Karin Cox, author of Cage Life, has stopped by to visit our blog. She brings with her some very interesting information about her life, her writing process, and her works. She is also an editor, having edited David Gaughran’s self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-publish and Why You Should. Let’s welcome her to our little abode. Welcome Karin.
What do you think readers will appreciate most about your book?
I hope they appreciate how real I’ve tried to make the characters in Cage Life, as well as some of the prose. I wasn’t really sure where either of these stories was going when I first started writing. Although I had the setting and the characters, their tales kind of wove themselves, but I’m happy with the personal growth that the characters experienced throughout the journey.
Tell us a bit about your writing process.
I am an editor by profession, so the writing process is a long one for me. I have had to train myself to let go and just “get it all out there” on the page, no matter how rough, rather than nitpicking along and constantly editing what I have written in an endless quest for perfection. That is still a battle, but now I am more confident in my writing ability, and, at the very least, I know I can (mostly) edit what I have into shape, although I still always run my work past another editor (luckily, I know lots of them) before I commit it to publication.
What is different about this book compared to others you’ve written?
I have published more than twenty-eight books, but they have been non-fiction and creative non-fiction (first-person memoir or biographical) this is the first book of my own that I’ve published that has been entirely adult fiction. In my spare time I’ve always written poetry and fiction, and I’d love to eventually be able to write fiction fulltime. So I suppose what is different about this book is that it is a figment of my imagination.
What is the most unique or unusual research you’ve ever done for a book?
I had to do a lot of research into the convicts exported to Australia on the First and Second Fleets, and also into the early relationships and interactions between Australian Aborigines and white settlers for Amazing Facts about Australia’s Early Explorers and Amazing Facts about Australia’s Early Settlers. There were some incredible tales. Some of the petty crimes that resulted in exportation (particularly of children) were really eye-opening, and the Aboriginal reaction is surprising, poignant and very measured considering what was taking place. Overall, the hardships suffered on both sides made it easy to see why Australians are so resilient, even today.
When did you decide to become an indie author?
I have never had a problem with people self-publishing. In fact, in my mid-twenties when I worked for myself for a short time as a freelance editor, I actively assisted several of my clients in self-publishing their work because they had a good platform for selling their own books and didn’t want to hand over any of the proceeds to a publisher. That was a great experience in print self-publishing, back in the old days of shelling out for offset printing, but I didn’t really consider digital self-publishing until the start of June 2011.
I’d been watching the market carefully, more because my publisher, Steve Parish Publishing, was working on some digital kids books and thinking about converting some titles. However, for my own work and for fiction, my concern was whether people would take a self-published e-book seriously, because I was no stranger to the divide between trade publishing and indie publishing and the tendency to rubbish self-published work.
I have to credit Dave Gaughran with persuading me to eventually take the plunge and publish to Smashwords and Amazon. Dave was going through the process himself for the first time and documenting it on his blog. He wrote so candidly about it, even giving his sales figures, and really did his homework in investigating the publishing industry and the self-publishers like JA Konrath and Barry Eisler who were having success. When he sent me his experiential self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-publish and Why You Should to edit, I read it and decided to give it a shot. I’m sure many other writers who read Dave’s book will come to the same conclusion.
One of the stories in my collection Cage Life has been published before in an online and print anthology called [untitled], so I knew my work had merit, and I just wanted to test the water. I am notoriously bad at even bothering to submit to publishers, purely because I never find the time and I hate the three- to six-month wait to hear back and not being able to send multiple submissions. A lot of my work has been sitting on my hard-drive for years and I keep saying, “I must print that out and submit it” and then life gets in the way, the printer is out of ink, I can’t find a stamp, and, for whatever other reason, it never happens. So this seemed like something good to try. So far, I’ve been pleased with the results.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
I got my start ghostwriting memoir and creative non-fiction more than twelve years ago. It was a really worthwhile introduction to writing and developing characters and scenes, and to pacing a full-length creative work. Because the plot was pretty much taken care of, being someone’s life, it meant I could concentrate on other elements, like making dialogue work and using foreshadowing and metaphor. I was working as an editor, editing mainly textbooks and children’s books at the time, so I was supplementing that with freelance editing adult fiction and memoir, and with writing my own fiction and poetry.
I then moved to the UK and spent several years working for a large London-based publisher, editing accountancy and legal texts (snore!). It was a dry old job, but if I finished the rest of my work on time or early, my manager didn’t care if I wrote the rest of the time, which was great because I found if I avoided the watercooler and tea room, I could manage to finish a lot more quickly than many others (I think it is an Australian thing; we tend to not be slackers). I got stuck in and finished my first YA novel in that time (although I think it also helped that I didn’t have a television because my housemate was too cheap to pay the license). Incidentally, I’m still not done with that YA novel, and I’m in the process of reworking it … again. When it is finally done I think it will be a cracker. Its conceived as a trilogy and fully outlined, but it has a very complex plot with historical elements and I despair some days that it might never happen!
After three years, I moved back to Australia and ended up working as the Senior Editor for a publisher here in Australia, editing natural history, mass-market non-fiction and travel, and children’s fiction. Within a few years, they offered me a fulltime writing position, and I have been a bit of a “writer for hire” for them ever since, writing kids’ storybooks, travel guides, Australiana books, and books about Australian history and society.
