Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Interview with historical fiction novelist Karen Mann

I have historical fiction novelist Karen Mann in the hot seat today. She’s talking about her companion book to Don Quixote, The Woman of La Mancha as part of a virtual book tour with WOW - Women on Writing.

Karen is co-founder and Administrative Director of the low-residency Masters of Fine Arts in Writingat Spalding University in Louisville. She is the author of two books, The Woman of La Mancha and The Saved Man.

She is managing editor of The Louisville Review, a national literary magazine since 1976. After having lived in Indiana most of her life, Karen now lives near San Jose, CA. While always a Hoosier at heart, California's beauty and fine weather have won her over. 

Welcome, Karen. Please tell us about your current release.
First, I want to say thank you, Lisa, for this interview. My two books, The Woman of La Mancha and The Saved Man, came out in the same week, but today I want to talk about The Woman of La Mancha, which is a companion book to Don Quixote and tells the story of the young woman called Dulcinea by Don Quixote. Set in the time of knights and the end of chivalry, The Woman of La Mancha explores the journey of this young woman and a young knight who are separated, not by their own choice, and embark on their own quests to find their way back to each other.

What inspired you to write this book?
While with other books I’ve written the idea came to me, out of the blue you might say, the idea for The Woman of La Mancha was given to me by my friend Terry Lester. I described to him a new book Ahab’s Wife that was coming out. Ahab’s Wife is a companion book to Moby Dick. My friend asked me, “Why don’t you write the woman’s story of Don Quixote?” The idea made me laugh, at first. I had never even read Don Quixote, plus who was I to take on a book written by the father of the modern novel, Miguel Cervantes! But it also seemed like a challenge, and a challenge that I was willing to take on.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on the second book in a series—The Saved Man series. The first book in this series, The Saved Man: First Century, is out as an e-book. The characters of this series are four young men, who discover they are immortal at the time of the Emperors Augustine, Nero, and Caligula; of Jesus; of the fall of the Jewish Temple; and of the end of Pompeii. Each man loves a woman beyond reason, and they discover while they themselves will not die, their lovers do. The second book starts off in the mid third century, and, yes, they discover their lovers’ souls are reincarnated as different women in different places. The second book explores the world of Queen Zenobia, who conquered the Middle East and Egypt, and also the murder and intrigue of the Council of Nicea and the Emperor Constantine.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think from my teen-age years I wanted to be a writer but I had no confidence that I could write. I didn’t know how to begin and my efforts in high school fell short. I didn’t act on my desire until I was nearly 40. I took a class with Sena Jeter Naslund. The class started with the basics of writing. I wrote poetry and short stories, and within a couple of years, I tackled a novel. I’d written six full manuscripts and started three others before any of my books were published.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am the co-director of the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University. My life is full of writers and writing! And my job is definitely full time. My goal is to write one sentence a day. Sometimes that’s all it is, but other days I write quite a few pages.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I relish revision. I know that my first draft is just that, a first draft and that I might end up doing 20 or more drafts before I’m finished, but revision makes my writing stronger in a way that really delights me. I don’t mind deleting even my most precious segments—the ones I think are “brilliant” because, through revision, I’ve discovered that I can write something even better. Revision adds the vivid detail that makes an image come alive; revision gives us a chance to think of the twist we didn’t think of the first time we wrote it; revision deepens our characters and makes us believe in them.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a teacher, and I always wanted to be a teacher of the grade I was in. (I’ve heard others say this, so I don’t think it’s unique.) I am shy and I think I intuited that in being a teacher one isn’t part of the group but the one in control. That felt safer somehow. But what I loved to do as child was read and now I love to write.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Nurture your passion. If your passion is writing, allow yourself time to do it on a regular basis. Writing, as with any creative activity, connects you with the deepest part of yourself, and, I believe, some kind of deeper consciousness that we all share. The best high in the world is to be able to lose yourself in writing. The second best is to be able to lose yourself in a good book! Thank you again, Lisa. I have enjoyed this interview very much!

You’re quite welcome! Thanks so much for being here today.


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