[Interview] Karen Wodke

Karen Wodke lives in the Midwest, in the United States and is the author of James Willis Makes a Million (CreateSpace, 2011), a novel for young readers.

She also writes for websites and magazines that include Associated Content, Adventures for the Average Woman, Foliate Oak Literary Journal and Ehow.

In addition to that, working with P. J. Hawkinson, and writing under the name Wodke Hawkinson, she co-authored books that include the novels, Betrayed (CreateSpace, 2011) and Tangerine (___, forthcoming) as well as the short story collections, Catch Her in the Rye (CreateSpace, 2011); Blue (CreateSpace, 2011) and Alone (___, forthcoming).

In this interview, Karen Wodke talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I have always enjoyed writing, but only in the last few years have I gotten serious about it.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a book for young readers, James Willis Makes a Million. I made the decision to self-publish that book. I felt it would be the first of, hopefully, many books I would write.

In publishing my solo work, I started out with Lulu.com and was pleased with them. I still knew next to nothing about marketing or promotion. In fact, I’m still learning.

On the novels I co-authored with P. J. Hawkinson, we tried the traditional route first. Many traditional publishers do not accept simultaneous submissions, which tied up our manuscripts for months at a time. We grew weary of the process and began to consider self-publishing our novels.

We ultimately decided to put together short story collections, self-publish them, and see how it went before making a decision about self-publishing our other books. I think at this point, however, we were pretty sure self-publishing was the way to go, even with our upcoming novels. We like the control we have over our material, the higher royalties, and the freedom to explore controversial topics that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to traditional publishers.

We are just now getting the first of the reviews on our short story collections.

How would you describe your writing?

I would describe it as a fictional smorgasbord.

We don’t stick with one genre, which may or may not turn out to be a mistake. For instance, our upcoming novels couldn’t be more different from each other. One is set in the future, almost a sci-fi novel, entitled Tangerine. It has aliens, space-travel, and other elements you would expect in that sort of story. The other, Betrayed, is the tale of a woman who is abducted and abused, who finally escapes from her captors only to end up lost in the wilderness at the onset of a harsh winter.

Our target audience is anyone who enjoys a good story, regardless of genre. Both of our short story collections offer a variety from contemporary fiction to sci-fi to noir, and even a little humor here and there.

I myself love to read and will read almost anything short of technical manuals. I figured there are people out there who feel the same way, people who just want to be drawn into a tale regardless of subject matter.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

I suppose I am most influenced by the authors whose writing really reached out and grabbed me. J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Dean Koontz ... to name a few.

I took something different away from each author’s work. From King, it was the realization that dark themes are petri dishes for literary ideas. And I love the way he uses sentence fragments almost as tools to deliver his stories. Teachers of English may not like them, but sentence fragments are a powerful element in fiction writing, as long as the technique is not overdone. If it’s overdone, it just makes your writing look poor.

From Tolkien, I loved the elegance of his writing, his ability to describe a scene, and the complexity of his plots. Dean Koontz inspires me because he knows how to grab a reader’s attention and hold onto it. Asimov’s work, of course, is brilliant. Ahead of its time.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

Great story ideas come from many places. Sometimes it’s a person I’ve met, or a scene I have witnessed. Other times, just a phrase spoken to me will trigger a story idea. In that way, my own experiences have an impact on my writing. It is rare, however, for me to take an actual event from my life and write about it.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Like most writers, I wonder if I will gain an audience for my work, and how well it will be accepted. There is also a question in my mind of whether I can ever justify the time and effort I have put into it.

I deal with these concerns by writing what I want to write and doing it to the best of my ability. Both P. J. and I are painstaking editors of our own work, and even then things can slip past.

The biggest challenge for me is the promotion of the books. The writing is a labor of love, and the proofreading/editing/revision are just part of that process.

I sometimes have to really push myself to do the promotion. But to make it as an author, you have to be willing to promote your work.

Do you write everyday?

Yes, I would say I write something every single day. But all too often, it isn’t on our current project, but rather blog posts, networking, promotion, emails, or reviews of other authors’ books.

A good writing session starts for me in the morning with a cup of French vanilla cappuccino. My desk sits before a window that looks out over my front yard. I will sit at my computer, open the blind so I can see outside, sip my cappuccino, and write. I love it.

Generally, my writing starts with editing our current project, doing revisions, and emailing the manuscript back to P. J. for her to review. If I have time and feel inspired, I can start a new story.

It usually ends a few hours later out of necessity so I can tend to other things. However, if things are rolling along smoothly, I have been known to stay up late at night to finish a chapter or conclude a story. I admit I’ve lost some sleep at times.

How many books have you written so far?

I wrote James Willis Makes a Million, a story for young readers about a boy who starts his own business and ends up a millionaire by the time he is grown. I initially self-published this book with Lulu.com in January of this year, but it’s now available in other places as well.

With P. J. and, together, writing as Wodke Hawkinson:
  • Catch Her in the Rye, Selected Short Stories Vol. One, published on createspace.com in May, 2011. Short stories in a variety of genres.
  • Blue, Selected Short Stories Vol. Two, published on Smashwords in June, 2011 features more stories in various genres. Blue is a bit darker in tone than Catch Her in the Rye.
  • Our next book, Betrayed, the story of a Denver socialite who is abducted during a botched carjacking. She is held captive in a remote location and abused for days and, although she escapes, she ends up injured, nearly naked, and hopelessly lost in the forest at the beginning of a harsh winter. Almost at the end of her endurance, she happens upon a wild-looking, reclusive mountain man who takes her back to his secluded cabin where she fears she has traded one form of captivity for another.
How long did it take you to write the stories that appear in Blue?

The collection of short stories was written over a period of about nine months.

We published the e-version on Smashwords in June of this year and the paperback version on Amazon in July.

We chose Smashwords because they offer a wide variety of formats for their ebooks. Another advantage with Smashwords is how easy it is to format the book. They offer a free guide that is excellent.

For our paperback version, we chose CreateSpace, which puts the book on Amazon.

The disadvantage to any self-publishing venture is that the author is responsible for all marketing, distribution, and promotion. It’s a daunting task, but we are learning as we go and researching other authors who have experience in promotion.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The most difficult aspect of the actual writing of Blue was deciding how to handle delicate and controversial subject material.

We approached the task with the attitude that we will tell the story even when it’s an unpleasant one, but strive not to unnecessarily bludgeon our readers, but instead to inform and entertain them. Unfortunately, they are some who might nevertheless still feel they’ve been bludgeoned by the end of the tale. (I say this with a smile.) But if they do, they can rest assured it was not intentional.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Putting the words together. Then tearing them apart and putting them together again in a better way. But it’s rough sometimes, getting things just right.

I love writing with P. J. It helps so much to have another brain and another set of eyes working with me to create our fictional realities.

What sets Blue apart from other things you've written?

While Blue has its wholesome elements, I feel it generates an overall darker tone since it contains stories about murder, incest, and suicide.

Blue is similar to Catch Her in the Rye because it too offers a variety of genres and storylines.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I would like to think the most significant achievement hasn’t happened yet. But it will. It’s just around the corner.

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