Author E A Carter seems impossible to pigeonhole. As comfortable with raw, emotive and honest non-fiction as with the wildest creative flights of genre fiction, she has won multiple awards in recent years for her bestselling books.
Her latest accolade is for The Lost Letters: The Dark World of Narcissistic Abuse, which has just been announced as the winner of the UK Non-Fiction eBook category in the annual Page Turner Awards, which celebrates the best new self-published books.
In this exclusive interview, E A Carter tells us more about the book, which bravely relates her terrifying ordeal in a relationship with a narcissist, as well as about her other work and her secret to being a commercially successful self-published writer.
Q. Congratulations on winning the Page Turner Awards’ UK non-fiction eBook Award. How do you feel about your achievement?
A. Stunned. I never thought my book would even make it to the first round of finalists. The content is about abuse so it's not the kind of book one would expect to receive critical acclaim. When it reached the final round of the shortlist, I cried. I thought, “This is it. This is amazing. I am so happy to have gone this far, but this is it.”
I was wrong.
For me, it's not that my book is a success itself; it's that with this recognition it has the chance to reach the women who need it and, if because of this, it helps just one woman steer away from what I did not, it will be worth it.
Q. What was the inspiration for your winning entry, non-fiction title, The Lost Letters: The Dark World of Narcissistic Abuse?
A. When I was in the care of the protection services, I met with many professionals who said my situation was one of the most severe cases of control and abuse they had ever witnessed. Several said that given my ability to write and publish books, it could be an idea to one day write a book to help other women—that many of the women they see in their work would resonate with it and my story could offer them hope. I said no at the time because at that point I could barely cope in the aftermath of the divorce, and the thought of reliving so many recent horrors in any kind of coherent way terrified me. But they planted the seed, which quietly took root and later, bloomed.
Q. How would you describe the book?
A. I read Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking. It was not an easy read, yet how she processed her grief was compelling, insightful and deeply moving. As I turned the final page, a sense of knowing settled over me. I knew I would write my story, too. She spoke of dark times. I knew dark times. Very dark times.
When I sat down to write it I think Ms Didion’s influence was still there, because from the first sentence The Lost Letters entered the world as a cross between narrative and memoir, but with the lyrical voice that resides in me and which I discovered remained a part of me even during the deepest of traumas—even in the face of fear, and death. I would note the most inconsequential of details I remembered in the midst of each horror yet, somehow, these details lend themselves to the utter poignancy of my isolation and despair. I learned they had become a part of my life, of my story, so I left them there.
I called my book The Lost Letters because these were the words I realised I had held close to myself as I endured and survived through a decade of coercive control, devaluation and abuse. Each day I would write, and each night I would have a call on Skype with my father in Canada. I would read to him what I had written, and I would cry. He would put me back together again, and say, “You are doing the right thing. What you went through won't have been for nothing; this book will help others. Believe in that.” So I did, and the next day I would get up and keep writing, through the hurt, because it was right, and because Joan Didion did it. Her words helped me when I was in a very dark place, and I wanted to help someone, too.
Q. How do you hope it will help readers?
A. I wrote this book for those who need the support of someone who was there, deep in the trenches, utterly cornered, and powerless. No trite titbits of motivation are applicable in this scenario, only the brutal admission of the reality being faced. It's a battle between life and death, between the annihilation of one's self and the fracture of dissociation.
If the people who are reading my book are going through similar things to my experience, they are at the bottom of a very deep pit and it's that feeling of total alienation, isolation and fear that becomes the most powerful weapon one’s abuser can wield. We become our own worst enemy in the struggle to survive. I wanted to be that one who offered a glimmer of light. I wanted to climb down into the pit with them, and just be there with them, and say, “I was here. I was you. I thought all the things you are thinking right now. I know this place and although I can't physically get you out, I can promise one important thing is true: you are not alone. I'm here. I'm with you. And I can help you dismantle the lie and give you another version of reality; one that empowers you.”
Q. As the author, what are you most proud about bringing it to market?
A. That my hope that it would help others in similar situations to cope and find ways to begin their escape and heal in the aftermath has come to fruition. Readers have written to me to share how much my book has helped them, others have said they will share it with someone they know who needs it, or that they wished they had had my book a decade ago because the information on the red flags would have helped them to escape in time. All these things tell me that the month I spent in Poland writing this down was worth the pain and sorrow, because exactly what my intention was has been fulfilled.
