Author’s Spotlight: Sam Rose Interview

Sam Rose, PhD student and author of Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome.

Note: As Sam’s book is a non-fiction memoir, she has been provided with a slightly different set of questions.

1. First, introduce yourself a bit. What is your name (or pen name) and where are you from? 

My name is Sam Rose and I’m from Northamptonshire, UK. I’m a poet, non-fiction writer, and the editor of Peeking Cat Literary. I’m also a PhD student researching the connection between creative writing and cancer survivorship issues such as fear of recurrence, poor body image and more.

2. Next, tell us a bit about your most recent work. Is this your first published book? What is it about and what genre would you classify it as? 

My most recent work is my memoir, Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome. It’s a book of two parts, with the first part detailing my experiences of bowel cancer, duodenal cancer, uterine cancer and Lynch syndrome, which all started at the age of 22. The second part of the book is about the emotional effects of cancer survivorship, the ways in which the world isn’t entirely set up for us, and how we can practice self-care to help with our feelings. The book also describes some really happy and exciting times and experiences – it’’s not all doom and gloom! There is some dark humour in there, too, as cancer easily lends itself to that kind of vibe for me.

3. What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry? 

Vanity publishing is a sticky one, isn’t it? I think there are companies that prey on other people’s desperation to get published and take advantage of that, which is especially unethical if they aren’t transparent about the cost involved and the nature of the business.

I actually submitted my memoir to one publisher, who, although they did ask to see the full manuscript, eventually declined it. A while after that happened, someone got in touch with me from a sister company of that publisher. They said even though my book was rejected by the publisher, they wanted to offer me the opportunity to self-publish with this new “self-publishing” arm of the company. Essentially, what they were offering was a self-publishing package that would cost about £2,000 for me to purchase from them, and would include proofreading, marketing and other services. They said they were selective about the authors/books they offered this service to, so it was self-publication but carefully curated. Even so – my book wasn’t good enough for their main publishing company, but this other arm would publish it if I paid them to? No, thank you. Plus, the e-mail didn’t make it immediately obvious that I would have to pay for the book to be published. The whole thing felt off to me.

4. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? 

I wrote the first draft of my book very quickly – in 21 days, I think it was, with 35,000 words written in the space of eleven days. I set myself a mini NaNoWriMo challenge to get it all done quickly – I just wanted to get it down as the material was emotionally difficult to deal with. This was in 2019. Every so often, I would return to the book to edit it, but it wasn’t until towards the end of 2020 when I finished editing and decided I’d publish it the following year. I knew I wanted to get it done, but I also knew it would be hard to revisit the illness experiences I was describing, so I only edited a little at a time. This was very hard for me as I’m an impatient person and will complete a task in one sitting if I can, because I just want everything to be done already!

5. Did you go the traditional route when publishing your book or did you choose to self-publish? 

I self-published it, which was a very rewarding experience. I wanted to get my story out there without someone else asking me to go through several rounds of edits. The book was very hard to write emotionally, so I decided if I’m happy with it, that’s good enough for me – let’s get on with it and get it out there.

6. What would you say is the most difficult part of your writing journey and what advice would you give to other writers? 

I find consistency hard. It’s difficult to get motivated sometimes and I think part of that is comparing myself to others and thinking I can’t write as well as other people, or feeling jealous of other people’s successes. It helps to remember my own successes and keep track of them, and to remember that we’re probably all the same when it comes to having insecurities and comparing ourselves to others. I could probably have several best-selling books and still find something to feel insecure about! So I guess it’s just being mindful of that and choosing to remember all our great qualities and successes, no matter how big or small.

7. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book? 

My work tends to stand on its own, but as I write about cancer a lot, there are definite themes within my work. I’ve had poems and nonfiction published in many literary magazines and anthologies, and they are all standalone but you can definitely find similar threads among them. My first poetry chapbook, Empowerthy, was also self-published and also about cancer survivorship, so I think it makes a good companion to my memoir.

8. What are some of your favourite authors and books and what inspired you to become a writer in the first place? 

I love Stephen King and have a whole shelf dedicated to his books – The Shining was the first of his I read and is one of my favourites. I also love Matt Haig’s speculative fiction, especially The Humans and The Midnight Library. In terms of poetry, Julia Darling is a favourite and that’s partly because I see a bit of my own style and experiences in her writing. I think it can be really helpful to have someone to look up to whose writing is similar to yours – her work inspires me because it doesn’t intimidate me like some other poetry I love. Instead, it makes me feel like my own publication goals are attainable.

