Interview with Carol Cassell, author of “WHY KNOCKED UP?”

How important is research to you when writing a book?

It is the life’s breath for my books. Without research evidence to substantiate my points of view, I would be writing fiction. Still it is a challenge to know what research will provide the most accessible and essential facts about the topic I’m writing about. With Goggle and Chrome Scholar and more, there is a lot of information out on the Net. But there is a difference in what is highly regarded research and ‘information’ that is border-line in trustworthiness. I have to choose what research to rely on very carefully. Going to the scientific material (a peer reviewed journal, an interview with an accredited scientist)– rather than solely trusting popular media such as the news or articles in popular magazine– is a more sure-footed approach.

What inspires you to write?

When I feel in my gut that something is amiss in our society—something that casts a long dark shadows over the lives of many people. As researcher/writer I feel it is important to expose the issue in the hope that once informed, people will experience a connect and want to get involved in changing things for the better. For example, my goal in writing my last book, Why Knocked Up? was to call attention to the potential tragic consequences of unwanted pregnancy—fragile families adrift economically and sadly, too often neglected kids or worse, abused kids.

How often do you write?

Almost every day but never on Sunday. I get a bit rusty if I leave a piece of writing unattended for too long. Though sometimes letting an essay or a chapter “age” a bit has helped me see my written words with a fresher eye. Thus, it depends.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

I’ve learned that waiting for the muse to tap me on the shoulder in order to write is a mistake. I find that if I take a leap into the deep end of a writing project, the muse comes (eventually) and whispers encouragement in my ear. It is helpful that I have a wrinkled cough drop wrapper taped over my computer which proclaims: “You can do it!” And that little wrinkled up wrapper is my muse. I also have for some tough love inspiration: a cartoon of a guy holding up a sign that says “WRITE! Put the words on the page and get on with it.”

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I make detailed outlines for the structure and content of the whole book and for each chapter to guide me as I move along. I also do a graphic-styled outlines with short word illustrations to remind me of where I am in the maze of producing the book. I wander off-course much too easily if I don’t have a good map.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

The toning down of academic jargon. I tend to fall into the abyss of dense scientific explanations of an issue. Now I work harder to envision the narrative of my book as a story told by a journalist rather than as a class lecture!

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I have learned the hard, hard way: if you have don’t have a paid editor you must pay someone to do the final editing and proofreading. I tried to cut corners on a book and it was a nightmare of typos etc. that were expensive to get corrected after the first print run. I think it is difficult for most writers to troll for errors. I revise and rewrite multiple times which weakens my ability to sift the chaff from the wheat as I have too much chaff. Not to mention how hard it is for any author to catch those Spell Guard “corrections” i.e. lice, mice, there, their. Grrrr.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Yes, I have. My last book was left to simmer for eight years before I went back to the unfinished draft. Obviously I had to ditch most everything I had written to make the book’s information current. The reason the draft was put out to pasture was that I just couldn’t find the way to tell the story of unintended pregnancy with the right tone and style. Thus, I decided to write something else which I did. This ended up as Put Passion First (McGraw–Hill, 2008). But I never gave up on the unfinished book as I felt it was an important story to be told. Finally, I felt I was able to hit the right notes and finished the book in a year.

If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?

It would be a book called Tender Bargaining (Lowell House, 1993). Why? Because I didn’t write the book on how women were still unequal partners in a relationship I really wanted to write. That is, how the glass ceiling was being shattered in the work place, but at home, not so much. (Note: even today, the situation has changed very little for most women.) The book did address the issue, but in watered down self-helpish way. Alas, I was seduced by a good advance and an enthused editor who took me on a detour from the book’s proposal and constantly pushed me to do a more self-help style book. I regret I didn’t resist more. I have learned that if you don’t write the book you really believe in, you will not like the result.

Have you ever designed your own book cover?

I did the core design for Why Knocked Up? and then the book production folks did the final design—changing fonts and how the sub-title was positioned on the cover. I liked their final design better than mine.

Do you believe a book cover plays an important role in the selling process?

Absolutely! The cover is what makes people want to open a book and buy it. It has to be a compelling cover. Though the folk wisdom says “you can’t tell a book by its cover”—the fact is that you won’t sell a book without an enticing cover design and title.

Do you attend literary lunches or events?

When possible, sure. For example, in March of 2016 I had a grand time at the Tucson Book Festival. I plan to go to more of these book fairs next year. Great way to meet book readers and other authors. Plus, you get free sodas and potato chips.

How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?

I know how I have felt! While I have had the good fortune of a hundred or more people showing up for a book signing, I also had a book signing where not a single person came up to my author’s table (piled high with my great book!) to say hello or to look over the book. It was dreadful. Actually, I think it is very difficult for unknown or mostly unknown author to have successful book signings and sales. In my hometown I have had nice turnouts for signings and readings because I sent out email and snail mail invites to everyone I knew. Most authors nowadays have to be their own press agents when it comes to book signings.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

I do. And I write a thank you note for both good and not so good reviews. I also write to anyone commenting to clear up a problem brought to my attention or just to convey my appreciation ion for their interest.

Does a bad review affect your writing?

It does to some extent. I do my best to see it as a learning opportunity. Could I have presented the material in a different way, for instance? I don’t see a bad review as the ultimate word on my work. Rather, I see negative critical reviews as a wakeup call that I can do better.

Do you read any of your own work?

After the books arrive in the box from the publishers, I take one out, pour a fresh cup of coffee, shut my office door and just read. I slap my hand if I reach for a highlighter or a pen to make corrections. I do my best to be a reader even though every error I find jumps off the page. I am my worst critic. But every now and then I’ll read a passage/a turn of a phrase and say to my astonished self—pretty good writing.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

As I’ve previously noted: write the book you want to write. Of course, editors can be critical to the development of your book. But it is YOUR book. Follow Frank Sinatra’s advice –to paraphrase—Do It your Way!