Petit Fours » A group blog of authors writing in different genres

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Guest Chef, Karen McQuestion

Dear Readers,

Karen McQuestion is visiting with us today. We are so excited she agreed to be our guest. Please give her a warm welcome.

For those of you who don’t know Karen, she is a national best-selling author who writes books for adults as well as for kids and teens.  Her novels regularly place in the top 100 Kindle books, and each successive novel has added to her ever growing fan base, making her one of the preeminent Amazon Publishing authors.  Karen lives in Wisconsin with her family and is always working on her next novel.

Let’s kick our chat off with questions from some PFHT members. Please be sure to post your thoughts and questions for Karen.

On PFHT, we have talked about our weird dating experiences. Do you have any to share? 

Nothing weird, probably because I’ve never actually dated. Or not much, anyway. I met my husband at 18, we began dating when I was 19, and we married when I was 22. Once, when I tried to give my older son relationship advice he said, “Yes, you would know since you had the ONE boyfriend.” I thought that was pretty funny, because up until then I hadn’t thought of it like that.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to write books since I was in Mrs. DiFrances’s class in third grade and she assigned a writing assignment, a short story.

When it came time for Mrs. DiFrances to return our graded stories, she said that first she wanted to read one of them out loud. I was in complete shock when I realized she was reading from my story, and that the class was responding: leaning forward in their seats, laughing at the funny parts, gasping at the surprising plot twist. Something clicked in my brain then, probably akin to what addicts feel the first time they get a rush.

When she announced that I was the writer, and that she thought it was excellent, the other kids turned around in their seats to gape at me. I was the shy kid, the klutzy one who wasn’t good in gym. I was not anyone you’d notice. But I could do this; I could take something out of my head and put it on paper, and get other people to respond to it. That’s all it took. I was hooked.

How many books have you published? Can you give us a brief description of each?

Certainly! I’m the author of seven books. Two are for children: Celia and the Fairies and its sequel, Secrets of the Magic Ring.

Two are for young adults: Favorite, which is a mystery, and Life on Hold, which is a coming of age story about a girl whose free-spirited mother loves to make cross-country moves.

Finally, I’ve written three novels in the women’s fiction category:  Easily Amused, a chick lit, A Scattered Life, a family dramedy, and my newest, The Long Way Home, which is a summer road trip story.

In traditional publishing, writers are typically instructed to stick to one genre for several books before branching out. What made you decide to buck tradition? Has it helped or hindered you in establishing yourself with readers?

I didn’t deliberately set off to buck tradition, I just love to read and write all different kinds of books. Conventional wisdom in publishing is that it’s easier to market books if the author sticks to one genre, and that’s probably true, but I’ve also had crossover readers, so I don’t worry about it too much.

Which one is your favorite? Why?

My favorite is always the one I’m currently working on, probably because it’s fresh and new and full of possibility.

Which one was the most fun to write? Why?

Celia and the Fairies, because it was a gift for my goddaughter and I wasn’t thinking in terms of publication while I was writing it.

Do you do much traveling to research your books? If so, care to share some of the locations and your experiences?

I’m lazy when it comes to research, but it’s necessary to ensure accuracy. Oftentimes I can get information through Internet searches or phone calls, but for my last novel, The Long Way Home, I had specific details that could only be confirmed by being there. Things like, how dark would it be on a certain stretch of the Interstate if you had to pull over at night? And how does the landscape change from state to state? 

After listening to me kvetch about this for days, my husband suggested we go check it out. So we loaded up the car and took an impromptu trip from Wisconsin to Colorado and back in the four days he could manage to get off of work. I was happy to see that much of my guesswork did correlate with the actual locations, and that the mistakes I’d made were fairly easy to fix.

Your book, A SCATTERED LIFE, was optioned for film. Has there been any progress on the movie?

Having a novel optioned for film was an exciting experience. Unfortunately, as so often happens, it never got past the development stage. At this time, it’s stalled and doesn’t seem likely to be made. It’s disappointing, but I’m still thrilled that someone in Hollywood envisioned it as a movie and was willing to put time and money into the project.

Are there messages in your novels that you want readers to grasp? Can you elaborate?

Readers sometimes see messages, so I think on a subconscious level I must insert them, but it’s not intentional. My goal is purely to entertain.

Can you give us a hint about what you are working on now?

