I recently had the good fortune to get to know Karen Woodward, author of Until Death, which is a fantasy novel about a teenage girl who lives amongst a society of witches, but has no supernatural powers of her own. Aside from being an up-and-coming author, Woodward is also a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and most every conversation we have invariably turns into a geeky discussion about Buffy or Angel or the Joss Whedon Universe in general.
So, without further ado, here are 10 questions for Karen Woodward:
1. Your novel, Until Death, is a fantasy novel, which, in some form or fashion, was inspired by Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Can you tell me a little more about your book and how Whedon's body of work inspired your storytelling sensibilities?
I think of Until Death as a modern folk tale. The story follows Darla, a headstrong 18 year old girl who thinks she knows what she wants most in life. At the beginning of the tale Darla's deepest wish, to be able to work magic, becomes reality and her life as she knows it is destroyed. For a while she despairs but then, in true Buffy fashion, she figures out how to put the pieces of her life back together—yes, they might not fit quite right and perhaps a bit of duct tape is involved, but she sets things right in the end. Mostly.
Whedon's Buffy inspired me to create the character of Darla because...well, let's face it, Buffy is different. She wasn't the tortured hero. Yes, sure, she went through periods of angst—we are talking about teenagers—but what she wanted most in life was to be normal. In the world I set Until Death in, being able to use magic is normal, so this is Darla's deepest desire as well. But that's not all. Sure, Buffy had the help of her friends, the Scooby's, but in the end she was alone and she surmounted whatever Big Bad was trying to bring her down through her own inner strength and resourcefulness. Translation: She didn't need rescuing. This is a trait Darla shares as well. Yes, she would love help but when it doesn't come she is, somehow, able to face the challenge and, in her own quirky way, come out more-or-less on top. Also, although Buffy was a hero she wasn't perfect. I don't think she strove for that. Darla doesn't either.
Oh, and one more thing. Buffy and Darla both have a sense of humor (think sushi pajamas). I'm not saying that I've come close—I don't think anyone could—to capturing Whedon's quirky sense of humor, but I hope that I've avoided taking things too seriously.
2. One of the reasons I like the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genres is their ample ability to house metaphors that both reflect and pararel the human experience. I get the impression that Darla's story of wanting to feel normal in a world full of magic has some deeper metaphorical meanings. Can you expound on this idea?
Growing up, my family and friends believed in magic, in the supernatural, in angels and demons and fairies. Like Kim Harrison, I'm more the scientific type. That said, I have always adored fairy stories, folk tales, the ancient Greek myths and, more recently, urban fantasy. I have often thought it would be lovely if my friends and family were proven right and there were fairies and all the rest of it. Until Death grew from that germ of an idea. Perhaps that also explains some of the feelings of alienation I give Darla. I read somewhere that one's first book is autobiographical, perhaps that's true in my case.
3. For both traditionally published authors and independent authors, promoting one's book can be one of the most challenging parts of the publishing process. Talk about what methods and strategies you've employed in order to promote both yourself as an author and as well your novel Until Death?
Everyone is different, but I blog and tweet. I'm also on Facebook and Google+.
Every day I publish a blog post and include a link to it in a tweet. I also curate links and tweet about six links a day. The links are to articles I think provide good information to indie writers, or are thought provoking, or some combination of the two.
I don't know whether any of this helps me sell my book. Blogging has become an end in itself. I am grateful for the advice and support of my fellow writers and I do what I can to pass that along.
4. Writing a novel is such a complex exercise that I imagine no two authors do it exactly the same. Can you summarize your process for me?
I dream of the day when I get to the point of having a process! I think I'm a bit like a model-T in the wintertime: A lot of false starts and stalling. Until Death was written over a period of two years mainly because I didn't work on it for a year. I put it away because the plot had become an overgrown jungle and I couldn't figure which plants to cut down and which to leave.
