Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interview with author Karen McGrath

Hi everyone, Rebecca has put together a number of pithy questions for an interview.  This is some of who I am and what makes me tick.  Happy NaNo preparations!  You do know you can download the workbook, right?  If not, email me and I’ll forward the information to you. 
RRR:  Where did the concept for your current book come from?
Karen:  I’m working on two YA novels at the moment, both YA paranormal fantasies.  The concepts came from the age old fight of good versus evil.  It’s exciting writing them!  Incidentally, I am following the NaNo rules next month and starting a completely new novel which is another YA fantasy.  The concept for that came from my last visit to the hospital for a check-up (I’m a three time cancer survivor.)  While driving home I had the most incredible vision for this book and dodged traffic and fire trucks to write it at the (numerous) red lights in Boston!

RRR:  How long have you been working on your latest book (concept to editing)? 
Karen:  The first YA fantasy I’ve been working on and off (mostly off I must admit) for the last year.  The second for the last two months and the NaNo 2010 I’ve been thinking through for the last two weeks - I’m about to do my character sheets and story arc.  Don’t get too excited, these always give way to my imagination –  when NaNo is over I read my starting notes and laugh at how far off track I went.  I’m a pantser at heart!

RRR:  How many books do you have published? 
Karen:  Two books, two short stories.

RRR:  What interferes with your muse and what do you do about that? 
Karen:  Nothing interferes with my Muse.  He is extremely chatty.  And he piles characters into my living room to talk to me as well!  I curtail his writing process I think because I’m not always available, having to edit and take care of my family.

RRR:  Where do you perform your best writing? Why? 
Karen:  I do my best writing anywhere, anytime.  I have a zillion ideas in my head all the time, like I said, I have a chatty Muse. I can write even if I don’t particularly feel like it but I have to push myself to do it.

RRR:  Who was your greatest influence on your writing? Do they know it?
Karen:  C.S. Lewis has inspired me the most.  No, he doesn’t know it!  I read an interview he did about writing the Chronicles of Narnia.  He said he saw a faun in his mind and wrote it down on paper.  I see things like that, too, so I started writing them down.  If I can take dictation half as well as he, I’ll be a very happy and satisfied writer.

RRR:  Did you grow up in a ‘reading’ household? Do you believe that had anything to do with your becoming an author?
Karen:  I don’t remember my siblings reading a lot but my mom did for her college courses.  I read constantly.  It was my escape.  It would be a beautiful day outside and my mom would confiscate my books to force me to go out to play.  I’d sit in my favorite tree and make up stories there!  When friends came over I’d entertain them with my repertoire.

RRR:  What was your favorite childhood activity and why?
Karen:  I enjoyed reading, of course.  I also loved doing stand-up comedy and dancing to my records.  I spent hours daydreaming, which is why I loved books.  It was like visiting someone else’s daydream. 

RRR:  As a youngster, what did you want to be when you grew up? When did this change, if it did.
Karen:  First I wanted to be an actress.  I loved the stage.  Then I wanted to be an architect but I didn’t have enough money for tuition at Rhode Island School of Design, so I settled for studying English, thinking I’d teach. Then I transferred to a theological school to learn leadership skills to help people.  I knew I was a writer, I just didn’t think it was a career choice.  I desperately wanted to be a wife and mother. 

RRR:  Do you think people who are especially good at something, writers, singers, musicians, artists, etc, were born with talent or can it be fostered throughout a lifetime?
Karen:  This is an interesting question.  I’m not gifted in debate but my husband is.  I can debate and do it well, but he’s gifted.  He can debate and it’s stellar.  So I do think you need to have an innate talent or proclivity.  But what good is that if you don’t discipline yourself to share it with others?  And having said that, I can tell you I’m glad I wasn’t published in my twenties. My writing has seasoned through the years and has far more depth and luster to it than when I wrote in high school and college.  I wrote well, received A’s and my friends begged me to write stories for them but it just wasn’t like it is now. 

RRR:  What is your greatest fear about being an author? What about in life? 
Karen:  My greatest fear as an author is that I won’t get everything written in time.  I have so much in my mental library that I want to commit to paper.  My greatest fear in life - I’ve been through a lot of unusual circumstances. A friend of mine died overnight in high school, I almost caught the disease from her - I was the only one not quarantined but should have been.  It was a miracle I didn't get the disease or spread it.  I watched a teen crack someone’s head open with a baseball bat in high school.  Men tried to break into my home when I was a child, I rescued my siblings.  I was kidnapped by a neighbor when I was two.  I lived through a war on my street in another country that hated Americans at the time.  I’ve been chased by a mob.  I’ve been in dangerous circumstances rescued only by Divine intervention many times.  I’ve survived catastrophic illness three times.  Umm, not too much scares me anymore. 
I am afraid to hurt God’s feelings because he’s too special to me, but other than that, I can’t really think of anything off hand.  Well, wasps, maybe.  They’re mean little things. 

