Monday, 22 April 2013

Meet A Writer Monday Presents...

... Karen A Wyle

1. Tell me about your book Wander Home and where you got your inspiration for it.

Wander Home, is a family drama with mystery elements, set in a re-imagined afterlife. The premise: death is what you make it . . . . This is an afterlife where places once loved may be revisited; one may be any age suitable to the moment; and memories may be relived, even shared. Reunited in this afterlife, Eleanor and her family struggle to understand why she abandoned the daughter she loved. Will the strange and paradoxical memories that haunt her provide the answer?

As best I can recall, the setting came first, along with the character of the daughter, Cassidy. I wrote the first page of the first scene and showed it to my family, who insisted I write the rest of the book. J (This was a partial exception to my usual process, described below -- I wrote this passage some weeks before the rest of the book.)

2. Do you have a writing process? If so describe it.

So far, I've written all my novels during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or Nano for short), an online endeavour organized by the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light, in which people all over the world undertake to write a rough draft of a novel, at least 50,000 words wrong, entirely within the month of number. It's a great way to stop preparing and procrastinating and actually get started -- and to keep writing without letting your inner editor slow you down or discourage you.

I start with an opening situation and a handful of characters, and then come up with a list of scenes I may want to include. The rest of the story unfolds as I write, and invariably surprises me.

After November, I let my rough draft sit while I edit some other rough draft. After a few editing passes, I send the novel out to beta readers, collect their comments, and edit some more. Finally, I print it out and proofread on paper -- reading some sections, especially dialogue, aloud.

3. Are you mostly a clean or messy person?

I like cleanliness -- but not enough to keep things clean, let alone orderly.

4. If someone came up to you and wanted to tell you about an idea or a book they were writing, what would you do? Or what advice would you give?

I'd listen with interest, at first. If the idea was uncomfortably close to something I was in the process of (or considering) writing, I'd cut them off and explain as much. As my attention span is on the short side, I'd find a way to extricate myself fairly soon, unless I loved the idea so much that I wanted as much of a preview as I could get.

5. What is the most demeaning/demoralising thing ever said about you as a writer?

When I was in my junior (?) year of college, I took a seminar in writing short fiction. During one session, the instructor, in discussing my latest piece with the class, remarked in a cheerful and offhand manner that I had done something or other quite well for someone who "wasn't a born writer."

For years, I'd been trying to figure out whether I should write novels, short stories, poetry, or something else. Through increasing uncertainty about and dissatisfaction with my writing, I continued to believe that I was, in fact, a "born writer." This casual and public assertion to the contrary by Someone Who Should Know acted as a last straw. It took me decades to come back to writing fiction. (Fortuitously, during that time, I (a) learned to write in quantity without anguish, and (b) acquired some life experiences and perspective.

6. How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

I respond to bad reviews by, first, reminding myself that there are other readers who love my work, sometimes more than it deserves. Then I try to acknowledge any areas where I agree, at least in part, with the criticism. If the reader doing the criticizing appears to have misunderstood some aspect of the book (e.g., on what planet it takes place) (this actually happened with Twin-Bred!), I examine whether there is some deficiency in the book that made that misunderstanding more likely. Finally, I look for any grammatical or logical flaws in the criticism that allow me to feel superior to the critic J.

7. Are the names of characters in your novels important?

Somewhat. I go to some trouble to find names that "feel" right to me. The supposed meaning of the name (although different sources often disagree as to that meaning) may be appropriate to the character. I also try not to have two or more names too similar to each other, to avoid confusion.

8. What are the most important attributes to staying sane as a writer?

I don't claim to be sure about what's most important, but here are a few approaches to maintaining one's sanity:

--Limiting how much you compare your sales, output, visibility, etc. to other writers' achievements in the same areas.

--Taking the long view. For most writers, it takes years and multiple books to gather much of an audience.

--Writing what you enjoy reading. After all, you'll be reading it multiple times as you edit, re-edit and proofread!

9. Do you research your novels?

I've found something I needed to research for at least three of my four novels (two published, two in the pipeline). I've never had to conduct months or years of research -- and that prospect is what has kept me from writing any historical fiction so far -- but I've researched various scientific questions for Twin-Bred and its sequel, and both medical and legal issues for my next SF novel. I don't recall doing any research for Wander Home, aside from looking up the meanings of various names (see above).

10. Are you jealous of other writers?

I do envy writers who have many more readers than I -- especially if those readers actually paid for the books. However, I accept that the more I write, the more readers I'm likely to accumulate -- especially as those who enjoy one book go out and find the others.

11. What three things would you save from a fire at your house? (assume that all your family get out safe.)

I'll assume that "family" includes our dog, so I won't include her in my list.

I'd grab my purse, including wallet, keys and iPhone (easy to grab quickly and to carry without hands), and then my two backup hard drives, which hold many years of writing, electronic correspondence, photos, and saved articles.

(If two hard drives count as one "thing," I'd try for our pile of photo albums, from before I started using a digital camera for pics of my daughters. That might not be practical, and my parents have prints of those pictures -- somewhere. . . .)

If the fire occurs in winter, I hope you'll allow me to grab winter outerwear as well, so we won't freeze while we watch the house burn down.

12. How did you come up with the title for your latest book?

Wander Home wasn't my first, second, or third choice, and it took months for me to finally find it. At one point, I had a six-page list of potential titles, all of which I checked out on Amazon to see how many times they'd been used.

