Karen Schwind is a proponent of current trends in publishing, including e-books and self-publishing, and has started her own micro-publishing house, which published her début novel, Her Life as She Knew It.
Hi Karen, please tell everyone a little about yourself.
Karen: I grew up in a small town in Georgia and have lived in Georgia most of my life. I graduated from the University of Georgia and taught English in a private high school and then Truett-McConnell college for a number of years. Over the years, I would write and at one time helped edit and write for The Conspirator, a small magazine that turned out to be more than the sum of its parts: at least five people who worked on it have now been published. I kept writing over the years despite working full time, and when I saw what was going on in indie publishing, I said, “This is it!” and jumped in.
When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Karen: I suspect that, like most writers, reading wonderful books throughout my childhood created my desire to write. I wanted to move others as I had been moved. Unlike some of my friends, I didn’t read adult classics at the young age of ten or eleven—or so they claim! Instead, I read the very best age-appropriate novels—The Hobbit in seventh grade, for example. Maybe that’s why my first desire was to write YA fiction, which I did. I wrote a horrible fantasy novel and then another that wasn’t quite so bad. I moved into adult fiction while I was in graduate school and deeply influenced by early twentieth-century writers, especially Fitzgerald and Eliot.
All art forms can be deeply moving. Films have certainly contributed to my being bitten by the writing bug, though their contribution came later than that of books. I loved going to the movies when I was a child, of course, but I was probably eighteen when I began to see film as a literary art form. Over the years, I noticed that the films I see over and over all have the theme of redemption: To Live and the Lives of Others come to mind. Characters being redeemed does not ensure a happy ending in the sense that comedies do. The difference is that works that focus on redemption take into account the suffering from which redemption emerges. But I do think that films have contributed to and fed my desire to write.
When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Karen: When I started writing the first time, I think my only goal was to write something that moved people. Young and unfocused, I look back and realize that I didn’t have that much to say. Now, I do have something to say and worry that I’ll say the same thing in every piece I write.
The younger me often dreamed of disappearing into other worlds where I could become anything I wanted to be. Of course, what I wanted to become depended on the book or movie I was in love with at the time. For a while I wanted to live in the Upper West Side of New York City so that I could join the Jets and dance like Natalie Wood (West Side Story).
I think my ability to completely lose myself in both books and films led to one of my major themes, characters’ desires to find a new world where they could reinvent themselves. This theme is really an American theme—it’s the idea that the entire nation is founded on in some ways and can be found in Huck Finn and The Great Gatsby, to name only two works.
I always manage to turn the theme back around, though, for as the cartoon character Ziggy says, wherever you go, there you are. Part of what feeds my version of the theme is the discovery of me and many of my friends that as we get older, we come to cherish many of the very things we wanted to run away from. It may also emerge from the Southern idea of place, a meme if you will, found in Southern literature and storytelling as far back as you would care to go. I guess one of my major themes is more about returning than running away and the belief that we don’t invent ourselves completely because we are products of our childhood, as well as the times in which we live.
Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?
Karen: Unveiled Faces, as I’m now calling it, is about a young married couple and their friends struggling to make it through 1932, the toughest year of the Great Depression. One thing many people don’t know about this period of history is how many Americans emigrated to Soviet Russia, as they called it. At that time, America seemed to be falling apart, while reporters and writers traveling to Russia told grand stories about the Soviet Government and its five-year plan. Henry Ford built a plant in Leningrad and Americans who moved there played baseball in GorkyPark. In my novel, Peter and his best friend Jake are convinced that Soviet Russia is on the right side of history, while Peter’s wife, Vermilion, a Southern woman from Georgia, is aghast at the idea of leaving America. Meanwhile, another desperate young couple, Dan and Nancy, get mixed up with gangsters who deliver bootleg to the Village. Peter and Vermilion—their struggles and decisions—are at the heart of the novel, but the narrative also follows Jake and Dan and Nancy.
I hope Unveiled Faces will be a series. Having finished the first draft a couple of weeks ago, I’m working on the rewrite. When I complete this novel, I think I’m going to write some shorter works to complement it and then perhaps work on another novel about the same people, maybe a sequel to show what happens to Peter and Vermilion.
What’s the hook for the book?
Karen: In Her Life as She Knew It, Caroline walks to town against he father’s wishes (remember that it’s 1919 in the Southern United States) and gets a job working for Billy Taylor, a young man who has just returned from World War I and who used to be engaged to Caroline’s now-deceased best friend. The newspaper he opens becomes the catalyst for trouble as Caroline uses her column to spread gossip and dig up town secrets.
Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?
Karen: Caroline is the narrator and protagonist. Many readers mention Billy, however, Caroline’s partner in crime so to speak. He grew up on what we in the South used to call the wrong side of the tracks and yet managed to win the heart of the most popular girl in town, Jenny. When Jenny dies of the Spanish flu, Billy loses his place in society. He doesn’t return to his former position at the lowest rung on the ladder because he flew planes in WWI and so gained respect, but he no longer gets invited to the best homes, if you know what I mean. He’s kind of dark and mysterious. I think people sympathize with him.
Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Karen: I’ve been focusing more in plot, really working to write short stories and my latest novel with tight plots. Julie Cannon, a friend of mine and fellow writer, recommended The Weekend Novelist but Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris. Not one to follow systems slavishly, I’ve jumped around in it but have found many of their techniques and ideas to be very helpful. One question they and others ask is, “What does the character want?” The answer to that question drives the plot even in non-genre fiction. The first thing I had to do when I began the rewrite for my work in progress is clarify what my characters wanted. I thought I knew and did in part. But I had to dig deeper and pinpoint the exact desire that drives them and creates the conflict.
Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
Karen: I want to grow with each of my works. I wrote Her Life in first person because Augusta Trobaugh told me it was easier than third person, in which I had written a novel that I liked but couldn’t quite make work. It’s in a closet somewhere. For my current novel, I’ve moved to 3rd person because I think you can do more with it. I want to show several perspectives, so I’m using limited omniscient. The challenge is moving between perspectives while maintaining the narrative voice. Reading an interview by Ann Patchett in which she discusses her own movement from 1st to 3rd person made me feel better about my early attempt at 3rd. I thought, well if Patchett has to work her way into it, then I certainly feel no shame.
Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Karen: I’ll share the one I put on the cover of Her Life.
Her Life as She Knew It is a beautiful and heartfelt Southern story about the ways in which the past we hide from ourselves emerges no matter what we do to stop it. Debut novelist Karen Schwind takes us deep into the thoughts and feelings of a young woman in 1919 who deals with betrayal on several fronts. Crafting a memorable setting that feels historically authentic, Schwind portrays Caroline McKee’s longing for an idealized childhood, as well as her response to betrayal, in tender, nostalgic ways. Schwind knows this world/this memorable time in America’s history, she understands why we need to keep secrets from ourselves, and she shares it all in her lyrical language.”
-Julie L. Cannon, author of Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Karen: Readers can learn more about my books by checking out Amazon, where they’ll see reviews and can read part of Her Life as She Knew It. To be honest, if they want to read Vermilion Wanted to Go to the Movies, a short story that’s kind of a character study I wrote to develop the protagonists for my current novel, they should go to Smashwords if they have Kindle or any other ereader site. Amazon won’t let me give the story away, so I sell it for .99 there, but it’s free everywhere else.
To get information on other works and events, including a couple of sections from my work in progress, they can go to skoobpress.com.
Her Life as She Knew It:
Vermilion Wanted to Go to the Movies: FREE at http://bit.ly/qGRAVB
Thank you for joining us today, Karen.
Karen: Thank you for allowing me to participate.