I’ve been shopping a few other things—stories, novels, poetry—around very, very haphazardly for a few years. I tend to not commit myself enough to sending things for submission. I do it once and then get it back and stick it back in the drawer. I tried a couple of literary agent (yes, literally a couple! I know!) about six years ago, and then never bothered querying more even though one of them wasn’t a form rejection and gave feedback. I am not sure why I am so slack. Maybe it is just that if I don’t submit I can still hope without experiencing the rejection or frustration of hitting agent after agent, editor after editor. Stupidly, I know that’s part of publishing success and I need to put my big girls pants on and do it, but I am just so lazy about submitting. The tendency to just keep editing is strong for me, and I know I need to sometimes just stop and trust that I’ve edited it to kingdom come and that I need to stop procrastinating and send it out into the world somehow if I don’t want to be a headline: 80-year-old Cat Lady Lands Six-figure Publishing Deal! “I’ve had it in a drawer for forty-five years, she says.”
What is the hardest part about writing?
Editing is the hardest part about writing; not so much when I’m editing someone else’s work, but editing my own work is (a) compulsive and (b) impossible to do with any objectivity.
Editors read with a certain kind of clarity. We force ourselves to read more slowly when editing than when reading for pleasure, so we can focus on each word. We also sometimes read backwards, read aloud to think about cadence, onomatopoeia, alliteration and how sensory information is used to evoke a scene, read every second word, pull out the verbs and assess them for strength and appropriateness, and do weird things like that. It’s a different way of looking at a book, and it demands a critical eye (which is often what bothers authors, but it is an editor’s job to a pedantic pain-in-the-butt).
Editors are trained to find fault and think critically, the aim of that is constructive and the intent is purposeful, but it is no wonder some editors are hard to please when it comes to submissions. Only the best work will really send shivers down an editor’s spine, although a good editor must also be able to appreciate latent potential in manuscripts. As a result, my editorial background is a both a blessing and a curse. It can lead me to be very over-critical of my own work, yet simultaneously proud and protective of it. I know I share that with many writers. Luckily, I trust several of my editor friends with my work one-hundred percent, and I’m still always humbled by what they pick up and by how much their suggestions improve my writing. I believe it is impossible for a writer to remove herself and her ego from the work enough to edit it to a professional standard. Hard questions always need to be asked.
If you could meet any author who is no longer living, who would it be?
It would be Mary Renault. I’ve been fascinated with her books since I was a kid and first read The Bull from the Sea at eleven. I didn’t even appreciate an eighth of it, being so young, but it made me fall in love with ancient Greece and is one of the reasons I studied Greek at university and spent five months living in Greece as an adult. She has a fabulous, lyrical quality to her writing that could easily descend into purple prose, but never quite does. I was fascinated by how she portrayed historical and mythical events, and the way she writes about love is just awesome. Although a woman, she wrote a lot of her books with a male first-person protagonist and yet remained entirely believable. I must have read some of her novels hundreds of times, and each time I’ve always stopped at several times, struck by the beauty of her prose. Most of them still make me cry in parts, even after countless reads.
At a time when homosexuality was still very much “in the closet,” Renault, a lesbian, also wrote very candidly and honestly about homosexuality. I see her as a bit of a trailblazer in writing about love, whether between same-sex partners or a man and a woman, and also in writing about history, as some of her suggestions, although well researched, were rather controversial.
Why did you decide to write in this genre?
I think genre tends to find writers as they write, rather than the other way around. I have never been one to stick to genre, whether reading or writing. Perhaps that is the “editor” thing, too, that I like to try to dissect a novel and see how it works and what elements make it fit within genre guidelines, and I like to see a few of them break the rules and still work.
I’ll read anything that’s good. I like to experiment. I know that if I sat down and thought, right I’m going to write a paranormal romance because they’re popular, it would be limiting. Although I’m a bit of a plotter (or at least an outliner), I still like to give my characters and my story free reign to change and evolve as I write. I think my work will probably always have literary aspirations, but that doesn’t mean everything I write will be literary. I have an outline for a thriller novel, and several historical novels in a drawer somewhere.
Luckily, e-book publishing tends to allow more scope for cross-genre works. Publishers have traditionally pigeonholed manuscripts (or actively “wrangled” them) into genres, and it is true that sometimes “fence-straddlers” can confuse consumers, but I think e-books, particularly at low price points, are convincing readers to take risks. Ironically, most of the genres that are popular today are bastardizations of earlier genres. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone? I don’t think the hardcore genre writers would have seen that coming.
.Can you tell us a little about your next project?
Yikes! Which one? I have several on the go at once. I am notoriously bad at sticking to one WiP. Maybe that’s an excuse for not finishing/submitting anything, or maybe I just like variety. At the moment, my priority is finishing off a quasi-romance novel. It’s a strange one for me, but I had this idea (essentially a conflicted romance plot) that plagued me, and chick-lit/romance seemed the likely way to write it. I wouldn’t say it’s all heaving bosoms and love tunnels, but it does have some elements of traditional Mills & Boon style romance, which has given me a bit of a giggle. It will be interesting to see how it does and I’m not sure I want to release it as my first full-length novel because I’m not sure it’s entirely representative of me as a writer. Although if the genre-hopping is anything to go by then I suppose it is.
The other priority is finishing off a young adult apocalyptic, which has really captured my heart and I feel is my best work so far. I’ve hit a rut in it over a very minor plot point, so I need to stop obsessing about that and carry on, giving myself the freedom to come back and dwell on that later on (I find that very hard to do, but know I have to or I’ll stagnate). I’ve also got several children’s storybooks in the pipeline and am working with illustrators for those. My four-month-old baby girl has really renewed my passion for writing for little ones, too. All of that is the reason my blog is a little neglected!
Karin Cox’s ebook of short stories, Cage Life, is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Cage-Life-ebook/dp/B005DC6AHM/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1 or from Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/74484
She has also published a poetry collection, Growth.
You can visit karin’s webiste http://www.editorandauthor.com
You can read her blog at http://www.karincox.wordpress.com
You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/KarinCox.Author
Or you can follow her on Twitter at @Authorandeditor