Today I’m interviewing Karin Cox, author of Cruxim. Many of you know I loved her novel and reviewed it yesterday on the blog. I’m thrilled that Karin agreed to answer some questions. Here we go:
You started out as an editor before becoming a fulltime writer. How does your background in editing help your writing? Has it hindered you in anyway?
Having a background in editing means I have a pretty extensive library of classics and I have experience in analyzing novels and breaking them down into structural elements to see what works and what doesn’t. It also helps to have a firm understanding of grammar and syntax and how word choice and writing style contributes to pace and tone in writing. Having said that, the desire for perfection can be a hindrance, especially when I’m working on a first draft. Some writers are able to just bash out a draft and then edit afterwards, others edit as they go. If I edit as I go (which was my preferred method) I am happier with the outcome of the first draft, but it takes me a lot longer and I second-guess myself a lot. I’ve even been known to abandon manuscripts when I hit a rough patch or if I’m having a bad day at the computer. I’ve had to force myself to let go with the first draft. Once I get words on the page, I can then go back and tweak and rewrite and put the exact word in the right place on subsequent drafts.
Why did you decide to write?
I’m often asked that question and it always kind of amuses me because it implies I haven’t always written, when I have. Often people see editing and writing as being distinctly different professions, but in fact the two go together to produce fine writing.
I’ve been writing since I was in primary school. Until I was in my early twenties, with the exception of poetry, I just never got around to publishing any of that writing under my own name (I had ghostwritten and successfully subbed to publishers several works of creative non-fiction, but they were published under the “author’s” name). I had finished university and was working as an editor when my first book (also creative non-fiction, but published under my name) was picked up by a publisher in 2002. Writing wasn’t really a “decision” so much as a childhood hobby and then a passion. It was because I had always enjoyed writing and had always done well in English at school, that I decided to pursue a career in the creative arts.
Part of the reason I haven’t published my own full-length fiction until recently was that I have always been too busy working in my day job to finish anything I liked well enough to submit to a publisher or to self-publish. Editing for a trade publisher is a time-consuming and all absorbing profession. Earlier in my career, as a senior editor, I started at 6 am and put down the red pen at about 10 pm, frequently taking work home with me. Between liaison with designers, authors and marketers to conceptualize and develop new book projects, commissioning authors, reviewing sample text, and the actual task of editing across three different levels (first edit, proofread and final edit), there wasn’t a lot of time left for life, let alone writing. By the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was write.
Even working as an Inhouse Author, I researched and wrote for at least 8 hours a day, often turning out more than 8000 words of non-fiction text a day. When I was done, I couldn’t coax another word out of my brain for my own fiction. It was only once I took maternity leave that I was able to find the space again for my own words.
I noticed on your Goodreads profile that you describe yourself as an incurable “word nerd.” Do you ever quibble with your editor about word choice?
Do you mean my inner editor or my actual editor? My inner editor and I fight all the time. I hate that b*tch. Mostly, it is the writer in me trying to convince the editor in me that a fragment is okay here! But I’m lucky that working in the industry has blessed me with fabulous contacts. I adore my actual editor and I’ve worked very closely with her for a number of years, so it is very rare that I quibble with her over word choice. She knows me well and she has a real knack for enhancing my work. Honestly, 98% of the time she is spot on. The only things I query are those where she might have not have quite understood what I was trying to get at, and that is usually my fault for not being clear. In those cases, the solution is to rewrite that passage or sentence entirely; and that’s helpful, because if it went over her head, it would have gone over my readers’ heads too.
Before you begin a book, do you plot it out entirely?
Yes and no. I plot, but I don’t break the plot down to scene level. I know how the book will start, who my main characters (and some subsidiary characters) will be and their motivations, and I know the pivotal plot points. I also always know how the book will end. I write a detailed synopsis that provides the story outline from beginning to end and often some idea of theme and motif (although I find theme and motif are also revealed quite naturally while I write). If I try to set down firm scenes and write those, I rail against it and I can’t do it. So I don’t work THAT closely to a structure or I cripple myself creatively. I like the freedom to be led astray a little.
Series are harder, because you have to get it right in the first book and know where the other books will lead. You can’t go back and fix inconsistencies in that first book once it is already out, so the sequels must remain true to that world and timeline and are bound, in a way, by the events of that first book.
You’ve written books in many different fields including travel guides, natural history, creative non-fiction, and fiction. Do you also read different types of books?
I sure do. I read very widely and always have. I’m one of those girls who is never without a book. There are books in every room of my house (and I mean every room), and now that I have an iPad and Kindle, they’re always with me wherever I am. The genres I read most are literary fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, thrillers and scientific non-fiction. But I will read and enjoy just about anything that is well written and thought-provoking. I’m not a big reader of “chick lit” or beach reads, because I don’t take enough holidays. Lying in the sun and reading is such a rare pleasure that when I do it, I want the read to be something epic, something that will stay with me. I like to take something away from books. I like them to have a theme or purpose rather than just being warm and fuzzy. I enjoy exploring the darker aspects of life as much as the light, so I rarely feel the need to escape into fluffy romance. I also read a lot of books about writing, and of course, my toddler adores reading so we do a lot of Dr. Seuss.
What authors have influenced you the most?
I suppose that depends on the genre I’m writing. Poetry has always been a passion, so I am influenced by a lot of poets-cum-writers. I also believe in supporting homegrown authors, which means a lot of Australian writers, past and present, really resonate with me. The ones that spring to mind as influences or authors I read and re-read would be David Malouf, Ruth Park, Miles Franklin, Robert Graves, Mary Renault (my favourite author), Tim Winton, Maurice Gee, Ethel Turner, Margaret Atwood, Geraldine Brooks, Neville Shute, Louis De Bernieres, CS Lewis, Phillip Pullman, Louisa M. Alcott, Kurt Vonnegut, John Marsden, John Steinbeck, Sylvia Plath, e. e. Cummings, WB Yeats, Tolkien, Bryce Courtenay, Iris Murdoch. Funnily enough, very few of them are the classic Victorian authors I had to read for my English Literature degree!
What’s the best writing advice you have ever received?
Probably to stop obsessing about the first draft and just get it finished and then go back and hone it to perfection. A friend put me on to a program called Write or Die. I set it so that if I linger too long over a word or passage, it starts deleting words on me. It is a truly evil program, but for chronic over-thinkers like me, it helps me get the story on the page and worry about the execution of the story later.
When will the sequel to Cruxim be released? Will there be more books in the series?
I had been aiming for a 1 July 2013 release for the sequel, but I’ve decided to push on and finish the trilogy. I’m about 97,000 words into completing the next two books: Crèche and Creed. I had always considered that it would be a trilogy, and I plotted it out as such, but I found I reached a point where I wanted to keep on going and where I deviated from my plotting a little. Writing the next two at the same time works well for maintaining consistency. So I’m hoping to have Crèche to beta in a few weeks and (hopefully) out at the end of July, and to have Creed finished and published in September. Time will tell if I can, but I’m very close to finishing the first draft of the next two books. Now for the blood, sweat and tears of the first edit!
Thanks, Karin! For those who would like to contact Karin, below you’ll find some useful links.
Link to Amazon
Goodreads author/book page
Link to Pinterest