We once again share with you one of the authors contained in Maidens and Magic anthology from Crimson Edge Press. We are pleased to introduce you to Karen Bovenmyer today.
Name: Karen Bovenmyer
Latest Release: The Beaded Slippers
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Karen Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and serves as the Nonfiction Assistant Editor of Escape Artists’ Mothership Zeta Magazine. She is the 2016 recipient of the Horror Writer’s Association Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. Her short stories and poems appear in more than 20 publications and her first novel will be available Spring 2017.
- How long have you been writing?
I started creating my own books from stapled-together sheets of paper in elementary school, but I had debilitating dyslexia and my sister teased me so mercilessly for the spelling errors and terrible handwriting that I tore them up. My stories then came out through an imaginary friend named Jack who went everywhere with me—I know this sounds weird, but I remember going on such rich and vivid adventures with him—until a family of three boys moved in across the street. We played Star Wars and Transformers and G.I. Joe and He-Man and Dungeons and Dragons and Lazer Tag and built forts and zip lines and mud pits and got into so much trouble Jack disappeared. It was the dense, small-print paragraphs in the Dungeons and Dragons rulebook that pushed me through my dyslexia around age 10 and got me into reading novels on my own (if I could read the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I could read anything!). I jumped from Ramona Quimby to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and The Dragonbone Chair. In high school I gave myself permission to write again. English became my favorite subject, and every time I was allowed to write a story instead of another assignment, I took the chance. I majored in creative writing for both my bachelor and master of art degrees and eventually went back to school for a master of the fine art specializing in speculative fiction. I started selling my stories in 2011.
- What kind(s) of writing do you do?
I write a novel every year during National Novel Writing Month (this year will be my eleventh) and I write primarily flash fiction and poetry the rest of the year. Most of my stories are dark fantasy or science fiction, but I have an LGBT-themed historical pirate novel called Swift for the Sun coming out from Dreamspinner Press next year.
- What are your goals as a writer, both small and large?
I’m in a competition with myself to publish more each year than the year before. I also one day want to be a full member of both the Horror Writer’s Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (I’m an affiliate member in HWA). I have a few sales to qualifying markets but the pieces are flash or poetry and weren’t paid a professional per-word rate, or aren’t long enough to count toward membership requirements. I’d love to see something I’ve written in Asimov’s one day. Those are enough goals for me for now, but I know I will create new ones as I surpass those.
- What inspires you?
This may sound odd, but scifi/fantasy movies, even (especially?) the really awful ones. I get excited about one side character or another and right after the movie’s over, I want to go and write a story about someone like them in some way, or rewrite some of the themes the movie was trying to express and failed to pull off. I guess it’s my way of processing the movie or discovering why I didn’t like it and “fixing” what they got “wrong” for me. I’m also deeply inspired by reading stories by amazing writers who thrill and test me—like Kelly Link’s “Catskin” or Helen Marshall’s “The Hanging Tree.” The stories that came to me in a rush of inspiration after reading each of those pieces weren’t the least bit like them, but certainly the frenetic energy and riveting voice of both of those tales pulled the new story out of me whole. Those are the artsy answers. The “how is the sausage made” answer is this: competition, accountability, expectation of others. When I’m at a writing club meeting with my undergrads, at a National Novel Writing Month write-in, or I have a deadline, I’m extremely inspired to produce.
- Have you ever fallen in love with a character? Tell us about this romance.
As a kid, it was ET, Spock, Han Solo, Data, Indiana Jones, Narnia’s Reepicheep, Ripley and Newt in Aliens. As an adult, Arya and Tyrion from Game of Thrones, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, J. R. Ward’s Rhage and Butch from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and who doesn’t love Hermione? I’m probably also in love with half the cast of Lord of the Rings. However, right now, my heart and mind are focused on the two principal characters of my pirate historical coming out next year. My editor and I are in the final go-between with the draft, and my characters keep thinking of funny/endearing things to say that simply MUST go into the book. It’s reached levels of obsession where I’m talking to them while I shower and have animated conversations with myself while walking to work. I think every writer has to be in love with their characters to one extent or another, in order to write them in a compelling way. We all also probably look insane whenever we talk to ourselves in public.
