I am delighted to have Karen Cox with me today to chat with us about At the Edge of the Sea.
Karen writes novels accented with history and romance. Her award-winning debut novel, 1932, is a love story set in the southern United States during the Great Depression. Her second novel, a modern romance called Find Wonder in All Things, won the 2012 Independent Book Publisher Book Award Gold medal in Romance, and was a Finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her new novel, At the Edge of the Sea, is scheduled to be released in October, 2013, in print, Kindle and Nook formats, by Meryton Press.
Karen was born in Washington State, and after a somewhat nomadic childhood that included stints in North Dakota, Tennessee, and New York State, her family settled in their home state of Kentucky. She still lives there with her husband, son and daughter, and works as a pediatric speech-language pathologist.
Karen, what made you decide to be an author, specifically a romance author?
My childhood home was filled with books—both my parents are readers, and books were highly valued in my family. I don’t remember learning how to read, but my mother says she realized I was reading by the time I was five. One natural extension of loving to read books, was to begin writing them.
But I didn’t necessarily choose the romance genre—it sort of chose me. I was busy, like a lot of people—getting my education, working, raising my family—and I got a one-two punch from life: First, I turned 40 with all the soul-searching that entails, and a year later, my family suffered the unexpected loss of my young nephew. I read voraciously during that time to keep my mind occupied, and romance was my genre of choice because I needed stories that were life and love-affirming. As I read, I realized I had things I wanted to say to the world—about love, about families, about life—and I began telling them through stories. I’d always written short stories, pieces of novels, etc., but now I decided I was brave enough to share my writing. I’m very fortunate that a small independent press was interested enough to pick up 1932, my first published novel.
What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like the least?
My favorite thing about being a writer is when readers say they enjoy something I wrote, or that it made them think, or smile, or remember.
What I like least is promoting. I think a lot of authors feel that way; many of us are introverts at heart. I love meeting readers and talking to them about stories, but promoting a certain book isn’t a natural skill for me. I’m learning though!
How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing romance?
I’ve often said I couldn’t have written this particular kind of novel when I was in my 20s or even my 30s. I needed some life behind me in order to meet the tons of people I have known, and observed the various relationships, places and events I’ve seen. I’ve worked as a speech-language pathologist in a variety of settings: hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and providing therapy to a wide age-range of people in their homes (one day, I saw a 4 week-old infant and a 94 year-old man in the same day!) That constant interaction with people really helped me find my ‘voice.’ I learned a lot about how people talk and act from my work.
Also, I’ve lived almost all my life in small towns or rural areas. That has given me an appreciation for nature and a slower pace of living that provides opportunities for observing the sensory details around me: a sunset, a hot day, the sounds of a working farm, etc.
Finally, I think the academic work required for graduate school taught me some basics about writing as a craft. Although I’ve not yet had a formal creative writing course, I learned about concise and precise writing from composing graduate level theses. Also, I often had to write when I didn’t feel like it, and that taught me some rudimentary discipline and work-ethic. There’s always more to learn though, and I’m curious enough to keep exploring new ways to write!
Have you ever felt as if you were being dictated to while you wrote a book–as if the words came of their own accord? If yes, which book did that happen with?
There are portions of each novel that felt this way, but probably the closest to an ‘effortless’ write was my debut novel, 1932. I wrote the first draft in about six weeks. Of course, it was edited many times afterward, but that one seemed to roll off my fingertips. Ah, sometimes I miss those days! They’re like the first blush of being in love!
You’ve written three novels and are working on a fourth. What’s your favorite time management tip?
Write first – then check email! It’s kind of like that analogy of putting the biggest stones in the jar first, and then fitting the smaller stones around it. Computer minutiae tend to eat up my time unless I honor my priority to write.
Are you a plotter or a pantser, i.e., do you outline your books ahead of time or are you an “organic” writer?
I’m a hybrid, I guess; I do a little of both. I do have a general outline: a character sketch of the main characters, a sequence of plot events, etc. I’ve used the Scribner program to organize ideas for my last two stories and liked it. But if something else occurs to me along the way, I have no problem following myself off the beaten path. I don’t write my stories in sequence either, which baffles some people. I write a skeleton version, which is mostly dialogue, and then go back to fill in settings, descriptions, exposition, and then transitions between events. It’s sort of building a story in layers, like a baking a cake, or constructing a house.
If you had one take away piece of advice for authors, what would it be?
It’s sometimes futile to try and slave-drive your muse, but try anyway. I used to feel like I was her servant instead of the other way around, but what I’ve found over time is if I sit down and say, ‘Girlfriend, we’re doing this today. We’re writing, and we’re not stopping until there are xxx words on the page,’ the muse will usually show up, looking hung-over and slurping on a mug of strong coffee. Then, she often warms to the task and gets with the program. Not always, of course, but over the long haul, I can get what I want out of her.
