February 22, 2014

Author Interview with Karen A. Wyle

Hi Karen, first of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm an appellate attorney, photographer, mother, and politics junkie, as well as an author. After living on both coasts for most of my life, I ended up in south central Indiana in 1989, and I've lived here ever since.

What do you think makes your genre special?
I'm not actually committed to one genre, but three of my four novels (including two that haven't come out yet) are science fiction. So I'll answer re science fiction, even though my current release, Wander Home, is either general fiction or some sort of hybrid of family drama and fantasy (see below).
Science fiction explores how human beings – whether acknowledged as such, or in any of innumerable disguises – react to the unexpected. How do they – how would we – cope with the fulfillment of anything from dream to nightmare? How will the future we anticipate surprise us? How will we surprise ourselves when we confront it? Science fiction's imaginative settings allow us to examine familiar themes and problems with a fresh eye. (Star Trek, despite its flaws, was often excellent at using the trappings of science fiction to explore issues like racism, war and peace, patriotism, gender identity, ambition, love versus career, et cetera.) I am a lawyer; my one published short story, "The Baby," and the novel whose rough draft I just completed (tentatively titled Division) both involve legal issues raised by projected future technology. I have long been fascinated by twins: my novel Twin-Bred and its upcoming sequel feature fraternal twins (carried by host mothers) belonging to different species. I have been deeply interested in parenthood since becoming a mother: I can create aliens for whom parenthood is in many ways different, and in some fundamental ways the same.
Science fiction paves the way. Its authors, often scientists themselves, extrapolate from current technology and knowledge, and make educated guesses about what we will be able to invent. Often they guess correctly. It might be easier to identify the scientific advances of the last sixty years that were not predicted in science fiction than to list those that were. By working within the constraints of scientific theory, science fiction honors those who have spent their lives helping us understand our universe (and any meta-universe which may include it). Finally, science fiction gives the would-be builder of worlds a place to play. While fantasy does the same, science fiction imposes certain constraints – and as many a poet would testify, some constraints can actually spur creativity. At any rate, I find satisfaction in knowing that what I have imagined, or what another author lays before me, could possibly exist.

What do you think makes a great story?
This is a YMMV (your mileage may vary) preference -- but for me, a truly great story has intriguing and (at least some) likeable characters and a page-turning plot, and leads the reader to contemplate and re-examine some fundamental aspect of the human condition.

What is your latest book called and could you explain to us in 20 words what it is about?
It's called Wander Home. (Taking a deep breath before my 20-word attempt:) In the afterlife, Eleanor struggles to understand why she abandoned her daughter. Will the paradoxical memories haunting her provide answers? (Phew!) I'd like to add that this very abbreviated summary leaves out several characters well worth meeting: Eleanor's daughter Cassidy, Eleanor's parents Jack and Sarah, and (possibly my favorite) Eleanor's grandmother Amanda. And then there are Mateo and Jordana, whose role in the book I will leave the reader to discover.

Which kind of reader do you think will enjoy your book?
Fortunately, I just wrote a blog post answering this question, so I'll crib from it. J
Wander Home may appeal to readers interested in family relationships, unfinished business, and forgiveness. And of course, if someone on your holiday gift list is fascinated by varying visions of the afterlife, I really believe they'd enjoy adding this one to their collection. In this afterlife, one may be any age at any time, depending upon one's mood and the needs of the moment. One may relive any memory, or any remembered place, and share it with others. In fact, two people who were both part of the remembered scene can relive it from each other's point of view. Several of the characters traveled a good deal in life, and the afterlife provides more opportunities to explore the world left behind -- so there are quite a few glimpses of exotic locales. The well-traveled reader may recognize some of them -- and those who dream of traveling may appreciate the preview.
Wander Home contains three quite different happy marriages. (There's another marriage that succeeded well enough until the principals encountered the conditions of the afterlife. As the wife put it: "We don't know how much of what we do is habit and the expectations of others, until everything is different around us, and no one expects anything.") This aspect of the story may interest readers who like exploring different ways in which marriages do and don't work. Finally, Wander Home plays around quite a bit with the idea of what it means and how it feels to be different ages. The book may offer amusement, or something more, to young people trying to imagine what it would be like -- and how it could be bearable -- to get older; or to mature adults, recalling or trying to recall what it felt like to be a teenager or a child.

