Welcome to The Writing Life blog and to the Tuesday Author Interview series. I will be showcasing authors well into May 2017, so please check back in.
This week, I’m very pleased to chat with wildlife photographer, memoirist, and author, S. J. Brown.
Prior to pursuing wildlife photography, S. J. Brown describes living an average life in New Jersey. She discovered her love of writing in high school, and her love of photography began on a whim with an inexpensive 35mm camera, a few rolls of film, and an appreciation for the natural world. For over 15 years, she has traveled extensively throughout the eastern United States in pursuit of wildlife encounters. Much to the dismay of her spotter, this often involves trekking through thick brush, muddy trails, and secluded locations, and on rocky seas. S. J. says the interaction with wildlife makes it all worth the effort.
S. J. Brown’s books include, Close ups & Close Encounters: A View From Behind The Lens and Adults Gone Wild Coloring Book, and for little ones, All The Birds I See, Clancy’s Catnap, and Wild Animals Coloring Book. I am a fan of this creative lady’s beautiful, sensitive photographs.
Welcome, S. J. Brown.
What is your book’s genre(s)?
Close Ups & Close Encounters: A View From Behind The Lens is a mix of nonfiction, memoir, and photography.
Please describe what Close Ups & Close Encounters is about.
The reader goes into the field with me to see what photographing wildlife is really like. There is more to photography than just clicking the shutter button.
That’s a unique approach and very true about photography. How did you come up with the title?
I played with several titles, which I sent to friends and family for their opinion. Most of them loved Close Ups & Close Encounters. They felt it accurately captured the feel of the book.
What inspired you to write this book?
A fellow author overheard my conversation about one of my photographs. He later said, “Girl, you have to write this shit down.” I went home that evening, put aside the project I was working on, and began Close Ups. Everyone has heard the saying every picture tells a story. Well, there is a story behind getting every wildlife image.
Within the pages of my book, I share the learning experiences in the field, my close calls, and my failures and successes.
I love that your book combines photography with memoir, which helps the reader to learn about and connect with you, the person behind the camera.
I’m still smiling about your friend’s comment. So true about the importance of getting it all down. What are your favorite parts of writing and photography?
I love sharing my love of wildlife and ultimately, sharing my images and experiences with readers. The time I spend with students and adults presenting and discussing my photographs hopefully inspires others to explore their creative side. Whether it is through photography, painting, sculpting, or sketching, I believe there is a little bit of artist in everyone that often just needs to be nurtured a bit to bring it to the surface.
I wholeheartedly agree with you. What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Punctuation, I really suck at punctuation. As the book evolved, many pages were put aside, which at first was hard. However, the book slowly took on another feel and showed things from a different perspective, which I liked better.
What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?
I Have MS. What’s Your Superpower. It is a very informative book for people with MS and for their loved ones. I am fortunate to not have MS, and now I have a better understanding of how the disease affects people.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Most of my favorite authors are people most people may not have heard of. They are authors I have met, hung out with, and consider friends. Sally Brinkman, Victor Banis, Kirk Judd, Lisa Combs, R. G. Redding, Tracy Ball, Eleanor Parker Sapia, Cheryl Grogg, Diana Pishner Walker, and M. Lynn Squires. Of course, there are many more, these are just the top 10 that came to mind. They are not only good authors; they are good people, as well.
Thank you kindly, SJ, for including me in your list. What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and as a photographer?
That list is long. Every time I read a book that captivates me, I want to write better to capture my audience.
My family has played a big part in encouraging me to continue both my writing and photography careers.
Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?
I write at my desk in my newly-completed office. I write mostly at night when the house is quiet and there are no distractions; however, I tend to get lots of ideas and will take notes almost anywhere.
As for where I read, that varies; it might be in my car, in an office, on the couch, just about anywhere I can find a few minutes of quiet.
Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
A couple of things: I don’t like water, but I will get into a canoe or a boat if it means there is a chance to get a few critter photos. I’ve owned a small business and have explored sketching and working with stained glass and ceramics. And lastly, when I first began submitting my photography to publishers, most of the submissions were returned unopened. I knew I was choosing publishers that would be interested in my work, but they weren’t looking at the images. Once I began using my initials, publishers began opening the submissions. No, they didn’t all buy my work, but they were looking and some were buying. It turns out that most publishers I approached assumed a woman couldn’t get the kind of wildlife images they were looking for, so they just returned them unopened.
I can imagine you do enjoy enlightening them after you receive your check! Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?
The final version of Close Ups & Close Encounters is nothing like the original draft. Along the way and as the book evolved, I spent a lot of time with fellow authors. The evolution included adding entire chapters, while deleting others. Writing a book is a process and the end result can be surprising.
As for the publishing process, I still have a lot to learn. However, I now know that I need to consider each submission carefully, and if I have doubts, that might not be the right place for my work.
I absolutely agree with trusting our gut. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
A love and appreciation for nature along with a better understanding of just what it takes to get that perfect shot. I also hope this book encourages people to follow their passion wherever it leads them.
That’s awesome. I’m also a big fan of encouraging others and following our passions in life. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?
Getting input from fellow authors is invaluable. I was fortunate to have a varied mix of authors weigh in on my work. A lawyer is going to offer a different perspective than a children’s book author or someone who writes sci-fi.
As for marketing, I am still learning and I have a lot more to learn.
What didn’t work?
Marketing. Publishing with a small publisher was a mistake for me. A larger publisher could have guided me through the marketing process and helped me to find the right market for Close Ups & Close Encounters.
I always say I write full-time along with a part-time job in marketing. Marketing isn’t easy. Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?
Don’t rush things. It is better to publish one good book than to publish several so-so books. Take your time. A book is your baby, nurture it. When you are ready to let it go, make sure you find the right home for your book.
Website and social media links?
Where can we find your book?
Create Space https://www.createspace.com/4228022
Autographed Copies available at www.sjbrown.50megs.com
What’s next for you, SJ?
I just completed a memoir that I co-authored with my sister. Now it is time to find a publisher for it.
While that hunt proceeds, I am working on a project I have wanted to do for a while. Time after time, readers have commented on the images in Close Ups & Close Encounters. Many admitted they never actually read the book, only looked at the photographs, so I am ready to tackle a coffee table book of just images. The real challenge with this project will be finding a publisher that is willing to handle a project with so many images.
Thanks for a fun interview, SJ. Best of luck with Close Ups, your new memoir, and the coffee table book. I look forward to catching up with you soon.
About Eleanor Parker Sapia
Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention in Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was Book of the Month with Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the award-winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Well-traveled Eleanor is a writer, artist, photographer, and blogger who is never without a pen and a notebook, her passport, and a camera. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.
Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com