New Career Directions – An Interview With Mariam Kobras – Award Winning Author Of The Stone Trilogy
Today on WiseWolf Talking we have the great pleasure of presenting an interview with award-winning novelist, Mariam Kobras. Mariam is the author of the Stone Trilogy and the first book in the series, “The Distant Shore”, won the 2012 IPPY Bronze Medal for Romance and rose to No 10 on the Amazon Bestseller List. The second book, “Under Same Sun” has just been published!
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Mariam lived in Brazil and Saudi Arabia with her parents as a child before they decided to settle in Germany. She attended school there and studied American Literature and Psychology at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen, where she met her husband. She lives in Hamburg, Germany, with her husband, two sons and two cats.
Mariam is the author of Under the Same Sun and the IPPY Bronze Medal winning novel The Distant Shore, which was also released by Buddhapuss Ink.
I believe Mariam’s story will inspire all who dream of writing a book and having it published successfully.
Q1 Can you tell us a little about your life before you became a published author please?
Before the elusive book deal came through, I was working at a middle grade school in our neighborhood. I taught theater and musicals there, and supervised the detention room. It was a great job, and I loved every minute, but when school politics changed I decided to quit.
Before that, I managed an American Football team in Hamburg. That was really great, too. Learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and I got to organize the National Championship game day.
Before that, I was a housewife and mom. Oh, and head of PTA, and a member of our city council, and a lay judge at juvenile court.
And before that, I was at university and majored in American Literature. So, as you can see, my career path has taken some wild twists and turns before I decided to become a novelist.
Q2 How did you come to write the Distant Shore?
That’s easy. The idea of writing a book had been simmering for a long time. But the one thing that bugged me was the setting. I never wanted to write a book set in Germany (don’t ask; I have no idea why not. Just a gut feeling) so I had to do some traveling to see other places before I could find the right spot.
Then again, I didn’t really have an idea for an entire novel. There was this one scene that kept running around in my head, the one where Jon and Naomi meet again after their long separation. That was the one scene I wanted to write very badly. But I had to get them to that place and time, somehow. So the story of their son Joshua developed, and how he writes this letter to his father, and how Jon discovers he has a son he never knew about. The rest fell into place. Really.
Q3 Lots of people start writing, what kept you going until you had finished the novel?
The waiting publisher. We’d been connected on Twitter for a while, chatting about puppies and coffee and cupcakes. Then one day someone posted a blog with tips on how to promote your novel on your blog. One of those tips was, “Post page 99 of your novel on your blog!”
So I took a look at my page 99 and thought, “I can do that!” and posted it. Then I tweeted the link to the blog, like I always do. Minutes later, said publisher had commented, “Well done! If you keep this up I may have to sign you!”
Now that alone is enough to make any writer’s heart beat in a fast staccato. Mine did! But they went even further and sent me a direct message on Twitter asking when they could have the entire book. I had to tell them that it needed some more work, and they replied they’d wait. Patiently.
So I got down to work. The Distant Shore needed to be finished, and it needed to be whittled down from its original 400K words to a more manageable 135K. It took me three weeks of intense writing and editing, but I got it done and sent it off.
Q4 How did you find a publisher and what is it like to work with a publisher?
I didn’t find my publisher, they found me, even though it’s still not entirely clear why they decided to follow me, of all writers out there. I mean, at that time I was not even an “aspiring” writer. All I did was fool around on Twitter and scribble a bit. But that’s really how it happened: I woke up one day to find the black cat following me: Buddhapuss Ink. I remember I kept looking at that avatar and thinking that if I ever decided to submit and wanted a publisher, I wanted it to be them. Again, no idea why. It was just a very strong gut feeling. As it turns out, my gut was right.
What’s it like to work with a publisher? It’s a lot of work. Writing a book is only the beginning. After that comes the editing process, the promoting, the launch. There’s a lot more involved than I ever knew. It’s fun! I haven’t had one bad moment working with my publisher, not a single one. I don’t have an agent, so I deal with my publisher directly, and I think that’s a blessing.
The thing that strikes me most though, that in fact was utterly bewildering at first, is that someone “up there” takes my writing seriously. That they talk to me about scenes or characters as if they really matter. And I stand there, totally embarrassed, and I’m like, “Uh, guys…I have no idea. It just, you know, felt right to write it like that?” And they nod gravely, say something like, “Gorgeous!” and pat my shoulder. And offer coffee.
Q5 What do you think helped to make the Distant Shore so successful?
I want to say, “Because it’s a brilliant book!” But of course that’s not the truth.
The thing people who read The Distant Shore say most often is that it’s lyrical, poetic, and that the descriptions are so vivid, they feel like they’re in the scene with the characters. They tell me they love my characters because they seem like “real people”, and that it’s easy to worry about them. So I’m guessing that if you can make your readers feel empathy you’ve written a good book. I hope!
With the immense number of books released every year, I believe it’s vital that, as an author, you have an internet presence, a platform, even before your first book gets published. In fact I’ve been told that publishers look for that, they want to see what you’ve done to promote yourself before they take you on. It shows them that you’re willing to do your part with the promoting.
Of course, a good network on, let’s say, Twitter and Facebook, will help you sell those copies of your first book. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth!
My publisher is very clever at marketing. And winning the award helped, too. That shiny sticker does draw buyers.