I also find inspiration from music, as it’s so similar to poetry and I love a good lyric. I’ve always been a writer, starting with fiction when I was a kid, then moving on to writing lyrics, and it was a natural progression from lyrics into poetry for me, so music has definitely been an important factor. I loved reading when I was a kid and I’ve just always written.

9. What would you say has been the best way to market your books? 

I feel like my memoir has a very defined audience, which helped me to market it. Being involved in the online cancer community already, I have had articles and guest blog posts published on websites related to my book. So one thing I did was I went back to those places where I’d been a guest writer and said “Hey, thanks for publishing my article that time – this is where I am now and what’s going on with me. Can I write a follow-up article and let your readers know about my new book?” People have been very kind and accommodating, giving me a platform for telling more of my story, reaching more people and promoting my work.

10. Are there any tropes, clichés, or writing styles that you dislike and, if so, what are they and why? 

I don’t like when things get too complicated. I am easily confused! So super intricate plotlines aren’t really for me. Also, the whole relationship on-again-off-again, will-they-won’t-they – it’s fine the first couple of times, but feels tedious to me when a couple breaks up for the fifth time but you know they’ll probably end up together – just get together and stay there, already! (I suppose I am thinking about certain sitcoms now!)

11. Do you read reviews of your book and, if so, how do you handle negative feedback? 

I do read reviews for my memoir and I’m yet to see negative ones – probably because I haven’t had many reviews yet! If I do get a negative review, it’s just one person’s opinion, and while it would probably bum me out a little, I’d just have to go and read all the good reviews to feel better. And if the person has a point or touches on something I was already unsure about, then that could be useful feedback.

12. What are some of your quirks as a writer? Do you like to plot everything out or do you prefer to just “wing it” and see where the story takes you? Do you listen to music when writing and, if so, what do you listen to? 

When I’ve previously written fiction, I’ve found plotting a bit tedious and prefer to just have a vague idea of what’s going to happen and see where it takes me. I like to try to run before I can walk so not much planning is involved.

I sometimes listen to music while writing. If I want to feel inspired to write poetry I’ll put on Ben Howard – I find his music so relaxing, like I’m lying in a field on a summer’s day, so it’s great if I want to write about nature or if I’m feeling introspective.

13. What is the best advice you’ve ever had when it comes to writing and what advice would you give to new writers? 

Advice I’ve had recently from my PhD supervisors is to try writing without worrying about form. I’ve been thinking a lot about form lately and flitting between more traditional poetry with line breaks and prose poetry, and also trying to get my head around lyric essays. It’s been quite freeing to write without thinking “this is a poem” or “this is an essay” – the form doesn’t always need to be immediately obvious or decided. There is a lot of fun to be had in the space in between two forms and being experimental.

Advice I always give to new writers is to call yourself a writer. You’re not an aspiring writer – if you write, whether you’ve been published or not, you’re already a writer! That is your nature, so take ownership of it. You’re a writer, you’re practising your craft and you’re doing great things. Being a writer is a process and a state of being, not a destination you’ll get to one day – you’re already there and if you’re enjoying yourself and being true to yourself, that can be just as rewarding as publication.

14. What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any new books or stories? 

I’d like to self-publish a collection of all my published poetry and non-fiction so far. I’ve had over 100 pieces of work published in over 60 literary magazines and anthologies, so I’d like to put all of these together in one book. As well as this, my main goal is to have a poetry or essay collection published the traditional way. I’d love for a publisher to believe in my work enough to publish an entire book of it. I’ve been querying with my first full-length poetry collection recently so I’m hoping it will get picked up. Of course, it’s about my cancer experiences! But I’d also like to write about non-cancer things, and I’ve spent some time recently thinking about who I am outside of cancer. It’s a difficult question when you’ve spent eleven years living with the thing, but I’m hoping to have a breakthrough soon and find something new I’m passionate about writing about.

15. Finally, feel free to plug your social media, website, and links to Amazon, GoodReads, and other relevant sites below, and detail any current offers available for your book/s:

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