hieroglyphic writing. I’m seriously addicted to the study, and I’m told it comes through in my book, I am happy to say.
Morgen: Having reader feedback is wonderful isn’t it… I love getting those emails. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Jeanine: Are you enjoying interviewing authors? What a great thing to do!
Morgen: I really am. It’s hard work but every interview brings something different, even though the answers are generally similar. I hope the blog’s visitors feel the same. Thank you, Jeanine.
I then invited Jeanine to include a tease for her book…
Who were the Maya? What motivated them to create ethereal pyramids and intricate calendars? Is December 21, 2012 a paradigm shift or simply a resetting of the clock?
Author Jeanine Kitchel brings her knowledge as a dedicated Mayaphile to light after a thorough investigation of both sides of the spectrum. Her research gives competing views from Maya scholars and the new age 2012ologists. Maya 2012 Revealed, Demystifying the Prophecy, explains the Maya calendar system, details the Maya’s fixation with the night sky and the Milky Way. It touches on Maya writing and hieroglyphics, breaking the code, the abandonment and collapse of the classic sites, the mysterious stealle found at Tortugeuro, Tabasco, Mexico that started the 2012 debate and ends with the prophecy as seen by Maya elders.
Rather than textbook examples of what 2012 means, Kitchel shares her findings in the straightforward style her readers have come to love.
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