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Kory Shillam

KORY SHILLAM self-published her fictionalized memoir, Under the Lilacs, in 2007, when she was 90 years old. She lives in Vernon, British Columbia.

Please tell me a little about yourself, and your writing.

I live with my husband, Bob, in a cottage on the shores of Swan Lake in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. For ten years, until Bob retired, I held a fine position in the office of Mayfair Sales Ltd., my husband’s mobile home sales lot. Previous to that I was busy raising our beautiful children. I have been most interested in writing ever since I was eleven when a Christmas story I wrote appeared in the school paper. My dad was a writer and a newspaperman. Wherever we lived his typewriter sat on a small table in a corner of our dining room. My brothers and I learned to type at an early age. On rainy days while I was growing up in Vancouver we used to act out a play I had written, typical of the Depression years, in which my dad’s typewriter was our only prop. We never tired of the play, but simply outgrew it. And now such memories have become a memoir to delight my ninety years.

What is your upcoming book, Under the Lilacs, about, and what audience is it aimed at?

Under the Lilacs began as a story for young people, but by the time it was finished I discovered that people of all ages enjoyed its humour and pathos. The book, which was originally written as two novellas, is presented in two parts beginning in 1929 and ending in 1932.

The story is about Milly and her little brother, Freddie, who live with their mother in Kitsilano, an area of Vancouver. Milly is desperate to find her father whom she has never met. Her life becomes even more complicated when the man in the felt hat moves into the house next door. The two parts of the story take Milly from age thirteen to sixteen.

When did you start to write the book, and how long did it take you?

Under the Lilacs began years ago as a series of short memoirs, which I wrote from time to time with no thought of a book. When our girls reached high school I came to realize that their life outside our home was quite different from my growing up in the twenties and thirties, and I began to write my memoirs to show them those differences.

Why did you decide to reach readers through a fictional story, rather than memoir?

Everything happened to me or to someone who is close to me, not in the order of the book of course, and often with a little extra thrown in here and there. As the years went by the difference became even greater and could in truth be termed astonishing in its difference. I could not help but want to tell a story to prove my point. That was when I began to put my memoirs together into a book.

Did fictionalizing make it easier to describe real-life events? Were there still parts that were difficult to write, and if so, why?

To me drawing a picture by giving life to characters in a book carries infinitely more weight than does a piece of nonfiction. I would suggest that a story that has a point, whether good or bad, if it is told with humour and love, becomes enjoyable, and not at all difficult to write.

How involved has your family been in the writing, editing or publishing of the book?

My family became totally involved with the editing of the book. Four of us had lengthy sessions taking turns reading and rereading the manuscript, correcting typos and adding comments to make sure there were no discrepancies, particularly with regard to things such as tools and garden equipment that we accept today, but that had not been invented in the twenties. I am also most grateful that the rest of my family are interested in my writings, eager to listen, sympathize, or applaud as the case may be.

When did you start working with a book coach and what has that collaboration entailed?

I began working with Stacey Newman, my book coach, at the beginning of April 2007. This was indeed a date to remember for I soon began to gain confidence in the publishing field. Stacey is prompt, knowledgeable, and infinitely encouraging, having experienced the process of self-publishing herself and being a successful published author. Marketing is my goal, and when the time comes, I will be following Stacey’s advice on how to approach that.

Roughly how much does it cost to self-publish 250 copies of a book such as yours (excluding the help of the book coach)?

A ballpark figure would be $3,000.

What, if anything, has been the greatest learning experience in the self-publishing process?

For me the greatest learning experience will be marketing. It is one thing to write a book, but if one cannot sell it, it becomes lonely on the bookshelf.

Is there any advice you would give to other authors who are looking to self-publish?

I would encourage all those who are interested in self-publishing to get the support of a reputable, well-intentioned book coach. I say this because of the experience I had when I did not do this. A few years ago I contacted a publishing company that advertised in a reputable British magazine of its interest in publishing books for new authors. To accomplish this they required 735.50 pounds sterling in four instalments, the total of which amounted to $5,834.75 Canadian funds. In the beginning they seemed solid in their intention; however, after the fourth instalment was paid they fell down in the marketing of my book. Under our agreement the book was to be placed in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. This did not happen. We had paid in advance as required, but they failed to market the book. Naturally we wrote in protest, but did not get anywhere. In fact they went so far as to suggest that we find companies to distribute the books ourselves. This was a costly lesson.

But Under the Lilacs has gone to print now, and you’ll have it in hand in mid-November 2007. How does that make you feel?

Being so close to realizing a dream is like standing on a mountain with arms outstretched reaching for the colours of the rainbow.

Copyright 2007 Allyson Latta.

Editor’s note: Kory has since self-marketed and sold 250 copies of Under the Lilacs, which is currently being considered for use in a course by a community college. Kory’s work in progress is a children’s book, Crooky of Silver Star Farm. She was an active participant in several of my online courses through Ryerson University.