Karen Rivers

i missed my stop!: the blog tour

Karen Rivers

There are a few questions and I said that I would answer them, and I will.  I'm not very good with questions.  I like to turn them into other questions.  There are the answers to the first question which makes you think of the second question which brings you to a third, which is, really, does the vastness of the night sky make you feel small and insignificant, or like a giant who is able to hold massive numbers of stars in your hand at once, and maybe even the moon?  That question makes me sound so incredibly pompous, I can't believe I typed that.  I'm not pompous.  I just always have wondered at people who say the universe makes them feel small and insignificant, when really, stars look pretty tiny from our vantage point.  

I don't know about questions.  I never ask what I really mean, I like to ask around the edges of a thing, to find something else.   I am an interviewer's nightmare.  Ask me some questions then.  Go on, do it.  Oh, there are already questions.  Well, let's do this.  The answer to all of the questions will be A SECRET ROOM.  More about that later.  


What am I working on?


I am working on answering these questions.  I am working on rat-proofing my house, unsuccessfully for the most part.  I am working on figuring out if the knot in my chest is a sign of impending doom.  I am working on a YA novel about murder and YouTube that's written in the second person.  I am working on a middle grade book about an abusive friendship.  I am working on remembering the bad parts of my marriage, like pressing a bruise over and over and over again until finally, you do it out of habit, not because you feel anything.  I am working on my feelings.  I am working on my garden, which is alive with bees.  I am working on myself.  I am working on the extra weight that has crept up on my abdomen:  the obtrusive padding of age.   Or maybe I'll keep it.  It keeps me warm in the winter.   I am working on teaching my kids to be brave.  I pay them to go to the bathroom by themselves.  They are right to be scared.  There are rats and hidden rooms here.  It occurs to me that the rats and hidden rooms are a metaphor and by letting go of my past, I will release the rats.  The hidden rooms are places that maybe, if I pay someone, I can have finished and turned into storage spaces.  That may not be a metaphor.  It may just be that I need more storage spaces.  Everyone needs a place to put the things that they don't use anymore but that they aren't ready to get rid of quite yet.  I am thinking about writing a book for adults.  Most adult books are about relationships.  This would be a book about relationships that also has long grasses and a long stretch of sandy beach, but not tropical:  foggy.  It would also have a murder and a loss and a recovery of sorts.  Has that already been written?  Probably.  Everything has.  We used to have a poster of David Lee Roth on our rumpus room wall that was a picture of him in red spandex (no shirt) and a quote that said, "God doesn't just reach down and go, 'here's a brand new idea, kid'.  There's no such thing as a brand new idea.  Everything has already been written."  I'm paraphrasing.   Mostly, I remember how unflattering those pants were.  But still, everything's been done already. 

How does my work differ from other work in its genre?

I think everyone's work differs from everyone else's because writing, at its heart and soul, is like tapping a sugar maple.  Sugar maples are big, knobbly trees, not picture-perfect, and mostly ... old.  I don't know why I think they are old, but I do.  Actually, I've never seen a sugar maple.  But when I picture writing, I feel like people are being tapped and the words flow out.  Every person is different, so every voice is different.  I suppose that stops being true when you start to try to write like someone else, in someone else's voice.  I don't know how to stretch the sugar maple metaphor to fit that truth.  In fact, the sugar maple metaphor is terrible because all maple syrup tastes much the same, regardless of the tree.  I like to think my syrup is different.  

The metaphor does work a little bit though, because the process of making syrup from sap is approximately as arduous as turning a first draft into a novel.  At least, I hear it's very time consuming.  I might be making that all up.  I don't know anything about syrup making beyond what I heard on Vinyl Cafe once.  I think Dave fell asleep and overcooked the syrup.  You can't do that.  Just like you can't over-write your book.  Is there a jail where writers get sent for abusing metaphors?  I should probably be sent there.  I hope nobody hits me in the head with a sock containing a lock.  Slocking is something I've learned about on Orange is The New Black.  It's a ridiculously satisfying word to say out loud.  Wait, what was the question?  


Why do I write what I do?

Honestly, I think I'm working out every issue I ever had as a young person.  I find youth fascinating because -- due to brain development -- you have no perspective.   Most adults can call up highschool humiliations much more quickly than adult failures.   This is because your brain at the time of the incident was calling whatever was happening a five-alarm fire, when really, with a little perspective (age and time and a frontal lobe), you'd know it wasn't a big thing, you'd throw some water on it and move on.  But at the time, you were like WE SHALL PERISH AND BURN TO OUR DEATHS!  WOE!  (Because you spoke in Olde English back then.) Adults aren't as interesting.  Our perspective (and frontal lobe) dulls the richness of our experience.   

Plus, I get interested in things and then they fall into the books, almost without my consent.   I just finished a YA (called GREAT WHITE ME, which just sold to FSG, yay!) that originally was about an old amusement park but then it became a book about sharks and also about grief and mental illness and about all the ways in which people are broken and the ways in which the oceans are broken.   This is how it happens.  You start with one thing and other things leak in.  The syrup metaphor doesn't work at all there, so don't try.  I just did and it wasn't pretty.  I took out the amusement park. 


How does my writing process work?

I don't know. It's magic?  I feel like it's magic.  You think I'm joking but I'm not joking.  When I sit down to write a blog post, for example, I budget about 30 minutes, no do-overs.  I sit down and I write for 30 minutes.  Sometimes I have no idea what I'm going to write about.  The other day, when I sat down to write a post, a crow flew by with a baby robin in its mouth, so I wrote about that and it turned into something about gun violence.  (That may have been too subtle for you to notice, but that's what it was about to me.)  It was so interesting.  After I've written my post and posted it, I re-read it and I think, Huh, that's wild, how this thing led to that.  It shows me what I've been thinking.  It peels back a layer of what I thought I was thinking and reveals something more interesting underneath.  

My 'process' (that word makes me so uncomfortable) usually involves me coming to the table with a character and something vague and a cup of coffee.  Then I start writing and it becomes something else, so I guess my process is to just let it go.  I don't have any expectations of my books (or my posts), I just write them and then see what they are like, what they have to say.  I don't write to an audience, not really.  I try not to overthink it.  Certainly in edits, the audience is taken into account, but not during the first draft.  I write a character of a certain age and stage of life and then it becomes what it is.  

I write in circles around things, and pull the circle tighter and tighter until suddenly there is a thing I didn't know I was writing about.  That's why I love writing.  It's constantly like finding a secret room in your attic when you are looking for the place where the rats get in.  

Sometimes I go for really really long walks in the woods and listen to Podcasts.  Everyone should be required to go for long walks and listen to This American Life or Judge John Hodgeman or whatever you like, because you will learn things about people and everything you learn about people can apply or not apply to your characters.  I think the entire North American workforce would be more productive if people were allowed to get up and go for a walk whenever they felt like it, when they were stuck or just uncomfortable from sitting, or just need to get away from the rats.  Did I mention my house has rats?  It does.  Rats are an expensive problem.  I try to pretend they are cute, but let's face it, rats are not cute.  See what I did there?  I tricked you into listening to my whining about rats.  Well, luckily they revealed a secret room.   That's a fiction writer's dream, having a space they didn't know existed.  There's almost certainly a metaphor in that.