Monday, December 10, 2012

Talking with Karen Stivali

I'm happy to have Karen Stivali here as part of her Chick Lit Plus Blog tour. Karen is talking about her novel, Meant To Be, which was released in August.

About the book:

Sometimes you’re already committed to the wrong person when fate finally brings you the right one.

When NYU professor Daniel Gardner’s career-obsessed wife convinces him to move to the suburbs, he hopes it’s a first step toward starting the family he longs to have. Instead of domestic bliss he finds his neighbor, Marienne Valeti. She loves her freelance design job, but must contend with a growing sense of isolation created by her husband’s indifference. A penchant for good books, bad movies, and Marienne’s to-die-for brownies sparks a powerful bond between them. Passion simmers, but they resist its lure, surrendering only in the seclusion of their minds. Their friendship helps them weather every hardship, from divorce to widowhood, leaving them both secretly wondering if it can survive a first kiss.

Hi, Karen. Can you tell us how you came up with the title of your book?

I tossed around a bunch of different titles when I was trying to name this book and I kept coming back to Meant To Be. The title not only seemed to perfectly suit the book, which is about destiny and fate, but so many of my experiences while writing it seemed to echo the same sentiment. Things don’t always work out the way you expect them to, or the way you planned for them to---they work out the way they’re supposed to. They’re simply meant to be.

How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

Sometimes you’re already committed to the wrong person when fate finally brings you the right one.

Only 99 characters. Excellent! Did you have any say in your cover art? What do you think of it?

Yes, I did. My publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, allows authors to have a bit of input regarding their cover art. It was very important to me that the friendship and closeness between Daniel and Marienne be portrayed on the cover. I love that the couple pictured is just walking through a park together, talking, not touching, yet their body language shows that they’re focused on one another and drawn together. It has the perfect feel for how I imagine them, and I like the fact that the image has more significance after you’ve read the book and understand their relationship.

How do you get to know your characters?

I think about them all the time. When I first come up with new characters I watch them in my head, like I’m spying on them or eavesdropping at a coffee shop. Once I see their story more clearly, I usually find that the characters start talking more and more. By the time I hear them chattering all the time I know it’s time to start writing down what they’re saying. If I need to know more about a character I’ll have them recall a memory and tell it to me. Imagining them in different scenarios, even if those aren’t things that will play out in the story, helps me to understand who they are and how they’ll act and react in any situation. I need to know all of that before I can really write about them. I need to be able to say with absolute certainty “that’s how he would react” or “oh, she’d never, ever do that.”

Sophie’s choice: Do you have a favorite of your characters?

It’s silly that I need to preface this answer by saying this, but I actually feel compelled to state that I really love all of my characters. That said, Daniel is my favorite character. He has starred in Meant To Be, its sequel Holding On, and the short stories All I Need (a prequel to Meant To Be) and White Wedding (a short in an upcoming anthology). I’ve written him more than any other character I’ve ever created, and he hasn’t stopped talking to me yet. There is nothing I don’t know about Daniel. All his faults. All his strengths. All his weaknesses. I adore writing him and will probably never be able to say with certainty that I’m done writing his stories.

When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?
Yes. I have to see an entire story play out in my head like a movie before I write it, so I always see the entire cast. Sometimes a scene with a bit character will actually come to me fairly early on in the process. I love seeing how my characters interact with people other than the main cast members. I think it’s very telling to watch people interact with co-workers or random people they might encounter in the course of a day.

I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?

I don’t have a particular method for choosing character names, but I do have a quirky rule. I can’t personally know anyone with that name. If I know someone with the name, I associate the name with the real person and that doesn’t work for me. I have to have names that belong strictly to my characters. The funny thing is that while I was writing several of my last few books I met people with the name of the main characters I was writing. That amused me, because it’s happened about five times now, but it didn’t interfere with the writing because my character had the name first.

What would your main character say about you?

He’d say, “Why must you torture me?” Then he’d forgive me because I let him have awesome sex, and I always laugh at his jokes.

Are any of your characters inspired by real people? Who?

No. No. No. People ask me that question all the time. I never ever base my characters on anyone---not on people I know personally and not even on movie stars or models. I take the word fiction very seriously, and when I create a character, it is someone I’ve completely formed in my mind, not someone I’ve imagined based on a real person.

Are you like any of your characters? How so?

There are bits and pieces of me in several of my characters. I bake compulsively like Marienne. I’m an insomniac and a worrier like Daniel. I attended NYU like several of my characters. Those are just tiny facets of who they are, though, they’re not based on me, they just have characteristics and experiences I’m familiar with so I know I’m getting those aspects right. For the most part my characters have habits/quirks/features/personalities that are nothing like me. I love writing characters who do and say things I never would because then I get to live vicariously through them. It’s one of the perks of being a writer. You can have your characters do or say whatever you want. 

