CW: Most authors I speak to know they want to be a writer in childhood. That wasn’t true in your case. Tell us about that.
SK: After being suddenly downsized from my corporate telecom career, I walked 780 kms on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a medieval pilgrimage route in Spain on a search to figure out what was important in life. When I came home I started telling stories about my journey. It was during this time that people asked me to write a book. I kept saying I wasn’t a writer. Over time with the encouragement of many people, mostly strangers, I felt it was something I was called to do.
CW: It sounds like your audience found you first and demanded you write about your journey.
SK: People told me they wanted to read more about what I was thinking about and how my perceptions changed as I walked. The book is the true story of how I confronted my deepest fear. I start talking about the events that led to my decision to walk the Camino and why I went alone in the winter. Then, I tell stories about the people I met, the experiences I had, what I was thinking and how it impacted my perspective on life.
CW: How did you begin?
SK: I researched the Camino’s rich history extensively, the pilgrims (modern and pilgrims of old), miracles and the folklore. I took a course at Ryerson University in creative writing before I wrote my first book. My process was to sit down and write 1000 words a day for 2 months to complete a first draft manuscript of at least 50k words. I was disciplined about keeping to my goal and I met it.
CW: How long did it take you to find a publisher?
SK: I went to Toronto’s Word on the Street and found three publishers who were interested in my idea. I was asked for a writing sample by one of the publishers but I hadn’t written anything. Fortunately, I had a storytelling CD called Stone by Stone I recorded. I transcribed those stories. Then I picked the longest story and gave it a chapter number and title. I sent it as my writing sample along with a strong marketing plan. White Knight Books agreed to publish My Camino the following year. The whole process took about six months because I was insistent on having the book published quickly and I delivered what was requested by the publisher on time.
CW: What surprised you the most about the writing process?
SK: If I surrendered to writing the truth then I was guided in the process. When I tried to control the process, I had more struggles. Early on, I decided to surrender to the creative process and I was completely surprised that I never experienced writer’s block.
CW: What was your biggest challenge you experienced through this book?
SK: Editing the book was a big challenge and an inspiration. Initially, I wasn’t impressed with the way the publisher edited the book because I felt as though my voice was being changed. He agreed to let me look for another editor. I found Bruce Pirrie. He hadn’t edited a book before, but he was a professional screen/stage/television writer who worked on The Red Green Show. He had also directed several Second City comedy shows. I took a chance on him and it proved to be the right decision. Bruce would give me notes, I’d make the revisions and then he would read it to me out loud.
When I asked him why he wanted to do that he said, “How do you know what it will sound like?” The inspiring part of this story is that I believe as a result of reading the book out loud, it is more visual. This was important when we pitched a screenplay adaptation to Pierre Even, (C.R.A.Z.Y.) a producer in Montreal. The book is now in development as a feature film. Bruce and I co-wrote the screenplay. In five years I went from being an Account Executive in the telecom industry to writing two books, a stage play, a screenplay and recording a storytelling CD.
CW: What was the hardest part of the publishing process for you and what did you most enjoy?
SK: The hardest part was getting the bookstores to keep copies of the books on the shelves. The big box stores want to sell volumes of books and being a first-time author, I didn’t have a well known name.
The part I most enjoyed was doing the book signings and readings. Often authors loathe doing this but I love it. In the first year, I did 54 author events. I gave free stones to people walking by and this always stirred up interesting conversations. When people find out I walked 780 kilometers across the north of Spain alone in the winter they’re intrigued. It took me over two years to become a Canadian bestseller but I never gave up. I believe my life purpose is to tell stories to inspire people on their life journeys. At book events I get to live my life purpose. It doesn’t get better than that!
CW: Any advice would you give unpublished writers?
SK: If people ask you to write your story, do it. Set a goal and write every day until it’s done. NaNoWriMo is a great event to help develop discipline. Don’t worry about getting a publisher or how you are going to sell books. Just get the story down on paper.
CW: Have changes in the book industry altered how you market your work?
SK: It’s easier to market now. I can blog, Facebook, tweet and send out my newsletter with updates. When I wrote a second book about the Camino called Confessions of a Pilgrim, I decided to use a self-publishing house because it gave me everything I needed to get a book on the market quickly and efficiently.
CW: What’s your next project?
SK: I’m narrating an audiobook version of My Camino this month. This allows me to use my “voice” to share stories, something I’ve wanted to do since the book was published. In January, I’ll be offering a download version of the book on my website www.suekenney.ca initially for FREE co-incident with the launch of my new website. The CD audio book version will be launched on International Woman’s Day on March 8, 2011. I’ve penned the first draft of a novel about a woman who travels to India in search of pure love. I believe there is a correlation to walking and creativity so I walk every day.
CW: Thanks for doing this, Sue.For more on Sue Kenney, go here:
Facebook: My Camino