CONSUELO SAAH BAEHR: JACKIE KENNEDY WAS GRACIOUS, FRIENDLY AND SPOKE IN A LOW VOICE
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Born in El Salvador and raised in Washington, D.C., Consuelo Saah Baehr’s talent was found by the readers 26 years after the debut of her book Three Daughters. Amazon’s publishing house Lake Union re-released the history fiction novel. The praise came right away. With 500+ reviews averaging 4.3 stars Three Daughters is a pure example of how a self-publishing book may draw attention. Lets welcome our next guest Conuelo Saah Baehr.
– Lady Baehr, Three Daughters was published in 1988, but still is very popular. Did you expect such success of the novel when first have been released?
– Three Daughters was out of print for many years until the advent of self-publishing allowed many writers to re-invent themselves as “digital content providers.” Jeff Bezos of Amazon provided us with a big free stage and the means to resuscitate our out-of-print books and give them the time needed to build an audience. This happened to Three Daughters. The book began to gain readership and good reviews and it was noticed by the publishing arm of Amazon. Lake Union, an Amazon imprint, re-issued the book in November and it has become a bestseller and fulfilled its potential.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– My father’s huge extended family was Palestinian Christian and resided in one of the only Christian villages near Jerusalem. My agent at the time urged me to write the book even though historical writing was not my natural genre. At the time, in America, no one was very interested in Palestinians. Arabs, in general, were not thought of as a cozy race.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– The necessary research was a huge challenge. I was determined to get the correct historical facts but also the emotional day to day lives of the clans. Research took more than a year and included a lot of oral history from older relatives who had migrated to the U.S. but still remembered the old days. All of the historical and physical descriptions in the book have at least three sources.
– Tell us something more about your main characters Miriam, Nadia, Nijmeh? Are they close to someone from your real life?
– The original characters of Miriam and Nadeem are loosely based on my paternal grandparents and their life journey when the Ottomans still ruled the area and then through the First World War. My grandfather was conscripted by the Turkish Army, the family had to leave their home during the First World War and they did return during the British protectorate. Ultimately, my grandmother came to live in Washington, D.C. with her many children. Most of the other characters in Three Daughters were created from my imagination.
– Did you change something after you republish the book in 2014?
– When Lake Union bought the book, they re-edited and re-proofed but the narrative remained the same.
– Nothing to Lose and Best Friends are your other top novels. Please share some insight about them?
– Before I became a novelist, I was an advertising copywriter and my first job was at a department store in Newark, New Jersey. The “life” of a big department store is extraordinary. All the stuff a person needs for a trendy life is contained within the store. April’s job was to sell items to the men and women of Newark. The irony was that April was really selling a lifestyle that she wasn’t able to have because of her weight. There is a lot of humor in the book. In Best Friends I used my knowledge of convent boarding schools, journalism and upscale living in a suburb of New York City. Although I’m proud of Three Daughters, my current favorite book is One Hundred Open Houses. This novel, published solely as an e-book, best showcases my present mindset and is filled with humor.
– Who are you?
– I am a short attractive woman who lives (almost completely) in her head. I have been a victim of the “writing monkey” that climbed on my back when I was ten years old and has not climbed down. I would caution anyone who wants to be a writer to consider that you will never be satisfied with anything else life brings if you are not also writing regularly. It is a haunted life wherein you are mostly an observer. P.S. I have three good children and five good grandchildren. I live alone in a cottage one mile from the Atlantic Ocean.
– What are your writing habits?
– Since I live alone, my writing habits are, at best, irregular. Mostly I write early in the day and perhaps again at dusk. If I get a compelling idea during the day I will rush to the computer and write it down. Seldom do these ideas amount to anything. The writing that leads to something is mostly born out of laborious thought.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– I am delirious and satisfied that my older books have had a second chance as digital books and my newer books have not been victims of the old traditional publishing paradigm. Since 2010 when I began self-publishing, sales have fluctuated. However there are definite marketing tasks that help boost sales. Three Daughters is a unique case. Lake Union’s re-issue of Three Daughters (with the marketing juggernaut of Amazon behind it) has been a bestseller almost from the start in late November 2014. It has remained in the upper reaches of the Kindle 100 for weeks. It has 277 five star reviews and an overall 4.3 rating. This is extraordinary. My current second bestseller (although more modest) is One Hundred Open Houses.
– What are you doing to promote your novels by the best possible way?
– The best possible way to promote e-books is to get the popular e-mail advertiser, BookBub, to take your book. BookBub, although expensive, is hands down the best way to sell hundreds of books within the space of a few days. Currently, the phenomenal sales of Three Daughters are pushing up the other titles. I am not particularly good at social networking.
– When we will see your next book?
– Right now I am working on two different books. The first is a historical novel set in New York City and the Gold Coast of Long Island where the industrial millionaires like J.P. Morgan and Guggenheim controlled Wall Street. It is titled Faith and Hope. The second book is a modest crime book with the P.I. in the person of a reclaimed housewife trying to make her way.
– You’ve been traditionally published, but now you are enjoying self-publishing adventure. Would you compare both ways to produce a book?
– Traditional publishing (for the most part) is a soul crushing experience wherein you spend two years writing a book, wait another year to see it published and then find out that it is dead on arrival. There was no marketing plan to help traditionally published books. There was only the five-city tour and perhaps an ad in a newspaper if you were lucky. The author had no control of the cover, the print run or anything else. In e-publishing, the author has control of everything. It doesn’t guarantee sales but you have the help of time. The book can stay up forever. The book can find an audience and get reviews. There’s always visibility.
– Your family owned boutique store in Washington. What are your personal impressions of Bess Truman and Jackie Kennedy, who visited the shop?
– I don’t remember Bess Truman although I am particularly interested in Harry Truman because it was during his time as president that the Balfour Declaration was created by Great Britain and approved by our president and viola – the state of Israel was created. As for Jackie Kennedy, I remember times when she visited the store and I, as a young girl, waited on her. She was always gracious, friendly and spoke in a low voice. Later in life I had an apartment close to hers in Manhattan and often saw John and Caroline walking to their school with their nanny.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– Why did you become a writer? I did not choose to become a writer and I don’t know why anyone would choose that kind of life. Writing uses all of your life and makes everything else secondary. This is not a grandiose idea; it is merely the difficult truth that a writer is always looking at life instead of fully participating. The writer is never satisfied with any accomplishment and seldom believes any good reviews of his work.The best one can hope for is the satisfaction of a productive stretch at the computer and the solution to a plot problem.