Wednesday, January 14, 2009

10 Question with Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall writes a mix of urban fantasy, YA, and paranormal romance. Her novels "Project Resurrection" and "Desert Guardian," have both been published by small press. Her current novel, "Knight's Curse," was a finalist in the PASIC Book Of Your Heart contest and is out on submission. You can read the first chapter of "Knight's Curse" on Karen's website

Tell us a little about yourself as a writer. Do you outline, or wing it? Do you write daily, or in snatches?

My process is a combination of things. I don't outline, but I do what I call "story dreaming." I constantly think about the plot and characters for about a month until I have a few scenes solid in my head and a good grasp of the beginning and the end. I write out a one or two page synopsis, then I start writing the book. Once I'm past the midway point, I'll jot down notes for what I think will happen next.

I try very hard to write daily. I don't keep a schedule, but I make an effort to write 1000 words a day, even if it's in hundred word batches. We recently got a new puppy that's put a serious crimp in my writing time. I love her to pieces, but she's a very needy little dog. Plus I work full time as a graphic designer, but since I own my business, I make my own hours. I need that flexibility to function.


When – and why - did you begin writing?

Like so many writers, I can't remember a time when I didn't write. I've loved stories since my mother read to me as a child, and we'd make regular visits to the library. I was three when I told my mother a story to write down for me since I didn't yet know the alphabet, but I drew the pictures to go with it.


Tell us about your process writing Desert Guardian. What inspired you, and what did you struggle with?

This is a good question because it really explores how I developed as a writer. I'd listened to Lisa Gardner speak at a writer's conference and she inspired me to try my hand at writing romantic suspense. She got her start with category romance, and I had a number of writer friends who were successful at category, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I had so much fun doing it, but writing romance is very difficult.

There was a contest going on at Harlequin for their Intrigue line, so I entered Desert Guardian. It didn't make the cut, so I made a few changes, increased the word count, and submitted it to Silhouette Intimate Moments.

I was thrilled to get a call from the editor at Silhouette, who talked with me at length about the revisions she wanted to see. She loved the book, was excited about the premise because it was fresh and different, and my hero really impressed her. I based the story around the true and tragic events of Heaven's Gate, and created a fictional suicide cult in the California desert. My hero was a cult intervention specialist who had once been a member of the cult himself. He helps the heroine rescue her brother from the cult.

The Silhouette editor sent me a five-page revision letter, and I got right to work. Revision is one of my favorite parts of writing. I sent her the revised manuscript and waited. And waited. And waited. We had a few email exchanges during that time, then after about 15 months, she left the company. The book was technically never bought and was still under consideration. When her predecessor took over, the new editor rejected the book.

The situation with Harlequin Silhouette is that they're the only category romance publisher in the business. Or the only traditional large press that produces category romances. So the book I'd struggled so hard with no longer had a home. I refused to give up on it so I submitted it to the Wild Rose Press in 2006 and they published it in October of that year as an ebook, then a print version came out in December.


What was it liked getting published? What was your publishing journey?

Having a book published for the first time is very exciting. I loved the media attention I got with my first book, Project Resurrection. There were some fantastic book reviews, and a television interview (a local Fox station, but it was still exciting), newspaper interviews, and fan mail. It's exhilarating and somehow unreal to know that people you've never met are reading your book. I also enjoyed the book signings at first, then it became depressing when either no one showed up, or no one bought a book at the signing. I don't do signings much anymore, unless it's with a group of other authors.

My publishing experience was different with Desert Guardian. By that time, the market was glutted with ebooks, some good and some embarrassingly awful, so mine was a flash in the pan. No distribution meant no one could find the book unless they shopped online at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Because the print version was POD, bookstores refused to stock it. I got amazing reviews and recommended read ratings from reviewers, but that doesn't matter much if no one can find your book in the store.

In a way, I regret having the book published by an ebook publisher. It's done nothing for my career. I still love that book and when I get my rights back, I'll turn it over to my agent to see about selling the film rights.


I noticed there was a six-year break between publishing Project Resurrection and Desert Guardian, and it's been three years since then. Why the wait?

Well, there really wasn't much of a wait between them because I was working on other projects in the mean time. I wrote a paranormal mystery, and part of its sequel, before deciding to trunk both after I fired my agent, who was completely worthless. Also, I changed jobs a few times and went through a couple of moves, then after I moved to Oregon, I took about a year off from writing while I got my life on track. During that time, my mother passed away and it took a while to shake off the depression and get back to work.

I'm settled now, my kids are grown up and on their own, so I'm able to devote more time to my true passion: writing. It now takes me about four months to write a first draft, then another month to polish. I also write short stories and had a couple published in anthologies. I was contracted to write a romantic suspense novella for a special series produced by The Wild Rose Press in 2007.

Between writing projects, I give workshops, attend conferences, and generally network to keep my name out there.


On Headdesk, I have a minor obsession with the rules of writing. Is there any particular rule that you write by?

Good question. You're full of good questions! 8^) I have a few, but my favorite guideline, (not a rule) that I both hate and love is from Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel. He advises writers to always consider what's the worst that can happen? Then what's worse than that? What's even more worse than that?

I've brainstormed the most incredible complications using this advice, but I've also written myself into corners that I had a hell of a time getting out of. However, it always made the book better. The question he poses challenges the characters and plot on a variety of levels, so it forces you to really think. Not only do you complicate your characters' lives, you also have to solve that complication. It's a challenge like no other, but it's an awesome one.


How do you handle writer’s block?

If I'm ever feeling blocked during a book, it's usually because I've forced a character to do something that's against the natural flow of the story. So I stop and story dream for a while to come up with alternate scenarios. Once I do that, I burst through the block and I'm on my way again.

I know you're currently shopping around another novel, Knight's Curse. What's that been like so far?

Knight's Curse is my first urban fantasy and it's the book that got me my agent. After going through two sets of revisions with my agent, she started submitting the manuscript to editors last September. She sends out only a few at a time, and for each pass she receives, she submits to another publisher. We're currently waiting to hear back from four editors still considering the manuscript. It's a time-consuming process that requires patience. We stopped submitting for the holidays and because of the current state of publishing, so now my agent is carefully considering her next move. I'm hoping the submission engine gets running again soon.


Any influences?

I've always loved to read, and my first writing projects were short stories. The prospect of writing a novel intimidated me. But after reading Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, I had a whole new appreciation for the way characters are developed and badly wanted to try it myself. That's when I wrote my first book, the book that got me my first agent.

I have a number of favorite authors, and I have to say it was Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series that infected me with the urban fantasy bug. It's all I wanted to read and I devoured everything I could find. But those books took a sharp turn south after book nine, so I gave up reading her series, then continued to fall in love with other, even better stories from better authors in the genre.


If knew you a teenager who aspired to be a novelist, what would you say to them?

I'd tell a teenager to read. A lot. And then read some more. The authors we read are our best teachers. We pick up a natural instinct for the craft just by reading, so it's the best way to start. I'd recommend writing short stories first, just to get a feel for the various aspects of craft and character development. Plotting is a whole different animal when it comes to novel-length work. 

-interview by Creative A 


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