My critique group helped me; simply knowing that I would be handing my manuscript off to these generous, intelligent, readers made me able to look at my manuscript in a new way. In a sense, it let me see it objectively, or at least more objectively than I had been able to previously. It was just what I needed. Also, my critique partners gave me excellent feedback on which parts felt slow, where I was explaining too much, etc. And, most of all, they gave me encouragement.
But, as much as I have a process, here's what I do, or try to do. The first draft is all about me and the story. I'm not critical. I allow myself to make mistakes and develop plot lines that might not go anywhere. I don't judge myself. During the second draft I read what I've got and make decisions about what the story is, what the themes are, etc. I also think about other people, my critique group, and I put on my editors hat. The third draft is mostly clean-up. My readers will have noticed the occasional logical lapse, or too much of an info dump, or events that need more explaining. That's it!
5. Can you sum up the journey of getting your book published?
I think my journey to getting Until Death published would read a bit like The Pilgrim's Progress! After I decided to self-publish, the journey became more straight-forward. It started around the time I began infrequently reading Joe Konrath's blog. I hadn't seriously considered self-publication before then because I was confusing it with vanity publishing. Joe set me straight and I began reading the blogs of authors who were self-publishing, authors such as Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. These blogs, Dean's especially, helped give me the courage to put my work out there.
6. What drove you to write this particular book?
I have an image of banshee's flying behind me, clawing at my hair, screaming, “Write Until Death!”
I guess as a writer having a bizarre imagination is an asset…or at least that's what I'm telling myself.
That's an interesting question. It reminds me of the debate around whether stories exist independently of the writer and the main job of the writer is to uncover them, like an archeologist uncovering the bones of a long dead critter (Stephen King is like this, see On Writing), or whether the author creates the story out of thin air. This dichotomy reminds me of another one, that between pantsers and plotters, the people who just dive in and start writing and those who create an outline, plan out all the events, and so on, and only when they know what they're going to write, do they embark on the task of bringing the first draft of their story to life.
Until Death sort of staggered into existence like a drunken frat boy on his way home from an all-nighter. Perhaps that is the way of all first novels, I'm not sure. My second novel, and the second book in my Death series, seems to be following in the way of its parent, weaving its way into existence in fits and starts. I see a scene here and there and they sit inside me, incubating, until I wake up at 2 am possessed with an idea and mad with a desire for a pad of paper and a pen—both of which are, of course, missing. But it's coming together (knock on wood).
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which would it be? Why?
Tough choice, I'd have to say J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. If I'm not allowed the entire series then I'd chose The Fellowship of the Ring. Why? Tolkien was a gifted writer, but I love the ideas he introduced and how he introduced them. His books inspire the imagination.
8. What are some tools you use to help promote and market your book?
Twitter Counter - Helps me gauge how quickly I am growing my Twitter following.
Topsy Analytics - Shows me how many times my tweets were mentioned and retweeted.
TweetReach - Another tool to represent the size of my audience.
Klout - Fun and very addictive. Gives you a score that represents the totality of your social activity on the web.
Google Analytics - If I had to choose just one tool, it would be Google Analytics. Gives you an idea of how many folks visit your blog every month, every week, every day, every second. Addictive.
Hootsuite - I don't know what I would do without Hootsuite. I lets me schedule my tweets and I like its flexibility.
Where I've hung my virtual shingle:
9. What advice would you give to an aspiring author who hope to see their work published one day?
I have found Heinlein's Rules enormously useful.
- You must write.
- Finish what you start.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put your story on the market.
- You must keep it on the market until it has sold.
I like Robert J. Sawyer's sixth rule: Start working on something else.
Now if only I could take my own advice!
10. If you could only watch one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Okay, this one is easy. Season 5, Episode 12: "Checkpoint." Best. Speech. Ever.
And there you have it. I'd like to thank Karen Woodward for being so generous with her time. If you want to learn more about her, you can visit Karen Woodward: A Blog About Writing. You can also check out Woodward's Facebook and follow her on Twitter.