- How do you find or make time to write?
I have to schedule it. I usually write in the evenings after a nine-hour work day, or on weekends—I often need to meditate first to transition from my work day into a writing mindset. Even then, sometimes I’m just so tired it’s hard—trust me, I tried the get up at 5am and write thing. It was just not happening. However, as I said, deadlines are very inspiring. When I need to write and nothing good’s coming out, I have a few friends I text to challenge me, then we do a 30 minute write-off and I get over my block. National Novel Writing Month has been very useful for teaching me to just write when I need to write. It’s recreating the atmosphere of a write-in or the pressure of a deadline that’s a challenge. I like to craft, sew, read, catch up on scifi shows and movies, play board games, hang out with friends and family, and I’m still a roleplayer—but I have to set all that aside when I’m on deadline. I had to give up video games, especially MMORPGs, entirely. I also can’t obsessively re-read favorite book series while I’m on deadline, or that’s all I want to do instead of write. I’m a little bit obsessive with an addictive personality—when I can harness that for writing and fall in love with my own characters, then writing is quite literally all I want to do all day every day until their story is told. I have to set timers to eat and sleep. And then not ignore those timers.
- Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
When I’m very, very lucky, I’ll get inspired and a story will just come to me by intuition and spill out on the page and tell itself without any pre-planning. The rest of the time I’m a discovery writer who has spent the last decade trying to teach herself to outline and never quite fully getting there. Basically, I have to have the germ of an idea, a strong character voice to tell it, write a few paragraphs to develop those a little, and then I stop and do a loose seven-point outline for the kind of story those first few paragraphs are starting to tell. If I don’t like the themes that are being answered or the climax suggested by those first few paragraphs, I modify them until they feel more like they suggest the story I had in mind and then re-do the seven points (see Dan Well’s Story Structure for what these seven points are). However, a seven-point outline is enough–any more than that and I start to feel restricted and the desire to write/anticipation of discovering the story goes away. Novel-length fiction is a little different—I like to do Mike Stackpole’s 21 Days to a Novel exercise for the big stuff, just to make sure I’m feeling out all the corners of my world building and second and tertiary characters before I begin. I do love the thrill of starting blind on day one of NaNoWriMo sometimes—I haven’t decided what I’m going to do for this year’s novel yet, so I might shoot from the hip and see what happens.
- Who would play you in your life story?
As a little girl, I looked just like Ivana Baquero in Pan’s Labyrinth—to the extent where watching it was disorienting. As a young woman I was sort of a nerd tomboy raised-by-wolves cross between Jessica Brown Findlay’s Sybil from Downton Abby and Karen Allen’s Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark, as weird as that sounds. As I am now? I desperately want to grow up to be as cool as Charlize Theron (yes Furiosa, but also Charlize herself) or Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Aliens. I also would love to be Jennifer Lawrence. However, most convincing probably would be Kathleen Turner reprising her role as writer Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone.
- What projects are you working on at the moment?
The final edits to Swift for the Sun which will release first quarter of next year, a couple of short stories and poems I have cooking in the back of my mind for some upcoming open calls, and idea-building for the novel I’ll begin on November 1. I also have a half-written Chinese dragon fantasy noir police procedural novel draft from last year that I am excited to return to.
- What process did you go through to get your work published?
