Karen Hancock – Writer

Karen HancockHow long did it take you to get published? And what was that wait like?

About 30 years. I wrote my first novel – a western romance  — in high school, submitted it to Doubleday without even an editor’s name on the package (I knew nothing about publishing)  and went off to college. When I came home for Christmas I was greeted by the returned manuscript with a “no, thanks,” and promptly threw the whole thing away, terrified someone else (someone who actually knew me) might see it. Somehow between the time I’d boxed it up and the time I saw it at Christmas it had morphed into a hideous mass of drivel and cliches.

A few years later I got saved, then I got married and then I started writing again. This time I started with a Christian western romance. Then I saw Star Wars and completely switched directions. The book I began as a result was the one that would eventually become The Light of Eidon.

It went through three agents and three complete rewrites over a period of 20 years. But nobody wanted it, so I wrote Arena. I think I waited about five or six years before that sold. The good news was, once it did, the other books sold within a year.

Waiting, for me, was an exercise in trusting God, believing He had a plan for my life that included writing, and striving to do it all unto Him, regardless of whether the books were ever published. In fact, I got to the point of being totally content just to write for myself and my friends and accepting of the notion that there might not be any more than that. If your writing is impacting one or twenty or twenty thousand…what does it matter? It still has value in God’s eyes.

Anyway, not long after that everything changed.

2. You have won four Christy awards – that’s no small feat. What was that initial win like for you?

Surreal.

That was the year they started announcing the winners by reading the first line from the winning book. After making us sit through an introduction of the nominees, then dinner, followed by a fairly lengthy key-note speech, they finally got to the announcements. So, I was sitting there at the table and they announced the winner for Allegory saying, “They won’t be taking blood, or anything, will they?”  And I thought, “Hey, that’s Arena… it won!”

Everyone expected I’d be flying high – including myself. But I wasn’t. I was numb, disbelieving, in shock, I guess.  It didn’t seem like something that should be part of my life, rather something that happened to other people.

Anyway, I was very grateful that the judges chose Arena out of all the allegory nominees, and remain so to this day.

3. You have written some incredible books. Which of them was your favorite to write and why?

Legends of the Guardian King is my favorite of the books I’ve written, and I do mean all four of them, since they are one large story arc. Though all my books have been difficult to write, these were probably the most fun because I had great set pieces already in mind before I started: Abramm as the White Pretender when he first wins in the arena; Carissa meeting him for the first time after his transformation; his moment of truth before God; returning to Kiriath and going before the council of Lords… there are so many of those moments in the GK series!

4. Published authors, even those who have the luxury of working from home, often complain that finding time to write is still as difficult as it was in the beginning. Is this the case for you or have you found a rhythm?

Maybe more difficult. Because once you’re published everyone tells you, you must help with the marketing and publicizing… That means interviews, blog tours, fan mail, networking, conferences, book signings… all of it is unnerving to an introvert like me, so not only is there the actual time taken by the activity, there is the time leading up to it and following it, when I am too distracted from the work to focus.

And then there’s Amazon and those dreadful rankings. I say dreadful because you don’t exactly know what they mean, only that they change. In the past they could change hourly. And it was only a click away to see if anything had changed… was there a new review? Oh, what if it was bad!

I don’t pay too much attention to them anymore, but at first it was a siren song luring my writing ship onto the rocks.

Right now I’m at the end of an approximately two year unplanned sabbatical, a result of having to deal with my mother’s recent losing battle with cancer, and at the same time recover from what in hindsight I think was probably burnout from trying to meet my last deadline.  In many ways my current work in progress is like starting anew, remembering what it’s like to start a novel again (not at all like it is to finish one up) and being patient with that process.

5. In reading your blog I get the sense that you still feel that you need to keep growing as a writer – even after having published as many books as you have. How do you work at your craft at this stage of the game?

I don’t know that I “work” at it, I am just fascinated by the process of writing itself, and by words and stories, and periodically pick up something about any of the above that looks interesting.

6. Which speculative fiction author do you admire? And what is it about their work that draws you back again and again?

My most recent infatuation is with Robin Hobb, specifically her Farseer Trilogy, her Liveship Trader Trilogy, and her Tawny Man Trilogy (which is a continuation of the Farseer Trilogy). I’ve not read any of her more recent books, because she seems to be going in directions I’m not excited about, but those books, particularly Farseer just awed me. Her use of language, her ability to paint a scene, her characters, the complexity of the plots… there were even some spiritual analogies, though I don’t think Hobb did that deliberately.

7. Is the first draft of your story similar to the finished, published product or does it undergo serious renovations? Discuss this process briefly.

It’s similar, but only in the broadest way. My rawest first drafts have huge holes in them, inconsistencies, too many words in some places, not enough in others, incoherent passages in still others… In other words, it’s pretty messy. And sadly, for all the mess it still takes me way longer to finish a book than I’d like.

8. Was becoming a speculative fiction author a conscious choice or did you simply see it as your natural storytelling voice?

It was both. It’s definitely my natural voice. I can’t seem to come up with anything that doesn’t have some sort of supernatural or weird element in it. And I’ve been fascinated by spec fic since I was a small child, starting with a big book of very weird Fairy Tales, then discovering Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars and on through most of the SF and Fantasy greats of that day. I watched all kinds of crazy Saturday afternoon monster movies, and any sf/fantasy oriented show that came along. My friends and I had a big party the night Star Trek debuted on TV. So my background in the genre is pretty extensive.

It was also a conscious choice, though, because I see the genre, particularly fantasy, as a prime venue for exploring elements of the all too real angelic conflict… (see Why I Write Fantasy on my blog)

9. What are you working on right now?

I am currently developing another science-fiction novel, unrelated to anything I’ve done in the past.  It’s set on a far away planet, in a subterranean civilization reminiscent of ancient Rome but with the high tech accoutrements left by the alien race that once ruled planet. I’m still in the very early stages, but the plot follows the exploits of a nobleman turned slave turned rescuer of religious prisoners and the efforts of the emperor to unmask him.

10. If you could go back in time, to the unpublished version of yourself, what advice would you give yourself?

Relax. God really does have a plan for you and it will all come together in the end. LOL!

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