I hail from many places—I’ve lived in NYC, NJ, Ohio, CA—but for the past decade I’ve called a tiny mountaintop town in northern New England my home, and I couldn’t be happier here. I love that I can look out my windows and see nothing but woods and the brook that runs through my back yard. I love that a drive through “town”, which consists of a post office and a tiny old-fashioned general store, also gives you a breathtaking view of the hills and valley below. I adore the colorful autumn leaves and the wintery blankets of snow. And, most importantly, I love that my little community is more like an extended family. Small towns are quirky, but they have some definite advantages. I wouldn’t trade my local friends and neighbors for anyone. It took me years to move here, but now I never plan to leave.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My first dream profession was writer, my second was psychologist, my third was filmmaker. I majored in film and television production in college and worked briefly in the field. Then I went to graduate school and became a clinical social worker, and worked a while as a therapist. Throughout all of this I continued to love writing, it just seemed like such a scary and out of reach goal. And it’s still scary. But now that I’m published I’m so happy that I finally decided to pursue it. They say you never forget your first love and writing was definitely my first love. My experiences in the film industry and as a counselor have made me better prepared as a writer.
Tell us about your latest book.
Meant To Be is a book that’s very dear to me. I had the idea for it in my head for nearly 8 years before I began writing it, and once I started I couldn’t stop until it was done. It’s a love story. A friends-to-lovers tale with an unusual twist. It’s romantic and tragic and funny and real. Life can be messy. It rarely goes along as you planned it or as you expect it will. That’s one of the themes of Meant To Be. Sometimes life’s surprises are the best part. (GoddessFish has the blurb to Meant To Be—feel free to insert that as part of this answer if you’d like.)
Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?
I do and I can! My next release is the novel Holding On. It’s the sequel to Meant To Be but it can be read as a standalone book. It takes place one year after Meant To Be ends.
I just signed a contract with Samhain Publishing on a new contemporary romance. That’s a second-chance-with-an-old-crush story and it should release in Spring/Summer 2013. I’m also currently writing two projects. Both are contemporary romances with variations on the friends-to-lovers theme.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?
For me the biggest challenge isn’t the writing—writing is the fun part. What I find challenging is keeping up with all the other things you have to do. Not just other obligations like family, friends, day-to-day life, but other writerly things like keeping my blog updated or figuring out how to do marketing. Writing comes naturally to me. Fixing faulty code on a blog? Not so much!
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Learn as much as you possibly can about the publishing industry. Talk to other writers on blogs, forums, Twitter—we’re everywhere and most of us don’t bite unless you ask us to. And, while you’re doing all of that, write. That’s the single most important thing. All the research in the world won’t get you anywhere if you never have a finished novel or story to submit anywhere. It’s very easy to get caught up in the research or the mechanics and forget that you have to actually write (and edit and rewrite and write some more). Keep writing and don’t give up.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
If I’m suffering from writer’s block that usually means I’m not ready to write that story yet. Either I don’t know the characters well enough or I haven’t seen the whole story arc in mind. If that happens I either take a time out to think about the story or I work on a different story until I see things more clearly. Once a scene plays out in my head I see it as clearly as if I’d just watched a movie, then all I have to do is transcribe what I saw.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I don’t have a single favorite author or even a true top ten list. There are too many books and authors that have touched my heart. Generally speaking, though, I enjoy books that leave you feeling like you know the characters. I like rich detailed character building that gives you the sense that you’ve known the people in the book personally—like you’ve entered their world and become close friends. I try to recreate that experience in the books I write because that’s what I crave as a reader.
What books have most influenced your life?
In terms of influencing my life I’d have to say Judy Blume’s young adult novels. She has a way of dealing with the things that young people experience, from peer pressure, to insecurity, to sex, that makes her readers feel normal. That’s a rare gift to give tweens and teens. And she may very well have contributed to the fact that I have sex in all my books.
How did you deal with rejection letters?
It really depends on the letter and who it’s from. A form letter is generally not too horrible to receive, unless you get a form response from an agent who you’ve previously had contact with and who has requested the full manuscript. Then a form rejection stings a bit. I’ve only had a few rejection letters that were kind of condescending or rude. Several rejections I’ve gotten have actually been nice. They’ve said positive things about my writing and were personalized to talk about features of my particular story. It’s still disappointing. No one ever wants to hear that they’re being rejected whether it’s by someone they’re hoping to date, or a job they want to have, or an agent or publisher they hope likes their book. The important thing to try to remember is that every rejection is just that one person’s opinion. Nothing more. I don’t like every book I read, not even if tons of other people think it’s the greatest book ever—reading is subjective. All writers need to keep that in mind when getting rejection letters and reading reviews. Oh, and chocolate. Eat a LOT of chocolate. That helps.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
For me, personally, all I need is a laptop or, if that’s unavailable, a pen or pencil and some paper. I’m pretty low-maintenance as writers go. Ideally you should always have access to a thesaurus. Other than that, any means of getting your words onto the page or computer screen are really all you need. And a good supply of Sharpie Fine Line No-Bleed pens—because they’re awesome.
Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?
I write three different genres: women’s fiction with romantic elements, contemporary romance and erotic romance. I draw the lines for descriptive content based on the needs of the story. Since all of my stories are about relationships (romance and love), there’s always sexual content. The heat of that content varies from book to book and genre to genre. In my women’s fiction and contemporary romances I tend to be at the steamier end of the spectrum, content wise. I believe in open door sex scenes, not fade to black. That said, my descriptions will be sensual in these books but not as graphic as they will be in an erotic romance. Erotic romance, as a genre, demands more fully described sex scenes and more explicit language, along with more frequent sexual encounters. My erotic romances, however, are at the very sweetest end of the erotic romance spectrum. They’re love stories between men and women, no ménages, no kink.
Some use the term vanilla as if it’s a bad thing. I don’t think it is. You know what makes all the best desserts taste so good? Vanilla.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
The weirdest thing I’ve done for research is to re-enact a scene to make sure it’s physically possible. And no, I’m not talking about sex scenes (though you have to be careful with that when writing those), I just mean simple things. Can your character be talking on the phone and reaching for something at the top of the closet at the same time? Not sure? Pick up the phone, wedge it between your chin and shoulder and see if you can a box out of your closet—then you know for sure. This has led to some interesting maneuvers. At least when someone asks “what on earth are you doing?” you can always smile and say “research, for my novel”.
Meant To Be
by Karen Stivali
Sometimes you’re already committed to the wrong person when fate finally brings you the right one.
When NYU professor Daniel Gardner’s career-obsessed wife convinces him to move to the suburbs, he hopes it’s a first step toward starting the family he longs to have. Instead of domestic bliss he finds his neighbor, Marienne Valeti. She loves her freelance design job, but must contend with a growing sense of isolation created by her husband’s indifference. A penchant for good books, bad movies, and Marienne’s to-die-for brownies sparks a powerful bond between them. Passion simmers, but they resist its lure, surrendering only in the seclusion of their minds. Their friendship helps them weather every hardship, from divorce to widowhood, leaving them both secretly wondering if it can survive a first kiss.
Daniel stopped and stared at the chocolate as it cascaded into the red enameled pot. He hadn’t realized quite how much he missed having dessert. Justine never kept sweets in the house, saying they were too much of a temptation. Other than the occasional candy bar he grabbed between classes or on his ride home Daniel almost never ate anything sugary anymore. The sight of the chocolate, creamy and inviting, made his mouth water.
“I forgot the marshmallows,” Marienne said, as she placed the spoon back into the bowl.
“I’ll get them,” Daniel said, hands extended, offering to take the bowl back into the kitchen for her.
“Thanks.” She handed it over. “And yes, you can lick the bowl.”
He laughed. It was like she’d read his mind.
He headed into the kitchen and was standing at the counter, licking the chocolate-covered spoon, when he heard someone behind him. He turned to see Marienne smirking at him.
“You look very at home licking a big spoonful of chocolate. I take it this is not your first time.”
“Hardly. My mum baked all the time and I was the official spoon and bowl licker. Good work if you can get it.”
“I know. Frank’s not big on desserts, so I’m usually the one left to clean out the bowls.”
“Well, I live right there.” He pointed toward his house with the now clean spoon. “And I’m available for all sorts of baking bowl emergencies.”
Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies and fictional British men. When she’s not writing, she can be found cooking extravagant meals and serving them to family and friends. Prior to deciding to write full time Karen worked as a hand drawn animator, a clinical therapist, and held various food-related jobs ranging from waitress to specialty cake maker. Planning elaborate parties and fundraisers takes up what’s left of her time and sanity.
Karen has always been fascinated by the way people relate to one another so she favors books and movies that feature richly detailed characters and their relationships. In her own writing she likes to explore the dynamics between characters and has a tendency to craft romantic love stories filled with sarcasm and sexy details.
Karen has published three erotic romances with Ellora’s Cave: Marry Me (June 2012), Long-Distance Lovers (co-written with Karen Booth, March 2012) and Always You (Passionate Plume First Place Novella Winner, RWA 2012).
Karen’s first full-length novel, Meant To Be, will be published by Turquoise Morning Press on August 26, 2012. Its sequel, Holding On, will be released on November 26, 2012. A prequel to these novels, the short story All I Need, appears in the Foreign Affairs Anthology (Turquoise Morning Press, August 2012).
For more information about my current and upcoming projects please visit my website: http://karenstivali.com
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