SCBWI Interview: Karen Krossing
What inspired you to write your first book?
I quit my job as an editor to attempt to write my first novel. The desire to write had been building for some time, and I suppose it got too big to contain. That first novel was titled “The Dance Without End,” and it wasn’t particularly meaningful to me personally. In hindsight, I think I wrote it to learn how to write. It’s never been published, and should remain that way, since it has too many problems to fix. But it did teach me a ton about the writing process.
What are your new titles and can you give us a hint of what they are about?
My latest book is a teen novel titled Punch Like a Girl (Orca, 2015). It’s about a teen girl with a hero complex. She tries to rescue others, whether they want it or not, in order to avoid facing her own fears of assault.
Before that, I published a middle-grade novel titled Bog (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014). In it, a cave troll with a grudge against humans embarks on a quest into human territory after his father is turned into stone.
What books are you reading now?
I’m currently reading for research and for pleasure. My to-read pile includes Seventeen magazines from the 1960s (for my work-in-progress) as well as The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen and The Farmerettes by Gisela Sherman.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Apparently, I was fond of writing as a child, but I don’t remember it. When I was eleven, my mother’s author-friend signed a copy of his novel for me, encouraging my writing. I do remember that I was always making up stories in my head, particularly at night in bed. I invented a whole cast of witches, giants and goblins who lived in various dark corners of our house, tormenting me deliciously. When I was in high school, I remember consciously deciding to become a writer one day, even if it was when I retired. That urge to write has stuck with me ever since.
Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I find this question hard because it’s impossible to chose one favourite. I could give you a list of two hundred favourites though! But seriously, I adore the simple childlike voice of A.A. Milne, the brilliance of E.B. White, the honesty of Judy Blume and the simultaneously serious and humorous prose of Teresa Toten. Then there are my other one-hundred-and-ninety-six favourites, including William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath... I could go on and on.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Yes. I manage to both hate and adore various works-in-progress at the same time. It’s something about not being able to have clear insight into one’s own writing. One day, I may think the writing is fabulous; the next day, I’m moaning about how horrible it is.
I think writers may need to both love and hate our work. We need to be able to see the good in it when committing to it for months or years, and the flaws in it when analyzing to revise it.
While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
Yes, all the time. I particularly identify with being a large hairy troll, much to the amusement of my family. When I started writing Bog from the point of view of a cave troll, it fit with who I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve always identified with characters like Chewbacca more than characters like Princess Leia.
Do you see writing as a career?
I’m business-like in my approach to writing, but I also try not to take it too seriously. I’m uber-conscientious about my commitments to deadlines, both self-imposed and publisher ones. I see my daily writing as my most important work. I nurture my network and connections in the industry. Yet at the same time, I can’t focus on what the trajectory of a book or my overall career may be without getting too hung up on it. I try to keep my focus on the process of writing: how to get through writing the first draft of the next book, how to learn new aspects of my craft and how to write the best book I can, over and over again. So, yes, I see writing as a career, but I stay grounded in daily writing.
Have you any other ideas for any more books?
I’m writing a teen novel that tackles a difficult topic – abortion. In between the rhetoric from both sides of the emotional abortion debate are teen girls who are facing challenging decisions about abortion. I’m writing about the weight of society’s judgments on an apprehensive teen girl with an overwhelming decision to make. I’m also researching a teen novel about celebrity culture and body image.
Where do you find inspirations and ideas for your plots and characters?
Some ideas arrive simply by observing the world. Others need a little nudge. I’ve had germs of story ideas come from listening to talk radio, from watching my kids cope with challenges and from my memories as a teen. To make something of a fledgling idea, I like to write a daily novel concept. It’s just a one-sentence premise, or a piece of a premise. I sometimes do this in November to time it with , just to feel included in that creative energy. After a month of churning out new premises, I usually have a workable idea to play with.
As for characters, I may model a character’s outfit from someone I see on the subway. Internal dilemmas may rise from experiences I’ve had, or those of people I know. Doesn’t every character we write contain pieces of ourselves? When I need to actively seek out more depth about a character, I write about them. Sometimes I make a web of characters within my story so I can see how they define one another. Sometimes I answer questions about the character, such as: What is the most dangerous thing this character has every done? What is the persona that this character presents to the world?
While my initial inspiration comes from observation, I find that it develops through play.