RRR:  What was your favorite subject in high school and why? Least favorite and why?
Karen:  I loved Architecture where I designed a wonderful house.  But also because my upper classman boyfriend was in the same class with me, one of those experimental classes, how cool is that?  ;)  Interestingly it was that teacher who gave me some sage advice about writing.  He said never put in writing something you don’t want the world to see.  I’ve never forgotten it.  I also adored creative writing because I could vent my stories.  
My least favorite class was detention which I got from time to time for passing notes, showing up late once in awhile without a permission slip and/or talking in class.  J

RRR:  How did your high school English teacher(s) respond to your writings back then?
Karen:  My junior high writing teacher wanted to submit my children’s book, to a big name publisher.  I was too shy to take her up on the offer but I was thrilled nonetheless and years later that encouragement helped me write more.  Mrs. Sweeney, my high school creative writing teacher, loved my writing and encouraged me to keep up with it.  She was tough on us but she was good.  Writing is hard work.  She made us pay attention to our words and follow the rules of good writing which helped me tremendously.  In fact, she was famous among my friends.  Everyone wanted her class because you got to do something in it.

RRR:  What was your favorite book as a teen and why?
Karen:  I had so many, I loved Alice in Wonderland for the math puzzles, My Side of the Mountain, I read all of Nancy Drew before I was twelve, then branched out to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.  My favorite book was the dictionary.  I read that for hours, too, trying out new words for fun.  In college I got a dictionary that had root origins. I spent hours studying that which came in handy when I studied Bible languages later on.

RRR:  If someone told you everything you write is junk and worthless. Would you continue to write? Why or why not?
Karen:  Absolutely.  I’ve been told many negative things by many people and they were all kind of out there.  After awhile you get immune.  There will always be naysayers.  It’s wonderful when someone gets something out of my writing though, because I enjoy helping people and entertaining them.

RRR:  What classic literature would you recommend teens to read and why?
I highly suggest the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis because it’s full of secrets.  I didn’t discover Narnia until the movies came out, can you imagine?  I read classic lit in junior and high school, in fact, that’s all I read; but they didn’t include Narnia in the line-up for some reason.  I adored Lost Horizons; I was devastated when it ended.  Loved all of JRR Tolkien’s books, even if they were wordy.  I started my own Hobbit map before someone finally printed a good one.  I suggest Swiss Family Robinson because you need to know how to get along if the world around you collapses.  Another one is My Side of the Mountain, The Hound of the Baskervilles; oh, so many!  I remember going to the library to ask for the Canterbury Tales.  I was enthralled even if I didn’t understand the language easily.  I loved the Arthurian Legends and Camelot, of course.

RRR:  What one book do you think everyone should read and why?
Karen:  I think everyone should read the Bible, even if you aren’t Christian or Jewish.  I say this because God knows story inside and out.  It’s a fascinating resource, and like Narnia, it's full of secrets.

RRR:  What would you tell teenaged writers about the submission to publication process?
Karen:  I would say, don’t submit right away.  I’ve talked to many teen writers who are pumped about getting published.  I suggest waiting until you’re at least thirty, which I know seems like eons away. 
Right now you have a very different outlook on life than you will later on.  The last thing you want to do is take your books out of print but you may feel compelled to do that if you write something now that you’ll regret later. 
In the meantime take the time to develop yourself, write your heart out, let the words season on your laptop or in your notebook.  For your thirtieth birthday, open those stories and read them over.  Spruce them up and then submit. 
I thank God I didn’t submit anything until this year because I know I would have written things I wish I could have taken back.  The printed word is a very serious thing.  You’re responsible for your words so write them carefully.  What you write, you will be known for.  Choose wisely.

RRR:  Why do you think teenagers are so fascinated by the paranormal and fantastic? (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, faeries, elves, demons)
Karen:  Because the supernatural is fun!  Vampires and werewolves have a different symbology, I was never into those except for Dark Shadows which I liked because it was scary.  As a teen you’re on the verge of real life, everything is scary and exhilarating.  I remember wondering if I could make it in the real world.  Everyone does, of course, both worry about it and make it through these times.  Scary movies and books helped me process the fear in a healthy way.

