Meet Susan Troccolo
Susan Troccolo loves telling stories, especially humor and gardening essays for her blog: Life. Change. Compost. She writes for Culinate, Open to Hope, and Lighthearted Travel, and her essays have appeared in Voicecatcher and Northwest Women's Journal. Susan lives with her husband, Patrick, and Fly, a love bully of a Border Collie, in Portland, Oregon. Visit her website.
Read Susan J. Tweit's review of The Beet Goes On for StoryCircleBookReviews.org.
Watch this 5-minute interview/reading with Susan Troccolo.
Posted on 11/02/2015
Let's start with the title of your mini-book, The Beet Goes On: Essays on Friendship and Breaking New Ground. Why did you pick that particular title?
It can be challenging to title an essay collection, as you know. In this case, the essays covered a wide range of subjects, as essays tend to do, so I used the subtitle to give the reader that sense. At the same time, as the book is slim, often lighthearted, and meant to introduce readers to my work, I wanted the title to be something fun. (I couldn't have a pretentious title for such a small book!) I chose the name of the first essay in the collection to signal that humor to the reader. (As an aside, you can imagine the fun I had searching for the perfect beet for the cover.)
In the introduction to The Beet Goes On, you tell the East African tribal legend about the unique song belonging to each human being in this tribe: a song the woman goes into the forest to learn before she even conceives the child, that follows that child through her or his whole life, is sung one last time at their death, and then never heard again. "The deepest appeal this idea holds for me is that of being known, being seen, and being acknowledged by the people who care about me." Is that the reason you write, and in particular, why you wrote Beet?
Yes. I write to express the deepest part of myself and in that quest, I try to reach that in my reader. It becomes a pact we have with each other because I always hold the reader in the deepest regard. Sometimes I use humor to get to those places. I've been told my writing resembles Anne Lamott's style, which of course is a huge compliment. For me, the lightness that life holds and the poignancy and loss that is a counterbalance to that, are always in play: the warp and weft of life. All I am is a storyteller. I love to tell a good story, but because these are personal, they are more correctly known by the term of personal essays.
Besides the short Introduction, The Beet Goes On contains just four essays, the title essay, "Katie and the Blue Buddha," "Idle and Blessed," and "Getting to No." Why did you choose these particular pieces, and how hard was it to do the selecting?
It was a little bit hard, yes. In essence, there are two that are humor pieces and two that are poignant, about friendship, loss, cancer and illness. I've also been told by a couple of readers that the book is meant to be read more than once because there is a lot to think about in just those four essays. I love that. As an essay writer, I have a challenge finding my readership because I don't easily fit into one category. I reject being a "cancer" writer. I'm not just a humorist. What the heck am I? Those four essays give the reader a good indication of what they can expect from me.
The Beet is a slim volume—you call it a "mini-book"—at 64 pages. Why publish such a small volume and not a longer collection of essays? And why publish it yourself (both as an eBook and in a printed version)?
I've actually not used the term mini-book lately, as the book has begun to gather some momentum in the market. It is beginning to shape itself as a "gift book." This was in part due to the woman I hired to help me: Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd. Judith convinced me that a book such as mine should be made into a 5" by 7" size and presented as a perfect gift for a friend. I liked that idea, especially given the timing of my launch. I find it interesting how the evolution of a book can take place. Originally, I was only going to do an eBook. But I got many requests for a real paperback, even from younger readers who I thought only read on electronic readers. No...everybody wanted a physical book. It surprised me.
Tell us about the process of publishing The Beet Goes On. You've produced a professional book and eBook, one that's a model for how professional self-publishing can be but isn't always.
Yes, there is a lot of discussion around this, isn't there? And I can see why. I have had experiences with both indie publishing and traditional publishing, although my experience with a traditional publisher (who shall remain unnamed) was not a positive one. I spent an entire year of my life trying to write to fit into a very specific category for the marketing department. Marketing determined that I was a "humor writer" and that was pretty much all they wanted from me. Maybe if I were a bigger name or had fully established my voice, this wouldn't have happened, but in my case, the agent sold me that way and I agonized over pieces that weren't "me." It was a bad time because I felt I had no control over the process.
With traditional publishing, there are benefits in having a team who can help you find your market, work with you on your writing and editing, find your "comps," and basically everything that comes with a publisher. That said, I understand that in these days, even mid-range writers have to come to a publisher with a mailing list, a brand, and a blog. Basically they have to do much of the work a traditional publisher USED to do.
The reason indies have gotten a bad name is that a lot of writers don't do the essential work that absolutely must be done to produce a high-quality book. I can tell you that it isn't easy, but what I personally love is that you maintain control over your own book. I chose my editor, I chose my proofreader and copywriter, I picked a book designer and worked with him on the cover design and interior design down to the font.
And of course, you pay for these things: you basically become a business person in the book business. But that is exactly what I love, although I can't say there aren't really hard days. The good news is there are highly talented people out there to help, so you can decide how much you want to do yourself and how much you want to hire out.
What have you learned from writing and publishing The Beet Goes On?
Much of what I learned is in the previous question. I will know what I want to do with my larger collection of essays. I will be more professional doing my launch. Hopefully, I will make fewer mistakes! For example, I will know where NOT to spend my money on marketing. Some things just don't work. I'd say that I have a little bit better handle on social media, not perfect by any means, but I won't let it chew up so much of my writing time.
What surprised you most about working on this mini-book?
How much talent is out there to help a writer produce a topnotch book. There is no excuse for not getting it done right. But you have to do your homework.
What's next for your work?
I know it probably sounds weird, but I have big questions in red marker on my white board: Why do I want to write this book? What do I want to say? Unless I am very clear on this, I can't write the best book that I am capable of. I also need to wrangle a whole lot of essays into a viable whole, but honestly, I think that will come. The writing will tell me what the book wants to become. The writing is everything.
Did you grow more beets this year? What is your favorite garden produce? Do you have a favorite garden tip or recipe to share with Story Circle Book Reviews readers?
Hell no. I've given up on beets! They are readily available at our beautiful Farmer's markets. :) Marketing tip? Yes...just as with the writing, in the garden it's all about the soil. Feed your soil, or as I like to say: DO UNTO YOUR DIRT. Make great compost. The beauty of the garden is that nothing is wasted. I believe that life is the same way.