Saturday, March 29, 2008

Louisiana Saturday Night with Curt Iles

I've never been a proponent of self-publishing, but I have to say Curt Iles makes me view it in a new way and with more respect. Curt says, "Self-publishing isn't for losers, it's for influence." And for some reason that makes sense to me.

I've heard the name Curt Iles for several years, many of my friends sing his praises, but I've never had the pleasure or honor of meeting him or hearing him speak until recently. The man is the epitome of truth and soul. I could close my eyes and listen to his voice all day long. So when I read stories from The Mockingbird's Song, or Hearts Across the Water, I hear Curt's voice telling me: This is true. This is important. This is my heart.

And I believe him. I want you to meet my new friend, Curt Iles. Here he is sitting in his office. Doesn't this picture make you yearn for the simple life? There's something to be said for being alone with God surrounded by His creation. And you can spot it in Curt's books.

What made you choose to self-publish when you know few editors and agents (even other authors) have respect for the self-pubbed author.
I had to publish—or die. I felt compelled to get my first book, Stories from the Creekbank, out. It was a matter of the heart and I sought out good advice seeking a good self-publishing company.

As with all authors, I seek to be with a royalty/traditional publisher in the future. However, I’ve made thousands of new friends and developed a loyal readership through self-publishing six books. Self-publishing has allowed me to devote full time to writing and speaking and I live each day with gratitude for that.

When I look over my mailing list of readers (over 2300) and realize how many friends I’ve made through writing, I’m glad I’ve chosen self-publishing as a means of expression at this time. If I’d sat back (something I’m not good at) and waited, I’d be missing a lot.

How long have you been writing and what is your writing process?
I’ve been a journal keeper since high school. I wrote short stories for decades before I ever even considered publishing them. It seemed to evolve and grow, much to my surprise.

How does your Louisiana heritage influence your writing?
The adage that we write what we know is so true. Branches of my family settled in SW Louisiana in the mid-19th century. I grew up on land settled by them and heard their stories, as passed down by my ancestors.

Additionally, I’ve lived in this rural setting all of my life. As one of my characters said, “We don’t own this land. I believe it owns us.”

What is your background?
I’ve had a varied and rewarding career. I taught high school (science and coaching) before entering school administration. I then served as an assistant principal/principal at my home school, East Beauregard High School. (Last week I helped judge the state Liar’s Contest held by the La. Storyteller’s Association. I believe my years as a principal qualified me for this. I daily heard some of the finest lies you can imagine.)

In 1992, I left education to pursue the life-long dream of leading Dry Creek Baptist Camp, also in my hometown. This year-round church camp has been a focal part of my life and I still consider my fourteen years there as manager as some of the best of my life.

In 2006 after the release of my fourth book, my wife and I decided it was time to jump off the cliff and write full time. So here I am.

How do you inspire yourself or what are your sources of creativity?
I have a vivid imagination and a deep curiosity—both of which sometimes get me in trouble. I’m inspired and motivated by music, the wood/nature, the people around me. I read a great deal and find inspiration through good writing.

Note from Jess: See some of Curt's favorite quotes.
In the near future, I hope to make available two radio interviews Curt had. Tell us about them:

I laughingly say I am the only person in America to have interviewed with both AFR and NPR in one month. In the NPR interview, we talked a great deal about the influence of music in writing. I walk early each morning with my iPod and get in the mood for what I plan to write that day.

What are the biggest surprises you've encountered as a writer?
-That writing is just hard work, full of rejection, and extremely discouraging at times. Having perseverance and being irrepressible are probably just as important as being a skilled writer.
-How many friendships and opportunities one gathers from being a published writer. It is extremely fulfilling!

What's the best advice you were given about writing?
-Write what you know.
-Use “said” in dialogue instead of trying to be cute.
-Develop your own voice and strengthen it.
-Always be in a learning mode. No one knows it all.

What is your proudest writer moment?
I will pick a recent one. I send many books to the Middle East to both our soldiers and workers. I received an e-mail from a young man. He’d been inspired by a simple story “Best Seat in The House” from my third book. He related how this story made a difference in how he viewed the sunset that evening in Iraq. The idea that something I wrote could influence and encourage a young soldier in a battle zone made it all worth it.

