It is always great to meet authors who are passionate about their writing. It is this passion that drives us to creating amazing magical worlds that draws our readers in. I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Wyle, author of the Twin-Bred book series recently and her passion for books was so strong that it elevated my own excitement about continuing to write my book series.
Michael: Karen, can you give us a bit of your background?
Karen: I was born a Connecticut Yankee; moved to California at age eight; got a B.A. in English and American Literature from Stanford University; headed back east to Harvard Law School; moved back to California again; met my husband, who dislikes California; and moved with him to Bloomington, Indiana, where I’ve lived for twenty-five years. We have two daughters, both (to my occasional astonishment) adults, and both intensely creative in their own, quite different ways.
Michael: So with a background in Law, how did it come about that you decided to write novels?
Karen: The desire to write novels came first. By age ten, I was determined to be the youngest novelist ever published. I was writing my first novel when I learned to my chagrin that a British girl had upstaged me, getting published at age nine. I finished that novel, realizing too late (when my fifth grade teacher read portions of it to the class) how flawed and bizarre it was; attempted and abandoned another novel four years later; tried poetry and short stories; and finally, gave up on writing around my junior year in college.
I began writing picture book manuscripts while pregnant with my first child. That child, my elder daughter, led me back to the novel form: she took part in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo or Nano) her senior year in high school and did so again her freshman year in college. I joined her the second time . . . and the rest is very minor literary history. :-)
Michael: That is very heart warming how your daughter had reinvigorated your passion to write. You’ve written five novels so far, which one did you enjoy writing the most? And which one was most successful?
Karen: I don’t think I can remember all five novel-writing experiences well enough for a definitive answer. By the time I wrote Reach, Book Two of the Twin-Bred series and my third novel, I felt more confident of my skills, which made writing more fun; and I also enjoyed taking the characters in new and sometimes surprising directions. I also don’t recall running into as many story problems in that book as in several of the others.
As for which is the most successful: I haven’t kept close track of sales, even before I made Twin-Bred permafree, which rather confuses the issue. Twin-Bred has by far the most reviews, almost all of which date from before the book went free — though most of the reviews of all my books come from bloggers to whom I provided a free copy in exchange for a review. If we use the metric of numbers of stars in Amazon reviews, Division and Playback Effect would be tied at 4.6 out of five. With the number of reviews as a tiebreaker, Division would win.
Michael: Of your novels so far, it seems that you’ve written more books in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, what sets your novels apart from other sci-fi/type novels?
Karen: That depends on the others!
Some readers and reviewers have described the Twin-Bred series as reminiscent of older, “classic” science fiction. I’ve been influenced by authors as diverse as Heinlein and Ursula K. LeGuin, so I can’t draw a clear line and say I belong in any sub-genre.
I do bring to my work a lifetime of reading both literary and genre fiction, as well as decades of persuasive writing (both professional and political). All that has led to an identifiable style, evident in the various introductory samples that readers can find online (and probably in this interview as well).
I also tend to return to certain themes: family relationships, unfinished personal business, difficulties in communication, unintended consequences, the boundaries of personal identity, and the scope of personal responsibility.
Michael: Your Twin-Bred book series sounds very interesting. What prompted you to write the book series?
Karen: I didn’t particularly intend to write a series. Twin-Bred was my first novel (not counting my juvenilia). My second novel, Wander Home, had nothing to do with it, and wasn’t even science fiction. Then came time to prepare for my third NaNoWriMo, and I just felt like returning to the universe and characters of Twin-Bred. Now I have Book Three in the pipeline, with publication tentatively scheduled for mid-December of 2015 — and just this morning, I got an idea I could use in a possible Book Four. I’ve become more and more fond of more and more characters and relationships in the series.
[clickable image of book cover for Twin-Bred, will link to amazon page]
Michael: Since the world that you created in the book series has so much draw for you to keep writing, what do you hope for your readers to get out of the Twin-Bred book series?
Karen: I hope they’ll fall in love with some characters quickly, and find their initial reactions to other characters changing as they spend more time with them. I hope they’ll ponder the ways in which we do and don’t understand each other, whether within a single culture or when confronting the unfamiliar. And I hope that now and then, they’ll laugh in delight, or at least chuckle with pleasure, at some world-building detail.
Michael: Talking about characters, who is your favorite character in book series and how much of yourself did you put into that character?
Karen: I’ve grown more and more fond of Dr. Mara Cadell, originator of the Twin-Bred Project, as I write more of the series. We definitely have traits in common, including interest in science (though she has far more talent for the field than I ever did), intellectual curiosity, personal reserve (though Mara is a good deal more guarded than I), and impatience. I’d love to have her talent for the visual arts, which I stole from my older daughter on Mara’s behalf.
Michael: What is your favorite scene that you have written and why?
Karen: If I were to mention more than one, just how many can I get away with listing?
Michael: I love it when writers are passionate about their work. Go for as many as you like!
Karen: Here are a few of my favorite scenes from each of my books. Some of these items will be painfully vague, as I loathe significant spoilers. Where I couldn’t say anything meaningful about a scene without such spoilers, I’ve just left it out.
As for why these scenes are among my favorites: for the most part, either they include some idea, some dialogue, or both that I find particularly original and/or intriguing, or they capture the moment of a character’s course change or revelation.
I may scramble the order of listed scenes, so as to reduce either actual spoilers or inaccurate conclusions to which folks might otherwise jump.
Twin-Bred, book one of the Twin-Bred series:
— A drunk bar patron rants about what the human colonists should have done to the Tofa, the native sentient species, citing “Hager’s 3rd Law” and declaring that Hager wasn’t crazy, despite having been institutionalized. One reason I enjoy this scene: my husband is in fact named “Hager,” and has propounded the ruthlessly pragmatic “law” in question. But I think I’d like the scene anyway.
