Hi all: I’m thrilled that Judith asked me to interview Karen Stivali! Her book, Tonight, which was part of M/M Romance Group on Goodreads’ Love is an Open Road event, was one of my prime introductions to the genre and a huge inspiration for my own story, Red Envelope.
It’s not every day that I get to interview one of the people who got me started on following my own dream! (Of course, this is my first interview ever and my mind has been blank as to what I could ask Karen, but I think I’ve managed to come up with a few interesting questions.)
Atom: What skills from a previous job have you found still useful in your writing career today?
Karen: Oddly enough I think skills from all my past jobs are useful in my writing. Sometimes it’s that a character is in a related field so I’ll use my own memories of what that job was like and other times it’s things I learned in the various jobs that make me look at character development and writing a certain way. I have degrees in film and television production and in clinical social work. I use skills from both of those all the time in writing. And I worked my way through school as a waitress, an espresso bar manager and a personal chef, so that’s part of why food often works its way into my stories. I think everything writers experience in their real life comes into play at some point in terms of how they tell a story or what their characters will go through as their story unfolds.
Atom: That’s true! And as kind of a tangential follow up question, if you hadn’t found your place as a writer, what would you be doing instead right now?
Karen: I have no idea. My last job before I started writing full time was party planner and overcommitted volunteer. I guess I’d still be doing both of those things.
Atom: Huh. Well, we’re lucky you became a writer. Planning a party and plotting a story probably has its parallels. And since you’re a writer and living the life, I have to ask you, what bothers you most about writing for a living?
Karen: THE STRESS. Sorry. Didn’t mean to yell that. (YES I DID, IT’S VERY STRESSFUL.) Seriously, though, it is a stressful job. There are lots of stressful aspects but I think what it often boils down to is a lack of control. Publishing is ever changing, which is difficult enough to keep up with, but in addition to that you have all sorts of unforeseen issues ranging from editors quitting to publishers closing to royalty checks being late. And you never know if a book will strike the wrong or right chord with readers. Sometimes the book you love the most sells the least and the one you didn’t like at all hits it big. It’s all very unpredictable and involves a lot of luck and timing and savvy, not just writing skill or perseverance.
Atom: Okay, that cracked me up! Thanks for being so honest about that. I think many people fantasize that we merrily go about writing a story and ta da! There’s your book, no fuss no muss. So let me ask you the opposite question: What do you enjoy most about your writing?
Karen: Three things: The people I’ve met—I’ve made so many awesome friends who I’d likely never have gotten to know if it wasn’t for Romancelandia and the magic of the Internet. That’s my favorite thing. Second, the characters I get to create. I’ve always had fictional characters living in my mind and I’m so glad I finally decided to bring them to life on paper. It took me a long time to get the courage to do that (and show it to anyone), but I’m glad I did. And third, hearing from readers who were touched by my stories. I’ve gotten some fan mail that has made me cry massive quantities of happy tears. I never expected that and I’m so thankful for every reader who takes the time to contact me and share what my books have meant to them. It’s priceless.
Atom: That is awesome. I remember contacting you after reading Tonight and I had so much fun sharing with you what that story meant to me. This is a close-knit community and it’s cool to be able to talk to a real, live author of the book you just read. As for that real, live author part, what do people assume about you from your writing that’s just not true about you?
Karen: Hmm…I feel like I should get Twitter involved and do a poll or something. I don’t know what people assume about me. I know I’ve been asked if I’ve done all the sex acts in my books. I always reply, “Yes, in a hotel room, and Stephen King was in the next room re-animating his dead pets.” I think people tend to confuse authors with their characters sometimes. Just because I may have things in common with my characters doesn’t mean all their experiences are mine or that I like all the same things they do. Quite the opposite is true sometimes. Other times, it is true. If people come away from my books assuming I love to cook, have a filthy mind and enjoy sex, then they’re getting an accurate impression of me—but then again they could learn all of that by following me on social media. ☺
Atom: That’s too funny! You know I think you’re hilarious, and I love reading your books as well as your tweets. What’s the funniest thing you’ve written so far, except you seem to be the only person who thinks it’s funny?
Karen: I have to say I think I’m pretty lucky in terms of people thinking the stuff I intended as funny is actually funny. And equally lucky that they don’t find the stuff that isn’t supposed to be funny to be funny. That doesn’t sound right, but you know what I mean. Most of the humor in my books comes from my characters being a little neurotic at least in their internal thoughts. Let’s just say it’s pretty easy for me to tap into a sarcastic yet anxiety ridden mind. Humor gets me through my own life so I pass it on to my characters whenever I can.
Atom: I think you also pass this survival strategy onto your readers, and we thank you. Was this always what you wanted to be, a writer? What did you imagine you’d grow up to be/do when you were a kid?
Karen: When I was a kid I wanted to be a novelist. That just got derailed for a few decades with other things because the idea of letting other people read my writing scared the living hell out of me. It still does, tbh, I just do it anyway.
Atom: Feeling scared but doing it anyway is the definition of bravery, and leads me to my next question. When your inspiration is constipated, what do you do to get it regular again? Any go-to solutions?
Karen: I feel like I should hold up a bottle of something and strike a Vanna White pose or something…I don’t really have any go-to solutions. I usually resort to panic and whining to friends and then just forging ahead. I’m very stubborn. And I’m lucky that I have a lot of writer friends who let me whine to them. (I let them whine to me too, though, so it’s a fair trade. Every writer needs other writers to whine to. It’s a must-have thing.)
