In this first post of the new year, we are delighted to introduce Karen Booth, who writes achingly romantic and sexy stories for Harlequin Desire. As with eating potato chips, you can’t read just one of her books.
Thanks for visiting us, Karen. Can you tell us bit about yourself?
I’m a Midwestern girl transplanted in the South, raised on ‘80s music, Judy Blume, and the films of John Hughes. A teenage preoccupation with Duran Duran led me to spend my twenties working my way from intern to executive in the music industry. Now I’m a mom of two, and instead of staying up late in rock clubs, I get up before dawn and write steamy contemporary romance.
Can you tell us a little about your January book and why it’s special to you?
My January book is The Best Man’s Baby. The heroine, Julia Keys, was a secondary character in my first book for Desire, That Night with the CEO. When I’d finished writing That Night with the CEO, my editor, Patience Bloom, said she hoped Julia would get her own book. I had been thinking the exact same thing. Julia is just too dang adorable. Plus, Patience loves reading about the trials of beautiful women. Julia is a famous Hollywood actress, the reigning queen of romantic comedy, so I wanted to write a story with the hero as her high school sweetheart. That’s how I came up with Logan Brandt, a former pro baseball player. Julia and Logan fell in love when they had nothing more than big dreams and each other. I loved the sentimentality of that. Their history not only threatens to keep them apart, it’s at the heart of what brings them together. One fun fact about The Best Man’s Baby—the British florist in the flower shop scene is named for my friend, Bryony Evens, who is known for digging Harry Potter out of the slush pile (she even got to go on Oprah). I met Bryony at a Duran Duran fan convention in Chicago a few years ago and I adore her.
What made you want to start writing romance?
In truth, I only set out to write a book, and I did it because I’d had the essence of the story in my head for 8 years—a woman meets and falls in love with the rock star she was obsessed with in high school, but 20 years later. It just happened to have an epic love story at the center of it, meaning that I stumbled into writing romance. I never imagined I would become a romance author, even though I’d had an affinity for writing from a young age. I guess I just never connected the dots, because I can’t imagine writing any book without a love story running through it. I don’t want to think about a world where romance isn’t important. I always want love to come first.
What is your writing process?
It’s an ever-evolving thing, mostly because I am a pantser who must be a plotter in order to be productive. I always start with the characters. The hero and heroine pop into my head first, and I have to know them well before the story starts to come together. Then I figure out how they meet and what puts them at odds. I often don’t know the true ending of my book until I write it. I rarely picture the ending ahead of time, although I have to make a guess at it in order to write the synopsis. Otherwise, I would describe my process like painting a portrait or landscape, except that I have limited artistic ability. If I started with a blank canvas, I would never start in one corner and paint with excruciating detail from the start. I would make big brushstrokes, right in the middle, and go from there. That’s how I write. I start with a very loose outline, something that hardly resembles a story. Then I add in the plot points, often out of order, until it starts to take shape. After that, I add in the color—the finer points of dialogue and small details about characters that make them come to life. I go back into the story many times, adding more and more layers until I’m satisfied.
How do you stay so organized?
I write down everything, and I cross it out when I’m done with it. My Type-A brain lives for that moment. I have notebooks and pens everywhere, especially next to the bed. I get my best ideas right after I turn off the light to go to sleep. I have two calendars. The first is my Duran Duran calendar (I love the John Taylor months most!), which has my personal stuff like doctor’s appointments, my kids’ activities, and birthdays. The second is a plain spiral-bound calendar for my writing schedule. I plan out each book week by week. If I have a deadline in 12 weeks, I’ll give myself 5 weeks to draft 50k words. (2k words a day, Monday-Friday). That’s manageable. Then I’ll take a week off from that project and move to something else, usually a proposal or edits on another book. I give myself 2 weeks to revise—one slow pass over the course of 7-8 days, followed by another 2-3 day quick pass. That accounts for 8 of my 12 weeks, which gives me plenty of room if I get stuck (I almost always do), one of my kids get sick, or something urgent comes up. I do everything I can to get that daily 2k written before noon, leaving afternoons for promotion, more planning, and brainstorming. I get up at 5:00 or 5:30 on most days. The early-morning hours are my most productive. The house is completely quiet, I know there’s zero chance my husband and kids will get up, the cat curls up next to me on the couch, and my brain is fresh. That’s when I fly.
