Memoir, community, and zine tours: An interview with Katie Haegele

The happiest photo ever taken of katie haegeleLong ago, Joe handed me a book and said “you’ll like this.” It was Katie Haegele’s White Elephants: Yard Sales, Relationships, and Finding What Was Missing. I did like it; I still haven’t really gotten over how much. I emailed Katie to ask some questions about her writing and her experiences promoting it. True to form, she replied with her trademark combination of thoughtfulness and profanity. 

You have two books out with Microcosm: White Elephants and Slip of the Tongue, but you’ve also written a tremendous amount as a journalist, writer, and zinester. Can you give us a sense of what sort of writing work you’ve put out there and what sort of themes tie together the many different topics you’ve tackled? 

Thanks for asking! If it looks like a tremendous amount of writing at this point, that’s only because I’ll be a million years old on my next birthday. But let’s see. When I was in high school and college, I longed to grow up to become a newspaper writer. I thought that seemed really glamorous. I still do, actually, and it is, sort of. In the office of a good paper or magazine, the energy is really alive and the people are excited about what they’re doing. I started pursuing that kind of work after I graduated, and I have always considered myself a non-fiction writer of some kind, never a writer of fiction. I grew to love interviewing artists about their work and writing book reviews, and these have continued to be a source of work and income for me. But at some point in my 20s I found that I had more I needed to express than I was able to satisfy with this kind of work alone. So I started making zines of what I called my “personal” writing, and have been devoted to that as a mode of expression for years. Zines are still an important component of my writing life, the place where my mind goes when I need to write something too unusual to belong to a more traditional category (like poem, essay, article, whatever). 

I guess now that I’ve been doing memoir-style writing for several years, important themes that I’ve returned to are ideas about language, memory, nostalgia, and—at the risk of sounding really pompous—material culture. I like looking at different facets of our culture, like the way we speak and the way we dress, and mining them for a deeper meaning. I never get tired of thinking about how objects, like personal belongings that we buy, inherit, or receive as gifts, can be a way to look at so much else in life, including larger ideas like gender expression, family, and home, as well as loss and grief.

You’ve gone on several book and zine tours. How did you organize those? Were they straight-up readings? How did they go?

I’ve done a whole lot of readings at this point, but I haven’t planned too many tours. I’d like to do more. Two years ago my husband (then boyfriend) Joe and I planned a road trip, just for fun, to go see David Bazan play a show in Illinois. Then I had the idea, Hey, why don’t we book some reading dates for the cities and towns we’ll pass through, and call this a tour! (Joe is a writer and zine maker too.) So we did some research online and asked folks we know for help, and booked readings at a cafe, a record store, a bookstore, etc. In Bloomington, Indiana we read at a beautiful little bookstore called Boxcar Books; this was during the summer, and we did the reading on the porch.   

This tour was one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done, and it went a long way in helping me to get over some of my terror of public speaking. We kept showing up to these different places all sweaty and exhausted and trying to find parking, so I didn’t have the luxury of spending the whole day dreading the reading. I had to find some bathroom and splash a little water on my face, then hop up and do the show. I got better at going with the flow and now have a much more relaxed and confident attitude about performing. When we find enough time and money, Joe and I would like to go to California and do a mini-tour of readings there. 

What are the best ways you’ve found to promote your books and other work? Any tips for first-time authors?

I don’t know how good I am at promoting myself, because I’m not sure how to evaluate the amount of attention any of my writing has gotten and where that attention came from. I do think that publishing my work in mainstream publications has led more people to my zines and books than would otherwise have found them, so to someone who doesn’t already write for magazines or websites, I would recommend doing some of that to coincide with the publication of your book. You can also offer an excerpt or chapter of your book to be published in a magazine or journal, with the permission of your publisher. 

Get on Goodreads, too! I was already using that site, to keep a log of books I’m reading and want to read, when I found out about their Authors program, which is free and really nice. I set up a separate Author account and did a giveaway for my new book when it came out a few months ago. Several hundred people signed up to win a copy, which I think represents mostly people who didn’t already know who I am because folks shop that website to find new things to read. The people who win know they’re not obligated to review the book positively, or at all, but it seems that a lot of them participate in this program with the idea to write about any book they win, and a bunch of folks reviewed mine. Reviews of your book, whether they’re glowing or not, are very important to getting it sold and read. Goodreads has set the whole thing up really well, too; when I log on to use my normal account, I can see a thumbnail of my book along with some information about it, but not the number of stars it’s gotten from reviewers on the site. That way I don’t even feel tempted to peek. I don’t read any reviews my books receive, for what that’s worth, but when one is published (like in a magazine or something) I’ll use my blog to thank the writer for doing it and link to it for others to read. 

Besides all that, I think doing things like selling my zines on Etsy, making my modest little DIY website several years ago, and doing blog projects that are not directly related to my writing but are a creative outlet in other ways (like Portrait of a Closet, which I do with my friend Nadine), has given me a web presence that makes me easy to find. As a reader, I’m disappointed to find some forgotten blog that hasn’t been updated for 4 years when I go looking for a writer whose work I’m interested in. I like getting to know writers a bit through their internet writing—blog, twitter, Thought Catalog, whatever. It’s a good way to get writing practice (and publishing experience, of a kind) and to build a readership. That said, if you’d rather unplug all this shit and keep your head calm and just concentrate on your writing, you have my full support on that too. 

What are you working on next?

I am scheduled to do an illustrated book with you guys next year, which I am very excited about! At home here I’m a member of a print collective called the Soapbox, and I participate in things with them. This month they’ll bring member work to the second annual Philadelphia Art Book Fair, which I didn’t know about last year but looks exciting. I’ve also challenged myself to contribute to at least one comp zine, art show, or other group project every month. It makes me feel so good to send my zines to a library for donation, or contribute a piece of writing to a themed zine—that way, I’m not sitting here by myself hoping that someone will care about my writing. I’m part of a community, and we do things together to share our work with the world. 

Anything else I should have asked or that you want to say?

Just the same thing I always say, like a broken record: If you’ve ever had anything you wanted to write, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, make a zine! Participating in the culture of zines has brought so many good things into my life, including several dear friends, a lot of really beautiful and interesting pen-pals, my beautiful and interesting husband, even unexpected but very nice “professional” opportunities, such as interviews with major publications. Making zines is the thing that, when all is said and done, helped me to feel like the artist I always knew I was.

This is one in a series of Microcosm author interviews. The last one was with Ben White of the Snake Pit books, and the next one is with Lisa Wilde of Yo, Miss. You could also think of this as part of the Self-Promotion for Introverts series.