Welcome to the four hundred and fifteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with science-fiction / general fiction author Karen A Wyle. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Karen. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Karen: I’m a Connecticut Yankee who moved to California, lived up and down that coast for years, and then ended up in the Midwest. I’ve been a Hoosier (Indiana resident) for more than twenty years now. I’m an appellate attorney, photographer, Mommy Taxi and political junkie — and an author.
From early childhood, I considered myself a writer. I had a poem (not a very good one) published in the local paper when I was in 3rd grade. When I was ten years old, it was my ambition to be the youngest published author ever, and I was somewhat crestfallen to learn that a nine-year-old girl had claimed that honor. For the next ten years, I tried to find the right form for my writing: novels? poetry? short stories? Nothing seemed right, and I gave up for a long time.
When I started having children in my mid-thirties, I also started writing picture book manuscripts. My older daughter is a gifted artist; when she was eight or so, she would do drawings and I would write silly poems to accompany them. Ten years later, she took part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo) for the first time. Her second year in NaNo, I joined her – and produced the rough draft of my first novel, Twin-Bred.
I love to imagine characters and situations, and to find out from my characters what they will do with the situations. I love the art and craft of working with words. And I am glad to keep faith, finally, with that ten-year-old girl I used to be.
Morgen: I’ve done four NaNoWriMos and love having a deadline. It’s the only way I can guarantee to write in chunks. NaNo has a sister organisation ScriptFrenzy which was 100 pages of script every April but they’ve just announced that they’re stopping it which is a real shame, although I’ve only done it once and didn’t like the script format. What genre do you generally write, Karen?
Karen: My first published work was science fiction, and I expect to keep writing in that genre indefinitely. However, the novel I’m currently revising, Reflections, isn’t SF. It probably counts as “general” fiction: it’s a family drama with mystery elements set in an afterlife of my own devising.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Karen: I’ve published one novel, Twin-Bred, and one short story (involving human cloning), “The Baby.” I haven’t used a pseudonym — but if I ever publish the two erotic short stories I wrote years ago, or any others in that genre, I might use another name. . . .
Morgen: It’s useful if you’re known for one particular genre so you can avoid confusing those readers. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Karen: An early draft of Twin-Bred made the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition.
Morgen: I’d only heard of that the other day, I think it’s a wonderful idea. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Karen: I have an agent for my picture books. If one is intent on a traditional publishing arrangement, the right agent can be invaluable. I may eventually consider finding an illustrator and self-publishing one or more of my picture books.
Morgen: It’s the way a lot of people are going, especially down the eBook route. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Karen: Twin-Bred is available as an ebook for Kindle, and will be available for Nook and other readers in the Nook Store and on Smashwords if I leave Amazon’s KDP Select program. (It’s also available in paperback on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble online.) I paid for some ebook formatting and tweaked the result myself. My short story “The Baby” is available only as an ebook, on Amazon and Smashwords. I did the formatting for “The Baby” unassisted.
I have a Nook and go through periods of using it often, especially when I travel, but I’m still more comfortable with paper.
Morgen: I did a talk a fortnight ago at one of my writing groups and wanted to show how easy it is (once you know how) to create an eBook. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Karen: I spend a good deal of time looking for reviews and other promotional activities. I have a website and an author Facebook page as well as pages for Twin-Bred and Reflections (though the latter has nothing on it yet). I don’t spend that much time on the websites, but I try to tweet and post items of interest to readers and other authors, as well as spreading the word about reviews, guest posts, spotlights and interviews. I paid for one blog tour, but otherwise haven’t hired anyone to assist me with promotion.
Morgen: I have a Facebook author page and do very little with it. I really must as I have enough to talk about. If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Karen: Roughly half my cast would have to be CGI with heavily tweaked voices. As for Mara Cadell: is there a younger Lisa Edelstein out there? Or a younger, female Scott Glenn? Jamie Gertz might be good, if she can be made up to look younger; or Keira Knightley (in her less glamorous mode). Smadar Sayar is another possibility.
Morgen: I only know Keira out of that list but I’m pretty sure she’s done unglamorous (The Edge of Love, the Dylan Thomas biopic, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go spring to mind). Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Karen: As an indie author, I had first, last and final say about my titles and covers. I believe both titles and covers are crucial, and maintaining control of both is a big part of what appeals to me about self-publishing.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Karen: I’m revising my novel Reflections. Reflections concerns a family — mother, daughter, daughter’s maternal grandparents and great-grandmother. The mother left her child in the other relatives’ care, for unknown reasons, when the child was two years old. Child and caretakers died in a car accident when the child was six. Now the mother and the rest of the family are reunited in the afterlife, with much to resolve. This afterlife has certain features designed to make it easier to confront unfinished business.
