Interview with Karen
1.What does your writing process look like?
To make sure writing happens, I need to schedule it, sometimes with friends who are writers and willing to meet me at coffee shops for thirty-minute writing sprints evenings or weekends. I’m a discovery writer, so everything springs from character for me. When I’m trying to find a story, the first thing I do is write from all three different points of view, first, second, third, until I stumble across the voice and appropriate psychic distance for a story. Sometimes I think I’ve found it, but then discover I haven’t, and I have to go back and try again. After I have a pretty good idea of the voice, I complete a seven-point loose outline (see Dan Wells’ Story Structure)—sometimes I don’t figure out the final point, but I get a decent idea of where I’m going. Then I return to my voice and write toward the vague seven points. When the ending suggests itself, I try it on for size and make adjustments. Sometimes it can really help to have in mind the editor I want to send my story to and what they like—it’s not that I’m writing a story to satisfy them, I write to satisfy me, but thinking about entertaining my audience will often suggest a better ending to my creative process. Then I bounce my story off three to five writer friends for critique, and send it in. If it’s rejected, I’ll often revise before submitting again.
2. How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name-choosing resources you recommend?
Names are very important to me. I often change the characters’ names as I discover their voices and stories (this annoys my critique groups to no end, so I try to only give them versions with the names finalized). Most of the time my names have a deeper symbolic meaning. I believe what we are named affects us in life, so I try to select names that may have guided my character down the path they are on. One resource I love to use is Gary Gygax’s Book of Names. It’s out of print now, but it’s full of names from different cultures and time periods. I often use it to make sure fantasy characters from the same region/culture-group all have similar-sounding names.
3. What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Making the expansion deadline on SWIFT FOR THE SUN and writing over 40,000 words in just three months was a pretty big accomplishment. But I think my best was writing a 17,500 word epic dark scifi novella in just six weeks to meet a deadline after the editor didn’t like my in-progress submission of a different idea. I’m still quite proud of “Failsafe”–Ellen Datlow gave it an honorable mention for 2013’s Year’s Best Horror. I’ve sold it in reprint a couple of times.
4. Were you already a great writer? Have you always like to write?
I always wanted to write—I loved making up stories—but I struggled with dyslexia as a child. I had trouble reading until I was about ten years old, and my sister used to tease me terribly about my awful spelling so I tore up the stories I made in elementary school. The desire to write was always lurking though, and it expressed itself through vivid play with Star Wars figures and the other little kids in my neighborhood. In fifth grade, I bought a copy of Dungeons and Dragons from a garage sale for ten cents, and it was so enthralling I managed to push myself through reading it. After that, I got hooked on Tolkien and Choose Your Own Adventure books and then my reading improved by leaps and bounds. After that, writing came more naturally and I started writing stories again in high school and have never stopped.
5. What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
First, keep writing. Without developing your skill, nothing else will follow. You don’t have to write as well as everything you’ve read though—don’t let your lack of perfection keep you from sending out your work. Make sure it’s something you’re proud of, the story has real heart and you’ve crafted the best you’re capable of in the moment, then send it out. Something else that was immensely helpful for me was slush reading. I worked for a few magazines and one book company doing volunteer slush pile reading and final copy edit reading. These helped me understand the quality level I was shooting for to submit.
6. If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
I have a passion for teaching. Currently, I work full time at a university and write in the evenings and on weekends. I love helping new writers discover a love of creative writing and giving them both craft and career advice. We also have a family Christmas tree farm, and I love nature, but I think I will always seek other writers to help.
7. Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m mostly a pantser. I spent many years trying to teach both myself and others how to plot novels chiefly because I think the best way to learn is to teach something to someone else. The novels I have completed outlines for, I haven’t finished, while the ones I wrote just playing around, I have. So I think it’s really important to study your own process and what helps you write and what stops you from writing. I think I’ll continue trying to teach myself to outline, because it saves a lot of revision time, but I haven’t quite learned how to meld my discovery writing style with a sufficiently complex outline.
8. Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I was told not to read reviews. However, I haven’t been able to follow through on that advice. I’ve read the Goodreads and Amazon reiews for SWIFT FOR THE SUN and enjoyed them very much. Purely by chance, the first review I read wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t glowing either, and I spent one evening depressed that I’d failed to impress the reviewer. I decided I wasn’t going to read any more reviews because I lost an entire evening’s writing time fretting over it. But then I read more, and they were mostly favorable. After a few, I realized that the reviewers were like my students. A class session one student adored and wanted more of, another student thought was a waste of time. Reviewers were commenting on the same book, but one person’s favorite part was another’s least favorite. After I understood “different strokes for different folks” I was able to calmly read reviews. The only ones I responded to were the ones written by people I’ve met personally, and I sent them my thanks over email. If I get a very bad review, I don’t plan to respond. I’m not sure what the use of me responding would be. The reviews aren’t for me—they’re to help readers understand what kind of a book they’re getting. My advice would be to take bad reviews with a grain of salt and read the good reviews a few more times to cheer up. I do admit to feeling a sense of validation when I read a good review, and I did read some aloud to my mom.
9. What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
Getting started and getting stuck are my least favorite parts. Sometimes it’ll take me a really long time to find a character’s voice and then I feel unsure about the story until I fall in love with the character and what they’re doing. After I’m in love, the rest of the story seems to flow pretty well—until I don’t know how to resolve a plot problem and get stuck. If too much time passes while I’m stuck, I lose the thread of the story and returning to it is really hard. Before SWIFT FOR THE SUN, I would have reported novel editing was my least favorite part, but honestly I had blast editing this book with Desi Chapman at Dreamspinner. I guess I love editing if I have a great editor giving me excellent feedback to follow.
10. Do you have a favorite conference to attend? What is it?
I absolutely adore the GenCon Writers’ Symposium in Indianapolis. It’s very friendly to new authors and helped me start my career. I highly recommend it to anyone who writes science fiction or fantasy and is new. Being a guest there is really fun too and I look forward to moderating panels and hanging out with other authors each year.
11. What secret talents do you have?
I can sing. I’m that lone voice in the congregation that’s really loud and on tune (most of the time). I sing in the shower and in my car. I guess you might say I polished my “noisy little sister” skills to amazing levels. I can whistle breathing in and out, so I can whistle songs without stopping for breath. Strangers stop me when I’ve visited another church and thank me for sitting behind them. I love to sing! I had a cat that hated it though, and he’d meow at me until I stopped.
12. If you could have any accents from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
I’d love to have a British accent. Patrick Stewart’s to be specific.
13. What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy?
I was probably pretty weird for a little girl. I loved snakes and Star Wars and Star Trek. I watched Battlestar Galactica with my dad and begged my mom to read me scary poems about goblins. I loved creepy things—my birthday is Halloween—and yet I was easily scared by movies most people don’t think are scary. Something like Gremlins would affect me for weeks and weeks. I was constantly digging mud pits in the yard and losing my ewoks. The boys across the street and I got into all kinds of trouble with our BB guns and slingshots and ill-conceived “zip lines” we’d try to string from second story bedrooms to promising-looking trees. I loved Indiana Jones and every kind of bug. I had a strong dislike for Barbie, but I loved my Cabbage Patch dolls and My Little Ponies. I refused to read The Bridge to Terabithia because my friends said it was sad. I lived off of Kraft macaroni and cheese and loved my Gilligan’s Island playset. On second thought, maybe I was pretty normal for an 80s kid.
14. Quickly, give us the title and genre of your book and a 30-word or less tagline:
SWIFT FOR THE SUN is a historical romance. The seed story was: Han Solo and Tarzan fall in love and fight pirates.
15. Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
Anyone who likes historical romance, pirates, two people falling in love reasonably quickly and then learning how to help each other, and volcanos. Fans of action and adventure will find a lot to enjoy in my book. Also, there’s cursing in five languages, so who can resist that?
16. How did you come up with the title of your book or series?
SWIFT FOR THE SUN is a play on the principal characters’ names. The main character, Benjamin, is impersonating an infamous smuggler named Captain Swift. When he meets Soli, my Tarzan character, he anglicizes his name to “Sun.” The title is about Benjamin’s journey from interested lover to total devotion and is a play on words for adventure on the high seas.
17. Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?
Anna Sikorska did an amazing job on the cover. I picked the initial layout from five she created, and then we refined Benjamin’s look. I’m extremely happy. My book has sex in it but it’s not overly erotic, so I didn’t want a lot of rippling abs. I wanted a quick glance to “read” HISTORICAL and PIRATES and HANDSOME SCOUNDREL. I picked a man in historical costume with a palm tree and pirate ship behind him, looking straight out at the reader, inviting them to go on this adventure with him.
18. Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
This is a really hard question! It’s like picking between my children! I love both Benjamin and Sun, though Benjamin is a bit of an oaf sometimes. Reviewers really love Sun, though he’s the secondary character, and I tried to present a very real, multi-dimensional person when I created him. He’s a quiet man and does not boast about his skills, though he’s a deadly fighter and survivalist—he’s tough and he’s been through hell, but managed to keep his humanity. Even with this toughness, he manages to be innocent about some things and has a childlike sense of play. Showcasing the different sides of his personality was really fun, and Desi really helped me bring them out.
19. How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Martio, the main villain, is my least favorite character on purpose. I needed someone who was terrifying and who expressed the worst parts of twisted love and possession. He’s the ex-boyfriend from hell, and meant to be. My readers hate him too, as they are meant to.
Swift for the Sun
Author: Karen Bovenmyer
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anna Sikorska
Word Count: 80,000 Words
Page Count: 230
Benjamin Lector imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned criminal, first and foremost, he is a survivor.
When Benjamin is shipwrecked on Dread Island, fortune sends an unlikely savior—a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy. But pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo, and they find their former slave, Sun, instead.
Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he endured and was forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure that a peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.
Karen Bovenmyer was born and raised in Iowa, where she teaches and mentors new writers at Iowa State University. She triple-majored in anthropology, English, and history so she could take college courses about cave people, zombie astronauts, and medieval warfare to prepare for her writing career. After earning her BS, she completed a master’s degree with a double specialization in literature and creative writing with a focus in speculative fiction, also from Iowa State University. Although trained to offer “Paper? Or plastic?” in a variety of pleasant tones, she landed an administrative job at the college shortly after graduation. Working full-time, getting married, setting up a household, and learning how to be an adult with responsibilities (i.e. bills to pay) absorbed her full attentions for nearly a decade during which time she primarily wrote extremely detailed roleplaying character histories and participated in National Novel Writing Month.
However, in 2010, Karen lost a parent.
With that loss, she realized becoming a published author had a nonnegotiable mortal time limit. She was accepted to the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program with a specialization in Popular Fiction and immediately started publishing, selling her first story just before starting the program and three more while in the extremely nurturing environment provided by the Stonecoast community, from which she graduated in 2013. Her science fiction, fantasy, and horror novellas, short stories, and poems now appear in more than forty publications including Abyss & Apex, Crossed Genres, Pseudopod, and Strange Horizons. She is the Horror Writers Association 2016 recipient of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. She serves as the nonfiction editor for Escape Artist’s Mothership Zeta Magazine and narrates stories for Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Far Fetched Fables, Star Ship Sofa, and the Gallery of Curiosities Podcasts. Her first novel, SWIFT FOR THE SUN, an LGBT pirate romantic adventure set in the 1820s Caribbean, will be published on March 27, 2017.
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