Q and A with Aspiring Author, Karen Hugg

I love meeting new writers online and Karen is no exception. Last month I wrote about Beth Green, aspiring Crime fiction author.

Karen-HuggKaren Hugg is a writer and gardener living in the Seattle area. She is a certified ornamental horticulturalist and has an MFA from Goddard College. She’s been published in various anthologies, journals, and websites. She’s married to a very patient husband and has three kids, two dogs, and two cats. To learn more, check out her website at www.karenhugg.com.

What do you write? (genre etc)
Mainly, I write fiction. Last year I finished a literary thriller called The Forgetting Flower about a plant shop owner in Paris. This year, I wrote a New Adult novel about a young woman who can communicate with ghosts through plants. Occasionally, I write narrative nonfiction and short stories. I’m always writing for my blog, The Cultivated Life, at http://www.karenhugg.com.

Favorite book that you think is underrated?
This sounds weird but I think Les Miserables is underrated. A lot of people think it’s a boring literary book because it was written in the 1800s and is long but it’s actually a compelling thriller! Yes, Victor Hugo talks too much about politics but I encourage people to skim those parts and read the rest. It has nail-biting suspense and the most touching, sweet passages. Right now, as I think about Jean Valjean rescuing Cossette, I still get teary. He’s such a good father to her — and yet he’s hunted like an animal by the police.

Favorite book from childhood?
That’s easy. When I was ten, I read The Lord of the Rings during a summer and it blew me away. I wanted to live inside that fantastic world. It was so rich with mystery and beauty and darkness. The idea of Lothlorien, a city built among trees, was the coolest idea I’d ever heard of. At the time, I was in Chicago and Tolkien’s love of the natural world awoke my love for it too. It’s no wonder I later moved to the Pacific Northwest where we have giant trees!

Use three words to describe what keeps you writing and persevering?
Plants. Dreaming. Sharing.

Where do you draw your inspiration to keep writing?
From the natural world. I’m a professional gardener and I love plants. I want to bring the awe and wonder of plants into people’s lives. From a more practical standpoint, I draw inspiration to keep writing from husband, who truly believes I have talent, and friend-writers, who are also struggling to share their truths. I admire established writers too, especially the ones whose road to success took many years of perseverance.

Do you have any tricks/tips for aspiring authors you’d like to share?
I would encourage writers to write short pieces as well as long, and then try to get those short pieces published. You have to try again and again but when you get a hit, that small “yes” makes you feel like a million bucks. It means there is another person out there who does care about what you’re saying and thinks it’s worth publishing. It may take awhile but it’s worth the effort. Plus, it helps you build a list of publications to show off to an agent or publisher.

As a writer who/what is your inspiration (animal, vegetable or mineral ☺)?
Again, it’s plants. Plants are amazingly delicate and yet incredibly tough. They’re fascinating. They have little lives of their own and care nothing about us. They make their own food and don’t need us at all. Yet we think we rule over them. It’s a crazy dynamic. Without them, humans would be eradicated as a group.

What was one of the hardest scenes for you to write?
I’d say generally the first scene of every novel is the hardest for me to write. I’m constantly wondering if I’ve backed up the tape in this character’s life far enough or come in too late into the scene, etc. I do begin the novel just before the inciting incident but how far before is always the question. There’s a lot of pressure on a novelist to land in the exact right place.

What do you think helps you to become a better writer?
Reading beyond my comfort zone. We all have favorite writers or genres we tend to read but when I read a book that is very unlike what I would choose, I find I’m always changed by it more. My brain has expanded into a new way of thinking. I put sentences together differently. I write insights I never would have before. For instance, I love reading 20th-Century, Eastern European writers like Bruno Schulz and George Konrad. They are wild and absurd and amazing. The language travels like a scribble on a paper, going where ever the author needs to go and the result is a trippy dream.

