An Interview with Karleen Koen
Karleen is the author of four novels, including the New York Times bestseller Through A Glass Darkly and her most recent Before Versailles, which was included among the best historical fiction of 2011 by The Library Journal and RT Book Reviews. She is also an experienced and award-winning magazine writer and editor. You can visit her website and blog to learn more.
Bring your rough draft problems to Karleen’s half-day workshop, “In the Rough: Tips to Help You Finish Your First Draft,” where she will navigate the drafting process in what will be a sneak peek to her upcoming week long class at the Writers’ League of Texas’s Summer Writing Retreat. Visit the class page and read Karleen’s Q&A below to learn more!
What is it about the rough draft that’s so difficult?
Karleen Koen: It’s a longer process than a short story/poem/magazine piece. So you stay longer in not knowing. To know the story, you have to write it, messily, badly, imperfectly. Later you may perfect it, but to stay in the uncertainty a long time is trying for most. Including me.
For you, what’s the most challenging part of the writing process? The most rewarding?
KK: The most challenging is the rough drafts, the only place I can begin to know characters and what they’re doing. My first rough draft is always so amazingly bad that it’s hard for me to see what I’ve accomplished, which is usually a plotting piece, what happens when or what should happen but isn’t there yet. Characters emerge (shakily, not fully formed) in the first draft, too.
I love editing, when I have enough rough draft to shape, enough rough draft under me like a rock to hold me up as I really craft the story.
When is a novel “finished”?
KK: I’m tired of it and cannot do another thing to it. This is after several drafts and polishes. Just can’t. Put a fork in me, I’m done. But I also have a really good sense of story, the pace of it, the waves of it. So I know when I’ve got that wave up to the climax of the story and then the falling back to end.
As a sneak peek into your upcoming class, what’s one invaluable tip for those working through a rough draft?
KK: Realize what a draft is and what you’re searching for in one.
Are you currently “in the rough”?
KK: You better believe it, although I’m on a second draft. Bad enough to discourage me, but solid enough to give me wing space to fly into the story at times and “to know.” That’s when I know I have the story, a certain “knowing” of the characters. They no longer feel like cartoon strangers with balloon dialog above their mouths. They are real in some place in me that writes. I know the story will happen–not when it will happen to be finished–just that it will happen and be a story when I have the feeling of knowing the characters, which I am relieved to say has happened in this fifth book.