You know Carmen the IgoUgo writer: charter member, 2005 Hall of Famer, resident Vegas expert, frequent blog fixture. Now get to know Carmen the novelist (and find out why she says IgoUgo helped her find her calling!). We’re talking to Carmen about THE LIST, her first book and the just-announced winner of the romance category in the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
IgoUgo: You’ve been writing about your travels here at IgoUgo since July 2000—the site’s beginning. How long have you been writing, and when did you decide to write a book? What were the writing and publishing processes like?
Carmen: Yes! I remember when IgoUgo was just a wee baby in the online travel world, and now look how it has grown! IgoUgo was my first foray into travel writing, but I've been a writer since, well, when I first learned to write the alphabet. Thank goodness for the verbal section of the SAT, or else I never would've gotten into college! Writing has always come naturally to me, and it's the easiest way for me to communicate.
The idea for my book, THE LIST, came to me like most of my ideas—in a dream. Most people don't believe it when I say that, but it's true! Sometimes it's hard to sleep because there are so many ideas running around in my brain. Anyway, I had the idea, but never thought I could ever write it myself. I took the idea to a friend of mine who writes screenplays—so it started out as a movie! She told me that my story was too "happy" for her—she liked to kill off characters—and she told me to write it myself.
That's when I came across a website for National Novel Writing Month. I wrote the book in one month, sacrificing even my favorite TV shows (gasp!). I spent the next several years editing it and trying to get it published. The publishing process isn't an easy one. There is a lot of rejection. I heard from a lot of agents that my book was "high concept" but that the market was saturated with romantic comedy, "chick-lit" books, and it wouldn't sell. I believed in the story so much that I published it through a print-on-demand company, and since then, my readers and I have been proving that it DOES sell! (Though it can always sell more. Ha!)
IgoUgo: Since your book is THE LIST, and you’re frequently posting fun lists on the book’s website, can we request a quick explanation of what the book is about, list-style?
Carmen: Candace Saunders is a single, 30-something woman with a list of 50-something qualities that she wants in a man. She meets two suitors—one earns lots of checks on her love itinerary, but the other is her anti-list. As she falls for (which one?) she wonders, can perfect be put on paper?
What's on her list?
#1 Must be attractive (everyone lists that one, right?)
#6 Hair in the right amounts and in the right places
#12 Not a vegetarian
#31 Not tone deaf
#34 Smells good
IgoUgo: You inject both your travel writing and your fiction writing with a lot of personality and humor—but which is more fun for you to write?
Carmen: I could no sooner pick my favorite flavor of chocolate! Writing is a pleasure, no matter what the genre. However, I think travel writing comes a little easier to me. I love to travel, and I love to talk about travel, so travel writing comes naturally. IgoUgo helped me find my calling! No matter what I'm writing, though, you can be sure that I'm writing as me. It's my voice, my heart, my soul that you see. It's not fake. It's not me pretending to be someone else, or copy someone else. It's just lil' ol' me.
IgoUgo: Any travel stories from hitting the road to promote the book?
Carmen: The biggest problem about publishing your own book is that you spend all of your time promoting, and no time actually writing. I have made a few trips—a short one to Charlottesville, VA (where my alma mater, UVA, is located) for the Virginia Festival of the Book, and another to Boston and Connecticut for Connecticut Fiction Fest. What I'd really like is for a book club in, say, Spain to tell me that they'd like me to appear in person for a signing, and they'll pay my way. A girl can dream, right? I'm sure if I could just get Oprah to read it, all that would happen. Anybody know her? :)
IgoUgo: You’ve shared travel journals from all other the world, from places as far away as Egypt and Australia, and you’ve become somewhat of an expert on quite a few of them. What’s your favorite place, so far? And what place have you visited that would make a perfect setting for a book?
Carmen: Too. Many. Choices. Aack! It is so hard for me to pick a favorite destination, because each place has unique qualities. But I won't cop out on you. Probably my favorite place was Australia, Sydney to be exact. Venice was astounding. Greece was breathtaking. Rome was awe-inspiring. Amsterdam was unexpected.
One of my favorite places on the planet—Las Vegas—is the setting for the book that I just started writing.
IgoUgo: What will the next book be?
Carmen: I have written half of a novel that is essentially a memoir of my travels put into novel form. However, I keep hearing from people in the industry that the travel novel will never sell either. Sigh. So I just started another book. It's darker, less "chick-lit," with a little bit of paranormal thrown in there. I have recently said that if someone would read this new book and call it "Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Dresden Files meets a cute bunny," I would think it was a good description. I can't give too many details, because the story is just now evolving, but it's a doozy!
IgoUgo: Any final words?
Carmen: I always want the last word! If you want to buy a copy, you can use up those IgoUgo points to get an Amazon certificate, and use them on my book! The link http://tinyurl.com/buythelist will take you right to the Amazon page, with all the reviews, etc. Or, you can go to Amazon and search by author, Carmen Shirkey.
I also encourage people to follow me on Twitter, username @carmenshirkey, and to visit my blog for the book (http://thelistbook.blogspot.com) to keep up with what's going on with THE LIST, and of course I talk travel, too! Sometimes I have contests, giveaways, etc., and it's always fun to have folks join in the conversation that goes on in my head. :)