I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Karen DeGroot Carter because she contributed Barbie-girl, a short memoir, to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood anthology. Karen and I recently completed an interview via email, and the more I know of her, the more I am drawn to her unique mix of intelligence, insight and humility.
Now for the interview:
1. I get the impression from perusing your website that you feel a kinship with all the folks who play a role in bringing books to life—not just writers, but also the editors, publishers, agents, publicists, reviewers, booksellers and readers. This is a very inclusive view, and not necessarily a perspective all writers share. Have you always seen these people first as book lovers and secondarily as the roles they play in the publishing process? How does this inclusiveness inform your writing life and business?
I believe this view of the publishing industry stems from my employment in the creative services and marketing departments of Ingram Book Company, a major book distributor near Nashville, in the early 1990s. I learned a lot about the publishing industry while working there. While I started out producing employee newsletters at Ingram, I eventually progressed to working on marketing projects and writing executive speeches. I learned about the American Booksellers Association and the Book Industry Study Group and was impressed by the fact that the industry was driven by people like me who simply loved books. Eventually I also helped manage company book signings and other events for visiting authors as diverse as John Grisham, Ivana Trump, LaVyrle Spencer, Oliver North, H. Jackson Brown, children’s author and illustrator Helen Oxenbury, plus others. Interacting with authors and sometimes their publisher’s associates made me realize the industry attracts a wide range of fascinating people who love what they do.
I believe this inclusiveness has had the greatest impact on my eagerness to network with and learn from other authors and just about anyone else who works in the publishing industry. Since I include self-publishing in the industry this includes not only reps and editors in major houses as well as literary agents but those who write, edit, format, publish, and promote all types of books. My broad interest in the industry also contributes to my editing business as I receive referrals from many of these people and almost always end up completely engaged in each project I take on, regardless of its genre. There’s something about the collaborative creative process that fuels my drive to help make authors’ manuscripts shine.
2. I just purchased the ebook of your first novel, One Sister’s Song. Obviously, I liked the way you presented the book enough to want to read it. What did you enjoy about writing the book, and what do you think I’m likely to enjoy about the book when I read it?
First of all, thank you so much for buying my book! One Sister’s Song was a labor of love that took 10 years for me to write, revise, and see published. Writing it was a learning experience that introduced me to the many benefits of joining a solid critique group and workshopping stories. I was then fortunate enough to sell the manuscript to a small publishing house here in Denver, Pearl Street Publishing, and to work with a great developmental editor there who guided me through filling out scenes and adding some extra dimensions to the narrative.
While I think you’ll enjoy the primary story of Audrey and her nephew and the struggles they face as they cope with a recent loss and issues related to their mixed-race family, I believe most readers are especially intrigued by the parallel history running through the book related to the old farmhouse Audrey recently inherited from her sister. Working this layer into my novel required extensive research into the abolitionist movement, especially in upstate New York where I grew up. I’ve always loved research so this requirement only added to the fun of writing One Sister’s Song.
3. You’ve recently completed a second novel. What is it about and why did you write it? Will you publish it through a traditional publisher or self-publish? Why?
Set in the 1970s in upstate New York (I obviously love my home state!), Under the Humming Tide is about a woman with a daughter with Down Syndrome and an autistic brother no one knows about. When she learns her brother may be forced to leave his home in Maine, she travels there to reconnect with him after 13 years in the hopes of learning from him how to better cope with some of her daughter’s worrisome new behaviors.
This book was inspired by friends with children with special needs. I am always impressed by parents who somehow manage to not only cope with the daily challenges of raising their families, but to do whatever it takes to help their children thrive even when significant obstacles are thrown in their paths. When such efforts result in the parent’s growth and strength as well, they become fodder for a compelling story.
My friend and literary agent, Cicily Janus of Janus Artistic Services, is shopping the book around to publishers. I would love to see it find a home with a publishing house that cares about the story, but will certainly look into self-publishing options down the line if it doesn’t sell. I love that authors have so many options today and honestly believe the self-publishing route is a great way for those who are willing to actively self-promote to get their foot in the door of the industry.
4. You wrote that you promote tolerance and celebrate diversity on your blog, Beyond Understanding. How did this issue come to be central to your life, and why is your blog devoted to it?
This issue is near and dear to my heart thanks to my husband and his family. My in-laws married in 1964, when interracial marriages were still illegal in some states. My husband and his sisters are half French Canadian and half African American. They grew up near my town and were some of the few students of color in their very large high school. Through the years I’ve learned from my husband about the discrimination he’s faced, and at times I’ve witnessed it first-hand. When it came time to promote my novel, which includes some scenes based on my husband’s experiences, I launched my blog, BEYOND Understanding. BEYOND Understanding eventually took on a life of its own and expanded to cover numerous topics related to diversity. It also includes a growing list of resources that promote tolerance and celebrate diversity for others interested in researching these issues.
5. You also write short stories and poems. Are you working on any chapbooks or collections right now?
I do hope to someday put together a poetry chapbook, though I’m afraid my poetry has been set aside for some time now. It was so gratifying, however, to see a poem I wrote about my son 20 years ago recently published with beautiful artwork in the online journal When Women Waken. Another poem written many years ago was published earlier this year on MountainGazette.com. Such publications do inspire me to revisit my poetry soon and to add to the dozen or so poems I’ve written that I believe are worth publishing. Poetry is such an emotional outlet for me; I always enjoy returning to it and wonder why it’s taken me so long.
I’ve been writing short stories for many years as well, and recently started working on a novella that I hope will fill out my current collection-in-progress. While my short stories have won recognition in Writer’s Digest and Glimmer Train Stories competitions, they have yet to be published in literary journals. So one of my goals is to continue to increase my submissions, though I find this takes a lot of time away from my other work. Luckily I’ve found the website Duotrope.com definitely helps on that front.
I loved the idea of joining a legion of sister writers in a project devoted to sisters. And I was thrilled when my essay “Barbie-girl” was selected for publication in the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology. I’m from a large family and my one older sister, Lisa, has been a force in my life for as long as I can remember. She is also one of the strongest people I know who has reinvented herself and her career many times over. This essay honors her and all other strong sisters who lead and inspire the rest of us to plow through challenges, confident that such efforts will in some way have a positive impact on our lives and the lives of those we love.
7. Where can people find out more about you?
My husband thinks it’s fun to Google my name and see all the links that pop up. I’ve been active online since the early days of blogging, so there are plenty. Many of those links as well as some personal writings are on my author website, KarenDeGrootCarter.com. For information on my editing service, readers can visit my Karen Carter Communications web page. I’m also a regular on Facebook, where I can be reached at http://www.facebook.com/KarenDeGrootCarter. I love to connect with other book lovers!
Karen’s last sentence sure looks like an invitation to connect. Why not reach out to her on Facebook or through her website? And if you’d like to pre-order Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood, just send an email to info [at] word forest [dot] com.