For me, the biggest hurdle was getting the guts to think my work was good enough to send out. I had to keep writing and reading until I cultivated an inner confidence that a story I wrote was at least as good as some of the ones I’d read and liked. I think it’s like what Ira Glass has to say about the gap between being a fan and a pro—you’ve got to persist and gain skill until the gap narrows between what you’re producing and what you love. Even as a kid, I was the last one in my Karate class to get brave enough to test for the next belt—I had to be fully confident that I knew all the moves and wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of Sensei. It was the same way with stories—I probably waited far too long before starting to send them out, but now when I go back and read my early stuff, I can’t stand the idea of it representing me out there on the market. Even if the stories are sturdy, they aren’t who I am anymore and don’t tell stories I’m interested in. Another issue was that I waited until I was invited by editors who knew me to submit my first stories, rather than hunting and gathering open calls like I do now. I’ve published double the stories this year than I did even two years ago, just from following Dark Markets, Horror Tree, the Creative Writers Opportunities List (CRWROPPS), and OPEN CALL: groups on Facebook. The LGBT historical novel I just sold, Swift for the Sun, was completely by accident—it was a six-year-old story I still believed in that I sent to the publisher on the off chance they wanted to publish a 28,000 word novella that was basically gay Han Solo and gay Tarzan falling in love and fighting pirates. The publisher loved the characters and the setting and invited me to expand it into a novel. The advance and percentage looked good to me, so I signed the contract and spent the summer adding the richness and emotional depth a novel requires. It was extremely fun and rewarding and clocks in at about 72,000 words.
- What is the hardest part of writing for you?
There are two. The first is getting started, falling in love, cultivating the living dream that will sustain me as I work through a piece. When a character or voice or story is just not working and the film strip breaks and whips around the projector, I get really discouraged. Okay, discouraged might be an inadequate word for the despondent lay-about I become when I’m stuck. I get more and more depressed as time passes and I’m not creating something. Frustration, anxiety, and stress build until one day I’m reading something amazing, or I just saw a movie, or a friend makes me go to a write-in, and BAM—wildfire and I’m off and writing and a story pours out like magic. So, I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that the hardest part of this for me is to recognize that there are some aspects of creativity that are cyclical. Sometimes I need to gather close the stories of others and experience them and recharge and I need to be kind to myself and not frustrated about it as I gather speed toward my next project. It’s hard though. I have a lot of high performance demands on myself. The second is editing a novel without editorial direction. When I’ve written the novel to the best, most complete form I’m currently capable of, I have problems seeing what else the novel needs to make changes myself, and I get overwhelmed. I love working to editorial direction though—I love the challenge of responding to the issues an editor has found, even if I don’t agree with the solution. I usually find something that answers the problem they found, and raises the work up to a higher level at the same time—that tastes like victory.
- What do you enjoy most about writing? Share your favorite work.
Like probably every other writer, my favorite is when the story is rolling out automatically, telling itself, and I only have to keep my fingers moving fast enough to jot down all the crazy stuff my characters are doing or saying. It’s against my Midwestern upbringing to say this, but I know I’m having a good night when I’m laughing out loud at some joke one character said, or worse yet, the joke the non-point of view character thought of at my main character’s expense and isn’t even in the book and is only conveyed through a raised eyebrow or a shared glance with another character that my readers probably wouldn’t even notice. Here’s the part that’s really anti-Iowan, when I’m done laughing, I run through the house giving myself the best pep talk you’ve ever heard about how awesome I am. God, it feels so sinful just to write that “out loud” here, but I so do it. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I also have a number of getting-ready-to-write-songs that I sing while I’m showering and dressing on a writing day to pump myself up. “You’re gonna get in there and write, you’re gonna make words happen and its’ gonna be awesome.” My favorite thing about writing is when I’m deep, deep in the story of a long project and stopping feels like swimming up from the bottom of the ocean.
- If you could have any fictional character(s), living or dead, on your survival team after an apocalypse, who would you choose and why?
Honestly, as a kid from the 80s, MacGyver is my instinctual choice. But hey, Superman would be extremely helpful—flight, super speed, laser vision—but we would have to work on that boy scout complex (not to mention the fact that he’d be epically depressed he hadn’t managed to stop the apocalypse from happening). Sarah Connor, Ripley, and Furiosa also so we have some hard core keep the parameter safe. Deanna Troi to keep everyone working together and Data to get us off this rock and back to the Federation. Hmmm, what a novel that would make…
- Which actors would you choose to play the main characters in your story?
