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Karyn on Writing

Before I became an author I worked in fashion and advertising. My job involved organizing advertising campaigns, photo shoots, fashion shows, etc., and it was extremely fast-paced and challenging. While there I became interested in writing, and took a Karyn on Writinguniversity evening course on how to write popular fiction. The professor spoke at great length about the discipline of writing a book, and how if one were serious one simply had to make time for it and treat it like a job, and not give up in the face of weariness, or rejection, or even the dreaded writer's block.

Some time later I took a trip to France, where I was both fascinated and moved by the passion and brutality of the French Revolution. The desire to write a book set during that incredible chapter in history took root. As I continued to work ever longer hours at my job I became increasingly restless--I wanted to write a book, but when was I ever going to find the time or the energy?

And so one day I resigned and became not unemployed, but a writer.

The French Revolution suddenly seemed a rather daunting subject for someone who didn't even know if she could string together a few lines of dialogue or actually complete a chapter. I decided to put that idea aside and try my hand at writing a shorter, simpler book which I might actually have a hope of finishing. My first attempts at the opening chapter were quite dreadful, and I had a number of moments where I thought, What on earth have I done? What ever made me think I could write, why oh why did I leave my job, and what on earth am I going to do now?

The problem, of course, with beginning your writing career in such a public way (people alternately thought my resignation was either free-spirited and romantic or downright crazy) is that everyone actually expects you to write a book. After all, you have the time now, and writing a book is easy, anyone could do it if they simply had the time, so off you go. Unwilling to admit defeat before even one chapter was completed, I really had no choice but to persevere, consoling myself with the thought that no one ever actually had to see what I was writing. After eight months of perseverance, my manuscript was complete.

I had done it! I had written a book! Now surely there was some publisher out there who would be more than happy to publish it--wasn't there?

In fact, I did receive some nice comments about that first novel, which now sits safely tucked away in a box on a shelf--but alas, no firm offers to publish it. But once it was finished I decided it was time to try my hand at writing a far longer, darker, more historically detailed book--set during the French Revolution. There were many moments when I thought I would never complete it, but finally I did. Surrender To A Stranger was published by Bantam in January 1995. It received a 4 1/2 star rating from both Romantic Times and Affaire de Coeur, and was nominated by Romantic Times for "Best First Historical Romance."

I have written more books since then, all of which are historicals, and all of which have been published by Bantam. I have a very supportive editor who has believed in me from the moment she read the first few chapters of Surrender To A Stranger. I don't have a favorite, but Surrender To A Stranger will always hold a very special place in my heart, because it was written with such love and determination and uncertainty--and because it was truly one of the greatest moments of my life to hear that it was going to be published.

I have a wonderful, funny, down to earth agent in New York who represents me. She doesn't attempt to guide what I write--I tell her what I want to do and she is extremely enthusiastic. She presents my ideas to Bantam, and if they come back with any changes, she loyally assures me that my idea is really much better than their's, then gently suggests that perhaps I could make a tiny adjustment here and there just to appease them, and then carry on with my own plans for the book.

We have a fine relationship.

Like many writers, I find writing hard. I write slowly, and am extremely critical of the words that appear on the screen before me. But I didn't come to writing with any illusions about the process--it is plain, hard work. What I enjoy most is finding that precise word, or polishing that phrase until it is just right, or reading a scene I have written and finding myself moved or amused by it. There is an incredible sense of satisfaction in making that final, minute change to a manuscript and then declaring to yourself that it is finished--at least until your editor has had a chance to edit it!

Having spent most of my career in a hectic office environment enjoying the company of others, at first I found the solitude of writing somewhat difficult. When my poor husband came home at the end of the day, tired, head pounding, wanting nothing more than a little peace and the chance to quietly unwind, I was so starved for human interaction that I would practically pounce on him and begin to rattle off questions about his day: what had happened and who said what and where did he go for lunch and what did he eat? Over the years I have adjusted (much to his relief!) and have actually come to enjoy the quiet isolation of writing. What I dislike are the days when the words just won't come, or they come and they are invariably awful, and I have spent all day in front of the computer and have virtually nothing to show for it, and my deadline is looming and I don't know what I'm doing, and a kind of slow, debilitating panic begins to take hold.

When I begin a novel, I often start with an idea for the characters, and then sketch out a basic plot. A very detailed outline follows, breaking down each chapter into scenes, so I know exactly where the book is going before I begin to write it. I try to write six or more hours a day, treating it like a job. As I near a deadline, the hours increase. Generally I don't answer the phone when I'm writing, unless I feel like I need a little break.

I like to write about battered, imperfect heroes--powerful men who have had their strength or power or confidence or ideals eroded by life. My heroines usually have strength and courage, but they have often been fundamentally wounded in a way that may make them reckless, and less than willing to empathize with the faults and frailties of the hero. By bringing these two personalities together, each eventually learns from the other, and ultimately heals enough to find the courage required for love.

I keep myself fresh and inspired by forcing myself to sit in front of the computer and willing myself to come up with an idea even when I feel like I have no ideas left and all my inspiration has drained into the ground. When this method fails I: a) go and kiss my children, whose smiles and giggles and silliness always make me laugh, or b) eat chocolate.

There are many challenges to being a published author, including working against a deadline which once seemed perfectly reasonable but now any sane person can see is clearly impossible, trying to finish your book without forcing your family to subsist completely on Kraft Dinner and take-out food, trying to conjure up ways to promote your book that won't mean selling off your first-born child, trying to come up with another idea, then working against a deadline which once seemed perfectly reasonable...

To aspiring authors I say, as long as you enjoy writing, don't give up. And when it starts to become hard work, and the ideas don't come easily, and you are tired and frustrated, don't give up. And when the rejection letters come, whether in a slow trickle or a full-fledged torrent, and you are filled with irritation with those rejecting publishers who clearly wouldn't know a good manuscript if it dropped from the sky and hit them on the head, don't give up. And when the rejection begins to erode your confidence, and you wonder whatever made you think you could write, don't give up. Study the market, read widely, be critical of your work and strive to write better, but DON'T GIVE UP.

Because somewhere deep within the center of it all is your own essential, wonderful desire to put your story onto paper. It is part of who you are, and published or not, this year or ten years from now, you can take deep, incomparable pleasure in the fact that you are a writer.


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