Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Featured Author: Karen Booth

Today's featured author is Karen Booth, author of the contemporary romance Bring Me Back, published by Turquois Press. 

About the book:

Music critic Claire Abby is a single mom dreading her daughter’s departure for college and worried that turning forty will leave her career running on fumes. She’s floored when she lands a Rolling Stone cover story on 80s British rock legend Christopher Penman. She spent her teenage years fantasizing he was her boyfriend.

In person, Christopher is everything Claire feared he’d be—charming, witty and unwilling to address the rumors he’s dodged for a decade. Still, she contains her adolescent fantasies and manages to earn his trust, unearthing the truth and the devastating secret behind it. His blockbuster story is her first priority when she returns home, a nearly impossible task when Christopher starts calling and flirting. She knows she should maintain a professional distance. She knows she should focus on the story. She knows it would be best to simply walk away. But how can she say “no” to the man she could never forget?

Interview with Karen:

Karen, how long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I have always been a writer. Even in school, it was the one type of assignment I never minded. When I worked in the music industry, I was often asked to write band bios and press releases, even when that was never officially my job. As far as fiction goes, I started in the fall of 2009, and the book I wrote first was Bring Me Back.

What do you like best about writing?
I like to say that when I write, I feel like myself at the end of the day. I’m a person who takes in everything—events, emotions, my environment. The problem is finding a place for all of that to go. Writing provides me with that outlet.

What’s your least favorite thing?

My least favorite part of it is the times when the words aren’t flowing. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s torture.

How did you come up with the title of your book?

My book has an 80s element to it since Christopher Penman, my rock star hero, would have been big in the 80s. When I was stuck on my title, I was listening to an 80s playlist I’d created in iTunes and the phrase “bring be back” stuck out in the Plimsouls song “A Million Miles Away.” Funny enough, the verse it comes from works really well with my entire story. That’s when I knew it was perfect.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I am a mother of two, and that will always be my number one job. Luckily, both kids are in middle school, which allows me to write during the day. I have a freelance writing job, creating educational podcast scripts, in addition to my fiction writing.

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

Music journalist lands career-defining interview with the rock star crush of her youth. Romance ensues.

Oooh, you did it in 103! I'm impressed. Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

I like to say that I follow my nose when I write. It’s never one thing. Sometimes it’s the characters steering me in one direction and sometimes it’s just a gut instinct. Other times, it’s my critique partner or a friend helping me with ideas. I don’t like the idea of following a single strategy. I prefer to mix things up.

I love your cover art. Did you have any say in it?

I’m so glad you asked this question because I love the cover for Bring Me Back and I am thankful for it every day. Most of the time, authors have very little say in their cover art. My publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, does take suggestions from authors, and I pled the case for this cover image, big time. Luckily, they saw the strength of the image and agreed to go with it. Once you read the book, you’ll see that the photo works on multiple levels. It’s much more than a guy with a guitar. As far as the photographer goes, I don’t know much about him, other than he’s a very talented guy.  

How do you get to know your characters?

This is an interesting question. I would say that writing is the way I get to know them. They simply reveal themselves to me as I work, usually by talking to me. Every now and then, they’ll spring something on me that I didn’t expect—some aspect of their personality that I need to go back and weave into earlier parts of the story.
Sophie’s choice: Do you have a favorite of your characters?

This is such a mom answer, but I really don’t have a favorite! I adore each character for different reasons, even the characters who have difficult personalities.
That kind of character is usually my favorite! I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?

I use baby name sites and census records. Of course there has to be more to it than that, but that’s a great starting point. I like to think about the era in which they would have been born, what their parents were like, because those will both have a big impact on their name. The final consideration is simply whether or not I think it suits my image of the character.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

The initial inspiration for Christopher was John Taylor from Duran Duran, partly because he was my rock star crush when I was a teenager, and partly because he was in the dream that inspired the book. Christopher is his own man though—there’s just a tiny sprinkling of JT in there.