I’d love to! I’m giving my editor fits by doing something completely different. I just finished the first book in a trilogy, a young adult novel with paranormal elements. The main character, Russ Becker, is a high school sophomore, who goes out walking at night when he can’t sleep, witnesses a strange astronomical event, and discovers he has super powers. Later he meets other teenagers who’ve had the same thing happen, and the story goes on from there…

Who inspires you the most in life and writing? Why?

In writing, other authors. So many great books, so little time!

And in life, I’m inspired by unsung heroes—teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, caregivers of the elderly and disabled. All around us people fight the good fight every day. It humbles me.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

The one that comes to mind: If you don’t plan your time, others will be happy to do it for you.

On PFHT, we’ve talked about our writing spaces/offices. What is your space like? Is there anything special in it or maybe about the way you set it up that inspires creativity? Do you have any pictures?

Recently, I converted my daughter’s old bedroom into a home office and I love it! I have a mahogany desk with my regular computer, a recliner in the corner for when I use my laptop, a bookcase, and an electric fireplace (which some members of my family think is tacky, but I don’t care. I like it.). On the walls I have framed prints—gifts from the artist, Vincent Desjardins, who did the illustrations for my book, Secrets of the Magic Ring.

When you aren’t writing, what do you like to do? Hobbies? Outdoor activities?

I’m tempted to lie and say rock climbing and whitewater rafting, but sadly, my interests are fairly sedentary, which may explain that twenty pounds I’ve been trying to shed like forever. For the most part I can be found reading, Internet surfing, watching movies, and taking long-ish walks with my husband.

Earlier this week, Jill Shavis visited with us. She has what she called her Lucy moments. Lucy refers to the show I LOVE LUCY. Weird and whacky things happen to Jill regularly, and she shares them with us on her blog. Do you have any of your own Lucy moments?

I’m not sure about actual Lucy moments, but sometimes I wish I were more socially adept. When I’m nervous or out of my comfort zone, I can be awkward and I find myself wincing at my own blunders. Sometimes I don’t recognize people out of context. Once, at a wedding, I congratulated the groom before the ceremony. Another time, I went on and on complimenting an acquaintance on her chic, very short hairstyle. The last time I’d seen her she had long hair and I made a point to tell her I thought she was brave to try something so radically different. Turned out she’d had brain surgery a few months before. I’m sure I turned all shades of red.  Despite all this, people tend to think I’m outgoing and confident, so I must be doing something right.

Thank you for joining us today, Karen. Before we start taking questions from fans, do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Actually, yes! This is from the acknowledgments of The Long Way Home, but I think it bears repeating: If you’re one of those people who respond to my books, connect with my characters, and enjoy my stories, you have my heart. Because of you, I get to write for a living. I am sending infinite thanks your way. I hope you can feel the love.

Maxine Davis - June 1, 2012 - 6:51 am

Congratulations, Karen. Sounds like you are a hard worker. Wow, you also sound so organized. Another wow – a movie offer! Gotta love hubby for taking the road trip. Mine said he’d be glad to buy a new truck and let me write about how wonderful it is-for him! Best of luck and I really enjoyed your post.

Karen McQuestion - June 1, 2012 - 8:19 am

Hi, Maxine! Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m not really that organized, but I’m glad I sound that way. :-)

My husband wants a truck too, and we live in suburbia so I’m having trouble fathoming this. What is it with men and trucks?

Marilyn Baron - June 1, 2012 - 8:25 am

Karen and Tammy,

This is one of the best author interviews I’ve seen. Excellent job. Like you, Karen, my interest in writing started in the 4th grade when my teacher read my story in installments in the classroom. The story featured all the students in my class. From that moment on, I was a “writer.” So I can relate to your journey. I like the fact that you have sedentary hobbies like I do. I also think it’s interesting that you have accomplished genre crossover. We were always told that wasn’t a good career idea but I think we should be able to write what we want to write and it works for you. About the road trip. I’ve been trying to get my husband to take me to a community in Florida to do research for my new romantic suspense and so far he hasn’t done it, although we’ve been to Florida several times and have been pretty close to where I want to go. I’m curious, does your husband read what you’ve written? I’ve tried to get mine to and except for parts of a WW II thriller I wrote, he doesn’t. I told him he’d better start reading what I write or I’m going to put him in my books. Your books sound wonderful. Thanks so much for blogging with us.

Karen McQuestion - June 1, 2012 - 8:54 am

Marilyn, one of the best author interviews you’ve seen? High praise–thank you!

