I’m thrilled to bring you the second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more, and today’s is with non-fiction author Pamela Sisman Bitterman. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Pamela. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Pamela: I began writing in my late forties, so that I could tell the amazing true story of life, loss and love at sea, my adventure with sailing and sinking on a circumnavigating tall ship 25 years earlier. No one had yet told the tale, and I feared no one ever would. I had suffered some tragedy in my family, and it was that grief that helped fuel the emotion when relating an experience that was a quarter century in the past.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Pamela: I have had published; two non-fictions, one children’s book, and a homily. I am presently working on an adult fiction, and another children’s book.
Morgen: Your first book ‘Sailing To the Far Horizon; The Restless Journey and Tragic Sinking of a Tall Ship’ is described as ‘graphically autobiographical’; how did you decide what to include / exclude from the book?
Pamela: The events took place 30 years ago, but encompassed only approximately 4 years of my life. The bulk of the book was taken from original journal entries and letters sent home at the time of my circumnavigation, that my parents preserved with the belief that I would someday commit the journey to print.
Morgen: Your second book Muzungu, tracks your “escapades throughout Kenya” in your 50s, what brought you to Africa and how long were you there?
Pamela: I traveled to Africa in my 50s and spent two months there working with orphans and in a mission hospital, the subject of my two newly published books, Muzungu, and When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read. My trip was a leap of faith on several levels. I went to see if I could “still do it”, to see what was really happening over there, and to see if I could do anything to help. I also went with the expectation that I would write about my experiences. The result was not what I expected. Not even close.
Morgen: Your books are available as eBooks, what was your experience of that process?
Pamela: Both of my newly published books about my African adventure are available as eBooks. My experience with this medium was surprisingly positive, due in large part to the patience, expertise and support of eBookIt, the company through which I chose to publish. But as with traditional publishing, the lion’s share of the work to publicize falls to the author.
Morgen: You have produced YouTube trailers for both books (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPD4LEPi3Qs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M5owy_L4cU respectively) – how important to do you think trailers are to a writer’s marketing process? Was it quite straightforward to arrange?
Pamela: I think book trailers are immensely important. They were not difficult for me to produce. I got professional (and my kids) help for the nuts and bolts part. But my books are true, non fiction, and the photos lend credibility and a tactile sense of story. The accompanying music will hit the emotional cord if chosen carefully. I used my trailer for my first book in all my book signings and they became events – like shows – very well attended and received.
Morgen: Have you had other works published? If so, can you remember your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Pamela: Boy do I ever remember my first traditional publishing acceptance letter! Unparalleled relief and pride. Serious acknowledgement not to be trivialized. But its not the be-all and end-all of writing. The writing has to be the journey. If done well, publishing will follow. Perseverance plus an economy that supports the business (most publishers are struggling mightily today as well) will hopefully yield results. And yup, it feels amazing when it happens.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Pamela: Have I had rejections? That goes without saying. I could wallpaper my house with them. How do I deal? I try to learn from them, I write better, and I soldier on. Since being published, I have to say my rejections have become less generic and impersonal, more respectful and constructive. Even apologetic. The industry is in crisis as well. In spite of wanting to honor “good writing”, the reality is that they too have to feed their bottom line in order to keep their heads above water right now. I remember being told once that writing was one of the only professions in which “no” does not mean “no”. It doesn’t mean “never”. It could mean “not right now” or “not in this way” or “not quite.”
My advice, don’t give up. That is the only absolute guarantee of never getting published that an author will get.
Morgen: I love that quote. I’m going to have to remember that. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day?
Pamela: I write every day, usually in the early hours of the morning. I avoid writers block by just stream-of-conscious writing at that time – no filter, no censor. Just flow. That isn’t scary. Then I edit later in the day. Works for me!
Morgen: I’ve been on courses where we’ve written stream-of-conscious where it’s hoped that the brain kicks in when it gets bored (it usually does). If appropriate, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Pamela: Writing an outline, as is typically required as part of a proposal package, becomes my plot organizer. I theme my chapters with quotes that define the drift of the story for that section as well. I find this helpful. But we all know, when we write well, the writing takes on a life of its own, and that is a beautiful thing.
Morgen: My favourite aspect of writing. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Pamela: No, I have no work that I expect never to see the light of day. I will not allow that to happen.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Pamela: I love writing. It shows me what I think and feel.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Pamela: My advice for aspiring writers is to be mindful of what you aspire to. If it is only to be published, I have nothing for you. If it is for almost any other reason, enjoy the journey! You might even get published in the process.
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Pamela: I love reading good literature, good writing of almost all genres. I miss it terribly when I am writing because I refrain from reading at these times. I am simply too impressionable. If I’m writing while reading Catcher In The Rye, for instance, my own narrator’s voice will begin to sound suspiciously like Holden’s.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Pamela: I’m in the U.S. It’s a good place to be for almost anything.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Pamela: I’ve joined several literary groups. Most are good for networking. Some are too chatty for me. Others are professional groups, and they have been useful and informative.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Pamela: You can keep appraised of my work through my website www.pamelasismanbitterman.com. It is pretty comprehensive and routinely updated.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Pamela: Thank you for this opportunity. I have enjoyed it!
Morgen: 🙂 I know I said this yesterday with Colin but I really enjoyed reading your answers. Thank you for taking part.
Update August 2012: Pamela has some news about her books…
* Sailing To The Far Horizon; The Restless Journey and Tragic Sinking of a Tall Ship. 2004. Already available in hardcover. Recently released in paperback and digital format. Available at all online vendors, or directly through www.wisc.edu/wisconsinpress/books/2933.htm.
* Muzungu; A-frican Lost Soul’s Reality Check. Already available in digital format. Recently released in paperback. Available at all online vendors, or directly thru
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