Jasper Kerkau recently sat down to chat with Talia Carner, author of Hotel Moscow, Jerusalem Maiden, China Doll, and Puppet Child, and upcoming in 2019, The 4th Daughter. Talia’s work is published by HarperCollins.
When I speak to writers, they often talk about a moment in which they decided to identify themselves, first and foremost, as a writer. Was there a moment like that for you, if so what precipitated it?
There was a time of “no man’s land” between my successful career as a marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies and my nascent interest in fiction writing. While I had nothing to show—and certainly didn’t yet envision writing as a career—it consumed me both emotionally and intellectually. To compel myself to accept my new identity I printed business cards that read “Writer/ Marketing Consultant,” not only stating that I was a writer, but placing it first. That was the moment.
I have discovered that everyone has a book, writers are a dime a dozen: what has allowed you to succeed in a sea of dreamers?
Many people have interesting, complex life stories. That also means that they are potentially “one-book authors” who wish to write about themselves. Indeed, many do, mainly for posterity, if not out of need for self-introspection. That is not what my novels are about. My stories are completely imagined. As a character, I am yet to appear in any of my books, nor do I use any of my personal life’s dramatic events—with the exception of business-related experiences. (In PUPPET CHILD the protagonist works in magazine marketing, and HOTEL MOSCOW was based upon my teaching business in Russia.) What I do exploit, though, are the emotions, the sympathy toward social issues I care about, and I am able to crawl under the skin of each novel’s protagonist and live the events through her.
Then, of course, the key to success is rewriting, revising, restructuring and editing ad nauseam—except that it is a process I greatly enjoy. It’s no exaggeration to say that I go over each manuscript 50 to 80 times. Unfortunately, in these days of easy digital self-publishing many would-be writers skip this months- and years-long stage, and their books often reveal their impatience with the process.
There is a lot in your experience that young writers can glean and hope for. What advice would you give to those who are smitten by the passion for writing, but don’t know if it will lead the to anything except poverty?
Please allow me to dispel the notion that even success in publishing brings more than poverty. There are only a handful of American authors who make a comfortable living from their books; someone estimated that there are less than 100 such authors. Those are the ones publishing every year and selling millions of copies along with international rights. The rest of us, while successful in getting audiences’ praise and adulation still do not make enough to live on…. The simple math is that if a novel takes me four to six years of work, whatever I earn is divided by the many hours invested and means an income of merely a few cents per hour.
Many successful writers I know supplement their income by teaching creative writing, editing, or pitching magazine assignments. Therefore, a novice writer’s hope for riches is no different from an inner-city kid hoping to be the next Michael Jordan. I say: Just enjoy the basketball game (or the process of writing,) and find a lucrative career elsewhere.
I have found that fear of failure can be debilitating for many writers. What has been your experience embarking on a major project such as your last novel? Did you have that moment where you were paralyzed with fear?
I am never afraid, and therefore I don’t know what it feels like to be “paralyzed with fear.” I enjoy the intellectual challenge of each phase, and also know that there are worse problems in life. The worst that can happen when I launch a new project is that my finished novel might not find a home. Nevertheless, the writing is fulfilling in its own right, I learn a lot about subjects I never knew about—and anyway, if the novel is rejected now, it may get reincarnated years later. Every short story and essay that I put my mind to publish has indeed found a home, because there are hundreds of outlets and options; it’s a matter of persistence.
What is your latest project? How long did it take for your vision to come to fruition? What do you want the reader to take away from your book?
My next novel, scheduled to be released in Fall 2019 by HarperCollins is The 4th Daughter. It’s a story of tango and prostitution in Buenos Aires at the end of the 1800s. The topic percolated in my head for more than a decade. Surprisingly for me, once I found the groove of the story and started writing it, it took me only two years—not five as had my previous novels. However, this shorter time is no predictor for future works, because I’m already a year into researching my next novel (my #6) but am not writing it yet. I give myself five years to complete this book.
What I’d like readers to take from The 4th Daughter is the heart-wrenching inside picture of trafficking—and come out with the determination to bring a stop to human slavery.
Do you feel that there is something special about writers?
We are a bunch of people willing—and loving—to toil in silence and solitude for a very long time. We get transported into the lives and worlds of our characters to the point of routinely getting lost for many hours at a stretch. Does that make us special or quirky?
What is your experience communicating with other writers, and how important is that fellowship?
My writing group is an integral part of my writing process. I cherish their feedback and constructive critiquing as I develop a story. Over the years we’ve become close as we became familiar with each other’s inner worlds. Not all of my writing buddies are at the same point in our careers, and they may have different focus, but the common denominator is that they are good reviewers and we all care to invest time in each other’s work and help make the final product shine.
Once a manuscript is ready for publication, I get endorsements from other authors—often ones far more successful than I am, such as Nelson DeMille who had followed my career from the start (we used to sit on the same board of an art center.) HOTEL MOSCOW was one that covered his area of expertise, and his praise is printed on the front cover. Those blurbs that appear on the back cover and are quoted in press releases help launch a book out of the gate. I give forward by endorsing other authors’ pre-published books.
I am honored to have the chance to ask you questions. I hope that everyone would take the opportunity to read your books.