My guest author today has a unique background and thus a unique world view. Please help me welcome Karla Huebner to the interview hot seat! A quick peek at her bio and then we’ll find out the answers to several burning questions…
Karla Huebner has lived on a boat and worked in factories, offices, theater, publishing, oil refineries, private investigation, and adolescent drug rehab; most recently she has taught Art History at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Her short fiction has appeared in such places as the Northwest Review, Colorado State Review, Magic Realism, Fantasy Macabre, Weave, and Opossum; and her prize-winning book Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic is available from University of Pittsburgh Press. Her novel In Search of the Magic Theater is just out from Regal House and will be followed by Too Early to Know Who’s Winning (Black Rose, 2023). Her as-yet unpublished story collection Heartwood was a finalist for the 2020 Raz-Shumaker prize.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Karla: The germ of it came to me when I was in my late thirties contemplating making some changes in my life, such as going back to school, and so it occurred to me that someday I might write a novel about a woman at midlife who makes big changes.
Betty: Did you struggle with any part of this story? What and how?
Karla: I wouldn’t say I struggled much with this one, but whenever I was writing in Sarah’s voice (versus Kari’s), I felt a bit like I was choking. Her rhythm is choppier. She’s not a very happy person.
Betty: Which character(s) were the easiest to get to know? Why do you think?
Karla: All of the characters came easily into my head—sort of like channeling spirits—but for readers, I think some people will find Kari easier and others will find Sarah easier. Or who knows, maybe some readers will feel the male characters, who aren’t narrators, are easier to know. I doubt that, though. I think people will relate more either to Kari or Sarah depending in part on age (Kari is nearly twice as old as Sarah) and in part on personality.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Karla: The one small bit of research I recall doing for this involved learning more about the repertoire for cello plus guitar. I remembered hearing a lovely piece on the radio, but couldn’t remember who composed it–and never found out, but did come up with a reasonable set of composers whose work Sarah and Joey could play. Oh, and I also did a very small amount of research on peyote.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Karla: This was definitely a one-draft novel. I changed a word here and there between writing and publication. No real second draft.
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
Karla: Other than that it was several years between having the initial vague idea and writing, it took about three months to write In Search of the Magic Theater. I’d say that’s both typical and atypical for me. In part it depends on how ready I am to write a particular story, and in part it depends on whether I have enough free time to write for at least several hours most days, or have to write in stolen moments here and there (for example, late at night after teaching and working on scholarly projects). I’ve now written four novels and one novella that each took about three months, whereas I’ve finished one novel that I wrote in bits and pieces over ten years, I’ve got three others that are fairly close to done after ten or more years, and you don’t want to know how many more are underway. Some might have been three-month novels if I’d had the time to focus on them, while others just gradually accrete.
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Karla: Probably thus and indeed. I also have a tendency to begin sentences with Well and So, but mainly in my personal writing, not when writing fiction (or so I imagine).
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Karla: I’m not really much of a role-model person as an adult, although there are lots of people (writers and non-writers) whom I admire. When I was a kid planning to become a writer, I’d say my author role models were Marguerite Henry, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and Shakespeare (!). I don’t write much like any of them today!
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Karla: Nope, I move around. Different rooms in the house, different cafes, the library, friends’ homes when visiting. Airplanes, trains, occasionally buses if the ride’s not too short or bumpy. My camping trailer. Wherever I am, so long as the surroundings aren’t too distracting. It’s helpful to have internet to look things up, but that can be distracting.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Karla: I’ve usually had a day job, although for many years I made sure they were varied and didn’t take too much thought. Then I became an art historian, which is a pretty enjoyable occupation for those lucky enough to get a job in the field, which I was. However, being a professor doesn’t leave a lot of time or mental energy for writing fiction.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Karla: Ask me again in ten years.
Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?
Karla: In genre fiction, I’ve always read a lot of mysteries. Otherwise, I gravitate toward magical realism and to authors who don’t really fit any particular genre—Colette, Italo Calvino, Heinrich Böll, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Muriel Spark, Javier Marias, Toni Morrison, André Alexis. I’d like to add more living writers to that list. Oh, and I’m a great fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, which I guess you could call paranormal magical mystery-thriller humorous escapades.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Karla: Well, inner joy at having written things that I’m very pleased with is key, but also finding readers—ideally lots of them—for whom my work resonates. Since I’m not content to write solely for myself, success for me does ultimately mean publishing and finding my audience and even earning money.
Why, the rather staid young cellist Sarah wonders, should her aunt rent their spare room to the perhaps unstable Kari Zilke? Like the nephew in Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Sarah finds herself taking an unexpected interest in the lodger, but she is unable to stop at providing a mere introduction to Kari’s narrative of mid-life crisis and self-discovery, and develops her own more troubled tale of personal angst and growth, entwined with the account Kari herself purportedly left behind. Generational tensions, artistic collaborations, and even a romance steeped in Greek myth follow as Kari and Sarah pursue their very different creative paths in theater and music. And while Kari seems to blossom post-divorce, Sarah must grapple with the question of what the role of mothers, fathers, aunts, mentors, and male collaborators should be in her life as a young musician.
A one-draft book is quite an accomplishment to my mind, Karla! Way to go! Thanks for stopping by to share your story and your inspiration with us.
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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