RRR:  You’ve been asked to choose 5-10 books for a space capsule. What would you choose and why?
Karen:  The Bible – because it’s full of the Hero and his journey and lots of secret passages.
The Diary of Anne Frank – so we never forget what evil can do to innocent lives.
They Thought They Were Free by Milton Meyer (1951) – because anyone of us can become a slave to someone else's agenda without realizing it.
The Chronicles of Narnia – for good fun and an inkling into the spiritual realm.
Swiss Family Robinson – because it’s a cool survival story.
Oliver Twist – because we need compassion at all times.
The Wizard of Oz – because we all own a pair of ruby slippers.
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – for the cool math games.
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto – so the next generation doesn’t make the same mistakes.
Mockingjay – because sometimes someone will need to rise up and save the world as we know it and it could be you.

RRR:  Is there an upcoming release (from any author) that you are anxiously anticipating? Why?
Karen:  Sadly, not at the moment, but I finished reading the third book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, which released in August.  My teens and I were anticipating it forever it seemed..  It was superb!  It’s YA dystopian fantasy, a story about a young girl born into a political nightmare who becomes the unwilling face of a much needed revolution and how she rises to the occasion.  It reminded me that sometimes the world needs saving and not to retire my boots too early.

RRR:  If your child declared they were going to be an author while a senior in high school. How would you respond?
Karen:  I would say go for it but get a different job to support the writing.  Like I said, I don’t recommend seeking publication until you’re in your thirties.  I know a lot of writers who regret things they have in print now.  Sometimes you think you want to submit anything just to get published and have your name out there but you don’t realize this may not be wise in the long run.

RRR:  If your daughter wants to marry an author who is just starting out and has no other job, what would you tell her? If your son wants to marry an author… Does it make a difference?
Karen:  Yes, it would, but not for the reasons you think.  If we had a son, I’d advise him to write after work every day.  We’d expect him to be able to support a wife and child before marrying or we wouldn’t approve.  Our daughters have agreed to courtship which means they don’t date and won’t marry a boy unless he has a job that will support a wife and child.  We would suggest to potential suitors to get a paying job and write on the side, only switching to full time writing when he makes enough to pay the bills with it, after he turns thirty, of course.
RRR:  If you weren’t an author what other job would you be doing?
Karen:  Not too much else.  I’ve always been a writer, now I’m getting paid for it; well, when royalty checks come in!  I’m also an editor.

RRR:  How is being an author different from what you thought it would be like?
I never wondered what it would be like.  I’m thrilled of course, it’s deeply satisfying to know that people want to read my work and that they enjoy it because it’s my contribution.  People wanted to read my work and enjoyed it before I was published, just now more people want to read it.

RRR:  When you decided to pursue publication, did you realize what marketing and promotion would entail?
Karen:  Yes, I planned on doing all of my marketing and promotion before I realized it was necessary.  I think an author has an obligation to share their lives with their readers.  It goes with the territory, it’s a responsibility.

RRR:  How has your concept of marketing, platform building, promotion changed since you wrote your first word?
Karen:  I wrote my first word at eight years old, I had no clue what marketing was but I couldn’t wait to get home from school to play out the skit for my siblings, lol!

RRR:  If technology did not exist, would you still pursue writing and publishing?
Karen:  I was writing in those archaic days before the Internet.  We had typewriters then, and my family owned an electric one that only my mother could use.  I wrote in notebooks as a teen.  Word processors were a dream come true for me.  And then home computers, I was in Heaven!  The Internet is icing on the cake!

RRR:  Do you prefer publishing fifty years ago when the big houses ruled or today when eBooks and POD allow anyone to publish?
Karen:  Interesting question. I prefer now with all of the publishing options.  It allows the writer more control over their own work.  Some manuscripts I've written are more suitable for self-publishing because there's a limite market for them.

RRR:  Do you think self-publishing demeans the title ‘author’? At what point can one consider oneself an ‘author’? How does that differ from being a ‘writer’?
Karen:  I’m old-fashioned in this respect.  An author literally means one who has authority.  You don’t get authority until you are recognized by other authorities in your field, you can’t bestow it upon yourself. I did not call myself an author until I had a paid contract which came from Choice Publishing Group in Nevada this past March for my memoir story, An Invitation to Hope.  It came out in print in their anthology Patchwork Path, Christmas Stocking this September.  Until I was paid by a publisher for my writing, I considered myself a writer for the reasons above.  When I accepted my Muse contract for Primordial Sun, I started using the term novelist.  It has a nice ring, don’t you think?!
I don’t think self-publishing allows you to call yourself an author unless people start buying your work; not just family and friends and not just a few strangers.  I call JA Konrath an author because thousands of others recognize him in the field, he is self-published.  There are many others who have self-pubbed without sales, they are writers.  There’s nothing wrong with that – like I said, authorship has to come from authorities in the field recognizing your writing skills.  If you’re not an author yet, it’s not terrible or snobbery to call you a writer.  I know a ton of information about medicine, so much that I can accurately diagnose my children when they get sick.  Have I gone to medical school and am I a doctor?  No.  I don’t dare call myself one unless I do what it takes to be recognized by others in the field as a doctor.  If you want the title, do what it takes, learn the ropes and you’ll wake up one day with a contract in your hand. 

