Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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KAREN HARPER

 

January 2008

Karen HarperWG:   Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.  To start things off, please tell us about yourself.  

KH:   I’m a native Ohioan, born in Toledo, went to college in Athens, OH; grad school and taught at Ohio State in Columbus.  I met my husband in Columbus and have lived here for 35 years.  I also claim to be a Floridian as we’ve spent a lot of time there.  I taught English composition and literature for 17 years, great preparation for a writing career.  I have 2 stepdaughters, one a nurse, one a teacher, both in Columbus.  Our stepson and his wife live in St. Augustine, FL.  We have one grandson—a handful!  Fortunately, he lives only 10 minutes away from us.  We love to travel, love to root for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

WG:   Let’s talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? 

KH:   When I first began writing in 1980 I knew no one who knew anything about the publishing industry.  I belonged to no groups, until about 3 years later when I found Romance Writers of America (RWA). I joined MWA long after that as well as other national groups.  I did attend the first 5 or so Romantic Times conventions in the mid-1980’s, and met authors and publishers there.  Also, I was a founding member of both the Central Ohio and Southwest Florida RWA chapters.  I was very ignorant and isolated, compared to writers today.  I was first published in 1982, after I found an agent.

WG:   Tell us about your journey.

Island EcstasyKH:   I guess I partly answered this just above.  I mailed my first historical romance, a medieval setting (which is now collecting dust in my basement,) to Nancy Coffey, a lengendary editor, now an agent.  She was at Avon which was then Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers territory.  She rejected my ms., but sent me a long, lovely, hand-written note.  I was so ignorant at that point that I didn’t realize getting something back in 2 months with a personal note was really a great gift.  Anyway, I did sell my second book to Zebra, with the help of my first agent.  Once again, not knowing how to get an agent (no contests or people to talk with at that point,) I picked his name out of the reference book THE LITERARY MARKETPLACE, because I like his address—Central Park West, NYC.  I was with him for seven years and then found the agent of my dreams, whom I’ve been with ever since, Meg Ruley, at the Jane Rotrosen Agency. 

WG:   How many books did you complete before you sold your first?  Have all/any of them sold since?

KH:   I sold my second book.  My 46th book is out in Feb. ’08.  I have sold all my books since that 2nd one, although I haven’t convinced my agent or editors that some of the ideas I had for books were good ones, so I’ve had rejections at that idea level—probably about 6-8 of those.  But having early advice has helped me not spend months on a book with a flawed idea.

WG:   What changed most about your life as a direct result of selling that first book?

KH:   I began to think about leaving teaching to write full time.  However, my husband, who has always been my business manager, suggested I needed to do both until my writing money approached what I was making teaching.  That took about 4 years or 6 books.

WG:   What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

The First Princess of WalesKH:   There are no typical days, unless I am “in the book,” that is, writing it for the first time—creating it on the blank page.  I guess I spent about 6 hours 6 days a week when that’s happening.  But other days I may be reading research, planning a story line, promoting, or just resting my brain.  I try to take at least a month off between books.

WG:   Do you set writing goals for yourself?

KH:   Yes, I have set goals over the years—to work with a particular editor or house; to get into hard cover; to write historical novels as well as contemporary romantic suspense; to make the USA TODAY and New York Times lists.  I haven’t set goals for sales numbers or a certain amount of money—I let my agent and publishers worry about that.

WG:   Do you have a ‘mood setter’, something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

KH:   When I write, I appreciate silence.  If I have music on, I start to listen to that.  I can however, start and stop for a few moments and then get right back in the book.  I have a great office to write in now—lots of windows overlooking our back yard.  I started on a card table, moved to the kitchen table, then to the spare bedroom. “Onward and upward,” as my agent often says.  I do have a blank wall behind my pc because I don’t want to be distracted.  I’m not the type that hangs up inspirational pictures of heroes or quotes—at least not where I can see them unless I turn my head. I have two walls of bookcases, floor to ceiling, but they are behind me.

WG:   Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

KH:   Yes, I am a plan-ahead writer, although I am always amazed at how the characters and story do their own thing once I’m writing.  A lot of the book is set in my mind by the time I give my Mira Books editor an outline.  It is in my contracts that she will OK my next book from a fairly short synopsis.  Then, as I write, I jot notes, plan chapters and scenes—yet, as I said, there are a lot of changes that occur as I write.  Sometimes, my editor is surprised when she reads the ms. that it is not quite like the synopsis I handed in months ago.  I have at times, however, when I wanted to do something new, written the entire book and then tried to sell it.  This last spring, my agent sold my historical novel MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE, to Penguin/Putnam after it was completely written.  It was something different for me and I didn’t want anyone telling me anything about how to write it.  (I must admit though, I did a few revisions for it after it was purchased.)

