Sunday, July 28, 2013

Author Interview: Nancy Hartwell

I decided to start a new feature here on the blog, where I feature interviews with other independent authors. I am curious about other authors' experiences with self publishing, and feel like they could have a lot to teach. Here is our first author. I believe she has a fascinating story, both personal and literary. 

My name is Nancy Hartwell. I grew up in Tampa, Florida, studied international relations at American U in Washington D.C., married a distinguished attorney from Cameroon and lived there for 14 years. I am a life-long writer; I published my first poem in a national magazine at age 8. I was a technical writer for a special division of The Washington Post on Capitol Hill for 7 years, and lead proposal writer for an international consulting company for 14 more. I have traveled to 44 countries and can get into trouble in more than 20 languages. I had a radio play produced by BBC and another, in French, on ORTF
How long have you been publishing?
My first novel was released on April 24, 2013.

Tell us about your latest book.  
I write about victims of human trafficking. My first book, Harem Slave: One Thousand Nine Hundred and Four Days of Hell on the Persian Gulf, is now the no. 1 best-seller in its category on Amazon. It describes the harrowing life of an all-American girl who is kidnapped and, to her stunned disbelief, sold into the harem of an 81-year-old sheikh. No, they do not fall in love. No, it is not wall-to-wall passion. Tammy struggles to hang onto her sanity as well as some semblance of her self-respect, despite daily humiliation and degradation.
Why did you decide to write this as fiction, rather than an actual account of someone who had been trafficked?

Every third or fourth time I tell someone I'm interested in the topic, I get another story. But I don't have police reports and names and dates, it's just like, Well, I used to be in the Israeli Army, and we heard about this girl... anecdotes. So I can't write it as anything but fiction, but the circumstances are based on true stories. And I have dozens and dozens of stories, that started to show clear patterns. I mean, who is going to make this up: a sheikh liked blow jobs, and if you didn't do it the way he liked, he had your lips sewn shut, put you in a cage, and stuck the cage over in a corner of the stable where you slowly starved to death. !!!!  One of my reviewers said, how can they possibly classify this as fiction? It's just can't be. The author sure lived through hell.  I did -- vicariously.

How prevalent is human trafficking?

It is a very, very difficult topic. People don't like to think about it, or they hope that they'll fall in love. They don't like to think about harems with hundreds of girls, many of whom never even MEET the man who owns them, or brothels so brutal where life expectancy is calculated in WEEKS. Occasionally it does get a media splash, like the story of Natalee Holloway who disappeared in Aruba. The Dutch guy Van der Smoot bragged to his friends that he had sold her to an Arab working in the oil industry in Venezuela. But 300 kids disappear every month -- every MONTH -- in Atlanta, and nobody hears a peep.

Who is most likely to be trafficked?

Girls under the age of 18 are most of the victims, but also little boys, and occasionally, college graduates. One of the stories in Voices from the Harem is about a Polish girl who was working on her doctorate in maritime law, and she dated an Egyptian, who treated her like dirt and she broke up with him. Then he had her kidnapped and sold into slavery to "teach her a lesson."

How does this happen?

There are all sorts of traps and lures. What would a 12-to-16-year-old like? Hmm, how about a part in a movie? Or a glamorous job as a swimsuit model? They ask a few leading questions to see if she's alone and if anybody is waiting for her, and bingo, she's a statistic. Runaways are at EXTREME risk. Predators troll bus stations etc. looking for them, and offer to "help" them. Girls know they aren't supposed to talk to strangers, but they have devised ways of getting around that. Let out air in a tire and offer to be a hero and fix it. Or work with a buddy who gropes their target, and then the other guy pushes him away and makes the girl grateful. The hero thing again.

In spite of the fact that slavery has been outlawed practically everywhere, there are more slaves on earth right now -- between 27 and 30 MILLION -- than at any other time in human history. It's an extremely lucrative business. A tall blonde can go for more than $100,000 on the Persian Gulf. That's too tempting. There's a hot market, and there will always be people who will find ways to supply that market. It's going on right under our noses. They say that more than 50% of tourists in Thailand and the Philippines are there for either kinky sex or pedophilia; they raise children to serve pedophiles there.

I find the topic absolutely riveting -- and also horrifying. Sometimes writing down these stories about incredible misery makes me cry. But people need to know.

A couple other examples. One girl is sold to a guy who flunked out of medical school but he likes to operate on people anyway, so he set up a "clinic" in his basement and buys slaves so he can indulge his craving. Of course, most of them die, but they're just slaves, right? So he goes and buys more. Yes, dear, there are some real sickos out there!

Or the guy who hates his mother, who is evidently a Catholic. He keeps her in a cage in the courtyard of the harem where there are obscene statues of Jesus and Mary, and once a month he "baptizes" all the girls in his harem (only Catholics) by dunking them in a vat of shit.

