It’s time to play twenty questions with Karen Fowler, Author of Still Life Paintings, and Skin: Short Fiction (under the name Alex Owens), and future Indie guru!
Thanks to Karen for her answers to my literary inquisition. Karen suffered sitting in a dark room with a bright light shining in her face. Despite the dreadful conditions, she took aim and hit the bulls-eye.
1) When you were a kid, did you like English class? Did you ever imagine being a writer? When did you pen your first story? Tell us about it.
I loved the writing part, even if it was constructing proper sentences or penning essays about summer vacation. The grammar rules bored me to tears and I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have. Thankfully, my appetite for books helped drill the grammar rules into my head at least a little.
My first story? To be honest I’m not sure. I wrote many that lacked a necessary element- like a plot, so my mind has buried them like compost. The story I still remember was the first one that made sense, came out of left field, and gave me goosebumps when I re-read it.
It was about a poor boy, walking down the dirt road home. Along the way he passed his grandfather going in the opposite direction, and he sensed something is wasn’t right. When he reached home, the house was fully engulfed in flames, and his grandfather hadn’t had time to get out before the flames took over. I think I was 12 when I pecked that out carefully (in one draft) on my mothers typewriter.
2) Does your locale influence the setting(s) for your works? If yes, how so? If not, why not?
Very much so. I’m a very visual/ sensory person. So whether I’m writing or painting, I need to experience something in order to capture it well. Sure, I imagine things if I have to, but I’m able to capture the entire experience, with sights, smells, sounds and details much better if I can see it in person.
I’m still trying to convince my husband that I really do need to go to Italy, for research purposes of course!
3) If you could pick the mind of one of the greats, who would it be? What would you ask them? Would you ask them to critique your work?
My first impulse is to chose George Orwell, but I’m flummoxed at what I’d ask of him. Tyrannical Pigs and revolutionary Farm Animals- genius.
I’d probably ask Poe for any tips on using basic human fears to heighten the tension in a story. Or I’d pick Nathaniel Hawthorne, who in my mind was one of the first authors to add paranormal elements to mainstream works. I’d want to ask him about the idea behind Young Goodman Brown and Rappaccini’s Daughter Daughter.
4) Speaking of your work, tell the readers about it in twenty words or less. Ready, set, go!
A quirky mixture of genre and mainstream fiction that explores common themes in uncommon ways, while providing an interesting story.
5) What do you believe is the most important element of style? Do you focus on a particular element over another?
As I said earlier, the “rules” bring out the rebellious teenager in me. That’ said, I’ve learned a few things over years of writing, which I would have learned quicker if I’d paid attention in school. Omit unnecessary words and sentences. By paring down the words to what is necessary, the writing becomes much tighter and the story will be better for it.
6) What is the most difficult element for you?
Punctuation. No, seriously. I write like I’m speaking in my head, which yields a lot of commas. I end up taking out fifty-percent of them in the editing phase. Word arrangement comes in a close second. In the editing phase I have to rewrite for sentence structure. Again because I write like I speak, and the nuances get lost in that translation.
7) If you were to dabble in a new genre, what would it be?
I’d have to go with Science Fiction. Not the alien, beam-me-up kind, more like Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park type. I majored in biology/ psychology and have great affection for the scientifically weird. The problem? I’m research-lazy and Sci-Fi readers demand authenticity and accuracy.
8) Do you feel it’s important to focus on one genre or do you like to journey across boundaries?
As evident with some of the Indie Author’s striking it big right now, I’d say building up a long list of similar genre books is crucial to finding a fan base. I have frolicking squirrels in my brain though, and I find that I need to write in multiple genres to keep my furry friends quiet and calm. I don’t read only one genre of books, so writing genre-confined doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either.
9) Lots of people enjoy well-crafted first sentences, others enjoy last sentences. Do you give any extra attention to either? What do you feel is more important?
I think it depends on the purpose. Fabulous first sentences can sell a book, but terrific ending lines can satisfy the reader so they remember the story, and by association, the author. First lines can sell one book, last lines can sell many.
10) It is said writing is a courageous act. Have you ever written anything that has tested your intestinal fortitude?