How do you think being someone else’s beta reader helps inform your own writing process? Or helps you become a better writer?
Being someone else’s beta reader temporarily turns you into an editor and that’s a good thing. It teaches you how to nurture someone else’s vision rather than you just rewriting the book as you would have. It also teaches you how to approach a work from a distance. It helps you become a better writer because you can take the weaknesses or strengths in another’s manuscript and apply those lessons to your own writing.


Reach out to Karen:

If you like this post check out my other Q and A with aspiring author, Beth Green.


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10 more minutes . . .

mika-annoyedA few days ago, I started thinking about the different types of waiting there are in life. While I waited to get inspiration for this blog post, in fact. The picture of my dog waiting for me to finish writing before her morning dog walk popped into my head. She doesn’t look too thrilled and that’s because just when she thought the wait was over . . . I asked her for ten more minutes. That’s hard for a dog who wants to get outside and go to the bathroom or sniff every blade of grass in sight.  This type of waiting I’m going to label waiting times infinity, because it feels like it will never end. I think it’s pretty common to feel this way if you are anticipating some type of payoff at the end of your wait.

Another type is waiting for the dreaded inevitable. Something big like dying from a terminal disease or well, what else is worse than that? I guess to a lesser degree having to go through surgery for a broken bone or going to the DMV. That first example though, that’s the worst kind of waiting.

A friend of the family recently passed away. She was in her early 40’s. We all knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I want to be better at this, holding space for grief and caring for those going through it in their own way. Feeling like it is okay to grieve is still somewhat of a struggle for me and probably for a lot of people. There is something irrational about it. Just move on. By its very nature, a definition of that thing locked in our throats and hearts is so inconsequential. I do not need to define it, it just is. It’s easy to give in to feeling hopeless, but that isn’t what grieving is either. I’ve read about the stages of grief, but not everyone goes through each of them. Really, I think the only way to talk about it is in the way you are feeling and sometimes that also involves a physical reaction. Everyone has their way and every way is the right way. And not everyone wants to talk about it. When it comes to emotions (unless you feel like harming someone) leaning into it and doing it your way is okay.

And just to lighten up this post a little, I saved the best type of waiting for last. Waiting isn’t all bad, is it? Waiting for the good thing (expected or unexpected) like a free drink at a coffee shop because someone decided to pay for yours, or when you have enough punches on your punch card at your favorite donut shop and you get a free one! Last weekend I went to see my husband’s band play at a local bar. Unexpectedly, I felt a surge of joy at how grateful I am to be able to go into this bar, see our friends supporting him and his music, and getting to pet the cutest bar dog, Ghengis. That simple. All I had to do was wait for the show to start.

What kinds of waiting have you experienced lately?

Aspiring Writer Q and A Series, Edition I: Beth Green, Crime Fiction Author

I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Green, freelance writer and aspiring novelist, for the first edition of the title of this post! I first met Beth through one of the Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL) holiday party Google Hangouts in 2016. Lot’s of great resources for aspiring authors there too. Anyway, we chatted and offered to help each other with beta reading. It was so great to have feedback from her and to get to know her over the past year or so. Thank you to MSWL for having such fun online events. Okay, onto the actual Q and A. First, let’s learn a little more about Beth…

Beth

Beth Green grew up on a sailboat but these days is most often found ashore—currently in Prague, Czech Republic. Beth is a former reporter, English teacher and travel blogger; she is now a full-time freelance writer. When not writing for clients or plotting international crimes to take place in her fiction, Beth enjoys reading, scuba diving, and the art of slow travel.


What do you write? (genre etc)

I write crime fiction because I am fascinated by the darker side of the human psyche and I love both reading and writing stories where the world is torn apart and then set to rights.

Favorite book that you think is underrated?

Ooh, tough question! I am not always sure how the books I read are viewed—I am pretty much an opportunist when it comes to reading, so I don’t always check out reviews before I dive into the book. That said, I know that I love the fantasy and dystopian books by fellow Prague expat author Sonya Lano and that she doesn’t have the readership she deserves. Her book The Ever Spirits is dark and beautiful and immersive and her ongoing Heiress series (Heiress of Healing, Heiress of Magic) is captivating!

Favorite book from childhood?

