Carolyn Porter is a “graphic designer, typography geek, and founder of the graphic design company Porterfolio,” but you may know her as the author of Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate. This memoir recounts Carolyn Porter’s journey through designing a font and her quest for answers about Marcel Heuzé, the World War II forced laborer whose handwriting inspired the font. Marcel’s Letters was nominated as a 2018 finalist in the Minnesota Book Awards and won a gold medal award in the category of Memoir/Biography at the Military Writers Society of America’s 2018 Medal Awards in South Carolina. On November 6, the paperback version of Marcel’s Letters was released, and I had the chance to interview Carolyn Porter for Swenson Book Development regarding this exciting news.
Audrey Arnold: I can imagine that this journey from writing to publication to paperback release and beyond has been quite the whirlwind ride for you. How have you managed to balance everything?
Carolyn Porter: I meet with a lot of book clubs, and I find it laughable when people greet me like some sort of celebrity. I remind them I’m just me. I still live in a small 1950s rambler in White Bear Lake. I still work full time as a freelance graphic designer. I still take my dog for a daily walk around the neighborhood (sometimes in my pajamas).
My biggest client hasn’t read the book yet. I find that refreshing, actually. On a day-to-day basis we talk about the design projects I’m working on for her company, not the book. It has provided a grounding normalcy these past couple of years. To her, I am a graphic designer, nothing more, nothing less.
It can be hard to make time to support book marketing efforts. When I have more than one or two in-person book events a week, I can quickly feel spread thin. I am a big-time introvert; when I am drained I know I need to make time to recharge.
AA: In the paperback launch video you posted on release day, you mentioned a photo you loved that was added to the paperback version of the book. What makes this photo so special to you?
CP: I can’t describe the photo without giving away part of the story; let’s just say that small black and white photo encapsulates every bit of the hope and love that was embedded into Marcel’s handwritten letters. I wasn’t able to include the photo in the hardcover version; I am so excited readers are finally going to be able to see it!
I’d love to share the strategy behind the paperback launch video. Marketing a book is hard work, and it isn’t always clear which investment in time or money pays off. A while ago, I read search engines prioritize video content over text content, so I made the conscious decision to begin building a video footprint for the book. The video received 960 views on Facebook in five days, which is a good start. It’s all a big experiment.
AA: You also mentioned that, in celebration of your paperback release, there is a secret link on your webpage with a couple of “deleted scenes” that people can read which gives an interesting glimpse into the editing process. Would you say that going through the editing process has strengthened your writing as well?
CP: To be honest, I think I’ve always been a better editor than a writer. Initially I thought that was an unfortunate thing to have to admit, but I’ve come to embrace it.
You can always improve something you’ve written—but you need to get words on a page first. Embracing editing as part of the process, rather than thinking of it as something that happens at the very end or viewing it as a way to fix something that wasn’t right the first time eliminates the expectation that a first draft is anything other than that: a draft. That revelation has been freeing.
AA: Marcel’s Letters was a finalist for the 2018 Minnesota Books Awards. How does it feel to have received such honored recognition?
CP: Whenever I watched shows like the Oscars or Emmys and heard people proclaim, “It was an honor to be nominated,” I always thought it sounded insincere. Now that I’ve been on the other side of it I see it isn’t. Truly, it was an honor to be a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award!
AA: And Marcel’s Letters won in the category of Biography/Autobiography/Memoir at the Paris Book Festival this year! What are you most excited for regarding the paperback release and the time ahead of you?
CP: I have presentations, book clubs, and other events lined up through the spring of 2019, but I’m considering scaling back public events starting next July. It will be the two-year anniversary of the publication of the hardcover, and I am feeling the itch to reclaim free time to work on new things. I may spend that time on font design; it may be more writing. I’m not sure what’s next.
AA: What would your advice be to writers who are aspiring novelists, but perhaps don’t know where to begin?
- BICHOK: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.
- “Hear everyone, but listen to yourself.” That’s a quote from director Ron Howard that really resonated with me. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by feedback; learn when to turn the sound off and listen to yourself.
- You know you are ready when the risk of NOT telling your story is greater than the risk of telling your story.
- Do you need a grammar class? An accountability coach? An editor? Seek out help where you need it.
- There is no right way or place to begin. Just begin.
Pick up your copy of Marcel’s Letters today! It makes a perfect holiday gift.