Do you have a favorite kind of story to write or hooks that are especially fun to use in your novels?
I don’t know that I gravitate toward certain hooks, but I do find myself drawn to themes like loss and redemption, and I love writing books with family as an important component. I’m definitely a big fan of snappy dialogue, witty comebacks (I can never think of them in real life—I get more time in a book), and funny real-life conflict between characters, like fighting over which side of the bed you get to sleep on. I want all of my books to have humor, but I also want to make you cry if I can. Writers are mean.
What’s the most difficult/easy part about writing?
I realize it’s not like I dig ditches for a living, but writing is hard. I struggle most with the beginning, which is not the way it works for most authors, and bad news if you’re in any way prone to procrastination. I don’t tend to struggle with the middle or the end, but I struggle with where to start, how much info to include, and the never-ending battle against backstory. The easiest part of the writing process is revising and polishing. I could tinker forever and I would never get bored. I love that part. I spend too much time on that part.
What advice do you have for writers?
If you want to be traditionally published, you can’t allow yourself to be held back by rejection. I know it’s hard, but the sooner you get used to it, the better. Everybody gets rejected. I got 108 rejections on my first book. Keep trying, and always be looking for sneaky (but legal!) ways to get your foot in the door. Go to writing conferences, network with other writers on Twitter and Facebook, pitch agents and editors in person, and above all, keep writing. Nothing in my career has gone the way I would’ve predicted—the first book I wrote was my third to come out. I was terrified to write steamy sex, but ended up writing several erotic romances because it was selling and it was a way to get published. I didn’t get my agent until after I got my second big contract. Things in publishing rarely happen the way you think they will. So keep writing and keep trying. You’ll get there. If you want to indie-publish, those same rules of perseverance apply. There’s no getting around the hard work.
If you had one thing you could tell yourself when you first started writing, what would it be?
Honestly, I don’t think I’d tell myself anything. When I wrote my first book, I didn’t know the rules of writing fiction or storytelling. I only knew what I had absorbed from reading. So that first book, although I probably wasted a lot of time molding it into shape, came from a very pure place. The world was not sitting on my shoulder. There was no editor in my head, making me second-guess everything I typed down. I had this blind inhibition that made me incredibly connected to the characters and the story, in a way that I have struggled to recreate with other books. I get to that place some days, but with my first book, I lived in that place for months, and it was magic.
What is a quirky, fun thing no one knows about you–well, maybe only a few people know about you? (And you are welcome to mention Duran Duran anywhere in this interview)
Here’s a random list of stuff about me:
I have never had a Big Mac, Whopper, or an Egg McMuffin. Now that I’m a little more than a year from turning 50, I feel like I should just keep my streak alive.
I cannot live without lip balm. I have three different ones in my purse right now. Peas (not the ones in the can!) are one of my favorite foods. Most people are grossed out when I tell them this.
I can’t pluck my eyebrows. It’s too scary.
I’m convinced that Cindy Crawford and I would be BFFs if we met. Possible alternates for my celebrity BFF: Michelle Obama, Alex Guarnaschelli (celebrity chef), and Tammy Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Yes, I realize that last one is a fictional character. She’s still my potential BFF, and I would always call her by her full name, Tammy Taylor, with Connie Britton’s drawl. “OMG, Tammy Taylor! We have to open a bottle of wine and catch up!”
Okay, so can we BFFs now? What a fun interview! Thank you, Karen, and, readers, we urge you to check out Karen’s wonderful books!