What is the theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it?
Music is actually very important to me while I’m formulating a story – how did you know, Sharon?
The theme song for At the Edge of the Sea is definitely ‘Son of Preacher Man,’ covered by several wonderful artists over the years, but typically ascribed to the late great Dusty Springfield. In fact, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ was the story’s working title for a while. The lyrics, ‘the only boy who could ever teach me, was the son of a preacher man,’ are particularly relevant, but not in the way people might think.
Other songs from the time period were also inspiring: ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ originally sung by Larry Williams, ‘Let It Be Me’ by the Everly Brothers, ‘Tequila’ by The Champs, ‘One Mint Julep’ by Xavier Cougat, ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon, but also some more modern songs like ‘Sweet Surrender’ by Sarah McLaughlin, and ‘Strong Enough’ by Sheryl Crow.
Tell me more about At the Edge of the Sea.
Okay, here’s the blurb:
Lizzy Quinlan lives in the shadow of her past…
Everyone in Orchard Hill knows Lizzy’s bad reputation and won’t let her forget it. But in the summer of 1959, Billy Ray Davenport, an itinerant minister’s son, arrives in town. He discovers an indomitable strength behind the allure his father says is ‘designed to lead men astray.’ Lizzy spouts quirky bursts of wisdom and exudes an effortless sensuality that calls to him like a siren’s song. Billy Ray thinks he could be the one who helps her swim against the tide of disapproval—he could free her once and for all.
But a stormy path awaits the unlikely pair. Lizzy’s past cannot help but shape her future, and ready or not, this beautiful, complex mystery girl is about to change Billy Ray’s life—and his heart—forever.
At the Edge of the Sea is a realistic love story told by an idealist. As society’s sands shift under his feet, Billy Ray navigates the ocean of approaching adulthood—a journey as ever-changing and ancient as the sea itself.
How about an excerpt from At the Edge of the Sea?
It would be my pleasure! Let’s see…
Lizzy and Billy Ray have just run into each other at her friend Mrs. Gardener’s house. As they walk back to their respective destinations, they share the initial part of the journey—and some interesting conversation…
I opened the door for Lizzy, and we went back out into the heat.
She picked up a bag sitting beside the door and drifted down the steps. She had this light, graceful way of moving that made me expect her to start floating a couple inches above the ground any second.
“I’ll walk you to your turn-off today. Cavanaugh Street is on my way back to Linden.”
She held open the gate for me, and I nodded and smiled to her as I passed. She didn’t move for several seconds, staring at me, until I turned around to face her.
“What?” I asked, walking backwards and grinning.
She looked away and shook her head, trying to hide her expression. “You really have no idea, do you?”
The gate banged shut behind her as she fell in step beside me. “What that smile of yours does to us girls,” she teased.
“What do you mean?”
“It melts us till we’re just puddles on the floor.”
I flushed a bright red and turned back around, walking forwards again. How was supposed to react to that?
“It’s a good thing you don’t wield that smile too often, Billy Ray. You’d be spoiled rotten with all kinds of womanly favors.”
I blushed hotter and kept walking.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“You didn’t embarrass me,” I lied.
We walked almost a block in silence.
“Why are you all dressed up today?”
“Oh, this old thing?” She laughed. “It really is an ‘old thing.’ Mrs. G found it for me at a second-hand shop. I don’t think it looks second-hand though, do you?”
I cast my eyes quickly to the side. “It’s pretty.”
“Mrs. G says it suits my figure better than Jeannie’s old dresses. Jeannie’s the oldest girl, you know, so I get a lot of her hand-me-downs.”
“But Jeannie’s smaller around the chest, so her dresses don’t always fit so well. See, this one has a v-neck, and it crosses over in the front, so there’s more room.”
I picked up my pace a bit. I didn’t have much to contribute to a conversation about how girls’ clothes fit across their…
I glanced quickly at Lizzy. She wasn’t looking at me as if she was teasing though. She just as easily could have been talking about the weather or her breakfast. Suddenly, she seemed to notice I wasn’t talking anymore.
“At least, that’s what Mrs. G says.”
I kept looking at the ground in front of me as I walked.
“The shoes came with it. Are these shoes more practical than my other ones, Billy Ray?”
“Do they hurt your feet?”
“Then I guess they’re more practical.”
Where can readers find more about your stories, books and you on the Internet?
My author blog: www.karenmcox.merytonpress.com you can also reach the blog through www.karenmcox.com
Author Page: karenmcox1932 https://www.facebook.com/karenmcox1932
At the Edge of the Sea facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/karenmcoxATEOTS
Buy Links: Kindle
Karen, thank you so much for being with us here today. I know my readers will enjoy your work and your interview.
Thank you for having me, Sharon! It was a pleasure ‘talking story’ with you and your readers.