— Mara Cadell, founder of the Twin-Bred Project, discovers a Tofa ability that could reveal a close-kept secret, but also tantalizes her with the partial fulfillment of an impossible dream.
— The confidential assistant of a powerful man — a man hostile to the Tofa — confronts her boss’ most dangerous secret and her own potential complicity in his plans. The setting: a park frequented by both humans and Tofa.
— An agent of that same powerful man, embedded in the Twin-Bred Project, is faced with the emotional depth of one of the Tofa Twin-Bred.
— A noble character encounters a fate he didn’t see coming.
— The sight of an innocuous object triggers Mara’s realization of the goals the Tofa have been pursuing in the Twin-Bred Project.
— Tofa Twin-Bred Peer-tek uses a fairy tale metaphor to explain to his human twin Jimmy that Jimmy must abandon a proposed plan of action.
— And finally, I’m quite partial to the very last line of the book.
Reach, book two of the Twin-Bred series:
— A bereaved human Twin-Bred dreams a conversation with her lost Tofa twin, then awakes to an unexpected aftermath.
— Veda, a diminutive but intimidating former Twin-Bred host mother, confronts a boy who has bullied her daughter.
— A ship passes through a wormhole.
— An attempt at communication between humans and Tofa on the one hand and another species on the other leads to an awkward misunderstanding.
— A Tofa leader interrogates a Tofa Twin-Bred; both parties thus discover an important way in which Tofa Twin-Bred differ from other young Tofa.
— Mara Cadell reveals a dark secret to someone with whom she has been approaching intimacy, in part through a self-portrait.
— The Tofa leader I mentioned above, consumed with rage, contemplates and attempts to carry out a peculiarly Tofa form of attack on an adversary.
Wander Home, a family drama/mystery set in an afterlife of my own devising:
— Eleanor arrives in the (initially very disorienting) afterlife.
— Friends Cassidy and Becca begin a scene as teenagers trying on clothes, then (due to Cassidy’s emotional state at the time) become young children playing dress-up.
— Eleanor and her daughter Cassidy meet in the afterlife for the first time, with Eleanor’s ongoing adjustment difficulties triggering a transformation in Cassidy.
— A character dreams another character’s memory of the death of a loved one.
— In the final scene, an exciting journey also showcases the results of key characters’ personal journeys.
Division, a near-future science fiction about a pair of conjoined twins and the choice that confronts them:
— Johnny, one of the twins, dreams of unzipping himself from Gordon, and wakes to a disquieting outcome.
— One of the twins chokes on food and considers the incident a revelation.
— One of the twins confronts helplessness in a terrible crisis.
— One of the twins contemplates the bittersweet fulfillment of a dream, then takes an action others don’t expect.
— Gordon makes a selfless gesture to assist Johnny during courtroom testimony.
— Attorneys for both twins give closing arguments in the trial concerning a possible drastic method of separating the two.
And finally, Playback Effect, a near-future science fiction thriller:
— Arthur, police detective, prepares to subject himself to a terrible trauma in order to pursue justice for the woman he loves, who is married to a suspect.
— A hacker of experience-recordings stumbles upon an extremely disconcerting use of chocolate.
— A character is subjected to an attack dream.
— A sociopath is disappointed in how one of his victims responds to a recording of her mother’s death experience.
— A man meets his wife’s former lover and feels compelled to present himself in a misleading and unflattering light.
— A professional dreamer collects taste experiences to use in future dreams. This is the one scene I’m including purely for its descriptions.
Michael: That is quite a list. I’m sure that everyone can see how much joy it brings you to write. So now I have to know, what is your writing routine like?
Karen: I write very rough drafts every November, at least so far, since 2010, during NaNoWriMo. I write in fits and starts all day, easy to do when you’re self-employed in a home office. I usually get ahead early in the month and get to the 50,000 word goal several days before November 30th. Then I keep going at a more leisurely pace until that date, ending up with a draft somewhere between 56,000 and 60,000 words. I put the draft away for a few weeks . . . and then begin eight or nine months of revising and editing. Depending on how busy I am with my law practice or other distractions, I may spend most of the day, several days a week, on that additional work, and usually end up adding something like 20,000 words.
Michael: Who is your favorite author and how has this author influenced your writing?
Karen: Have mercy! I’ve been reading for more than fifty years…
If pressed, I would identify two authors at or near the top of my list:
— Mary Doria Russell: while I love several of her novels of historical fiction, I list her because of her very first novel, the incomparable science fiction story The Sparrow. Go read it. All of you. Now.
— John Scalzi: he writes intriguing and intelligent science fiction with amazingly imaginative touches and wonderfully resourceful characters.
As for how they’ve influenced my writing: the key plot device in Twin-Bred belongs a general category, interspecies communication and misunderstandings, also dealt with in The Sparrow. Both these authors may also have reinforced my desire to confound simple classifications of characters as “good guys” or villains. And I would love to someday approach the brilliance of the dialogue in the books of either.
Michael: What do you have in store next for your readers?
Karen: I’m editing the third, still-untitled Twin-Bred novel, about which I currently have all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings. As I mentioned above, I’m tentatively scheduling its release for December 2015. At the same time, I’m pushing to publish my first nonfiction book. The title: Closest to the Fire: a Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers. If I can get it indexed in time, it’ll come out first (by late summer).
Michael: Karen, thank you so much for sharing with us your story and your passion for books.
If Karen has inspired you as much as she has inspired me, please check out her book on Amazon.