WG:   Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

KH:   I know I’m in the minority, but I often start with setting, then story and characters come from that.  There are certain places I love which really inspire me to write a story.  Amish country, Ohio, for example.  I’ve written 4 Mira romantic suspense novels set there.  South Florida, which I know well:  three books so far, including BELOW THE SURFACE, which is out this Feb. 1.  For my historical novels or historical romances or my QUEEN ELIZABETH I MYSTERY SERIES, I’ve used Tudor England.  I’m a complete Anglophile and have been to the British Isles many times.

WG:   Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?

KH:   Themes yes:  the fact that we don’t know people, even those close to us, as well as we think.  Family reconciliation.  My heroines have large character arcs where they overcome some fear or flaw.

WG:   What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

The Last BolynKH:   Balancing real life commitments with writing time.  I realize writers need to be in the real world to get to know people, to observe life, but sometimes, as Greta Garbo said, “I want to be alone.”  On the other hand, I sometimes really miss my writer friends and wish I could see them more.

WG:   Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

KH:   See previous question.

WG:   Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

KH:   Unlike some writers I begin at the beginning and write the story straight through.  I polish as I go along.  Although I do rewrite, when I leave a chapter, it is basically the way it will be later.  I may go back and insert or change things, but I see the writing process as building on the foundation of scenes and chapters I’ve already built—like building a brick wall.

WG:   Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

KH:   I used to read so much historical romance; now I’ve gone a bit more toward reading and writing historical novels, that is, novels with actual historic people.  My THE LAST BOLEYN and THE FIRST PRINCESS OF WALES and MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE are those sort of books.  And I do love writing and reading  suspense/mysteries.

WG:   Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

KH:   I’ve been published in five different ones, so I never say never, but I’m very content right now, writing one contemporary romantic suspense, then something historical.

WG:   Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

KH:   This has been said before, but don’t write to trends if you don’t really love that genre or topic.  And I love the Winston Churchill quote from when he was asked his secret for success for himself and his country during the darkest days of WW II:  “Never give up.  Never give up!  NEVER give up.”

WG:   Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of ‘conventional wisdom’ that you wish you had ignored?

InfernoKH:   I think a lot of people misunderstand the advice, “Write what you know!”  That doesn’t mean you have to write about places you have grown up or stick to storylines or characters you are totally comfortable with.  What you know can be what you have carefully researched, a place you love.  Don’t be afraid to take a bit of a chance.

WG:   What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer?  What aspect do you struggle with the most?

KH:   The most rewarding thing:  being able to reach out to others with your creations.  Creativity is such a gift.  What do I struggle with the most:  One thing is not to live too much in my fictional world that I get out-of-it in real life.  And not to let success, however you define that, change you or make you self-centered.

WG:   When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?    or What is your favorite self-indulgence?

KH:   Besides dark chocolate?  Shopping, which I don’t do much, but when I do it, I really enjoy it.  Of course, reading something that is not my own research is great—I kind of binge read between books.

WG:   What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows?  Why?

KH:   We have both enjoyed Dancing With the Stars.  I find watching 24 has jazzed up the adventure/action parts of my suspense novels.  I really love good historicals on TV or in the movies.  The Tudors on Showtime has great costumes and some grand scenes, but I spend a lot of my time screaming, “No!” at the screen when they butcher the actual history. 

WG:   I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc.  Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share? 

KH:   Other than that Churchill quote above, I have the Nike motto cross-stitched in my office:  “Just Do It!”  But don’t get me going on quotes. I have too many of them stashed away for my author talks and workshops.

WG:   Please tell us about your current project.

Below the SurfaceKH:   I am between books right now, which is why I have time for this lovely interview—great questions, Winnie!  I just handed in THE HIDING PLACE, set in the mountains near Denver, where we visited our niece and nephew this summer.  BELOW THE SURFACE, a romantic suspense set in South Florida, will be out Feb. 1.  The heroine’s a scuba diver; the hero builds boats.  Don’t you love a ‘hands on’ hero?  When the heroine surfaces from a dangerous dive, her twin sister and their dive boat are gone and she’s 4 miles from land.  And the book takes off from there.   I love grabber beginnings.

WG:   Tell us about plans for future books.  

KH:   I’m in the middle of a 4-book contract for romantic suspense.  I have ended my 9-book historical mystery series with Queen Elizabeth I as the sleuth, but I hope to continue to write my historical novels.  All of the latter, by the way, are also the true stories of heart-wrenching romances—but all have happy endings.

WG:   And before we close, tell us how your fans can get in touch with you.

KH:   I'd love to have them visit my website at www.karenharperauthor.com  Also, there are author bios on my publishers’ websites for www.mirabooks.com, www.randomhouse.com and www.stmartins.com

WG:   Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month.  It was fun ‘chatting’ with you, as always!

KH:   Thanks, Winnie.  I hope readers appreciate your site—wish I would have had the internet and such websites to spend time with when I was in the beginning and in the middle (the muddle) of my career!

 

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