7 Questions With Author Karen Eisenbrey
Karen Eisenbrey lives in Seattle, WA, where she leads a quiet, orderly life and invents stories to make up for it. Although she intended to be a writer from an early age, until her mid-30s she had nothing to say. A little bit of free time and a vivid dream about a wizard changed all that.
Karen writes fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as short fiction in a variety of genres and the occasional poem if it insists. She also sings in a church choir, plays drums in a garage band, and was surprised to find herself writing songs for her debut YA novel The Gospel According to St. Rage, a finalist for the 2016 Wishing Shelf Book Awards.
A YA wizard fantasy, Daughter of Magic, was released by Not a Pipe Publishing in 2018 as part of “The Year of Publishing Women.” Gospel will relaunch in an expanded 2nd edition from Not A Pipe in spring 2019 and Wizard Girl, the sequel to Daughter of Magic, will follow in fall 2019. Karen shares her life with her husband, two young adult sons, and two mature adult cats.
In today’s interview, Karen shares some valuable insight on writing while parenting, plotting vs pantsing, and her next book, The Gospel According to St Rage. If you too are an upcoming writer, make sure you check out all the tips and tricks in The Journey From Writing To Publishing a novel and sign up to my Newsletter for the latest and greatest.
Esther Rabbit: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I started as a complete pantser, just jumping in and writing however much of the story I knew and letting it develop as I went along. My first decent book (still unpublished), I had to sneak up on the ending, circling in closer and closer until I knew what it was.
I have rewritten that book so many times… Over the years and something like eleven books later, I have evolved into a plantser: I write little test scenes early on to see if there’s anything there, then sketch out a loose synopsis of what I think the story might be, so if I get stuck in the actual writing, I can skip to the next thing and keep moving. There’s still a lot of discovery that happens in the actual writing. I throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
Esther Rabbit: Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your journey?
Don’t be so darned serious! You don’t need some big important idea in order to start writing a story. Start writing with whatever you have—a character, a situation, a weird phrase, a band name—and ideas will eventually show up. Be silly, write something no one else will ever see, and just have fun with it. (Although I had always wanted to write, I took 12 years off because I “had nothing to say.” Yeah, right.)
Esther Rabbit: How do you manage to juggle life and writing?
I started writing when I was working full time and had two young children, ages 6 and not quite 2: the chaos years. I was fortunate to be able to quit my job soon after, which helped with the juggling, but kids that age require a lot of attention and time.
I wrote during the toddler’s naps at first, then during preschool, then during part of the school day once he started school. The first summer after both of them had been in school all year, I had a book I really wanted to write. I made a deal with the kids: Mom gets 1 hour per day to write, no interruptions. It worked so well!
When you have only one hour a day, you don’t waste a minute. That was years ago—they’re in their 20s now and I’m working again—but I still rarely write for more than an hour at a time, usually somewhere between 3 and 5 pm. It’s trickier now that I have to fit in book promotion, too, but I’m learning.
Esther Rabbit: What should readers expect from your next novel?
Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘next’! The next to be published will the enhanced 2nd edition of my first novel, a garage-rock fairy tale called The Gospel According to St Rage. It’s a contemporary, Seattle-set comedy featuring a teen girl who has been avoiding attention since she was 8, to the point where she can’t be seen.
A magic hat makes her visible and gives her the confidence to start an all-girl garage band, but the superpowers that follow take her by surprise. Hijinks, music, and some pathos ensue.
Book 2 of my fantasy trilogy follows later in the year. Wizard Girl is about a teen girl with magical ability who bucks tradition to become a wizard, damaging her closest friendships along the way. And I’m in the midst of writing Book 3, in which she’s working out how to make use of her new status as wizard as a threat presents itself from beyond the grave.
Esther Rabbit: What are the steps you usually take from writing your first draft to publishing?
Drafting is hard for me, though it’s easier now that I plan ahead some. I’m learning to just keep writing and not edit too much as I go. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is helpful for that, just getting a lot of words down fast. I tend to write a lot of unattributed dialogue at this stage, and not much else.
I genuinely enjoy the first round of revision, adding action and description, getting things in the right order, discovering places early in the book to foreshadow what comes later, and filling out the characters. This is usually followed by a round of lost confidence in the whole project, so I take a break and come back to it with fresher eyes.
At this point, I might go through it again and make notes about what is still needed, or send it out to beta readers if it seems ready. Once I have feedback from the betas, I incorporate any changes that grow out of that, then read through the whole thing again.
For my two most recent manuscripts I stumbled onto a technique of reading through backward, starting with the last chapter. I read a chapter, write a synopsis of 2 or 3 sentences, and make notes about what that chapter is supposed to accomplish and whether it succeeds. Then I fix whatever weak spots have come up.
Once that’s done, I should have a clean, solid manuscript and a full synopsis, so all that’s left is formatting for submission. That step is a little less fraught for me now that I have a publisher who likes my work and asks for it. If they accept my submission, I respond to edits and do whatever else they ask to get ready for publication. I try to be easy to work with.
Esther Rabbit: We all know this industry is full of surprises. Can you share an unexpected experience?
Rejection is a part of an author’s life, so anytime somebody says “Yes” is a big surprise. Here’s one story: authors these days have to do a lot of promotion and marketing, whether they have a publisher or are going it alone. For an introvert like me, that hustle is really hard. I find I can manage it if I know I have to do only one thing today.
So one day’s task was to reach out to a few local independent bookstores and ask if they wanted to carry my book. I never heard back from two of them, but the third, which I had not heard of until I read about them in the newspaper the day before, got back to me the next day with an enthusiastic YES.
They were familiar with and fans of my publisher, Not A Pipe Publishing, and personal friends with one of my sister authors. Two of us did a reading and signing there on the day of their grand re-opening and will be back for another event later this year.
Esther Rabbit: What’s your favorite genre as a reader?
Speculative, especially if it’s humorous, but really anything well-written with magic, superpowers, and/or space travel will get my attention. I started reading SF and fantasy when I was 10 or so and it really scratched an itch.
I think kids feel powerless: you’re small, you can’t drive or vote, people tell you what to do all day. So reading about magic or superpowers holds out hope that one day, you’ll get your Hogwarts letter or develop mutant powers and things will be better.
And then you become an adult without those things, but by then if you’re lucky, you’ve found new hopes and new powers in real life.
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And if you’re a fan of Paranormal Romance, check out Lost in Amber:
“A new Interplanetary Alliance ambassador on an earthbound mission.
A handful of genetically altered humans to be rescued.
Meeting her changed everything.“