Saturday, February 25, 2012

Author Interview: Karen Wojcik Berner

"Great story. Relatable, Love the Characters. Don't know if I can sell it."

Our second Saturday author interview features Karen Wojcik Berner. Authors interested in participating can get details here.

Your college education was in English with a concentration on writing. You’ve worked as a journalist and editor for magazines, and in public relations, which requires communication skills in many areas, including writing. Have you ever had a job that didn’t involve writing and, if so, how do you think that experience has helped you as an author? 

I’ve been very lucky to have been able to make a living as a writer for all of my adult life. Of course, that meant writing press releases for a clown college and even a restaurant menu occasionally, but you take whatever jobs you can get, right?

I did take a couple of years off to be a stay-at-home mom when I was pregnant with my second son, but that didn’t last very long, and I ended up writing A Whisper to a Scream during that time. Becoming a mother changed me as a writer in ways I never anticipated. I am much better at understanding situations from multiple viewpoints, which is crucial for fiction.

My summer jobs during high school and college included a park district recreation leader, a grocery bagger, a stringer for the local newspaper, and a preschool assistant. I even worked in a neighborhood fast-food joint, slinging hot dogs. That was the toughest of all, especially during the humid Chicago summers with temperatures over 90. I would come home, jeans soaked with grease from the fryer, completely overheated and exhausted. I like to think of those days as “character building.”

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

I like to cook, watch Chopped (I confess, I am a foodie) and Downton Abbey (who doesn’t love English period pieces?), go to the theater and movies, play board games and even the occasional video game with my sons. I find shooting stormtroopers during Star Wars: Battlefront to be particularly fulfilling. The kids have moved onto other games, but I remain true to this one, in which you can kill something without blood or guts splattering all over the screen. I am a wuss when it comes to gore.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I have been writing little stories here and there ever since I can remember, but originally I thought I was going to be a singer. Music played a big part in my life growing up, singing in multiple choirs, doing community variety shows and various theater productions. But then I started working on my high school newspaper. The thrill of the deadline! So many stories to tell! I was hooked.

A Whisper to a Scream is your first novel. Did you always want to write fiction? Is this your first published fiction?

Yes, I dreamed of writing fiction since penning my first story, The Car, when I was seven. Though wonderfully illustrated in crayon (or so I thought), it sold only one copy (to my parents). I still have it in a drawer somewhere. I had a short story of mine published in my college’s literary magazine, but, other than that, all of my publishing credits are in magazines or newspapers.

Although we have many authors who follow Books and Pals, these interviews are primarily for readers (and the reader that is in every writer). I want to focus on the author and their books, not the writing process in these interviews. However, due to your editing background, I can’t resist asking you a few author-centric questions. First, what was the process you went through in editing your book? Did you have outside help?

Once the book’s story was completed, the plot flushed out, and each scene written and rewritten five times or more, it was time for full manuscript editing.

The first reading is like continuity editing for a film. Does the book work? Do you like it? Does everything make sense? Double check the locations, that the character names stay consistent, especially with minor characters.

Then comes editing for stylistic things, like grammar, punctuation, removing the passive voice, and tightening up the prose.

Third time through is proofreading. Check red-flag words, such as the twenty-five most commonly misspelled words, homophones, and various other things spell checker does not catch. Double check place names are spelled correctly.

Actually, I wrote a three-part series on the basics of book editing for my blog, Bibliophilic Blather, last June, starting on June 6 with “Red Flag Words,” and continuing 6/8 with “Continuity Editing” and 6/13’s “The Necessary Tedium” if you are interested.

After I was sure it was in good shape, I handed it over to two of my former English professors who both also gave it a once-over.

Do you think it is possible for Indie authors to create a quality product entirely on their own?

No, I do not think it is possible for anyone to edit themselves simply because you become too familiar with your own words and glaze over mistakes, no matter who you are. It is a lot easier to edit someone else’s work than your own.

Every indie author owes it to readers to get his or her work professionally edited. If you don’t have the money, bribe an English major friend with chocolate or Starbucks. It always works.

I’m guessing like most authors, you’re also an avid reader. What are your favorite books?

Absolutely. My all-time favorite novel is Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen is a master of witty dialogue and analyzing the society around her. As for contemporary authors, Anne Tyler and Maeve Binchy are my favorites. I’ve been genre hopping lately, from historical fiction to chick lit to short story anthologies. It’s been great fun.

