How does it feel to be the winner of America's Next Author?
Being the winner of America’s Next Author 2012 is an unbelievable combination of joy, relief and amazement. At times, I felt the ordeal of winning readers’ votes and comments would never end, but there were other times during the contest when I was connecting with people and their own goals, needs and desires and I started to develop stronger ideas about community and creativity.
What do you plan to do with your prize money?
2012 has been a rough year for a lot of people and that has included us. My family has been low on funds and fun for a long time. So, most of the prize money will go toward paying off some of my biggest financial worries. Last night my husband convinced me that we need a proper celebration and the kids have been asking for a trip to the mountains. I guess it isn’t especially far away or just too expensive now.
Did you learn anything during the contest that will help you improve your writing in the future?
Every author learns that just because we write stories does not mean readers have a responsibility to read them We have to give them reasons that are clear, compelling and inviting. That means we cannot waste a single word. Using Twitter’s 140-character limit, for example, demands we learn to be precise while getting some beauty of language across.
How does America's Next Author compare to other writing contests you've entered?
There are lots of writing contests that integrate some form of social networking and audience building now. America’s Next Author was different because it lasted so much longer. It’s easy enough to motivate family and friends to vote over the course of a week. Finding new audiences to support your work through months? Well, that was just punishing.
Your bio states that you're a Canadian writer living in Germany. How did you end up in Germany?
My husband and I left Canada for Germany at the end of 2001. It was supposed to be an expat-adventure to work and see the world for a few years. Now, it’s been eleven years and we’re still here with our German-born children due to circumstances. Germany is not a relaxing country to live in, even if you are an ethnic German who speaks the language fluently. I deal with the stress of being a stranger in a strange by creating stories about societies, communities and ways of life I understand better.
Is the character of Grandfather Cheng based on anyone you know?
Grandfather Cheng is completely imaginary, but I created him from a few different experiences. I’m from Toronto where about 25% of the population is from an East Asian background and I lived in one of the city’s four Chinatowns during a very happy time of my life, so I feel very comfortable in predominantly Chinese areas.
When I was in university, I tutored the children from several families whose the parents and grandparents had moved from Taiwan to Canada. Canadians are generally good readers and love to engage in conversation about cultural and world topics almost as much as we enjoy talking about the weather, but we are pretty laid back about education. The pressure and expectations my students experienced was both something I respected and worried about in equal measure. I tried to make learning as much fun for the kids as I could and include as much content as the parents expected.
One of the families was called Cheng and their maternal grandmother lived with them. While I was in their home, Grandmother Cheng fed me and kept me supplied with tea. Her story was interesting because she spoke one Chinese dialect that only her daughter could speak. The kids and father spoke another better-known Chinese language and the mother of the house used that language with her own family.
One day, acting on some kind of cultural instinct I’d picked up, I turned and bowed to her to say good-bye and she nodded to show her approval of me. It was one second of absolute connection with another person whom I did not share a language with. Since then, I have learned a few phrases of Cantonese and Mandarin, but just enough to show respect and thanks. I’ve always wanted to learn more, but I’ve been preoccupied with learning German.
How surprised were you when you were chosen as a wildcard?
I was surprised and delighted to learn I’d been chosen as a wildcard in the finals. Wildcards are really what separates America’s Next Author from other social networking contests. There is still some literary street-cred involved, it isn’t only about who has (or can make) the most friends. That said, I think I only made the Wildcard cut because I managed to stay in the top 20 every week I was in the competition. There were a lot of authors who wrote great stories for the competition and then did not share them with even their immediate circles. I described quite a few stories as “neglected” in some of my reviews when I read other entries. I exchanged tweets with one of those fantastic authors, who is a professional writer, about why she did that and she told me she was nervous about trying something new until she’d at least gotten some more feedback from strangers.
At one point during the contest you considered quitting. What kept you going?
I almost quit the contest at the end of every week! I’ve learned a lot about Internet marketing over the years and what I have learned is this: the idea of one to many marketing online is a myth. There is no mass of readers waiting for your book, your blog, your Facebook page. You have to connect with each individual and care as much about them and what they need from a writer as you care about your product. It’s all about personal messages.
Luckily, I discovered Goodreads about half-way through the contest. I also got braver when I was in real life face-to-face situations. The only place I see people reading eBooks is on the train. When I saw someone reading an eBook in English or German, I started asking them about where they find books, about their readers, how they discover new books and what they like to read. After they got over the initial shock of talking to a stranger with a funny accent, I had some great conversations about the cultures of reading. And if and when the moment was right, I’d tell them about my own work.
Where can all of your new fans follow you online?
Well, I’m pretty approachable. My Twitter ID is @baggyk. My website is http://www.katebaggott.com and my Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/groups/196122030835/
I’m still working on my Goodreads author page, but mostly you’ll find me in the forums talking about what I like to read.
Do you have any new books or stories scheduled to be published soon?
I’m working on two collections of inter-related stories right now. One is the Finnegan series of which Finnegan and Grandfather Cheng is one and the other is called Dry Stories about supporting friends through addiction recovery. Stories from both are starting to appear online and in literary magazines.
If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be?
If I could be any character in fiction, I would be Pippi Longstocking. I love her madly.