RRR:  If you’ve never written a children’s picture book, would you consider doing so?
Karen:  I wrote one in junior high.  I have ideas for a few others.  Submitting them is another story!

RRR:  If you’ve only written for children and teens, would you consider writing a mainstream fiction novel?
Karen:  Yes, I’ve done that.

RRR:  What do you think is the boundary between Young Adult and Middle Grade?
Karen:  I think it’s attitude.  Middle grades are not interested in the adult world really.  Teens are more so.

RRR:  What is the boundary between Young Adult and Mainstream Fiction for adults?
Karen:  Young adult is a teen story.  The MC’s are teens and they solve their problems.  In Mainstream Fiction the MC’s are adults.

RRR:  Do you think many adults read what is classified as Young Adult? Why do you think they do this?
Karen:  Yes, I do.  A lot of mainstream fiction is rife with unpleasant adult content.  I read YA because I get tired of reading about adult issues in mainstream books.  That turns me off.  That goes for watching it on TV, as well.  I don’t like it that both industries are pushing the envelope and forcing adult issues into teen lit and television.  I don’t trust the ratings anymore and I won’t be a repeat customer to a publisher or producer who abuses them. 
There’s a real push right now among some writers I know to produce YA that is called “edgy” which is nothing more than forcing teens to handle adult issues, usually loaded with x-rated content and lots of foul language.  The argument is this is what teens want because that’s what they’re doing.  I live with two teens who don’t want that and aren’t doing that.  They have a ton of friends who don’t want that as well. 
Writing sensationalism may make you a dollar but at what cost?  Once you’re in the public eye, you’re an example, like it or not, for good or bad. 
You know, Stephen King pulled one of his books out of print because he was concerned it set a bad example for teens.  I applaud him for that courageous move.  I empathize with him that he has to live with the horrible thought that his book may have incited evil actions in others.  It’s frightening, but real.  He doesn’t discuss the book or that he pulled it and I don’t blame him.  I’d do the same in his shoes.

RRR:  Write a Twitter tweet about your next release. (140 characters)
Karen:  A lawyer travels to Brazil to mourn the tragic death of her parents finding family secrets, church corruption and international espionage.

RRR:  Write your own six-word memoir.
Karen:  She casts her crowns at his feet.
Thanks for letting me share, Rebecca.  If any of you have any questions, please feel free to email me at the address below and put Teen Word Factory in the subject line.  :)
My homeschool/devotional blog:  http://pankmcgrath.blogspot.com/
Email:  karenmcgrathauthor(at)gmail(dot)com

photo credits: Elizabeth McGrath, Delilah K. Stephans, morguefile.com


Rebecca Ryals Russell said...

Awesome interview, Karen. You gave some very insightful answers to questions.

madcapmaggie said...

Great interview -- loved the questions, loved the answers.

As to my books for a desert island:

The Bible, King James Version -- a classic, and hard to imagine I'd get tired of reading it. Lots and lots of material to read and ponder .. and I'm a fairly non-religious person ..

Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass .. two of my all-time favorites. I love the silly poetry.

After that it gets harder..

Pat Dale said...

Great interview, Karen. Rebecca asks some insightful questions and you answer them beautifully. You hit a nerve when you answered what you fear. I have several writing projects underway and, at my age and state of health, I worry that they will never see the light of day. I've got to get them done. A cynic would ask, what does it matter, and I would answer, if you don't understand that, you'll never be an author.
Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself with us.
Pat Dale

Karen McGrath said...

Thanks, Rebecca. These are great questions. Really made me think quite a bit. :)

Karen McGrath said...

Hi Maggie, we share some favorites. I love the King James Version as well. I find the others aren't as insightful.

I like to say I'm spiritual rather than religious. Religious usually means ritual while spiritual implies a vital relationship. I'm all for the that!

Karen McGrath said...

Oh, Pat, yes, you have to get them done! I'm sorry your health isn't what you wish, I understand that. I got the precursor for oral cancer at the age of 19. Decades later, I'm still here, thank God, but time is always of the essence, is it not?

Besides, you write beautifully and you must share!