My working title was Reflections, which I thought reflected (sorry) some of the themes and plot elements of the book. Beta readers found it less appropriate, as well as somewhat humdrum. I also found that there were quite a few books with the same or almost the same title, including one recent novel with some thematic overlap.

In trying to find a new title, I read or reread quite a few poems, as I've always liked book titles derived from poetry. This process led me to The Story of Our Days, from a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh. It turned out that the title reminded too many people of the soap opera The Days of Our Lives -- and also misled some people into expecting a memoir.

Poetry yielded a few other possible titles, including Nor Whence Nor Whither, an altered version of a line from a stanza in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The problem: even people who liked the title had trouble remembering it. I also considered two titles drawn from Shakespeare, Fear No More and Rounded with a Sleep -- but neither quite fit (and Fear No More sounded more like a murder mystery or thriller).

Finally, I followed some advice I found online, and made a list of every word, image or theme that came to mind when I thought about my book. Then I started throwing different words together until something stuck.

I chose Wander Home because it suggests Eleanor's journey, and I liked its paradoxical flavor and its touch of optimism.

13. What are your current projects?

I'm editing the sequel to my SF novel Twin-Bred, tentatively titled Reach: A Twin-Bred Novel. I'm hoping to get it to beta readers within the next few weeks. Then I'll return to the rough draft I produced last November (another SF novel with the working title Division), and dive into editing it. I'm still being coy about its plot and characters, but it involves conjoined twins.

14. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Sometime before fifth grade, when I wrote a novel of sorts as a gift for my teacher.

15. Do you prefer ebooks, paperbacks or hardcovers?

It depends where I'm reading. When I eat alone, I like a hardcover that will stay open on the table. When I travel, I'm thrilled to have dozens of books on the e-reader in my purse. The rest of the time, I prefer paperbacks -- less heavy than hardcovers, but still easy to leaf through when I want to go back and revisit some earlier passage.

Death is what you make it. . . .

Eleanor never wanted to leave the daughter she loved so much. The overpowering urge to wander -- to search, without knowing what she sought -- drove her away. She left little Cassidy in her family's loving care. But Cassidy and the others died in an accident before Eleanor could find her way home.

Now, they are all reunited, in an afterlife where nothing is truly lost. Places once loved may be revisited; one may be any age suitable to the mood and moment; memories may be relived and even shared. Surely this is a place where Eleanor and her family can understand and heal. And yet, the restlessness that shaped Eleanor's life still haunts her in death. Somehow, she must solve the mystery of her life -- or none of them will be at peace.


CASSIDY stood tall and watched the wave approaching. Fifteen was a good age for confronting the ocean. That morning she had been five years old, playing happily in her sandbox; from sand to beach, from beach to ocean waves, seemed a natural progression.

The wave loomed above her, glowing turquoise and green. She dove under the crest, through the surging water, and popped up behind the swell, bobbing in the follower waves. The water held her and rocked her; over the hiss and roar of the waves, she could hear the distant squawk of seagulls. All around was the smell of seaweed and salt and sunshine.

Once, her mother had held her, carried her, rocked her, surrounded her with love and safety. She had no idea how long it had been, but she remembered. Remembering, she let herself slip younger as she floated on the swells. But larger waves were coming, so she grew again, six, ten, sixteen; then caught a wave and rode it into shore.

Her grandparents and her great-grandmother were waiting for her. Great-Grandma was young today, slim and blonde and straight, standing like a dancer just before the music starts. Grandma Sarah and Grandpa Jack had chosen to be older, gray-haired, with the comfortable look of a couple who for years have weathered each other’s moods and followed each other’s thoughts.

Cassidy ran up the beach toward them. She slipped to eight years old as she reached them, so Grandpa Jack could pick her up and toss her in the air. The sun flashed in her eyes as she flew up, and again as she fell back toward his hands. He set her down again and flopped onto the sand, patting the space next to him. She sat, folding her legs tailor fashion; Great-Grandma flowed gracefully down to sit on her other side. Only Grandma Sarah remained standing, younger now, her hair in a long red braid.

Grandpa Jack and Great-Grandma both put their arms around her. . . .


About Karen

Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but moved every few years throughout her childhood and adolescence.  After college in California, law school in Massachusetts, and a mercifully short stint in a large San Francisco law firm, she moved to Los Angeles, where she met her now-husband, who hates L.A.  They eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University.

Wyle's childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist.  While writing her first novel at age ten, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age nine.

Wyle has been a voracious and compulsive reader as long as she can remember.  Do not strand this woman on a plane without reading matter!  Wyle was an English and American Literature major at Stanford University, which suited her, although she has in recent years developed some doubts about whether studying literature is, for most people, a good preparation for enjoying it.  Her most useful preparation for writing novels, besides reading them, has been the practice of appellate law -- in other words, writing large quantities of persuasive prose, on deadline, year after year. 

Wyle and her husband have two intensely creative daughters, the older of whom introduced Wyle to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), for which she will be forever grateful.

 Author website:

Facebook author page:

Twitter handle: @WordsmithWyle

Blog (Looking Around):


  1. Thanks so much, Sonnet!

    BTW, since I answered these questions, I've remembered that I did research a number of geographical locations for Wander Home, as well as the details of one historical event and some cultural nuances. The acknowledgment section at the end of that book lists some people who were kind enough to assist me.

  2. Great interview Karen ... finding titles is such a chore sometimes, and at others they just seem to turn up on their own.