Interview With Author Mary-Lou Stephens
What type of books do you write? My first published book Sex, Drugs and Meditation is a meditation memoir. I have written a novel which I'm told crosses too many genres; fantasy, comedy, ecology, romance and history. The more the merrier I say but publishers seem not to agree.
What is your newest book about? Sex, Drugs and Meditation is the true story of how I changed my life, saved my job and found a husband all through meditation. Not just any meditation - a silent ten day meditation retreat that I refer to as 'meditation boot camp.'
I didn’t go to a ten day silent meditation retreat because I was happy. I went because my life needed to change. Sex, Drugs and Meditation is told within the framework of that ten day meditation retreat. During those ten days I confronted the demons of my past; drugs, alcohol, food and religion…. and the demons in my mind; paranoia, self-loathing, fear and rage. I relived my time spent in Twelve Step programs, my years at acting school, the joy and heartbreak of my former life as a musician and the journey that led me to work in radio.
For ten days and nights I battled with my memories, mistakes and fantasies. The long hours spent meditating resulted in excruciating physical pain. Facing the pain, accepting it and overcoming it enabled me to understand, on every level, the basic tenet of the meditation technique – everything changes.
When I left the meditation centre I knew I had changed. What surprised me was that within two weeks something so wonderful and completely unexpected showed up in my life that even I, the great doubter, had to believe again in life and in love.
What inspired you to write it? When I used to read self-help books I would find myself skipping over the theory, ignoring the practical exercises and going straight to the case studies. A few years after I did the ten day silent meditation it became apparent that my life had really changed as a result. I knew I loved reading real-life case studies of people who had changed their lives and wondered if anyone would like to read mine. Turns out they would.
What is the writing process like for you? I love writing, sometimes finding the time can be tricky. I work full-time in radio. When Sex, Drugs and Meditation came out I took ten weeks off to promote it and to start writing the sequel. I would love to be able to write full time but at the moment it's about making the most of the time I have. I'm a very slow writer. i like a lot of time to ponder and metaphorically chew the end of my pencil. It's hard to comprehend how slow I am at memoir - I know how the story goes for goodness sake! But I keep chipping away at it. The time disappears in writing and reverie. I don't have a specific place to write although I do love the couch when The Hubby is out.
What did you do before you became an author? I feel as though I’ve lived many lives already; as a bass player, an actor, a singer/songwriter, touring the country with bands. A friend of mine once asked me why all the good stuff happened to me, why I had such an interesting life while he was stuck in a small town in a small job. I told him it was because I said, “Yes.” Yes to adventures and opportunities and new experiences. I never had any money but I did whatever I wanted. I lived like a 17 year old boy with a driver’s licence and no responsibilities. When my last band broke up and I realised I was in fact a 36 year old woman, radio was there to embrace me.
After working in radio for a while I had enough money to go to the USA and visit the places where much of the music I loved was made. When I came back my friends asked to see the photos. I hardly had any. I’d only taken twelve on a disposable camera. A colleague at the ABC suggested I write about my travels instead. I haven’t stopped writing since.
How does it feel to be a published author? It was surreal at first. I felt as though I was breathing something other than air. I've been writing for many years and submitting my work to be met with varied success and a lot of silence. When I was finally signed I think I went into shock. The editing process was a revelation and then there's the cover choices and all the other bits and pieces. The publishing company put a lot of work into making this book the best book it can be and for that I'm very grateful. I see it on the shelves of bookstores where ever I go and it always gives me a jolt of surprise and delight. And I feel validated. All those years of work, I never knew whether I'd get published or not, but I wrote anyway. Getting a publishing deal was like getting a gold star at school. Good work. Well done.
Any advice for struggling writers? I’m going to assume that most aspiring writers are already reading voraciously and writing compulsively, those being the basic building blocks of a writer. So my advice is to get yourself some writing buddies. People who will become your allies and your cheer squad. Friends who will give you honest feedback when you’re feeling strong and heap praise upon your writing when you’re feeling vulnerable. A writing group who evolve together and whose bonds strengthen as the years go by. Writing can be lonely and people who don’t write often can’t understand why you won’t go out on Saturday because you have to write or why you spend so much time doing something that may never see the light of day. Your writing buddies will get it and they’ll get you. Don’t be lonely, there’s no need to feel misunderstood. A small writing group of like-minded souls to encourage and to challenge your writing is the balm to soothe and sweeten this writing life.
Where do you see book publishing heading? I was doing a book signing in a bookstore recently and the manager told me that sales of e-readers and e-books had levelled out and that people were still very much interested in buying books made out of paper. I was surprised. I'd felt grateful I was was signed when I was because I had assumed paper books would be disappearing soon and I'd slipped though with my book before that happened. Having said that my publisher has a digital only arm and I'd be very happy if my fiction found a home there. Writers are still scoring million dollar deals so that shows there is still plenty of money and more importantly plenty of optimism in the publishing world. The situation at the moment with publishing companies reminds me of the situation with the record companies in the late1990's and early 2000's. As CD sales fell they all began to implode and merge but today CDs are still being sold and in my radio job I am still being sent CDs. It's the same with books. Publishers are still sending me hard copies for the purposes of reviews and interviews. I very rarely get sent a digital copy. The publishing companies will survive and independent bookstores will thrive. I was watching You Got Mail the other night with The Hubby. In the film the big multi-store book chain puts the little book store out of business. Today we see the big book stores going under and the small independents surviving. Well, t in Australia at least. We love our independent book sellers here.
For more information, please see: http://maryloustephens.com.au/
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013
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