When Reflections is ready for beta readers, I’ll go back to revising the still-unnamed sequel to Twin-Bred.
If readers would like to know when either book is coming out, they can go to my website, www.KarenAWyle.net, and sign up for email alerts about new releases and such.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Karen: I’m pretty much a “pantser”. I don’t outline. I’ll start a book without knowing how it’s going to end. Before I dive in, I usually have pages of notes about the situation and characters, and sometimes a list of likely scenes.
Morgen: I’m pretty much the same, it’s the unknown that I love about writing fiction. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Karen: So far, I’ve written all of my novels (not counting the 200-page, 100-chapter picaresque tale of a boy and his dragon that I wrote at age ten) during NaNoWriMo or its stripped-down summertime version, Camp NaNo. These are online events during which participants attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words within one month. For me, this means I race through a rough draft, skipping over any decision that would slow me down, inserting bracketed notes to revisit later (for example, “[insert appropriate South American country here]“). Then, when the month is over, I put the rough draft aside for several weeks, then return and start revising. A lot.
Morgen: It’s all about quantity not quality, the fact you can’t edit a blank page. I did Camp NaNo once but struggle to find the time (I should, I find it for NaNo). Do you have to do much research?
Karen: That depends on the novel. The main research points in my science fiction novel Twin-Bred, the uterine interactions of twins and the nature of lost twin or twin survivor syndrome, came before the book: reading about these matters led to the plot of the book. I did have to do some scientific research for the sequel, but can’t say what it was without spoilers. My unrelated, not-SF novel includes what one could call recreations of various locales and historical settings and events, so I’ve had to do a fair amount of research to get the details as correct as possible.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Karen: I very much doubt I’ll ever let that novel I wrote at age ten out of its cage.
Morgen: I love that it’s in a cage. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Karen: Favorite aspect, which surprised me despite my having read of it in several books about writing: the way characters do what they want rather than following my instructions, and the way details I threw in as minor touches can turn out to be key plot points.
Least favorite: the constant threat of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Morgen: I definitely agree with favourite – lack of time is a constant frustration for me. Maybe some voice recognition software (Dragon’s the most popular over here) would help you? What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Karen: Warning: long answer ahead. . . .
Morgen: We can never have too much advice.
Karen: The following are mostly suggestions that I have found in various books / essays / blog posts about the process of writing fiction, and then verified by experience.
- Read, read, read. Read fiction, biography, history — whatever interests you. Read authors whose voice appeals to you.
- Don’t let anyone tell you whether you’re meant to be, or whether you are, a writer. Even well-meaning folks may be poor critics, and not everyone who makes pronouncements on your potential will be well-meaning.
- Keep pen and paper, or some other means of taking notes, with you at all times. Don’t assume you’ll remember your great idea five minutes from now — write it down immediately! Get or jury-rig a lighted note pad for your bedside table. (A clip-on book light attached to a cheap note pad will work.) If you get ideas in the shower, mutter them over and over to yourself until you reach dry land.
- Become compulsive about multiple backups of your idea notes, works in progress, rough drafts, subsequent drafts, etc. Use “the cloud” (Web-based storage), e.g., Dropbox or Evernote. (I use Dropbox. Once it’s running on your computer, it will back up a document stored in your Dropbox folder every time you save. But check periodically to make sure it’s still running!) Email attachments to yourself (and then check whether your email host is periodically deleting them). Put files on a separate hard drive and on flash drives.
- This one is YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). That said, I and many other authors find it essential to keep the inner editor gagged and stuffed in a closet when we’re working on a rough draft. Don’t be afraid to leave blanks or bracketed notes as you go. (My second-to-latest rough draft had one that read “[insert appropriate South American country here].”) National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org), in which participants aim to write a novel of at least 50,000 words within the month of November, is a great way to accomplish this. There’ll be time enough later for lots and lots of rewriting.
- A related point: find the process that works for you. Some authors outline in detail. Others find too specific an outline stifling, and work from less organized notes of possible scenes, or with no notes at all. Some have a fixed time of day for writing, and allow nothing to disrupt it; others flit back and forth all day between writing and other tasks. Some use computers; some still write longhand, and a few swear by typewriters.
- Think seriously about self-publishing. There’s a wealth of info and support out there for indie authors. Conversely, this is a risky time to sign a contract with an agent or publisher. Because of the uncertain and fast-changing conditions in the publishing industry, many agents and publishers are inserting “rights grabs” and other clauses in their contracts that could cripple an author’s career. Some of the worst language may be hidden in unexpected places like “warranty” clauses. If you do sign with an agent or publisher, try to find a way to pay a good IP attorney to go through the contract with a microscope. Don’t let the allure of “having an agent” or “being published” lead you to grab at an offer of representation or publication without vetting it thoroughly.
