This week I am featuring an interview with longtime zinester (and my pen pal!) Katie Haegele. I can’t remember exactly when or how Katie and I first met, but I do know that she became one of my longest-running and dearest pen pals in the zine community. Katie’s zines are funny, sweet, and endearingly nerdy. She writes a zine called The La-La Theory about language and linguistics and recently released a book version of her zine White Elephants, which details her scores at various garage and rummage sales around her hometown of Philadelphia. I had a chance to catch up with her recently to pick her brain about zines, writing, working with a publisher, and some of her favorite women writers. My questions are in bold, and her answers follow.
How long have you been involved with zines?
Hm, let’s see. I started writing zines and attending zine fests around 9-10 years ago.
What do you like most about writing zines and being a part of the zine community?
My involvement with the zine community means a great deal to me. At this point almost all my close friends, including my boyfriend and a passel of dear pen-pals, are people I met this way. I think the best thing about making zines is that it has taught me I can find an audience for my writing on my own.
I was a teenager in the 90s so I knew about zines and liked them, but I didn’t feel called to make one until I was in my 20s and had been writing for newspapers and magazines for a few years. I still do this kind of work and enjoy it very much, but I needed another outlet. Making zines was one of the ways I began to find myself as a writer.
My first zine was a collection of found poems, which I’d been working on passionately and wanted to share but couldn’t figure out how to publish. Making a zine seemed like a good solution. I pasted the poems onto pages that I then pieced together into the form of a book. It was laborious. I had to pull apart a zine I owned to see how it had been constructed. Then I asked Lesley Reppeteaux, an artist whose work I admired but who I didn’t know, if she would make a drawing for it, and she drew me a beautiful punk-rock cover. I set up shop at the Philly Zine Fest for the first time that year and I was scared that I wouldn’t belong there or that no one would be interested in the booklet I’d made. It ended up being a really significant event in my life. I felt I’d found a group of people I understood and who understood me. They were interested in learning about my project and telling me about theirs, and I came home with tons to read and new friends to write to. I’ve probably attended three dozen zine fairs since then and it’s always a revelation. I have great conversations with zine people.
You recently published a book, White Elephants, based on your zine of the same name. What was different about writing White Elephants as a zine vs. as a book?
Oh, it was very different. In this case I happened to be working with material that had started out as a zine, so I had to rework the writing itself so that the four issues of the zine would flow as one long narrative. This took a long time. When I make a zine I can decide to finish it by the end of the week. Making the book took many months and required me to learn a new kind of patience and — dare I say — faith. I had to trust that the small things I worked on each day would eventually create a worthwhile whole. I had to believe in a future beyond the next several days, which is something that has tended to be very difficult for me. It was a kind of commitment I was unused to, and it was good and healthy for me to develop these qualities.
I also had to answer to someone other than myself. I’ve gotten used to receiving feedback, criticism, and rejection with my “other” writing (book reviews, articles, and essays intended for publication) but when it came to my “creative” writing, after years of making zines I was accustomed to doing exactly what I wanted. Doing what you want is the best way to approach the initial creation of something, but if you’re going to develop it fully you sometimes have to open the door to other people a little. In making the book I primarily worked with my editor at Microcosm, Joe Biel. He understood and liked what I was doing, but he had his own vision for it too, and that helped it to bloom. Passing ideas back and forth with that one other person increased my creativity exponentially, as if I’d had the input of several people and not just one. I guess that’s what’s known as synergy. It was neat to experience it.
How did you like working with a publisher after so many years of self-publishing? What was different about that experience, and would you do it again?
I’m very happy I made the book with Microcosm, and in fact I’m working on another one for them now. It will be a collection of essays, to be published near the end of 2013.
I think making a book and making a zine are two different things, really. I want to continue doing both. Making a zine feels like an escape. It’s pure creativity, a relief from any feeling of ambition or the idea of a “career.” As anyone who writes in the first person knows, there are different “I” characters, and I happen to love the “I” I write as when I’m writing zines. Being a zinester has been a powerful form of self-invention, which has served my non-zine writing, too. I’ve also come to love designing zines, and the feeling of physically constructing them. It’s very satisfying to make something, an object, that you can then hand to another person. There’s nothing else quite like that.
It’s been interesting for me to see that people have responded differently to this book than they have to my zines. The larger world has shown an active interest in it that it doesn’t tend to show for zines, except as a phenomenon. People, like the regular people I know and meet, are likely to respond to it like it’s something important, which I didn’t expect and do enjoy. It feels good to have made something that contributes to a larger conversation with a more general audience.
What is your writing process like? How do you get ideas for your zines?
Having deadlines to work toward helps keep me writing often. When I have an idea I think would be suitable for a particular publication I’ll pitch it to them, and if I get the assignment I go to work thinking about it. I try to have a few assignments like this going at any given time. I also use zine fests as deadlines since it’s nice to have something new to bring with me to those events.
Sometimes I’ll feel the desire to make a zine, to have a zine, and when it happens this way I’ll then have to decide what the zine will be about. Sometimes I will walk over to one of the quiet little branch libraries near me and poke around in the nonfiction books until the look of a drawing or some science term or something sparks an idea.
Do you have any writing goals or projects planned for 2013?
Yes! I want to finish this new book and get it out there. I’m also planning a show that I will put on at the feminist bookstore Bluestockings in NYC. I’ll read from White Elephants, which deals with the subjects of secondhand objects and nostalgia, and a few other writers who address similar themes will also read, and we’ll show the photos of a wonderful fine art photographer named Annie Soga, who has a series of pictures she takes at estate sales. I also plan to participate in Ladyfest Philly by doing a reading or a workshop. And I recently started a new blog column for the Utne Reader about fashion and environmental sustainability, and I’m really excited to continue writing about my secondhand clothing habit and stuff like that.
Who are some of your favorite women writers?
Michelle Tea, Ali Liebegott, Eileen Myles (the whole Sister Spit line-up basically), Stevie Smith, Cookie Mueller, Tama Janowitz (her essays especially), Pagan Kennedy (same), Ariel Gore, A.M. Homes, Lynda Barry, Mary Gaitskill, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker. I also love many, many zines by women writers, including the work of Iza Bourret (Iza Straightshooter) and Rocket Queen, a zine about stripping by a really smart stripper named Janet.