1. Home Front is semi-autobiographical. What made you decide to tell your own story?
Well, what makes it semi-autobiographical is that I couldn't have written it if I hadn't experienced a wait through a deployment. The events (minus the war timeline) and the characters are all fictional.
Tim O'Brien writes in The Things They Carried, "Story truth is sometimes truer than happening truth." My personal story was not exceptional enough to be a novel; I didn't want to write about me. I wanted to write about the larger story, so I relied on fiction to convey the emotional truth of that larger story.
What made me want to write it, though, was that there were a number of books - fiction and nonfiction both - delving into the soldier experience, but there was little (if anything) that made readers feel with equal intimacy and rawness the complex emotions plaguing those who don't know from one day to the next whether the person they love most will be killed that day.
2. Like Mia, you were a cab driver for a time. The down sides to that seem pretty obvious. Where there any things about the job you liked?
I absolutely love driving. I used to try to snag my sister's Big Wheel before my legs were long enough to reach the pedals. When I was a little older, I would take advantage of any opportunity to steer my dad's car. I even wanted to grow up to be a truck driver or a school bus driver. So, the driving part of cab driving was a lot of fun. And the experience itself is one I'm glad I had. Cab driving was something I'd always wondered about, and now I don't wonder, anymore.
3. Was there a real Donny?
There are real Donnys everywhere. Anyone who has ever met a troubled Vietnam veteran knows Donny Donaldson. I did know a man over a decade ago who said he was a Vietnam vet, and who inspired the Donny Donaldson character, but the two are different people.
4. Since Home Front does deal with real events in your life, were you concerned about any of the people portrayed in it being upset with you? What has been their reaction?
5. Your writing style is very unique in this book. When you started writing was it a conscious decision to mix in the very short bits with the longer, more traditional sections?
6. Between reporting and writing short stories, you've had to develop the ability to tell a story in short form. What made you decide it was time for a novel? What was the biggest difference between writing short stories and writing a novel?
At some point, my short stories started feeling like they could be longer. Or, maybe it's that I was suddenly able to envision them continuing beyond the final page. After Ian (my boyfriend at the time, and my husband, now) returned from Iraq, and after enough time passed that the memory of his absence began to poke at me as a story needing to be written, I knew the year he was away was such a complex and powerful experience that it would take something the length of a novel to communicate it.
Novels are more difficult for me. I developed a big love for short stories very early on because they're so densely packed, so intense, and so intentional, that there's a constant challenge to whittle the whole thing down to, essentially, a climax. I never thought I would be able to write a novel because there's just so much FILLER. Words and words and words and words...the "what next" and "what now?" are my primary source of novel-writing frustration.
But when I remember each chapter is essentially a short story, it gets a little easier.
7. What made you decide to self-publish?
I wanted the book to be available to them so they would have a companion, and I wanted it to be there for those who talk about war like it's a story on TV. I want them to know the people whose lives are affected, and in what way they're affected. And I'm not talking about being left alone having to take care of a house - I'm talking about the way a regular day is affected when up to fifteen emotions clash in any number of combinations on a daily basis. I'm talking about what it means for there to be no such thing as a "regular" day.
When approached through a blog survey I created, spouses and significant others were quick to respond to my questions about what they go through when their loved one is deployed: sleep loss, anxiety, depression, and sometimes a wall between family and friends who can't understand what they're going through. Of course, all of the responses were anonymous. (I'm always sure to include significant others with spouses because love doesn't begin at marriage, and often if you're not married during a deployment there are certain privileges they're not entitled to.) The one question I didn't ask that I wish I would have is, "What thoughts and emotions do you have that make you feel guilty?" Because I know I had many of them (which I included in one way or another in Homefront) that would be difficult to talk about.
8. Can you tell us what inspired Backward Books and how you got it up and running? How do you draw authors to Backward Books?
Henry Baum (author of North of Sunset and The American Book of the Dead) and a man who chose to leave to pursue other ambitions were actually two of the first people behind Backword Books. They invited me in, and then came the rest. Henry and the other man had the idea to bring together a group of authors who would be a mutli-armed marketing force. Because independent publishers (or self-publishers - whatever your preference) don't have the benefit of a publisher name behind them and, as a result, their books aren't likely to show up on bookstore shelves across the country, the more people there are to create a buzz about the writing, the more likely readers are to hear about it.
As for drawing authors to Backword Books...those literary authors we've asked to join have said yes readily, for the most part. We look for someone who not only has a good book (we look at any published reviews, and then one of us reads the book), but who is also an active promoter of his or her own work. We want people who will write a blog now and then, who will help brainstorm marketing ideas,who will take part in group ideas (such as interviews, virtual book tours, appearing on radio shows) and who will share relevant links and news with their friends and acquaintances. Those who don't want to actively market end up losing interest in being a member.
9. Can you share what you're working on now?
10. Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Kristen is a former reporter for the Journal Inquirer newspaper, former Women’s eNews correspondent, former APSU (adjunct) English professor, former Clarksville, TN cab driver, editor of American Fiction, and the author of Homefront , the short story collection Carol’s Aquarium, and the short, little book How to (Not) Have Children
To learn more about Kristen, her writings, Backword books, and Kristen's work providing support for our troops, please visit these links:
Kristen's home page: http://www.kristentsetsi.com/.
Kristen's blog: http://kristentsetsi.wordpress.com/.
Backword Books: http://www.backwordbooks.com/.
Thanks so much, Kristen!