Morgen: Wow, that was great, thank you! (I use Dropbox). Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Karen: I’m an appellate attorney, which means I write legal briefs (not-so-brief analyses of the law and facts of a case, arranged so as to support my client’s position either defending or challenging a trial court’s decision).
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Karen: No party tricks, unless everyone involved is drunk enough to find vocal animal impressions either amusing or impressive. This rarely happens at this stage of my life. . . As for hobbies, I’m a part-time professional photographer and follow politics obsessively.
Morgen: Having started eBooking some of my writing it’s really made me look at photography differently, the construction of the shot so I can have the title and my name in it. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Karen: Favorite books about writing include Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
Morgen: Two very popular books on these interviews. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Karen: I belong to several Goodreads groups for indie and other authors (“Indie Book Collective,” “Indie Book Club,” “Self Publishing (not vanity publishing),” “Editio Self-Publishing,” “Goodreads Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors”) and find much helpful counsel there. I’ve also enjoyed and value several Goodreads groups where authors connect with readers and vice-versa (“Goodreads Authors / Readers,” “Connecting Readers and Writers,” “Making Connections”), and groups for science fiction fans (“Sci Fi Aficionados,” “SciFi and Fantasy Book Club”).
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Karen: I think self-publishing aka indie publishing will become an increasingly attractive option, and in many cases the only practical option. Ebooks, cloud-based books, interactive books, serialized novels, short stories and novellas will all become even more popular.
Morgen: I agree. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Karen: My website is at http://www.KarenAWyle.net. I have an author Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KarenAWyle. Twin-Bred has its own Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TwinBred. Reflections will have its own Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Reflections.Karen.A.Wyle, but there’s nothing there yet as of this writing. I have an intermittently neglected blog, Looking Around, at http://looking-around.blogspot.com.
Morgen: Brilliant. Thank you, Karen.
I then invited Karen to include an extract of her writing…
Tilda looked at her twins, cuddled close together in the crib. Mat-set had all four arms wrapped around Suzie. They seemed to cuddle any chance they got. Maybe they were glad to be free of separate amniotic sacs.
She looked down at Mat-set and remembered the rumors of Tofa with five arms instead of four. She had even seen pictures, but who knew whether they were authentic. Certainly none of the Tofa Twin-Bred babies had been born with extra limbs.
Tilda glanced over at the big dormitory clock and then back down at the babies. She gasped and staggered a step back. Mat-set was still holding Suzie with four arms. So how was he scratching his head with another one?
Tilda looked around wildly for a chair, found one blessedly nearby, and sank down on it. She pinched herself. Nothing changed. Well, who said you couldn’t pinch yourself in a dream and keep on dreaming?
She got up and walked, a bit unsteadily, to the intercom and buzzed for a nurse. Then she went back to the crib. Of course. Four arms, only four, and what was she going to do now?
She decided to be brave and sensible. If she had really seen it, the staff had to know. And if she hadn’t, and she didn’t wake up, then she was ill, and she should get the help she needed.
The chief nurse tucked Tilda in and watched her drift off to sleep, sedative patch in place. Then she went back to her station and called up the monitor footage on Tilda’s twins.
I then invited Karen to include a synopsis of one of her books…
Twin-Bred asks the question: can interspecies diplomacy begin in the womb? After seventy years on Tofarn, the human colonists and the native Tofa still know very little about each other. Misunderstanding breed conflict, and the conflicts are escalating. Scientist Mara Cadell’s radical proposal: that host mothers of either species carry fraternal twins, human and Tofa, in the hope that the bond between twins can bridge the gap between species. Mara lost her own twin, Levi, in utero, but she has secretly kept him alive in her mind as companion and collaborator. Mara succeeds in obtaining governmental backing for her project – but both the human and Tofa establishments have their own agendas. Mara must shepherd the Twin-Bred through dangers she anticipated and others that even the canny Levi could not foresee Will the Twin-Bred bring peace, war, or something else entirely?…
Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. She now considers herself a Hoosier. Wyle’s childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist. While writing her first novel at age 10, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age 9.
Wyle is an appellate attorney, photographer, political junkie, and mother of two daughters. Her voice is the product of almost five decades of reading both literary and genre fiction. It is no doubt also influenced, although she hopes not fatally tainted, by her years of law practice. Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, the impossibility of controlling events, and the persistence of unfinished business.
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