This month, I was lucky enough to sit down with Karen Richard in person to interview her for the Writing Academy blog. Karen won a Goldie Award for her incredible collection of short stories, Women of the Year. She recently appear at the GCLS members-only online book club to discuss that collection. Today, we got together to talk about that book, upcoming projects, and her time at the academy.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. Of course, the first thing I want to ask about is Women of the Year. How did that come about?
Great question. In 2015 my publisher, Bedazzled decided to run a contest to publish a book of short stories. They asked for stories set in January that did not deal with the New Year. I wrote the story about protesters outside an abortion clinic as the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision is in January. The February story could not include a Valentine’s Day theme and the March story had to take place in a city with a lake.
I kept entering stories but didn’t get any feedback. I later heard that there had not been enough interest in the contest to warrant continuing. However, my stories were good enough that they contacted me and asked me to write more. They wanted to put out a collection of my stories. I decided to keep going with the theme of a story set in each month.
Who does that even happen to?
I know! How lucky am I? It was a total fluke and then the book ended up winning a Goldie for anthology.
I was sitting at your table at the GCLS conference when you won! What a moment. It also received an honorable mention from the Rainbow Awards. Where can people find that book now?
It’s available on Amazon both in print and ebook format.
Short stories are obviously your forte. Are you planning a full-length novel anytime soon?
I do love short stories but I am working on a novel a romantic comedy, emphasis on the comedy, called Salem’s Butch Trials. I hope to provides some laughs at traditional lesbian experiences, like the U-Haul to a second date, for example.
But you always come back to your love of short stories. You’re working on another collection as we speak, aren’t you?
Boy do I ever because I have an awesome co-author for that collection. The working title is I Gotta Quit Drinking. It is not stories about recovery although that might appear—who knows, the stories aren’t all written yet. But rather they are stories in which drinking was something that happened along the way in the story. Some of them have done stupid things because of drinking. Some have already quit drinking, often because of an event that inspired them to do so. It’s like I used to say when someone did something silly or stupid at work, hey you gotta quit putting vodka in your orange juice at breakfast. In case the readers haven’t divined yet, Beth Burnett is the co-author for the stories. We are hoping to have it ready to pitch by the beginning of the year.
Speaking of short stories, you went super short recently for a micro fiction contest. Tell me about that process.
Wow, first it was so much fun. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in writing short fiction to participate. Close to 4000 people were in this one and every single story gets feedback. The contest will send you a genre (and their website contains descriptions of the genres), an action that must happen in the story (mine was applying a bandage) and a word that must be used (mine was anonymous). You’re assigned these three things at midnight and have until 11:59 the next day to submit the 250-word story. It was such a great contest and I am really looking forward to hearing what the judges have to say.
Here’s my story it’s called The Profound Silences:
The silences between the shots is a deeper quiet than I have ever heard. The door to the locker room where the softball team is hiding flies open and bangs into the wall. Jason, the baseball team’s superstar pitcher, staggers in. He’s wearing a white T-shirt with some weird red design. Only it’s not a design at all but blood. I pull a shirt out of my gym bag and toss it to Meghan, my girlfriend, who applies it to his wound as a bandage.
Fuck this. If I’m going down in a school shooting, I’m going down swinging. I stand by the door gripping my Jessica Mendoza brand aluminum bat. When the shooter comes through the door I’m not going to hide, or scream, or beg.
The silence is broken only by the ticking of a clock I never noticed before, though I spent much of my life in the locker room. I could feel the fight or flight hormones flooding my system. If a bunch of slaughtered kindergarten kids didn’t force the government into action, another shooting at another high school surely wouldn’t make a difference. Can anyone remember the names of the slaughtered children? I am not going to be another anonymous victim. I am choosing to be a hero or at least to fight back.
Are those footsteps? My life, my future will be irrevocably changed in the next few seconds. I grip the bat as the door begins to move.
I love that story! Your genre was action. Is that a preferred genre for you?
I have never written anything in the action genre before, but it was fun! I don’t think I have a preferred genre for writing though horror would be hard for me as I scare so easily. I guess when it comes to genre for writing I am kind of pan. For reading though I am definitely a romance lover.
There’s nothing wrong with spreading the love to different genres. After all, you’ll probably get a different genre for the next round. That same group has a short story contest coming up in January. (Ed. Note. We are in no way affiliated with this group, nor do we receive any benefits from them for touting their contests.) Are you planning on entering that one, too?
Yes! It was such a fun and great experience. A few more words to work with will be better as well. The micro fiction limit of 250 words is tough. And if I can do a 250-word short story in 24 hours then why not a 3000 word short story in the same amount of time?
So you’re saying you thrive on pressure. Speaking of pressure, you work full-time and travel for work three weeks out of each month. You’re working on a novel and you’re trying to complete the Drinking anthology before the end of the year. Added to that, you’re going through the GCLS Writing Academy this year for the second time. What inspired that decision?
Well, I really wanted to kickstart myself on finishing the novel. I have been kicking the idea of Salem around for several years and just never finished it. Since I will have a GCLS mentor to assist me with the novel, I have to buckle down and do it. Getting the technical stuff correct for that process is why I am doing the academy again. It’s such a great experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn or even fine tune their skills. Plus, I had one free hour a week so…
Where do you get your inspiration to write on top of all the other things you’re doing?
I get inspiration everywhere. As you know, my Mom came to GCLS this year. (Ed. Note. We adore Karen’s mom.) One of the people at the Con was telling me that her mom came to an event with a lot of lesbians but insisted on holding her purse in front of her across her chest like it had lesbian repelling properties. Let me assure you that a lesbian repelling purse will appear in a book or short story in the future! I always have my phone with me so I will text myself ideas or jot them down. I transfer everything to my big short story idea board in my office at home. Some of them are just a one-word idea and others started with a concept and then built from there, so I added more notes. I can always find a minute or two to jot an idea down. Then, when I have the time or make the time to write I go to the big idea board and see what moves me. I have another story board with novel notes. I am trying to use the same process but since I haven’t actually written the novel yet I am not sure if works the same.
What is the best piece of advice you would give someone just starting the academy this year?
Make time to write. In our Facebook group, we are asking classmates to do word sprints. At the end of the day you post what you wrote for the day. Even if it is a small amount, the accountability helps. Find some time to put your butt in the chair and write the words.
I like to ask everyone this question—what are you reading right now?
I just finished Ali Vali’s latest called Double Crossed. That’s an action adventure bad girl romance right there! Next up is Fire and Ice by Rachel Spangler!
Lastly, is there anything else you want us to know that I haven’t asked?
The dog in the April story of Women of the Year is based on a real life dog. Here’s my rescue dog, Parker.
The GCLS Writing Academy is a yearlong intensive program for new or relatively new writers who have written at least part of a novel. In this course, students will learn the critical components of quality writing. The Writing Academy goes beyond craft of writing and takes students through all aspects of writing and publishing a novel.