I totally agree.

Do you have a routine for writing? Do you work better at night, in the afternoon, or in the morning?
I write off and on all day long, but I work best late at night. I’ve always been a night owl and I find my mind is sharpest and my head the clearest in the late evening or wee hours of the morning. I’m also an insomniac so this is a convenient combo and happens to be the only time my house is quiet, so it all works out well.

Where’s home for you?

Northern New England.

I love New England. Tell us one weird thing, one nice thing, and one fact about where you live.

Weird thing: The name of my town is actually spelled wrong. Two hundred years ago when they were having the name carved into a stone it was spelled incorrectly and rather than pay to have it redone they just went with the wrong spelling.
Nice thing: It’s a mountaintop town that’s mostly wooded, has a waterfall and a scenic overlook where you can see for miles. And the people who live here are awesome. (Okay that’s two nice things---what can I say? I love where I live.)
Factual thing: The highest point in town is 1015 feet above sea level.

Is there anything in particular that you do to help the writing flow? Music? Acting out the scene? Long showers?

Long showers. Oh God, yes. I don’t know what it is about the shower that makes ideas come to me. Maybe because it’s the only place in the house where someone’s not likely to be talking to me or popping in with a question (although my cat does often stick his head into the shower and lick the wall---eww---he’s a weird kitten). Maybe it’s because I’m busy doing things that don’t require thought, like shampooing, so my mind is free to wander. Maybe it’s just the steam. Or maybe it’s that it’s the one place where I’m guaranteed not to have a pen and paper so I have to just let the story keep playing over and over in my head until I can get out and write it down. Whatever it is, I can say I’ve definitely come up with some of my very best scenes and ideas while showering. I really need to buy one of those waterproof shower notepad thingies. In fact, I think I’ll add that to my Christmas wishlist right now!

Attention Karen’s family! Did you take note? Only fourteen more shopping days left! Karen, what three books have you read recently and would recommend?

I have read and adored the three books in Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series: The Siren, The Angel and The Prince. They’re all completely different and totally amazing. Detailed characters, intricately interwoven plots, heartbreakingly sad at times, laugh out loud funny other times. Beautiful prose with sharp, witty dialogue---I highly recommend them.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

In the rare moments when I’m not writing, I love to spend time with friends (in person or online), and I truly enjoy cooking and baking. Luckily I do all my writing at my kitchen desk, on my laptop, so I’m often cooking/baking, writing and online chatting all at once. I’m an excellent multi-tasker!

Last question that I'm sure your fans want to know: What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m working on four different projects. One is a contemporary romance with a tragic virgin hero---it’s a friends to lovers story with a very atypical path to romance. Another is a women’s fiction/contemporary romance starring Justine, one of the secondary characters in Meant To Be and Holding On. Justine isn’t the focus of either of those books, and I thought she deserved to have her story told.  The third is an erotic romance featuring a married couple trying to keep the spark alive in their marriage. The fourth is a super sekrit, so I can’t tell you more than the fact that it exists. I have about eight more ideas in my to-be-written notebook, I just have to find the time to write them.

Great. And I hope you'll come back soon and talk to us about Meant To Be's sequel Holding On.
About the author:

Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies and fictional British men. When she’s not writing, she can be found cooking extravagant meals and serving them to family and friends. Prior to deciding to write full time Karen worked as a hand drawn animator, a clinical therapist, and held various food-related jobs ranging from waitress to specialty cake maker. Planning elaborate parties and fundraisers takes up what’s left of her time and sanity.

Karen has always been fascinated by the way people relate to one another so she favors books and movies that feature richly detailed characters and their relationships. In her own writing she likes to explore the dynamics between characters and has a tendency to craft romantic love stories filled with sarcasm and sexy details. 

Karen has published three erotic romances with Ellora’s Cave: Marry Me (June 2012), Long-Distance Lovers (co-written with Karen Booth, March 2012) and Always You (Passionate Plume First Place Novella Winner, RWA 2012).

Karen’s first full-length novel, Meant To Be, was released from Turquoise Morning Press on August 26, 2012. Its sequel, Holding On, was released on November 26, 2012. A prequel to these novels, the short story All I Need, appears in the Foreign Affairs Anthology (Turquoise Morning Press, August 2012).

Coming in 2013 Karen will have several contemporary romances releasing from Samhain Publishing and Turquoise Morning Press. The first of these, THEN, AGAIN will release from Samhain on May 23, 2013.

Connect with Karen:
Amazon author page
Amazon book page
Barnes & Noble

Turquoise Morning Press

To read an excerpt of Meant To Be, click here.
To read a guest post by Karen, click here.