Writer Spotlight: Karen Heenan
I just realized that while this is both my blog and author website, I haven't actually been posting about writing-related stuff.
My own writing related stuff will come soon, but first I want to incorporate into my blog this awesome segment: The Writer Spotlight.
I've met and talked with so many talented and great writers in the writing community on Twitter and they've all been so kind to me. So I figured I'd repay the favor by giving them a small spotlight on my blog.
So, the first one to start all this is Karen Heenan, a historial fiction author whom I had the pleasure interviewing.
Take it away, Karen!
1. Tell me about yourself
I'm 55, happily married with two cats, and I live outside Philadelphia in a small suburb that feels more like a small town. In addition to writing, I like to sew, garden, cook, and work on my house. I have too many books and currently not enough cats. My debut novel, a Tudor historical called Songbird, is being published on November 3, 2019, and I'm trying not to be over-excited. I'm not succeeding, because this is a dream come true.
2. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I've been obsessed with books and storytelling my whole life, and when I realized as a child that REAL PEOPLE could write books, that was it. I also wanted to be a ballerina, but that would have required things like lessons, and shoes, and coordination. I wanted to be an artist, but that required supplies, possibly lessons, and more talent than I knew I had. Writing seemed easy, because all it needed was paper and pen, and lots of reading, which I already did.
3. Do you think an education in writing is necessary?
This may not be a popular opinion, but I don't. I think that lots and lots of reading, in all genres, is necessary, because books are an education in themselves. I read books about writing, but some of the best lessons I've ever had were in the pages of well-written novels.
4. Are you a full-time author? If so/not, how do you balance work, life & writing?
I work from home, doing various things to stay out of a cubicle job, which means that my time is flexible and I can write at any point during my day. Until 5-6 years ago, I had a 9-5 job, and I possibly wrote more then because I felt the pressure of not having enough time. I would write on the train, at lunch, sneakily at my desk, at home in the evenings. Now that I have more time, it seems I get less done.
5. Are you a plotter, pantser or plantser?
I'm a recovering pantser, which I guess means I'm a plantser. I used to think that outlining would kill the creativity/spontaneity, but I've since come around to the idea that there's a lot of space for creative side trips in a good outline, and there's no one to say you can't remake your outline when your characters insist on going off in another direction, so long as you think that direction is better for the story than your original outline.
6. What are your solutions for writer's block?
I generally try to get away from writing, or at least away from the project that's behaving badly. I like to work in my garden or start a new sewing project, because both of these are good for clearing my head, and then I can start to hear my characters' voices again. I'm also a fan of long walks, for the same reason. Some people swear by showers, but I'm too impatient (and too unwilling to waste water) to stay there long enough to cure a writer's block.
7. Are you self-published or trad? What made you choose that route?
I'm being published by a small, start-up publisher called Authors4Authors Publishing. It feels like something in between elf-published and traditional - they don't require agent representation, and their process is very collaborative in that I had input into the cover design, the blurb, etc. I found them/they found me through a Twitter pitch event.
8. Who encourages your writing?
My husband is very encouraging, and very, very patient. He knows that when my eyes glaze over, I'm probably in another century or tinkering with a plot point, and he waits for me to come back. My real life friends are supportive, though they're not writers, and I have some good writer friends who I've found through social media - it's nice to have people who can talk "shop" with you without getting bored.
9. How long does it normally take you to finish a book/story?
That's a really hard question. Songbird took me longer than I care to tell - let's just say my initial research was not done online because online wasn't all that common then. But I was writing it for myself, and not with an aim of publication at that point, so I took my time and wrote when I wanted, and tinkered with it endlessly. I enjoyed the process, but now that I'm published, I'd prefer not to take that long again, hence my newfound belief in outlining.
I started an outlined project in January, and actually finished the first draft by mid-May. Partway through the second draft, a character from Songbird announced that he had a story to tell, and I hung a left and started writing his story. It's coming along pretty quickly, although this one is going to take more research, so there are a lot of blanks in the draft, or comments like "find out what happened" or "was he alive then?" or "how long did it take to sail to France?"
10. Do you have any marketing strategies?
At this point, my strategy is to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. My publisher is doing marketing, of course, but I think unless you're a massive household name, you're expected to do a lot of marketing, no matter who your publisher is. I'm on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and I have a blog on my website. I'm After the new year, I'll be doing some bookstore events in my area, and I'm working with a couple of local libraries to do local author events.
11. Any favourite genre you like to write in? What draws you to write in that genre?
Historical fiction has been my favorite since I was little, and I've never grown out of it. I'm fascinated by how people lived in the past, and the differences and similarities between us. My debut novel is set in Tudor England, and so is the one I'm currently working on, but the novel that got interrupted is set in the 1930s in Pennsylvania, so that's a totally different era, and much easier to research.
12. What do you think readers will find appealing in your book/books?
Tudor fiction is both an easy sell (because people love to read it) and a hard sell (because there's so much of it). My stories are different because although they're set in and around the court of Henry VIII, they don't involve him or any of the wives in any substantial way. (I think Henry has gotten more than enough press over the years, and honestly, the more you read about him, the less appealing he is). I want my books to be accessible to readers who don't think they like historical fiction, without being out of the realm for serious historical fiction readers.
13. Any advice for aspiring writers?
Just keep going. Realize that a first draft is just that - a draft. You're telling yourself the story, and it's not going to be perfect. I think we're all conditioned to expect things to be easy, and writing isn't, at least not most of the time.
One thing I've learned over the years is to not be precious about my writing. No matter how good I think it is, it can be improved. I've learned to put projects aside for a few weeks, to get a little distance, and then come back to it. Things are much clearer when I've had some time away.
And most importantly, get out of your own way. I wrote for myself for years, but then I continued to tell myself that's what I was doing, even when I knew I wanted to try for publication. I ended up doing the Twitter pitch because I didn't think anything would come for it, and it's led to my being published.
Karen's debut novel is up for pre-order now and you can buy it here