Is it a Standalone, or part of the series? If it the latter, how long do you think will it go on?
At this point, it's a stand-alone. That said, I can easily imagine writing short stories set in this afterlife, and possibly another novel or two.

What influenced or inspired you writing it?
I wish I could remember where the idea came from, as this isn't the first time someone's asked me! But I have an abiding interest in the themes explored in this story.

Why did you choose especially this title? Was it your first choice?
I have to laugh about this question, because Wander Home wasn't my first, second, or third choice, and it took months for me to finally find it. At one point, I had a six-page list of potential titles, all of which I checked out on Amazon to see how many times they'd been used.
My working title was Reflections, which I thought reflected (sorry) some of the themes and plot elements of the book. Beta readers found it less appropriate, as well as somewhat humdrum. I also found that there were quite a few books with the same or almost the same title, including one recent novel with some thematic overlap.
In trying to find a new title, I read or reread quite a few poems, as I've always liked book titles derived from poetry. This process led me to The Story of Our Days, from a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh. It turned out that the title reminded too many people of the soap opera The Days of Our Lives -- and also misled some people into expecting a memoir.
My poetry reading led to a few other possible titles, including Nor Whence Nor Whither, an altered version of a line from a stanza in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The problem: even people who liked the title had trouble remembering it. I also considered two titles drawn from Shakespeare, Fear No More and Rounded with a Sleep -- but neither quite fit (and Fear No More sounded more like a murder mystery or thriller). Finally, I followed some advice I found online, and made a list of every word, image or theme that came to mind when I thought about my book. Then I started throwing different words together until something stuck. I chose Wander Home because it suggests Eleanor's journey, and I liked its paradoxical flavor and its touch of optimism.

What was the hardest part for you working on your book?
When I started the book -- and for quite a while during the process of writing it -- I had no idea why Eleanor had left the daughter she loved so much. Figuring out just what had happened, and then making that answer work in the story, wasn't easy.
Was there a scene that you didn’t want to add or remove in your finished work? I reluctantly removed one (mildly presented) erotic encounter because it didn't work by itself, and I didn't think that building a subplot around it would help the story. (I may eventually post it as an extra on my website, www.KarenAWyle.net.)
Do you already know what to do next?
Yup! I need to continue editing the sequel to Twin-Bred (tentatively titled Reach: A Twin-Bred Novel) and send it to some beta readers.

Where can we find more about you and your books?
As I mentioned already, my author website is at www.KarenAWyle.net -- though I don't update it as often as I should. I do post frequently on my Facebook author page, at www.facebook.com/KarenAWyle. I tweet as @WordsmithWyle. I have an Amazon Author Central page at amazon.com/author/karenawyle, and a Goodreads profile at http://www.goodreads.com/kawyle. Finally, I have a blog, Looking Around, at http://looking-around.blogspot.com.

Any last words?
This may be a good time to mention what Twin-Bred is about. Twin-Bred addresses the question: can interspecies diplomacy begin in the womb? After seventy years on the planet Tofarn, the human colonists still understand very little about the native Tofa -- and vice-versa. Dr. Mara Cadell has a radical proposal: that host mothers carry fraternal twins, one human and one Tofa, in the hope that the bond between twins can help to bridge the gap between species. But will the Twin-Bred bring peace, war, or something else entirely? Thanks, Patrick!

Wander Home 

Death is what you make it. . . . Eleanor never wanted to leave the daughter she loved so much. The overpowering urge to wander -- to search, without knowing what she sought -- drove her away. She left little Cassidy in her family's loving care. But Cassidy and the others died in an accident before Eleanor could find her way home. Now, they are all reunited, in an afterlife where nothing is truly lost: places once loved may be revisited, memories relived and even shared. Surely this is a place where they can understand and heal. And yet, the restlessness that shaped Eleanor's life still haunts her in death. Somehow, she must solve the mystery of her life -- or none of them will be at peace.

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