Atom: Yes! That kind of support system is invaluable. Sometimes the whining just needs to be done and gotten out of the way so we can get back to work, right? Alright, here’s a fun question: Favorite depiction of masculinity (can be a porn star, Hollywood actor, literary character, real person you know, etc) and why?
Karen: Heh. I’m tempted to use a real person I know, but it would embarrass the hell out of him and I don’t want that so I guess I’ll go with a literary character. I generally have a more beta hero preference in terms of my ideal depiction of masculinity (I always fall for guys I’m friends with and I’m never friends with the uber alpha kinda dudes), but I’m picking a character who’s a bit of a bad ass: Tiffany Reisz’s Kingsley Edge from her Original Sinners series. Kingsley is a bisexual, French, switch who’s the super bad ass King of the NYC kink underworld. He’s irresistibly appealing to men and women alike and owns his sexuality with every fiber of his being. He’s damaged and has a wide array of emotional baggage but lets none of it stand in his way. He’s tough as nails when he needs to be, even when he’s totally vulnerable underneath the façade. He’s the perfect blend of strength, passion and compassion—I think that’s my favorite depiction of masculinity right there. Oh, and he’s hot as sin. That’s always a perk.
Atom: YUM. I’m going to have to read Tiffany Reisz’s books now. It sounds like she writes about kink in the Original Sinners series. Is there a topic, character, or situation you’ve been thinking about writing for awhile but haven’t gotten to yet? If yes, to what do you attribute the delay?
Karen: There are tons. My idea book has somewhere between 30-50 unwritten stories in it. Time is the only thing causing the delays. Time and deadlines on other projects. Maybe some day I’ll get to them all.
Atom: I hope so! Okay, I love asking this question because I get to hear some interesting things. Most disgusting food and why?
Karen: I’m really not a picky eater at all. The only thing I can think of that really makes me gag is spearmint. Even someone chewing spearmint gum near me is enough to get me gaggy. I don’t know what it is about that flavor that is so unappealing to me but blech. Wintergreen too. No. Can’t do it. Peppermint I’m fine with though.
Atom: See? That’s interesting to me. I don’t gag but when I was a kid, spearmint and wintergreen would make me, I don’t know, like have a minor asthma attack or something. Yeah. Good times. Anyway, we’re almost done and I want you to know, I find your work witty and sexy and emotionally satisfying. Where do you get your sense of humor and how would you describe it? Your sense of romance?
Karen: Aww, thank you. That’s so nice to hear. My sense of humor? Hmm…people have always fascinated me and I think that’s because I see the humor in the things they do and say. I don’t know. I guess I just look for it in everything. I’ve used humor as a coping mechanism since I was a kid. How would I describe my sense of humor? Bawdy? Filthy? I make no secret of the fact that my mind is often in the gutter. I’ve been told my super power is my ability to make anything sound dirty. I consider that a gift. ☺ My sense of romance? I don’t know…I have a pretty cynical view about things in real life but I still hope for the happy ending. When I’m writing, I’m in charge so I get to make sure characters get their HEAs. I can’t do that for people in real life. But I’d love it if I could.
Atom: Sweet. Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to share about yourself and your writing with me and Binge on Books readers. It’s been an honor, but before we finish, I’d like to ask one last thing, and that’s to share about a recent or upcoming release—I’m behind on my reading, but I’m always looking forward to whatever you’ve written.
Karen: My next releases are actually re-releases of my first novel and its sequel. MEANT TO BE and HOLDING ON are both coming out July 18 and I’m really excited. These books follow the characters Daniel and Marienne through almost a decade of their lives together and chronicles their journey from friends to lovers to parents. They’re two of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. Daniel’s a sexy, shy British English professor (I told you I go for the beta hero bff type) and he’s probably my all-time favorite hero. These books have been out of print for over a year and I’m so happy they’ll be available again. After that I believe my next release will be the next book in the MOMENTS IN TIME series. MOMENT OF FATE will probably be out sometime in the fall. It’s a standalone novel that features one of the secondary characters from the series—Bryan, the lead singer of Wasabi Incident, who appeared in several of the earlier books and a new man who comes to NYC for the summer and winds up changing his life forever. After that there’s another MOMENTS book that’ll be out in early 2017. And maybe a sequel to TONIGHT. I get a lot of requests for one and if I have the time, I’ll write it.
Atom: Never mind me, I’m organizing a petition for the sequel to Tonight. However, there will be so many good books from you coming out soon, I’m just beside myself. Yay! Thanks again, and thanks to Judith for sharing her corner of the Internet!
Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies, and fictional British men. She’s also the multiple award-winning author of contemporary and erotic romances. She writes novels about love…like real life, only hotter.
Karen’s lifelong fascination with people has led her to careers ranging from hand-drawn animator, to party planner, to marriage and family counselor, but writing has always been her passion. Karen enjoys nothing more than following her characters on their journey toward love. Whether the couples are m/f or m/m, it’s guaranteed that Karen’s novels are filled with food, friendship, love, and smoking hot sex—all the best things in life.
When Karen isn’t writing (and often when she is), she can be found on Twitter attempting witty banter and detailing the antics of her fruit-loving cat, BadKitteh. She loves to hear from readers (and other writers), so don’t hesitate to contact/follow/like her at:
Atom Yang was born to Chinese immigrant parents who thought it'd be a hoot to raise him as an immigrant, too– so he grew up estranged in a familiar land, which gives him an interesting perspective. He’s named after a Japanese manga (comic book) character, in case you were wondering.
Website: http://AtomYang.com (Facebook author page)
Twitter (@MightyAtomYang): http://bit.ly/1rPyh7k
Instagram (@MightyAtomYang): http://bit.ly/1LThhGB