“The sound of a kiss” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, “is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.”
Do you remember the very first kiss you ever gave or received? Virginia M. Sanders not only waited three decades for this auspicious event to occur but also made it the subject of her memoir, Kiss Chronicles. While her text is primarily targeted to females between the ages of 15 and 35, its message of love, loss and unabashed mirth will resonate with anyone who believes in the magic of romance and the priceless value of supporting worthy causes.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Tell us the inspiration behind your new book, Kiss Chronicles.
A: To answer that question, I actually need to take it back a little farther, to what started the whole Kiss Chronicles project. Before I turned 30, I’d been feeling anxious that I hadn’t gotten my first kiss yet. And then after my 30th birthday, I wanted to take action, to do something that felt right to get that kiss. When the thought occurred to me that, hey, people have auctioned stranger things than first kisses on eBay, so why not? At first, I threw the idea out because the money in an auction involved made it a bad idea. Then the idea came to me that the money didn’t have to come to me — it could go to charity instead. And I fell in love with the idea. Then everything that happened after that eventually lead to the book.
Q: The craft of writing not only enables us to make new discoveries about ourselves but also to provide closure for certain events and relationships in our past. What was your own experience with this in penning a soul-bearing memoir?
A: By the time I began writing the book, I needed it. I needed to put every word down, one after the other, to process my feelings and thoughts and work past them. I needed to pull my stories together to see how I’d come to that point in my life. Writing Kiss Chronicles was like being at the narrow point of an hourglass, filtering sand through that point grain by grain. The process brought me valuable lessons and healing.
Q: What governed your choice to make Kiss Chronicles a nonfiction title instead of a novel?
A: Wow, it never even occurred to me to novelize it. Huh. But truthfully, even if it had occurred to me, I wouldn’t have done that. By writing nonfiction, I discovered that this was the one story I could tell that could never belong to anyone else. Still, I do look forward to going back to fiction writing.
Q: Fiction enables a writer to take more liberties with the truth and, in doing so, maintain a safe distance of personal privacy. Are there other differences you encountered over the course of structuring your story?
A: The difference between fiction and nonfiction…to me, writing nonfiction felt kind of like cheating because I already knew the whole story. I didn’t have to invent characters or their backgrounds. I didn’t have to build a world. I was never surprised when something I wrote went in an unexpected direction. Writing nonfiction was like adding colors to a sketched outline rather than facing the daunting prospect of painting on a blank canvas.
Q: Were you/are you a voracious reader? If so, who are some of the authors you most admire and why?
A: I love to read. I admire C.S. Lewis for his wonder, Tolkein for his astonishing commitment to his world, and Lewis Carroll for his nonsense. In more modern times, Rob Thurman and S.U. Pacat are both writers that I stalk, er, um, I mean I appreciate their talents. And Robin McKinley wrote my favorite book, the darkest of dark fairy tales, Deerskin.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I’ve started Les Misérables, unabridged, and let me tell you, this one’s going to take me a while. I expect I’m going to have to take a break from it once or twice and read something that’s pure, unrepentant fluff.
Q: Fairy tales are everywhere, frequently permeating literature, movies and stage plays with characters, quests and object lessons that subsequently feel familiar to us. How do you use this storytelling device in your own work?
A: I mention fairy tales more than once in the body of the book, but I also had fun with the theme by threading a completed fairy tale throughout the book, beginning each of the chapters (and ending one or two of them). I took my nonfiction story and turned it into a fairy tale allegory, which supports the through lines of the whole tale. And, of course, the fairy tale concept had an obvious impact on the cover.
Q: In one word, how would you describe your first kiss?
Q: If you could go back and invite any celebrity to the kiss auction in your book, who would it be and why?
A: Ahaha, wait, what? You mean to be the kisser? I can tell you this for sure: It would NOT be Gene Simmons!
Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?
A: Stare at blank page. Walk away. Come back and stare again. Chew fingernail. Walk away and use the laser pointer to tease a cat. Come back and write a sentence. Shout with joy and suddenly write bunches of paragraphs. Realize that an hour has gone by and, oh, where did all those words come from? Good job. Eat chocolate. Repeat.
Q: Are critique groups a help or a hindrance in a writer’s journey to find his/her unique voice?
