Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk,
Victorian mysteries and fantasy.
She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, Hunted, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.
Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.
She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.
Welcome Karen once again to Killing Time Blog. This is your second visit here and I was so happy to have you back again.
How long have you been writing, and how did you become involved in writing?
I used to write Doctor Who stories as a child. I wanted to be part of the adventure.
I won a school poetry prize when I was nine, wrote some angsty teen poetry in the 70s and my first SF/comedy novel in grade 12 (on a typewriter with carbon paper) - because I didn’t like the ending of some of the books I read.
I wrote again in the mid 90s (mainly D&D articles for an Australian roleplaying magazine). I started again in 2012 - as therapy following workplace anxiety (and now diagnosed as PTSD). Finally I had returned to my bliss (except I don’t call it that when elbow-deep in rewrites with a deadline looming).
What are you working on at the moment?
‘Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire’ is the first of ‘The Aunt Enid Mysteries’, set in modern Adelaide. The rest is… spoilers.
Did you have any goals with writing, and if so, how well do you feel you’ve achieved them?
Keep writing. I can’t go back to my old career. It’s not good for my health. I need to get all these stories out of my head and share them with others.
I’m still working on it.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
I’m trying to find the balance between my health and writing. That is my current goal - and see if I can pull off two books a year…
How long does it take you to write a book?
Up to a year currently. Aunt Enid will end up about the six month mark.
What are the hardest parts of being an author for you?
Staring at a blank page and the fear of failing.
What do you enjoy most about being an author?
I love using words. I love creating worlds (I’ve been doing world building since DMing Dungeons and Dragons, back in the 70s.) I also love making book trailers (I also wanted to be a director or cinematographer when I was a kid).
Do you have a spot where you like to write?
I have several spots I like to write. I often sit at my ‘sewing table’ in the front sun room, with a view of the garden. I have a standing desk (for back health). Sometimes I pop to the local library, or write in the back garden, or even in the car at school pick up.
Besides writing, what do you love doing?
Photography, video work, playing D&D with friends, drawing, costuming, steampunk, and much more.
What books or authors have had the most influence on you as an author?
Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkein, Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, Gail Carriger, Jim Butcher… shall I go on?
What did you find most useful when you were learning to write and expanding your skills?
I’ve done some local WEA courses on writing. We’re fortunate to have a good local teacher who has worked with publishing houses as an editor, is a writer and a professional teacher.
Jim Butcher and other authors also several talks on youTube, from various conventions he has spoken at.
I also find it valuable being a member of a critiquing writing group, with some lovely (and honest) people.
What are your thoughts about ebooks vs. print books?
Personally, I prefer print. They don’t need power, they are more comfortable for me to hold. I love the smell, the covers, and I find I can concentrate on the story more. I do own some myself.
I have a love/hate/hate relationship with technology. I use it because I have to. It’s great when it works, but…
However, many people love eBooks. I always publish my books in both print and digital formats so people can choose their own preference.
What are your thoughts about self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
I self publish because I can control the end product. I love doing the cover art (I also wanted to be an artist when I left school… and an astronaut… and…) and making booktrailers. I get to do all things! I can also control deadlines, which is important to me; it helps with my anxiety. I don’t have to work to someone else’s deadline. At the moment this is a mental health priority.
I hope to do the ‘hybrid’ publishing thing one day. It would be nice to have someone do some of the marketing and organising for me on occasion.
How often do you write, and how do you find or make time to write?
I had an unscheduled paid work cessation. I had planned to write part-time for at least five years and then transition to full-time writing. Well, that didn’t happen!
So, I now write full-time and am still trying to find a balance. Too many stories. Not enough time.
I try to write almost every day. Currently I take some ‘off days’ then write like mad for weeks on end, up to sixteen plus hours for five to seven days (especially when I have a deadline). Then, I crash and burn for a few weeks. One day I’ll actually do the ‘write five days and have a weekend off’ thing.
I actually work longer hours now than when I was in a paid job.
Do you plan your whole book out in advance, or just let it flow? What does your writing process look like? I used to be a full-on pantser! But I needed more stability. I’m now a plotter-pantser.
An idea will strike (often sparked by a picture, a song, a title, something someone said…) and I’ll scribble down bits. If I think there’s a longer story there, I assign it a box (literally) and put any related inspirations or writing in that box. I may have an instant idea of the main story points and ending or they may wheedle their way into my brain, or the story box, over time. Eventually I have the bones of a story.