Are there any books by your fellow Indies you would recommend?

I absolutely loved Helen Smith’s Alison Wonderland. She started out as an indie (at least in the States), then was signed with Amazon Encore. Alison Wonderland is this fantastic, bizarre British novel. It’s really quite excellent.

Another great indie author is Karen Cantwell, who writes the Barbara Marr series, which are part mystery, part comedy. Take the Monkeys and Run has the same feel as a Lucy and Ethel caper. Hilarious.

Getting back to your book, A Whisper to a Scream focuses on two ladies, Annie and Sarah. Each is unhappy and wants what the other has. What was your inspiration for this story?

A very vivid dream I could not shake became Annie's plot of a PR executive dealing with a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. A few days later, the idea of an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom (Sarah) came to me in the shower, probably because it was the only time I had two minutes to myself since my kids were very young at the time.

So, I had poor Sarah and a traumatized Annie, and I thought, what if I put them together? Being a bibliophile myself, what better place for them to meet but a classics book club?

Had you tried publishing your novel traditionally before you went Indie? What kind of responses did you receive and what was that experience like? What was your rationale when you decided to go Indie?

I did try the traditional route originally, shopping Whisper around for two, almost three years. I kept getting comments from agents like “Great story. Relatable. Love the characters. Don’t know if I can sell it.” Well, isn’t that your job? So, I thought, what the heck, I’m going to do it myself. I believed in this story and knew it would resonate, since a good portion of women are either mothers like Sarah or wanting children like Annie.

Do you have a favorite character in your book? Why?

Of course, I love both Sarah and Annie, but I think my favorite is Edwina Hipplewhite, the former high school English teacher who moderates the Bibliophiles’ book club meetings. She’s just wacky enough to be wise.

This is the first book of a series. What are your plans for the series and when can we start looking for the next book?

Each of the book club members gets a chance to star in one of the Bibliophiles novels. For example, Whisper is the story of Sarah and Annie’s friendship, while Thaddeus and Spring will take center stage for the third. The storyline of the book club meetings is furthered throughout.

My second book is Catherine Elbert’s journey bouncing from coast to coast in search of her true self. It will be called Until My Soul Gets It Right and released in the spring.

For more Karen:

For more, you can visit Karen's website or visit her blog.


A Whisper to a Scream                    Review  Amazon US  UK  B&N Paper

Also mentioned:

Helen Smith - Allison Wonderland                 Amazon US  UK        Paper
Karen Cantwell - Take the Monkeys and Run  Amazon US  UK  B&N Paper


Lyn Horner said...

Wonderful interview, Al! Karen, I enjoyed learning about your writing experiences. You demonstrate a witty style which, I'm sure, comes out in your books. I faced much the same reaction from editors as you did, when I shopped my stories around. It's a frustrating process. Thank God for Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and e-readers! And reviewers like Big Al!

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Amen, to that, Lyn! Thanks so much for your nice words.

And, thanks so much, BigAl, for this great piece.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks for the kind words, Lyn.

Karen, it's the interview subjects that make these work. I should be thanking you for the excellent answers. Thanks. :)

Linda McK said...

Awesome interview Al, I am enjoying this new feature on your blog.

Karen thanks for sharing. Your book sounds very interesting I will check it out. I thoroughly enjoy Karen Cantwells books also. :)

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks, Linda. I'm enjoying doing it too. Glad you like it.

Leah Griffith said...

This was a fabulous interview. I've learned even more about you Karen, and I must say that you never cease to impress me. You've been a big supporter of Indie authors on your blog of which I am one. Thank you for that.
I loved Whisper, and can't wait to read your next novel.
This should be an amazing year!

Helen Smith said...

Another interesting interview. How wonderful to see Karen mention Alison Wonderland her, too - thanks, Karen.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Thank you, Leah. :)

You are very welcome, Helen. I really enjoyed it.

John Blackport said...

This particular English major might respond better to (quality) rum or beer than to Starbuck's or chocolate.

I must admit, though, Starbucks and chocolate are better choices if you're looking for a bribe that you intend your friend to consume during the act of editing.

Walter Knight said...

I believe in karma. If I do a good turn, good things will come back to me.

So, I have edited three friends' books. Oh my goodness what a pain. You gain quite a prespective and appreciation of the editing process trying to clean up grammar and sentence structure.

However, adverse experiences make us stronger. I'm thinking about abducting English majors. Slave labor is so much cheaper, but that would be bad karma.