Are you like any of your characters? How so?

Of any female character I’ve written, I am most like Claire from Bring Me Back. We’re both wound a little too tightly and are well aware of this trait. Family and love are important to us both, even when they can be a pain in the neck. Claire and I share some history, but that’s only because I felt so connected to her when I was writing.  
Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

It’s really tough to choose, but I think it would have to be a scene where Christopher travels to see Claire in North Carolina. At this point in the story, he still has no idea she was obsessed with him when she was a teenager. She’s doing the dishes after dinner the first night, and he’s exploring her record collection, only to discover that she owns everything his band ever recorded, on both CD and LP. She’s squirming like crazy when he brings this up. He loves every last minute of dragging the whole thing out of her. It makes me smile just to think about it.  

Karen was nice enough to give us a peek at that scene:

“Hmmm, Claire? Was it Graham? The girls just loved Graham.” He stepped closer and narrowed his stare. “Maybe Nigel?” He inched toward me again. “Surely, you must remember who your favorite member was.”

I twisted my mouth in an attempt to disguise my embarrassment, but that look of British smugness told me I’d never get out of it. I glanced down at my bare feet and then around the room, studying the red and blue Oriental rug and my dinged up coffee table. I searched for a place to rest my eyes, ultimately landing on a plant in need of water.

“You were my favorite,” I confessed in a whisper.

“I knew it.” He winked at me. “Now things are getting interesting.”

“No, nothing is interesting. That was a long time ago.” My defense was pathetic, but I persisted. “What was I supposed to say to you the day we met? Hi, I’m Claire.” I mocked myself, staring at the ceiling, knocking my head from side to side. “I was totally in love with you and your band when I was a teenager.”

He interrupted. “Hold on. When you say you were in love—”

“You know what I mean.” I squinted, beyond annoyed. “I was in love with the idea of you, let’s put it that way. You don’t honestly think I should’ve told you that before the interview. I would’ve had zero credibility. Would you have still told me everything?”

“No. I would’ve seduced you and sent you on your way. After lunch, of course.”

“Very funny. You know, I totally figured out that you planned the trip to Francesca’s and our lunch, that you were trying to butter me up.” It seemed like the perfect time to bust him and it happily deflected things from me.

“You’re right. I did plan all of it. I thought it’d be more fun.” I was perturbed by his ready disclosure of the facts because it felt as if I hadn’t caught him in a thing.
“Oh, and the whole trying on clothes thing, that didn’t have anything to do with your good looks and the fact that I’m a woman.”

“Just like your change of clothes that night had everything to do with me being a man.”

I pursed my lips, confronted again with my attempt at matching his manipulation.

He lowered his voice, “I never planned for it to go beyond lunch.” Now he seemed unsure of himself—vaguely unsure, but I would take what I could get. “You’re a mystery to me, quite fascinating actually. You’re the first woman I’ve met in a very long time, possibly ever, who didn’t seem the slightest bit impressed by me. You’re definitely the first woman I’ve ever met who didn’t want anything from me.”

He passed along a piercing gaze that left me needing air and took my hand. He wound up with only a few fingers, but it didn’t matter. I was too wrapped up in words like fascinating.

You're right--that's a great scene! What song would you pick to go with your book?

Another super tough question! Can I pick two? If so, “Blindsided” by Bon Iver would be the first. It’s how I imagine Christopher’s solo music to sound, and I love it. The second is “Hammer & a Stone” by Seven Mary Three. It’s a beautifully tortured love song. Both songs are from my Bring Me Back playlist. 

Who are your favorite authors?

Curtis Sittenfeld, Celia Rivenbark, Anne Lamott, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Blume, and E.B. White scratch the surface. I also read a lot of non-fiction and biographies, and that makes the list much longer.

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

The whole list? How to be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran, About Last Night by Ruthie Knox, Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell, and a draft of an upcoming poetry book titled Closing Doors by A Herbert Ashe. I’m bad—-I have multiple books going at one time. Those are all e-books. I don’t like to go anywhere without my Kindle.