Q6 Tell us about your new book, “Under the Same Sun” please.
Under the Same Sun is Book Two in the Stone Trilogy, the sequel to The Distant Shore.
We’ll find out if Naomi returns to Jon and how she deals with the aftermath of the shooting and her injuries. We’ll go on tour across Europe to see Jon perform, and we travel to Positano in Italy to visit Naomi’s maternal family, and see her clash with her father again. Naomi is pining for a new baby, but things aren’t going the way she wants them to. Her marriage is threatening to crumble…
It’s a book about a woman finding her own way, finding out what she wants in life, which is not always easy if there’s a lot of family pressure around you. Naomi dealt with that by hiding herself away in rural Norway for many years, but now, with Jon’s support, she realizes she does not have to give in to her father’s demands.
That’s it, I’m not going to spill any more beans! You’ll have to read it and find out yourself.
Q7 What plans do you have for Book 3 of the Stone Trilogy?
Book 3 is actually written. I submitted it to the publisher in June, and the release is scheduled for 2013. This one is close to my heart. I’ve always wanted to express my feelings about 9/11, especially after a very painful discussion with someone on Twitter a year ago. At that time, they told me that I as a European don’t have any right to have feelings about 9/11. I disagree. I think everyone has a right to feelings about that day.
Book 3 is not about 9/11, but that day is part of the story. We see it happening through the eyes of three women, none of them American, who are standing on the terrace of a Brooklyn house—removed from the site, distanced, for all it matters, as we over here in Europe were. Their feelings and reactions are what mattered to me. In addition to that, I’ve woven in the narrations of my friends who really were in lower Manhattan that day and experienced everything first hand. Of course my fictional characters tell their stories in the book. But everything that happens to them, happened to someone real.
The important thing for me was to show that day, September 11th, as a day that changed many things for so many people. It’s not the main part of the story. That is Sal’s love affair first with Maya, and then later his falling in love with Gemma. And of course, Jon and Naomi will be there, too.
The title of the book is Song of the Storm
Many things end in this book, and many things find a new beginning.
Q8 Can you tell us a little about the highs and lows of real life as a writer?
There are no lows.
I say this as I sit here, working on blog post #14 or #15 for the blog hop to celebrate the launch of Under the Same Sun. So if there’s a low it’s having to do things other than actually write books.
Just a moment ago I had this fascinating conversation on Twitter, with a German author friend, Friederike Schmöe. We were talking about success and when it is that you start feeling you’re actually an author. I said, probably not until I have at least twenty books published. Two books, what I have now, don’t feel like a big achievement. And Friederike replied that in her experience satisfaction comes for a writer while we are writing, not from seeing a published book on a bookstore shelf.
And she’s right. The real satisfaction comes with the creative process, with the writing. Once the book is published it becomes totally uninteresting for the writer. The empty page is calling! Let’s write another one!
Q9 For those of us who would like to follow in your footsteps, do you have some tips for other aspiring writers?
My publisher likes to say, “Butt in chair, write!” It’s the only advice they give to aspiring writers (by the way, I hate that phrase. If you write—you’re a writer. If you don’t—you aren’t. Getting to be an author, that’s a totally different story.)
So what my publisher says is really the only valid advice. You want to be a writer? Write. Of course I’m assuming you’ve done your reading, right? You’ve read extensively, many different authors, many different genres. You know what you want to write. You do? Then do it! Don’t talk about it, don’t blog about it, don’t tweet about it, write. Oh: and finish the book. Don’t start a new project before the other one is finished, or you’ll never get anywhere. Forget about writers’ conferences, workshops, chatrooms. No one can write your book for you, and there as many ways to write a novel as there are writers.
Do you really think Hemingway or Jane Austen ever attended a writers’ conference? They didn’t have them back then!
Q10 Just one final question, Mariam, can you tell us what is the nicest thing that has happened to you as a writer during the last 12 months?
Totally, utterly, the visit with my publisher.
Hmm…Maybe I should have said, winning the IPPY Award?
But that wouldn’t be true. It was the visit with the publisher. Going there makes me feel “real” as an author. Living in Germany and publishing in the US makes me feel very isolated at times, but when I go to New York and step into the publisher’s place I know it’s real indeed. They spoil me: I get a great Chinese lunch and Red Velvet cake, and I can watch how my books are being worked with: editing, marketing, designing the covers—it’s all there. And the awesome part is: they are really my books! The books I wrote, sitting on my couch or at my desk, while tweeting with you and all my other friends!
Well thanks to Mariam Kobras. We are very grateful for your time.
Thanks so much for this Mariam
You can find a link Mariam’s books below
This was the final stop in Mariam’s Blog Hop celebrating the launch of her latest book, Under the Same Sun (Book II in the Stone Trilogy) which hit the Amazon.com bestseller list on its first day on sale!
We hope you enjoyed her guest posts, and invite you to write a comment below about this blog post for a chance to WIN one of three copies of Under the Same Sun (plus some pretty gosh, darn, yummy chocolate)!
You can get additional chances by following Mariam at every stop on her hop and leaving comments after each post. And hey, while you’re here, why not follow this blog—you won’t regret it.
Check the Buddhapuss blog for the full calendar and more details about Mariam and her books!
Find Out More About Mariam