Oh, so many! I am an only child who was homeschooled on a boat (that’s another long story…) and I read ALL. THE. TIME. A few children’s titles that I read and re-read were classics: The Princess and the Goblin, the Narnia books, Harriet the Spy. I also read a lot of adult fiction even when I was a kid (a lot of it went over my head, I’m sure!) with favorites that I still re-read regularly: The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel (hence my current pre-historical projects!), The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, Jurassic Park. I also went through a phase at 10 or 11 when I scared myself silly reading Dean Koontz and Stephen King late at night.

Use three words to describe what keeps you writing and persevering?

The story wants to be told. (That’s not 3 words, sorry. I’m not good at word limits…)

Where do you draw your inspiration to keep writing?

From travel and meeting people and questioning everything.

Do you have any tricks/tips for aspiring authors you’d like to share?

Try new things! I switch up what I do and how I do it all the time. Some stuff works, other stuff doesn’t, but trying new stuff always helps me—whether I’m looking for motivation or inspiration or to level up on craft.

As a writer who/what is your muse/familiar?

If I were a witch I’d 100% choose a jaguar as a familiar. But the Pottermore test told me my Patronus is an orangutan or something else ridiculous, so IDK. How well do we really know ourselves?

What was one of the hardest scenes for you to write?

Generally, for me, it seems that if a scene is difficult in the first draft, I have missed the mark somewhere—in my plotting, in my assessment of the character motives. Usually, it’s a sign that I need to go back into the planning phase and rejig it until I can get in the zone and make it just flow. In my current project (a thriller set in Europe), I am stuck on the transition between the second and third acts for one of the POV characters. I’ve tried to write it about ten times and keep coming up on a wall. I have been avoiding getting back to the outline phase and ripping stuff up, but I know I will have to do it before I can move on!

What do you think helps you to become a better writer?

Reading. Reading lots. Getting over the fear of having other people read your work and owning your style, including its flaws.

How do you think being someone else’s beta reader helps inform your own writing process? Or helps you become a better writer?

Being someone’s beta reader is so helpful! (Like yours, Christi!) It’s helpful on several levels. First, on a craft level, it’s important to train yourself to look for the things that a reader responds to in a work in progress and to ask yourself, “Why?” Why did the author choose to do this? Why does it work or not work? Why does it seem out of place or unpolished or effortless or deft? Why does it produce an emotional response? You can do this of course with a published book too, but when you’re in the beta process you’re at a place where you might be able to get a dialogue going with the writer. Then, on a more emotional level, it helps build up the expectation of criticism. Getting feedback on something you’ve written and poured so much of yourself into can be distressing. Putting myself in another writer’s shoes, trying to couch feedback so it’s helpful but not devastating, helps me put the feedback I get on my own work in perspective. Plus, it’s just so cool to see books that are on their way to the world!

Thank you, Beth, for sharing your insights!


Sign up for Beth’s monthly newsletterand get a free short story about an assassin. And Patreon patrons get monthly short stories, travel tales, and more!

You can also connect with her on Twitter @bethverde, Facebook.com/bethgreenwritesor Instagram @bethtravel.

Entering Writing Contests

 

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Chapter cards as a result of entering #RevPit. 

 

I thought I’d share a little quick insight into why I like entering writing contests like #RevPit and Pitch Wars. Right now #RevPit is winding down and narrowing in on each editor’s picks. Each editor will work with just one writer to hone their full manuscript and query letter so it is ready for querying out in the world! Truth be told, I don’t enter these contests because I think I will get chosen. Sounds weird, right? Don’t get me wrong, if I WERE chosen . . . that would be AWESOME!

I’ll explain. I’ve been told by various editors and agents that a lot of these types of contests are geared toward specific genres. Mine isn’t really one of them (literary speculative fiction or upmarket with speculative elements). I’m okay with that because you never know! Anyway, the real reason I enter these contests is to meet new people and hone my craft. I generally find that I can get a free critique of my query or first 10 pages or so just be being aware that these contests exist. I would have never heard of a really fun opportunity through ManuFixed. I entered a contest they were running and while I didn’t get picked for their initial contest I did get a free 10-page ms critique! It was super helpful. ANWAY, I think it’s totally worth it to enter these contests. Sometimes you get free stuff and it makes you really stop and think about your writing and how you want to go about revisions to make it better.