I'm the same way! How do you handle criticism of your work?

I don’t handle criticism very well, but I’m getting better at it. I take it too personally, even when I know I shouldn’t. My writing routine revolves around my kids, but I do my best writing early in the morning and in the afternoon before they get home from school. I rarely have time to write on the weekends.

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

I love to cook, putter in the garden, sew, and do crafty projects with my daughter (my son hates that stuff). Sheesh, makes me sound like Martha Stewart. Rest assured, I am not Martha. I also listen to music a lot, but rarely when I’m writing.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Italy. My husband and I went there on our honeymoon and I loved it—the pace of life, the food, the art, the wine. Such a beautiful way to live.

If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? (Don’t worry about the money. Your publisher is paying.

Doesn’t matter—-give me a beach, a book, and a cocktail and I’m good. I’d prefer it if the water was crystal clear and there weren’t a lot of people around. Fiji sounds nice.

What are you working on now?

I just contracted a sequel to Bring Me Back, so that will be the next thing I tackle. No spoilers, though. Sorry!

About the author:

Karen Booth is a Midwestern girl transplanted in the South, raised on 80s music, Judy Blume, and the films of John Hughes. An early preoccupation with Rock ‘n’ Roll led her to spend her twenties working her way from intern to executive in the music industry. Much of her writing revolves around the world of backstage passes and band dynamics.
When she’s not creating fictional musicians, she’s listening to everything from old-school Cheap Trick to Duran Duran to Superchunk with her kids, honing her Southern cooking skills (she make some mean collards), or sweet-talking her astoundingly supportive husband into whipping up a batch of cocktails.

Guest Post by Karen

Writing When You Don’t Know the Rules

One rainy day in the fall of 2009, I sat down and began to write the book that would eventually become Bring Me Back. I’d had the idea swimming around in my head for years—a woman meets and falls in love with the rock star she was obsessed with in high school, twenty years later.

Mostly, my idea felt like an itch I had to scratch. It wouldn’t go away, and I already knew I loved to write, so I thought I’d try it. I didn’t tell a soul. Surely I would be like 99% of people who try to write a novel: I’d get stuck after twenty pages, realize it’s too monumental a task and quit.

Little did I know that writing the book would quickly consume me. I slept very little. I ate even less (and subsequently lost a bunch of weight). I obsessed over the story morning, noon, and night. Eventually, I had to tell my husband what I was doing because I was starting to feel like I was cheating on him with my book. He rolled his eyes (lovingly, he swears). This made me even more determined.

When I finished, my next task was finding a literary agent. That was so fun, like a big hug from the universe. Uh, no. That was a big fat slap in the face. Sure, I could write, and yes, my manuscript was polished. I even had a great hook. But the problem was I had broken rules. A lot of rules. And that, in the book world, is “bad”. Tsk, tsk. Bad Karen.

Bring Me Back is not technically a romance, even though a love story is the central arc. Claire’s relationship with her teenage daughter and her father are too interwoven. There are other reasons it’s not a romance, trust me—it’s a laundry list. My book isn’t technically women’s fiction either. There’s sex in it, a good amount of sex, and that is also not allowed. One agent told me it was “too familiar” to be women’s fiction. Of my 89 rejections, that one is my favorite.

But here’s the thing. No matter what happens, I know with every fiber of my being that Bring Me Back is 100%, beginning to end, forward and backward, me. It came from the depths, pure and unadulterated, and nobody told me how to steer the ship or where to steer it or where exactly I was supposed to end up. I just went with it and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.

I guess the lesson in this is that if you’re a writer, you can’t let the world sit on your shoulder. They have no business being there. Brush the world on to the floor. Let the words and the characters gush out of you, rules and literary agents and familiarity be damned. I promise you will not regret a single minute of the time you spend writing while ignoring the rules. 

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