What is your favorite self-marketing idea and is marketing a challenge for you or are you a natural? In addition to loving to write, I also am motivated by the challenge of marketing. Going to an appearance or signing in a strange environment motivates me to win over people by simply being friendly and nice. When I leave an event, I am exhausted. I’ve tried to pour myself out, make friends, and be real.

Here are a few marketing tips I’ve learned:
-Get the name/address of every reader and put them on your database.
-Develop a speaking platform
-Take responsibility for your own marketing and promotion.
-Get bookmarks and business cards and hand them out as you tell about your book. I even carry The Wayfaring Stranger in my Wal Mart shopping cart to show people. I’ve sold many books that way. If you don’t believe in your book, who will?

What have you learned about yourself in this writing process? That the greatest obstacle to writing is not writer’s block, but writer’s doubt. Every author deals with it and the nagging feeling of “Is anyone but my mother going to like this?” Overcoming it and moving past it is a daily challenge.

What kind of support staff do you have? And who helps prop you up when you're in need of some props? Any author, especially a self-published one, needs to assemble a quality team around them. I’ve developed a team of teens who are tech-friendly and keep my internet things moving. I’ve also been blessed with a group who serve as editors/proofreaders. The best ones are those whom I do not know very well. (I have a paid proofreader in Dallas that is hard on me and that is what I need.) I also have a group of fellow writers/retired English teachers/avid historical fiction readers who act as a filter in my early drafts.

I have a young graphic artist who helps (for pay) on my covers and promotional materials. I believe he is worth his weight in gold.

I also am blessed with an emotional support team, beginning with my wife. It also includes my sons, their wives, and my church family. I meet each Tuesday morning with two lifelong friends for Bible study and prayer. They help me maintain balance and perspective.

What was the last book you read and why did you read it?I love to read and split my reading between enjoyment and learning.
Last week, on a long car trip, I listened to E.L. Doctorow’s The March. It is a historical fiction novel of Sherman’s March to the Sea. I wanted to hear the dialogue and sense the plotting and development of characters.

I am slowly digesting Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel. It is an excellent treatise on writing fiction. I recommend it highly.

In addition, I am reading two nature-oriented books. One is on birds (a frequent subject in my novels) and the other is on vegetable gardening. The country part of me has to get my hands in the dirt and great ideas grow when I do. (I am writing a short article right now comparing putting in a garden to developing a novel.)

What's your best advice for writers who are considering self-publishing?
-Don’t do it unless you must do it.
-Research your options and do your homework.
-Develop a team around you.
-Be willing and ready to promote and work.

What are your goals for your future as a writer?
Very simply: To connect with the hearts of readers and “write for a reason.” Without apology, I seek to be an inspirational writer. I believe we can be spiritual without being preachy in our writing.

Additionally, I want to continue development as a writer. I have a hunger to learn more and improve. I want to “be a sponge.”

At the present time, I plan on continuing writing fiction. I have the seeds of about four novels burning a hole in my heart.

What are you working on now and how can we purchase your books?
I am currently 20,000 (expected length 90,000-110,000) words into my next novel, A Good Place To Be. An agent is in the process of sharing my proposal with publishers. I prefer to publish with a traditional publisher, but we’ll just wait and see.

Its theme is “Life is full of storms, but families come out of the storms stronger.” It is the story of a Louisiana family and the difficulties of life as the Civil War approaches SW Louisiana. I have really enjoyed writing and researching it.
All six of my books, including audio books, are available at or by contacting me at or calling toll-free 1 866 520 1947.

Thanks Jess for the opportunity.
The Wayfaring Stranger

I have to say the pleasure is all mine. Please go to Curt's website and take a look. Interesting blog too. He has a picture of himself with President Bush and some wonderful family tales. And if you ever need a speaker or storyteller, drop Curt a note.


Sandra Robbins said...

Great interview, Curt. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I hope your agent is successful in selling your latest work.

Sandra Robbins

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great interview Curt...I am proud and honored to have you as a friend, fellow writer and BWG member.

God BLESS you with continued success!

Erica Vetsch said...

Wow, what Curt said about Writer's Doubt resonated with me! That is sooooo true.

Rodney Hennigan said...

Thank you for being such an inspiration Curt.