When I wrote “The Beaded Slippers,” I imagined Robin Wright’s Buttercup from the Princess Bride as Sasha, my main character. Anthony Hopkins would do an excellent job playing the wizard Zygenmede for so many reasons. Jim Sturgess’s performances stirred my soul in Cloud Atlas, and he would do a great job as Ichabod, Sasha’s would-be rescuer. The pipe-smoking riverboat captain Miranda Goshawk was admittedly partly inspired by Cloris Leachman’s French revolutionary in Mel Brook’s History of the World Part I. The cast of Downton Abby would do a great job populating Sister Mary’s Home for the Wicked, the poor souls. My setting is very Dickensian, so all the other extras could be from any given production of “A Christmas Carol.”
- What is your favorite escape from day to day living?
Experiencing story—reading something totally captivating, or watching a scifi/fantasy movie that transports me entirely to another place. I also enjoy the trance-like state that I fall into when I’m creating an oil painting from a reference, and I’m just concentrating so hard on getting that curve, or this color right, I fall so deeply in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow I cease to think of myself as an individual distinct from that flow. The same thing happens when writing is going really well, but a lot of the time, writing is hard work. Or, I should say, hard work to get it to the point where I’m not self conscious anymore and am experiencing flow.Experiencing #story that transports me entirely to another place. #escape #reading #read… Click To Tweet
- What are some ways in which you promote your writing? Do you find that these add or detract from your writing time?
I’m terrible at self-promotion—but I’m really good at following suggestions from my publishers and editors. I also love to attend conventions and I’m very extroverted and social. I’ve promoted my writing through interviews like this one, blog posts on friends’ blogs, and speaking on panels at conventions. I’m still very new to promoting my writing. Since I also have a ful-time day job, I do find the business of writing takes away from time I could be spending writing, but it’s a necessary part of sending work out, editing work, looking for places to submit work, tracking how much I’ve made from work, selling reprints, tracking the contract details for reprint work, etc.
- Who are some of your favorite authors? What impact have they had on your writing?
Neil Gaiman, Kij Johnson, Theodora Goss, R A Salvatore, J. R. Ward, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Robin McKinley to name a few that are close to my heart. I like to think of writing as a conversation with everyone else I’ve read and is out there currently publishing in genre. What can I add to the conversation? What is it that we’re currently talking about? What interests us about each other? I try to put all of this into my work, and also make it unique to who I am, telling stories about characters, themes, and situations I’m interested in.
- Do you know the secret to originality in writing? Would you share it?
I don’t claim any special kind of knowledge about this topic, but I think that the secret to originality in writing is in the seat of the writer’s soul. Not every character has to be you, or have experienced what you have experienced, but they do have to be someone you’re interested in, experiencing something that interests you. The loneliness and empathy and drive to create new people with which to spend time are necessary—originality comes because each individual has very specific needs that a character, setting, theme, or plot answer. However, at the same time, while seeking originality, you’ve got to be careful about straying too far from human experience—you want someone to be able to pick up your book and make sense of it, how it fits with their own lives and needs. Sometimes a story is just a great adventure, or a reason to feel something for someone else. Other times it satisfies some question the soul is yearning to answer. I advise my students to first and foremost write about stories they are passionately interested in. I’ve mentored for about fifty student novels—and each one is unique.
- What are you currently reading?
I’m currently not allowed to consume popular culture until I meet my editing deadline for the novel, but driving to and from work I just finished re-reading the marvelous Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. This morning I started re-listening to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Once I reach my deadline, I’m going to return to my re-read of J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood—I’m on the eighth book, Lover Mine.
- What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
Despite dour warnings that children these days don’t read anymore, I see plenty of evidence to the contrary. Also, my classes and the student writing group I advise are packed with 18 to 22 year olds who are just as excited to write as I am. I think reading/writing will continue to flourish, but I don’t know that very many writers will be able to make writing a full time career. We like to consume stories, we need to consume stories, and we need new stories that tell about the new worlds we live in and how we will live in future. If the key to originality is answering questions for yourself, it’s also the key to longevity—each new generation faces their own questions and challenges, and it’s the writer’s job to reflect those as time moves forward.
Thank you for your time and the interview, Karen! We wish you lots of success in your endeavors!