Friday, October 03, 2008

Author Interview - Karen J. Hasley

Today's guest is author Karen J. Hasley. Karen's books integrate real-life women of history such as Jane Addams, Dr. Alice Hamilton, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Donaldina Cameron into the lives of remarkable fictional heroines of strength and passion. We'll spotlight her recent novel, Waiting for Hope.

Welcome, Karen! How long have you been writing? What made you start?
The first time I recall writing fiction was in the fifth grade. I remember scribbling away and sharing my stories with classmates. I started to write because I loved to read. In my mind there was a very direct correlation between the two. I was such a voracious, precocious reader, and creating my own stories was a natural next step.

I started writing book length fiction seriously in 2002. Now I have 10 manuscripts squirreled away on a flash drive that I carry with me wherever I go, and I am organizing my research notes for book 11. I lost my job in 2002 and used my severance pay to write for four glorious uninterrupted months before I had to find another job. Since then I've felt like someone turned on a literary faucet in my head. It may dry up eventually, but so far I have more ideas and projects than I have time.

Do back up that flash drive! They can become corrupted.
When did you publish your first book?
Lily's Sister was published in June of 2006.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
I am not a writer that outlines and plans ahead page by page. I could never do that. I have a musical background, and the best way to describe my process is to say that I write from crescendo to crescendo. For example, somewhere in the back of my mind was the knowledge that 1) the heroine is a house servant and 2) she's going to Wyoming to homestead and 3) she's going to start her own business. But when I sat down to write Waiting for Hope I had no idea how she was going to get the land she needed or how she would know what to do when she got to Wyoming or what business she would start.The details were still in the future. I write first person narrative, though, so I become my heroine, sit down at the computer, and start telling my story. I connect the crescendos with melody.

How do you choose your characters' names?
They really do mysteriously appear most of the time, and usually they're exactly right for the story. I write historical books, so once in a while I'll research the popular names of the time. I also write down names I run across in my research that strike my fancy. And my very first published heroine, Louisa Caldecott of Lily's Sister, was purposefully named to sound a little like Louisa May Alcott, to honor the author that introduced me to the joy of reading.

What is your daily schedule like?
I have a day job because those pesky bills have to be paid, and I'm not at a place in my life where I can earn my living by writing historical fiction - yet, anyway. My evenings are spent trying to balance researching, writing, editing, and reading. Never enough time - and it depends on which deadline, or which passion, is dominating my life at the time. Recently I discovered a new author and I dropped everything to read all nine of his books in a row. It was like an addiction. Then I fell behind on a writing project for work and another writing project I'd promised my church and then I had to give my third book a final edit before sending it off to the publisher. When I'm writing a book, I try to write 1,000 words a night, good, bad, or indifferent, but 1,000 words. Those words are going to get edited a million times anyway, so it's really about maintaining the discipline of writing.

How do you handle life interruptions?
I hope I prioritize properly. My spiritual life is most important and it must never be considered an interruption. Everything has to fall in place behind that. Frankly, there are times I couldn't tell you which is the interruption. Sometimes the need to write a scene or get a bit of dialogue right is so compelling that writing interrupts my life. Other times, having to weed the garden interrupts my writing. It's all about the perspective of the moment.

Do you write with music playing? If so, is the music likely to be songs with lyrics or only instrumentals?
I need it quiet when I write. No music. And definitely no lyrics. Ever.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?
My morning coffee is the only foodstuff I ever have at my writing desk, and only two mugs a morning. I'm a coffee snob, though - grinding the beans and using real cream and drinking it while there's still a wisp of steam rising from the brew...

To be perfectly fair, I suppose I should credit caffeine for some of my creative energy.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
I love creating characters that become so real to me and others that they have the power to make us weep, and how when I'm writing, my characters sometimes take over the page and surprise me. I love words, the flow of them from the brain through the heart into the hand and onto the paper. I love the mystery of the writing process.

I do not like the marketing and promoting part of writing, as necessary as it is. I do not like trying to convince a publisher or editor that what I write has worth. My work has been rejected over the past six years more times than I could count and although I know intellectually that it's not supposed to be personal, of course it's personal! And it's very often painful. I don't like that at all.

Tell us about your novel, Waiting for Hope.
Waiting for Hope was written in honor of a wonderful single woman homesteader that lived at the turn of the last century named Elinore Pruitt Stewart. When I ran across her letters while doing research, they fairly tingled with energy and enthusiasm and courage. Every word was a delight, and so was Elinore. She was the kind of woman I'd love for a best friend. Nothing fazed her. So I wanted my heroine, Hope Birdwell, to exemplify Elinore's energy and positive attitude. At the same time, I wanted Hope to be flawed, which she is.

Waiting for Hope is Hope's story, how she leaves the bordello where she was raised as the daughter of a famous courtesan, how she turns her back on a life of ease and comfort in order to be independent, how hard she works and sacrifices, and in the end, how much she has to learn about herself before she can have the life she dreams of. That's all in Waiting for Hope.

What is your next project?
Barring anything unforeseen, my third book - Where Home Is - will be available in time for this year's holiday gift giving. (My three books are connected in several ways and the set would make a lovely holiday gift.) A while ago I read a biography of Jane Addams and visited what remains of her Hull-House in Chicago. I loved and admired everything I read and saw. So in Where Home Is, my fictional heroine is a young doctor who spends her first year after medical school graduation working with Miss Addams among the immigrants of Chicago. The research was fun, and everything in the book is exactly accurate to the time. Some of the characters from my first two books pop in for a visit, too.

What is your advice for other writers?
Write. Make the time. Just do it.

What other work of yours has been published?
Lily's Sister was published in June of 2006 by Outskirts Press and Waiting for Hope in February of 2008, also by Outskirts Press.

Thank you for the Interview.
Thank YOU for the opportunity to share with your readers. Anyone interested can find out more about me and my books at my website,


  1. Very nice interview, Karen and Marsha. It's a pleasure to read about other writers. :)

  2. I love the premise of your book, Waiting for Hope. I'm so intrigued by the courage and strength of women who did things like homesteading. The whole idea of homesteading in a far-away location in the first place boggles my mind, even if it was a family. But a single woman doing that makes it even more interesting!
    This goes on my TBR list, for sure!

  3. Anonymous2:21 PM

    This is a great interview with a great author. I have read both of Karen Hasley's books and I must say she is exactly right when she says they come to life. I was reading "Hope" on a bus trip to Washington, D. C. and cried my eyes out for miles. The story is superb, the characters so real and the interwoven connection remarkable!
    I can't wait for the next book. I have already added it to my Christmas purchase list. You'd be well served to add it to yours as well. You won't be sorry!

  4. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Thanks for introducing me to this historical writer. I will definitely read her books. They sound so real and inspirational.

  5. Anonymous7:16 PM

    After patiently waiting for "Waiting for Hope," I'm impatiently waiting for "Where Home Is." Hurry it along, Karen; your fans are ready for the next story!

  6. Thank you all for visiting and giving Karen her well-deserved due.


I welcome your comments.

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