To answer your question–my husband Greg has not read ANY of my books, and of my kids, only my daughter has read one and that was CELIA AND THE FAIRIES. I once wrote a blog post about this very topic and was amazed at all the writers who left comments saying their loved ones didn’t read their writing either. I’m resigned to it now, but it still puzzles me because if my husband or any of my kids wrote a book I’d be dying to read it.

On the plus side, Greg has always been completely supportive of my writing, even during those long years when we weren’t sure if I’d ever be published. And that’s no small thing.

If anyone is interested in the blog post I mentioned, it’s here:

C.E. Hart - June 1, 2012 - 9:05 am

Hi Karen,

How cool that you’re successful in so many different genres. I admire that you took the steering wheel to your writing and drive wherever you feel fit! :)

I too realized my love for the craft from an elementary school writing assignment. It’s so important to have teachers who love their jobs and their students–and encourage them to follow their dreams.

Thanks for the interview. It was a joy to read and learn more about you and your books.

Karen McQuestion - June 1, 2012 - 9:58 am

Hi C.E. Hart, I love that you worked a driving metaphor into your comment!

Interesting that an elementary school writing assignment also jump started your writing, and that Marilyn Baron had a similar experience as well. Those early years are formative and teachers have such great influence. Maybe we would have become writers anyway, but having early positive associations had to have helped.

Susan Carlisle - June 1, 2012 - 2:01 pm

What a pleasure to have you today. I loved hearing about your books and process. Thanks for coming by.

Karen McQuestion - June 1, 2012 - 3:00 pm

It’s been my pleasure, Susan!

Pamela Mason - June 1, 2012 - 4:49 pm

Hi Karen! I love your name – McQUESTION. And you answered lots of good ones here today!
You are really prolific in different genres – do you have a specific process? Or do you just get an idea and wrestle the octopus into the mayo jar?
Thanks for the interview today and I’ll be looking for your books! I like the sound of A Scattered Life.

Tami Brothers - June 1, 2012 - 5:39 pm

This is a great interview! Thanks so much for answering all these questions. Like Pamela, love your name. I’m sure you get some great comments about that.

I’m another one of those that wrote in elementary school and that was what made me stand out.

Can’t wait to read your books. Love that you have so many different areas in your writing.

I wish you all the very best with your sales.

Tami :alien:

Linsey Lanier - June 1, 2012 - 7:45 pm

Hi Karen. Terrific interview. “So many great books, so little time” – that is so true. I wish somebody paid me for reading.

Congratulations on your success. I write in several genres, too, so that’s very encouraging. I hear so much about having to focus on one genre to be a success. Not always true. :) Your books all sound like great reads and that’s what really makes you successful. :yes:

Carol Burnside/Annie Rayburn - June 1, 2012 - 8:46 pm

Thanks for being with us here on PFHT. This is an interesting interview and good introduction to your work. I write in several genres too, so this is encouraging. I think I have a touch of ADD because I don’t like to write the same thing all the time. ;)

Karen McQuestion - June 1, 2012 - 11:16 pm

Hi Pamela! To answer your question I’ll use your own words and say I just get an idea and wrestle the octopus in the mayo jar (love that phrase!). Having a process seems far more sensible, but I’ve never been able to work that way.

Tami, as you guessed, I do get a lot of comments about my name. People have asked if it’s a pen name, which it’s not–I married into the name. In my previous life I was Karen Erickson, which is fine, but not nearly as memorable.

Linsey, if you can find a way to get paid for pleasure reading, I’d love to hear about it. :-)) I’ve also heard a lot about staying with one genre, but there are plenty of authors who write all over the place and do just fine. Stephen King and Neil Gaiman are two that come to mind. If they can do it, why not us?

Carol/Annie, you’re very welcome! I’m glad to have been a guest here on the site. I’m not so sure you have writer ADD–my guess is that you have a creative spirit that thrives on diversity.

Carol Burnside - June 2, 2012 - 1:24 am

Well now, Karen,”a creative spirit that thrives on diversity” sounds so much better than my take on things. I believe I’ll run with that.

Marilyn Baron - June 2, 2012 - 7:32 am


I did just read your blog about how nobody in the family reads your books. Except, I forgot, my mother. Yours does too. My family is very supportive of me so I can’t complain but when I asked my husband to read something he says “you don’t read my testimony.” Well, that would be boring. Anyway, it’s good to know I’m not the only one. Thanks again for visiting. You have a new fan.

Karen McQuestion - June 2, 2012 - 2:48 pm

I just want to end this visit with a thank you from me! What a fun, informative site and what a warm welcome :-D . I enjoyed my time here.

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