I tried planning out every scene once. I stressed out, feeling I couldn’t deviate. I’ve modified the process now. I write specific points on sticky notes, pop them on the cupboard door in the sun room.
I dive into research until the settings, time or character headspace oozes from my pores, then I let it all sink in for a while. (this can take a week or a month. My fantasy work-in-progress has been in the ‘pop it in in the box and let it cogitate’ step for years now. )
I then work on the scenes or chapters related to each note. This gives me the flexibility to move them around (or scrap them) as the story changes and evolves. The most important thing is to know the ending, and ask ‘what would the character do?’/ ‘what are they thinking?’
I also use sticky notes along the way, if I remember an important point three chapters later, or something lurking in the back of my mind pops into the story. If I need to put a ‘gun in the room’, so to speak, then a sticky note goes into the earlier manuscript to remind me in final rewrites.
Every few chapters I do new ‘story line notes’ and more things get added to the bones for the final story (like a snowflake growing).
There’s a family joke: when I’m staring out the window, they say ‘leave mum alone, she’s writing’, which is absolutely true. Stories often mull in my head on the ‘procrastinating’ or ‘time off days’. My brain is always sifting through different story permeations and ‘what ifs’.
What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write?
Wake up. (do my PTSD therapy if I’m able, ten minutes on the stepper for endorphins). Cup of tea (perhaps some chocolate if I’ve had a bad night). I try to start writing or research at 9.30 to 10.00 am. I’m supposed to break for lunch, but often I get distracted until school pick up. I take a break, catch up on my favourite TV show (I’ve just finished re-watching all the Miss Marple in order) or watch a movie (so 60-90 minutes break) and then try to finish up the writing. If I’m having a bad health day, this goes out the window. I usually get a second wind about 11.00 pm and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to scribble in the notebook by the bed.
In reality, I aim for minimum of four hours writing a day.
Do you ever get Writer’s Block? If so, how do you deal with it?
My writers’ block is more procrastination, usually at the start of a new story or chapter. The blank page is my bane. I often know what I want to write but the fear sets in…
I switch to either a different story or something artistic and concentrate on cover or poster design or scripting the next book trailer and working out stills and shots I will need. (at least it’s constructive procrastination) On bad days, I just chill, let my brain recover and catch up on reading or movies. I even have a divers’ notebook in the shower. Relaxing seems to jog things.
Do you read your own reviews? If so, how do you deal with bad reviews?
Unless someone emails me a review, I stumble over reviews. The worst review I had was someone emailed me about: I didn’t think it was that bad. The (male) reviewer just didn’t seem to understand the motivation of a (female) character and mansplained how she should have reacted in the situation in question and obviously hadn’t followed the character arc to its conclusion. Oh, well.
The way I look at it is, no one can please everyone. I’m just happy to get comparisons to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes (mentioned a few times) in independent reviews… (and not get trolled). That makes up for most things.
Other than reviews, do you hear from your readers? What kinds of things do they say? I get readers contacting me on FB, twitter and chatting to me at conventions. I get fans emailing me to ask what costumes a character would wear so they can cosplay them (squee!) or ‘when’s the next book coming out?’ and (best of all) dragging their friends (literally) up to my table and saying ‘you have to buy this book!’ (Waves at Tilly- my first con fan!)
What are some ways in which you promote your books? What have you found most or least effective? I do interviews (like this one), guest blog posts, book trailers (on my youtube channel) and webpage. I’ve done talks for local heritage groups, SF and book groups and would love to do talks for schools. I do local steampunk and pop culture conventions. I also have a live chat, via Patreon, and a monthly newsletter for those who want to know more.
I find the most effective is talking and engaging with readers.
Least effective? Facebook ads. I tried it. I get more regular organic reach than when I paid for it.
How easy or hard do you think it is it to make a living as an author? Did you know the average author’s wage in Australia is only $12,500? And yet people still want free stuff.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be an author? 1. Keep your day job
2. You need to actually write stuff.
3. Beware vanity presses.
4. Never stop learning.
5. Write what you love because you’re going to be in this for the looooong haul.
Tell us a random fact about yourself My father was part native Canadian.
I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since I was 4 (1969) You do the maths. J
Thank you for dropping by Karen, this has been an amazing insight into your writing and your practices. How and where can readers find out more about you and your amazing stories:
- Website: www.karenjcarlisle.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/KarenJCarlisle
- Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/KarenJCarlisle