Yes, I once wrote a longish short story that was so far out of my element that I questioned my sanity. It was visceral and disturbing and I never published it. I did chop it up and put a much-tamer version in the collection Skin: Short Fiction. Readers have found it disturbing, so I can imagine what they’d think if they read the original version.
11) Stephen King said he writes for a particular person, in his case his wife Tabitha; do you write for a particular reader?
I write for myself, to let the ideas out of my head (a pressure release valve of sorts) and because I write what I want to read. Beyond that, no. I’m paranoid enough about what anonymous readers think of my work. I can’t imagine offering up my blood and soul to someone I know.
12) Do you have a muse? What is your relationship with it? Describe him/her to us.
I used to think so, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen her that I’m pretty sure I imagined the whole helpful-muse thing. I make more progress by forcing myself to write daily, than I ever did under inspired “burst”- so she can just gone as far as I’m concerned. (No really, come back!)
13) Have you ever written anything that is diametrically opposed to your personal believes? Was this difficult for you? If so, how did you overcome the obstacle?
No, not really. Unlike some readers who will attack a writer for a character’s beliefs, I know that the work is fictional, and just by thinking and writing it does not mean I adapt the morality of my creations. Now, if I start acting like them, then I may have a problem.
14) Of your work(s), what/which are you the proudest? Tell us about it?
I really do like my latest story release, Still Life Paintings, especially the first story Abstract Remembrances. It evolved in such an unplanned way that was fabulous fun to write. Of course, I must not be the best judge, because my least favorite novella is currently my most downloaded book. Go figure!
15) Tell us about your writing habits:
Sadly, I don’t have many, but I’m working on it. I’d like to train my brain to get into writing mode faster, and to “expect” writing time. Then maybe I won’t waste so much time on the internet while gearing up to write.
16) We’ve all seen the disclaimer: Any similarity to a person living or dead is purely coincidental; have you fallen back upon it or do you disguise your character’s influences? Give us an example of a person in your life that you’ve used for inspiration as a character.
I’d never given it any thought before, but since you asked I can see that I don’t create around people that I know. Occasionally I’ve used an overheard phrase or quirk– but always from strangers. Everything else is born from my overactive imagination.
17) If one of your characters came to life and wanted to meet you, which one would it be and how do you imagine the meeting?
I’d love to meet Bette, from my current work-in-progress Blood Chord. Maybe she’d let me play her enchanted violin.
18) Every writer has fantasizes of being on the New York Time’s Bestseller list. In ten years, do you believe the list will be relevant? Why or why not?
I think some sort of list will be relevant. Readers will still want to know what books are hot, though hopefully the list will more inclusive and an accurate representation of the best selling books, no matter the format or publisher.
19) I know I missed something, answer any question you’d like. (Insert shameless plug(s) here if you so desire – remember, shame is a five letter word.)
Okay, how about “Where can readers find out more about your work?”- I keep a fairly active website at www.quirkygurl.com. I do have pages devoted to the books available, but the blog page is where the action is. I post new book reviews ( I read several books per week), Indie Author spotlights, random musings about books, publishing and reading. Contests may pop up there occasionally too. I’m also active on twitter as @imaquirkygurl.
20) Post a snippet or first chapter of any of your works. Brownie points for including the first and last sentences.
From Abstract Remembrances, in the collection Still Life Paintings:
The day the men came for her was bleak and gray, as if the weather mirrored her soul. Rain drops tinkered against the bathroom window. Tear drops rained down her face. The house was silent, dead space absent of life’s usual noises.
She remembers wanting to die, sitting naked in the bathroom floor with a stainless steel knife. She can still feel the cold press of the blade against the meat of her thigh. She can still see the fresh-cut skin pinking as the blood pooled around the margins. She remembers the fresh tang of iron in the air as her soul leaked out of the wound, rising and curling like the plume of smoke.
(And the end of the story)
The guilt is like an invasive weed. Starting from seed, it quickly takes roots and spreads faster than the runners can be ripped out. It chokes out everything that is healthy, smothering, strangling- until all that is left is the guilt-weed and self loathing. And fragmented memories.
Thanks for having me on your site!
Karen, thank you for great, well thought out answers! Good luck and may you become the next Amanda Hocking!
Readers, don’t be stingy! Get to Karen’s sites and move her up the charts!
Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Karen-Fowler/e/B004TUFF9S/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0