Q. This isn’t your first book as you are already an established, Amazon #1 bestselling author of epic alternate historical fiction, sci-fi, and high fantasy love stories. Can you tell us more about your genre fiction?
A. We live in a world where we like things to be neat and tidy. Most authors write in a genre and then they stay with it because it’s what they know and love. Their fans get used to them, can rely on them and everyone is happy. And then there’s me!
Just when my fans get used to my name being linked to a deeply researched historical fiction from the Bronze Age I turn around and write a non-fiction followed up by a sci-fi in a single year.
For a long time I felt ashamed of my inability to ‘fit ‘ into a single genre, that somehow I had failed as an author to fall into a genre and stay there. Then, while out hiking under the endless skies of a wild UK countryside it hit me: I don’t write in a genre. I write in a theme.
When I look at my books published, in progress or planned, there is a through-line of passionate love thwarted, denied, fought for against all the odds through war, time and worlds. Love that persists. No matter what. Three of my books contain several genres at once, but it works. Which means you can count on me to give you stories made of love, over and over again, in hundreds of variations and genres.
As for what I have written, my debut novel is The Lost Valor of Love, the first book of the Transcendence Series. It has well over one million reads on Wattpad and one Amazon review states what I have been told numerous times (and which I hope might one day come true!): “HBO could easily turn these 3 books into 6 or 7 seasons.” Researched for five years, it’s part historical fiction, part fantasy with a hint of time travel. This three-book series is soaked with betrayal, empire crushing stakes, and a forbidden love affair destined to disrupt the sacred silence of the gods, and change the course of history, forever. It’s won seven awards including The Wishing Shelf Awards 2020 Gold Medal for Adult Fiction.
My newest release is my sci-fi debut, I, Cassandra that came out in August. I wrote it because I am a huge fan of both sci-fi and cyberpunk fiction and thought it might be an interesting way to address many of the issues we face as a society, of the widening divide between the rich and the poor, the effects of climate change, and of a future where high tech gives us the power to transcend our mortality.
Q. What first motivated you to becoming an author?
A. It just happened. I have always been writing, ever since I could hold a crayon, really. And if I wasn't writing it down, I was figuring out stories in my head.
I used Wattpad for the first time to write a book during NaNoWriMo 2016 and It ended up being really popular, so I wrote a sidequel to it over the next five months, posting once a week to a growing fan base. In the end, it was almost 190,000 words long and it won a slew of awards and is still hugely popular. Since both of these books were based on lore from the game World of Warcraft (high-fantasy genre), I could not publish them outside of Wattpad, but with my growing confidence I released my debut novel The Lost Valor of Love.
I just kept going from there, and have released four more books since my debut release which with the two on Wattpad brings my total to seven books and roughly a million words published. I suppose the motivation now is to keep writing stories for my fans who eagerly await my next release (and write to tell me!).
Q. What are the biggest challenges, and joys, of being a self-published author?
A. The absolute biggest challenge is the marketing aspect. Up until covid hit, I was getting steady sales of my books, but with the pandemic, many have turned to publishing online to try to earn an income which has absolutely saturated the book market, in particular eBooks. Many established authors have noticed this downward shift in the visibility and sales trend, and I think this is due to the algorithms shifting with the enormous amount of content being uploaded daily into sites like Amazon. We are told to combat this by writing more books and publishing as many as four a year. Something some authors can manage, but not all of us.
There are many different ways an indie author can try to build a following, but it is laborious and time-consuming and tends to move quickly. First it was Instagram, then it was Clubhouse, now it’s podcasting. I find it all a bit overwhelming, so my strategy is to have a good presence online, a nice mailing list that I write to and, of course, continuing to write books that readers love and talk about.
Q. If you could offer one piece of advice to those wanting to become a self-published author, what would it be?
A. Decide at the very beginning if you want to be a write-to-market author or aim to become a critically acclaimed one. This is an important distinction because the first means you will very likely earn a good income; the second, you'll probably need to keep your day job!
A lot of authors who decide to shun the traditional publishing route hope that they can earn a lot on their own. It is quite possible, but the authors who generally achieve the greatest financial success are writing what the majority of readers are consuming at any given time. So a write-to-market author would be a hybrid of a writer and entrepreneur. They know what is on trend, write a book very quickly and get it out there and market it well while building a solid base of fans. It's a fascinating way to earn money and write at the same time, but it's not for everyone. Being self-published is a long haul choice; you must do everything (and finance it, too), so be sure you know what your primary goal is.