A: A critique group, a good critique group, will be the greatest asset on a writer’s journey to tell a story. As for finding a unique voice, I’m not sure about that. Although I’ve belonged to a critique group for four years now, and I’ve met many people through it, I have yet to meet a writer who didn’t already have a unique voice. The group might have some influence on how that voice gets refined, to help polish it and make it shine, but it was already there to begin with. The group, my group at least, has much more to say about the mechanics of the writing.
For writers looking to find a critique group, the first place to check is MeetUp.com to see whether there are any local, established groups. If that doesn’t work, poke around at a library and see whether a friendly librarian knows of any crit groups. Or try searching online for “writing group [your location]” or “writing critique [your location]” and see what’s out there.
If you decide you need to start your own group, you can set it up on MeetUp.com and make it a regular event. (My group started off meeting every other week. Now we meet weekly.) Try to have at least a couple of other people you know, writers, who can help establish a reliable core membership. You’ll also want to set up rules, such as how long critique submissions should be and how far in advance of the meeting people need to submit the text to be read. You can use systems such as Dropbox, Yahoo! Groups, or Google Docs to share files.
Q: Was the decision to self-publish one that you made from the outset or did you pitch through traditional channels first?
A: I didn’t decide to self-publish at the outset, but nor did I pitch to any traditional channels. I pitched through entirely non-traditional channels at first. What I really wanted to do was work with a cancer-related charity and have the book benefit it directly. And who knows? Maybe that could be a possibility in the future. But for now, I’m content to be self-published and still benefitting charity, albeit through a workaround.
Q: What do you know now about the pros and cons of self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?
A: In traditional publishing, the author gets hears a lot of “no” on the front end, before publishing the book. In self-publishing, the author hears a lot of “no” on the back end, after publishing the book. In self-publishing, the con is that I still have to fight to get my foot in the door and gain acknowledgement, but the pro is that even while I’m doing that work my book is already out, available, and able to start collecting reviews and momentum.
Q: How do you deal with the bias of publishing a “free” ebook?
A: For me, it’s still early days. I don’t think I’ve had to face this bias directly yet. I know it’s out there, though, the opinion that an author would only publish a book for free because it just isn’t that good and wouldn’t sell. That’s not the truth. Sometimes great writers have valid reasons for making books or short stories free.
However, I’ve realized a terrible indirect downside to my book being free: I can’t hold giveaways. People love to get something for free that wouldn’t otherwise be free, and so many authors are using that as a great promotional tool, giving away free or discounted books and gaining attention in the process. It’s a valuable way to spread the word, but I can’t join the giveaway fun.
Q: You indicate that you wrote this book for social good and wanted to leave it to readers to decide how and whether they take action. Tell us a little more about that.
A: Yes, this book is devoted to raising funds and awareness for cancer research and patients. It’s a cause that’s very personally significant to me because I’ve lost two immediate family members to cancer. I have a fundraising page set up for the book on Razoo at http://www.razoo.com/story/Kiss-Chronicles. It’s a third-party fundraising site, so the money is going to the charity and is tax deductible for the reader.
Donations are great and very much appreciated. However, each reader is unique and might want some say in where the donation goes. I picked a charity that fights multiple cancers, but what if the reader would prefer to donate to a cancer-specific charity, such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society? I welcome the reader to do that. And what if the reader doesn’t have the cash to spare but has some free time? In that case, volunteering for a charity event might be perfect.
Of course I’d like my fundraising page to do well. In fact, it can and will do well. But I also think that someone reading my book might be able to come up with a brilliant idea that I never thought of, and I want to encourage that. I realize, of course, that plenty of readers will simply read the book without taking action. Still, I believe in planting seeds of potential even if they don’t sprout right away.
Q: What would fans be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I once had a dream that I got my first kiss from a web comic character named Skids. True story. He was a good dream kisser, too.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Fiction! I want to write some short stories and work with some new characters with super powers and maybe even go back to an old fairy tale that’s still in progress. More blogging as well, so the nonfiction doesn’t get to go away completely.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: I blog at http://kisschronicles.com, and occasionally I post on the BlogHer network site. And you can find me tweeting on @KissChronicle.