February’s interview is with Mark Schroeder, the author of The Book of Margery Kempe, which was a semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) in 2012. Both Kindle and paperback are available on Amazon.
Margery Kempe was a 15th-century Christian mystic who broke a lot of the rules for women of her time. And one of the main characters of your book, Janie Radcliffe, is a bookish young woman who breaks out of the constrictions of modern-day society. You wrote in both Margery and Janie’s voice brilliantly. As a man, how did you feel about writing from a woman’s point of view?
Hi Lauren, thanks for the great question! I tend to gravitate towards women’s voices, especially Southern women, as I spent a good deal of my youth in the “Deep South.” I have also been fortunate to have been surrounded my whole life by strong women who have never needed a “room of their own” to have their voices heard. But it has really been in the area of spirituality and mysticism that I have received guidance by more than one wise woman—for which, of course, I am eternally grateful (and humbled).
But you raise an interesting narratological question, namely, can a man write in a woman’s voice? And vice versa? I think so. One of my favorite books, for example, is Colum McCann’s Zoli. And I have always been a big fan of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels and Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti novels. I have never been a philosophical advocate of narrative essentialism (it reminds me of the nature vs. nurture argument). To paraphrase Faulkner, if you have imagination, it can make up for what you lack in experience and observation—and, one might add, gender. (The recent reconfiguration of gender identification and pronoun use makes this a question with a promising future!)
I just finished reading The Book of Margery Kempe and, I have to say, I was extremely impressed by the way you included the point of view of so many different narrators. Each character fills in the missing pieces of another character’s story. Did you plan these multiple points of view before you started writing, or did it happen spontaneously as you wrote the book?
I started with a voice—Margery’s, which is/was quite loud, reaching out to me across the centuries. It was surprisingly life-affirming. I carried her voice (a species of literary tinnitus) around with me for a number of years as I pursued an entrepreneurial route professionally. Then Janie came to me, not as a voice, but rather as an image—that of the estranged young woman on pilgrimage. The rest of the characters arrived at different stages of my research.
It appeared that a lot of historical research went into your book. What inspired you to write it? Were you interested in religious history first and then discovered Margery, or was it the other way around?
A couple of years ago I had a publishing contract to create a Multimedia CD-ROM on the history of the humanities. I was teaching at the University of Colorado at the time and hired Professor Ed Nolan to write some scripts on the Middle Ages. Ed, who was a Falstaff of a man, wrote one on Margery that intrigued me, and I subsequently had a number of conversations with him on the subject that piqued my interest even further. I didn’t do anything for years, but as noted above, Margery had caught me and wouldn’t let me go.
The Book of Margery Kempe was a semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) in 2012. How can new writers submit their work for this award, and how has the award helped your career as a writer?
For my own part, the contest served as a stimulus to get Margery in shape, for I had only thought of her in a visual sense; indeed, given my background in multimedia, I had initially developed Margery as a filmic character, and had written a fairly long film script. The novel itself was the backstory for the script and I was encouraged to submit it to ABNA by my family and friends.
Also, a notice on this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Contest just came out. Here’s the blurb from PW:
On February 16, Amazon Publishing will begin accepting submissions for its seventh annual Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, open to unpublished and self-published English-language novels. Authors can submit their general fiction, mystery/thriller, romance, science fiction/fantasy/horror, and young adult novels. The grand prize winner will receive an Amazon Publishing contract, with a $50,000 advance.
The Book of Margery Kempe also has a book trailer available for viewing on YouTube. How helpful has YouTube and the use of video been when it comes to getting the word out about your novel and driving sales?
Well of course these days every author must have their “platform.” And those folks who really work the channels have probably done well, especially if they are writing in specific genres. But it seems to me to be a bit of “small beer” for such effort. Indeed, I look upon the whole issue of “finding one’s audience” as an opportunity to develop, with a great group of folks, software that will identify “potential readers” on the social web, and in the process reduce the hours spent hawking one’s work to an undifferentiated audience.
You also work as part of the team over at Find My Audience, describing yourselves as “Four writers/technophiles from Boulder, CO looking to help authors find their readers.” Can you talk a little bit about the mission of Find My Audience?
Yes, we should have a beta of our software out sometime this summer. We have been guided by the vision of a writer waking up every morning and seeing a new slew of faces—potential readers, whose “intentionality to read” has been ranked by an analysis of their use of language (kind of like a Bloomberg for writers). Of course this will start at a simple level, but in the course of time it could become quite sophisticated. We hope it moves the needle a bit for writers.
How can authors get involved with Find My Audience and stay updated?
There are a number of ways: First, writers can get in touch with us and tell us what they need in terms of marketing on the web; second, we will be putting up screen shots and would love feedback; and third, we would love to have beta testers of the software. Just shoot me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What advice do you have for writers who are still trying to get their work out there?
Well of course one could repeat the great advice from the past—“keep the butt in the seat,” “don’t be a writer, be writing,” etc., and of course that is the point. But I think (and I certainly am guilty of this) that we all suffer from the “Achilles Complex,” that is, we would gladly fall on a sword to have our 15 minutes of fame. What I have learned in writing Margery and in working on more recent material is that the act of writing compels us, in our best, most “writerly” moments, to take an amazing journey into ourselves. And that interior landscape is still something of a terra incognita, at least for me. We all hope to be noticed and appreciated for our artistic work, for it expresses a “core” aspect of our identity, but we also hearken (needs must) to the “internal necessity” to produce, to speak, to lay claim to insights. During those moments, as William Blake noted, we are at our closest to a divine presence.
Mark Schroeder founded three internet companies, all of which have been acquired. He holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature (Columbia University) and is an award-winning Lecturer in the Humanities (U. of Colorado), as well as the winner of multiple awards for software development. He is also the author of The Book of Margery Kempe, a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
For more on Mark Schroeder you can:
Visit Find My Audience
Follow Mark on Twitter
Buy The Book of Margery Kempe on Amazon
Visit The Book of Margery Kempe on the Web