ALSO! I wanted to mention that my NEW BLOG SERIES starts next week! Q and A with Aspiring Authors. The very first one will be up next Thursday with crime author, Beth Green, so come back and check it out.

Revisions: Homestretch

Today’s post will be super short. I need to save all of my energy for revisions and a short road trip we are taking this weekend.

I’m in the home stretch of my latest round of edits for my current work in progress. I only have about 50 pages left to edit, but they are the ones that need the MOST work! I know this and still, I procrastinate!

I feel a little like this turtle . . .

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I wonder if I will ever truly get there. I don’t want to rush it, but I’m also starting to feel like it’ll never feel quite done, but maybe that’s common for most writers? Somehow I doubt I’m alone.

“If you get to the point where you can’t make a book any better, but no one wants to publish it, set it aside and start something else. In two years or five or ten, you might be a better writer, and you might find you are willing and able to make it better. You can take only what you want or need from the original drafts, and leave the rest.” – From: How Do You Know When Your Book Is Finished? The Blunt Instrument on How to Begin and When to End

I still love my first officially “finished” novel and the quote really puts that into perspective. I learned so much from writing it, but I lost steam and had to set it aside after a long time and many rejections.

Supporting art

Last week the sun popped its head out here and there. I blame it on the energy those sun breaks gave me, but I felt like getting out in the world and supporting my friends and husband in their artistic endeavors. Granted, I’d try to do that no matter what the weather was like, but this week and into the weekend was a busier one than normal.

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The first event I went to was called Object Stories and was held at the Portland Art Museum. My friend Justin had an exhibit there and all of the object stories were about hidden disabilities. It was a powerful message, especially when the artists got up to talk about their pieces. It made me think about how I approach people and the judgments I oftentimes automatically make about them without understanding the full picture. I think it’s natural to have a gut reaction to something someone says or how they act. However, taking a step back and being aware of those reactions, pausing, and opening myself up to a truly open conversation and experience with people of all types is something this exhibit reminded me to do on a regular basis.

In addition, there is an awesome YouTube channel where the artists talk about their pieces as well. I highly recommend it.

IMG_8644The second event I went to was my husband’s show. He plays in a band called Body Mask and they played the art closing for Joey Maas’ pop art show at Ace Hotel. I’ll admit that I’d had a bad day and didn’t feel like going, but I dragged myself out and it was SO MUCH FUN. As you can see from the photos, the art was super smart and all the connections it made (someone had to make a few of those for me…) regarding cultural and social commentary felt like a valuable contribution to the world as we know it today. In addition, the band brought a lot of energy and fun to the event. Also, BALLOONS! Overall, it was a good night that lifted my spirits exponentially. Great art all around!

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The last thing I’ll say about all of this is, go out and support your people! Art is important for so many reasons and whatever your reason is, go support your friends, strangers, and loved ones. It makes me feel so good when someone comes to one of my readings, it makes me feel like what I’m doing is worth it and valued. It’s just an extra good feeling that your people know how important your art is and why you do what you do. I understand that sometimes it’s hard to get out and go, but make a point to show your appreciation for the artists in your life.  HUG them, but also go to their shows.

 

Interview with Rebecca Kelley, author of Broken Homes & Gardens

I first met Rebecca in an advanced fiction workshop at Portland State University in the Spring of 2002. I’ll never forget one of the scenes in a short story she had written. A woman is cutting up a cucumber for a salad that she is going to share with her boyfriend. She alternates between thick and thin slices, so she cuts up the cucumber in “thick, thin, thick, thin” slices. The details you put into that scene created an authentic story for me and I feel like that is translated through your current work. – Christi R. Suzanne

I interview Rebecca Kelley about her new book, Broken Homes & Gardens. Read the interview