Or the guy who keeps a girl in a tiny room off a master bedroom (the only appropriate term!). No windows, padded walls. He never says a word to her, just puts her on all fours, puts her head in a stanchion, locks a spreader bar onto her knees, and plays with her for a couple of hours. Then he puts her back in the room. No tv, no books, just a bare cell where she stays, all alone.

Then they wonder why so many of the slaves go insane.

Who are your major influences?
A German friend of mine disappeared and it later became known that she had been sold into the harem of a sultan. That spooked me, and I started collecting stories. These stories are now appearing in my Human Trafficking Series.
Do you see writing as a hobby or career?
I am lucky that I am retired and can now afford to write full-time.

What made you decide to become a self published author?
For a year I went the traditional route and got a few nibbles, but no soap. Then a friend told me about a course about how to become a best-selling author on Amazon. I took it, and voila, it worked!

Do you feel that your material is different than traditionally published authors?
Much different. When people see “Harem Slave,” they immediately decide that it must be pornographic. Of course, due to the subject matter, there is sexual material – you can’t describe the life of a sex slave without saying certain things out loud – but as one disappointed reviewer said, it’s a book about slavery and isn’t focused on erotica!

Do you deal with issues that traditional publishers don't normally touch?
Absolutely. Human trafficking is an extremely difficult topic that is hard to wrap your mind around. I try to lay out the facts in a restrained, non-inflammatory way, just say Here. What do you make of this?

Who edits your work?
I do. I am a professional writer/editor/translator. This said, my novels usually go through 80-100 drafts before I’m satisfied with them. Hemingway once said, “Writing is easy. You just sit at your typewriter until you bleed.” Well, I bleed. It is, at least for me, an extremely incremental and organic process. It’s only on draft 30, for instance, that I realize that I can link this in chapter 6 to something in chapter 9, or do a better job of foreshadowing something in chapter 9.

Who does the covers to your books? 
My wonderful friend Kathy Doyle, a gifted graphics artist, and my dear friend Kitty McNaughton, who is doing the cover illustration for Prince Ibrahim’s Favorite.

What are you willing to spend money on, as a writer? What aren't you?
Yes: the best graphics, the best research, the best website. No: vanity publishing rip-offs.

What is your favorite part of being self published?
Well, I can say that I’m a best-selling author. And I don’t exactly mind the royalties.

Do you do your own promotion, or hire someone?
So far, my own, but that may change.

What has been the most productive tool for promoting your book?
The course I took from Michelle Kulp. Also, radio talk show appearances.

Do you have Facebook/Twitter? How effective are they as promotional tools?
I do Facebook and Linkedin, and created an event for my promotional download days. I’m not sure where all the downloads came from, but they propelled Harem Slave to no. 7 best-seller in overall fiction on Amazon.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give someone just starting out in self publishing?

1. Have a polished, well written book. 2. Have a cover that will look striking in a one-inch thumbnail. 3. Convince at least 5 people to give it 4- or 5-star reviews. 4. Take Michelle Kulp’s course.
If a publisher came knocking, would you make the switch? Why or why not? Probably not. Depends on what they could offer that I don’t already have.

What does your family think of your writing career?
 They teased me to pieces when I took my Arabic homework to the beach. Now they’re not laughing.

How important are reviews to making sales?

How do you deal with bad reviews?
 Ignore them. Every book isn’t for everybody, and there will always be a few idiots out there who don’t “get it.”

What changes would you like to see in the self publishing industry?
Standardized formats for ebooks, like the video industry had to go through a few years ago.

Do you participate in Amazon's KDP Select program? Why or Why not?
Yes. Good deal!

What would you like average readers to know about self publishing?
Most self-published books never make it anywhere. Be prepared to swallow that fact.

What's the biggest frustration with being a self published writer?
Having to wait 60 days for the $$.

 Do you write to music? If so, what kind? I am a lyricist.
Yes. Country, easy listening.

Could any of your books be made into films?
The first two would make wonderful films.

Do you blog? Why or Why not?
No. Blogs used to drive traffic to your website, but there are so many out there these days it’s not worth the effort. I do have a monthly newsletter, however.

Do you have any certain ideas or ideals that you try to instill in your work?
 I am combatting the horrendous crime of human trafficking.

Why do you write?
Because it makes me furious that people feel entitled to own girls just because they’re rich.

Does self publishing carry a stigma?
Not any more. Not since Fifty Shades was self-published and became a phenomenal best-seller.

What would you like readers to know about you from your work?
That I am a dedicated, compassionate person, well traveled and sophisticated.

If you could talk shop with any other author, who would it be?
Kimberly Rae, who also writes about human trafficking, but she specializes in India and Bangladesh.

What have you learned from reading other people's work?
To make minor characters just as memorable as major ones.

Do you read more ebooks or physical copies?  Physical.

Do you think the traditional publishing format is an endangered species?
Yes, but not for another generation.

What would the consequences be of the demise of the traditional bookstore?
Browsing would be a lot harder, but the price of books would go way down.


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