Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies and fictional British men. When she’s not writing, she can be found cooking extravagant meals and serving them to family and friends, who never seem to mind the excessive quantities she tends to prepare. She attributes her ability to multitask to the fact that she rarely sleeps, which gives her more hours every day. Prior to deciding to write full time Karen worked as a hand drawn animator, a clinical therapist, and held various food-related jobs ranging from waitress to specialty cake maker. Planning elaborate parties and fundraisers takes up what’s left of her time and sanity.
1. Do you only love *fictional *British men, or are real ones just as tempting?
Real ones can be just as tempting. I freely admit I’m a sucker for the accent and I love the British sense of humor. I lived in England briefly as a kid and I picked up the accent immediately plus it sparked a love of British comedy.
2. Have you ever inspired total strangers to sing along just by saying “Mah num a nuh” in a crowded elevator?
YES! I went to NYU and lived in a very large dormitory. My roommate and I would often say “Mahna mahna” in a crowded elevator and more often than not at least one person would pipe in with the rest of the song. If you haven’t done this, I highly recommend it. Works great in office building and hotel elevators too. Not that I’ve done that. (Okay, I have.)
3. Do you really bribe your writing group with sex (scenes) and chocolate?
I don’t “bribe” them but I do freely provide both and they’re very thankful. I always, always, always bring chocolate to our meetings and I happen to be the only one who’s writing stories that contain sex. When I first joined the group I was very nervous about being the only person writing stories with intimate details because I wasn’t sure how the rest of the group would react. To say they took it well would be an understatement. I started out slowly with some sexy scenes and before long they were actually saying things like “we want the climax, give us the climax”. That in itself was good, the fact that they would yell that at the library was sometimes not so good. Not sure we’re still welcome to meet there.
4. What kind of work did you do as a hand drawn animator?
I interned and later did some freelance projects for an animation studio in NYC. I worked on a few animated TV commercials and on a few segments of the show PeeWee’s Playhouse (no, I never met PeeWee, but I did get to play with a lot of the stuff used on the show).
5. Did your work as a clinical therapist help you to create what is in your characters’ heads?
I’ve always been fascinated by the way people think and how people interact, plus I’ve always been the kind of person people feel comfortable talking to, so it was very natural for me to become a therapist. It’s hard to say if having worked as a therapist helps me create what’s in my character’s heads or if I just treat my characters like I treat real people: I’m a good listener and I keep and open mind and try not to judge.
6. Long-Distance Lovers, the erotic romance novel you co-wrote with Karen Booth, came out from Ellora’s Cave on March 9, 2012. How has this first week felt?
This is my second release and it’s no less stressful than the first. I get very nervous waiting to hear what people think.
7. How did you meet Karen Booth?
Karen Booth and I met on Nathan Bransford’s forums. Karen B had posted a question asking about how you warn friends/beta readers that your novel contains sexual content. I answered her post because, as I said above, I’d had to deal with the issue in my writing group. The conversation quickly turned into a PM discussion, and we discovered that we were both in the same place with our full length women’s fiction books—pretty much done,
but in need of line edits. We became critique partners and swapped manuscripts and wound up becoming very close friends. We have a scary-weird amount of stuff in common and we both work at the same uber-driven breakneck pace. We’re very compatible as critique partners and, in spite of our very different sleep schedules, we’re very good roommates too. We attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC in January of 2011 (first time we met in person after 9 months of working
together) and we enjoyed a Girl’s Getaway weekend together this past Fall to celebrate signing our contracts.
8. Is there a lot of you in the character of Marienne and how she cooks?
Marienne is a very nurturing character so that’s why she cooks but the cooking scenes were easy for me to write in great detail because I do a ton of cooking. I get asked the question about whether or not my characters are based on real people and the answer is no, not at all. Just because they may share a trait or two with someone (or me) doesn’t mean they’re based on that person. I get to know my characters as unique individuals before I start writing their stories. It wouldn’t work for me
to ever put a lot of someone I know in real life into a particular
character. A lot of people tell me they see themselves in my characters, and I think that’s good, because it means they relate to the characters on a personal level, but make no mistake, they’re entirely fictional beings.
9. What’s the most creative cake you’ve ever decorated?
The two most creative cakes I’ve ever decorated were for children’s birthday parties. One was for a jungle themed party and I made a volcano cake, complete with spewing lava made from melted Jolly Ranchers so that even the lava was edible. The other was a Hogwarts cake for Harry Potter party. The turrets are made of Hershey bars and chocolate dipped ice cream cones and when it was time to serve the cake small glow sticks were placed in the turrets so light would glow from the windows.
10. Some of your novels are labeled “erotic romance” and others “sexy women’s fiction.” Do you have rules for how sensual you write the sex scenes when you’re writing one or the other?
My first novel (Meant To Be, which is due out from Turquoise Morning Press in August) is sexy women’s fiction. It’s a novel about couples and the story, as I saw it, needed to have detailed sex scenes. I wasn’t writing it to fit into any genre, I just wrote the story that was in my head. Later, when it was done and I was trying to place it, I realized it was a little sexier than some women’s fiction tends to go. That’s just my writing style. I am not a fan of the fade to black sex scene and I also wholeheartedly believe that if it’s important to the character and it effects the character then the reader should know about it. In a book about relationships, this includes the sex. I describe the food in detail, I describe the emotions in detail and I describe the sex in detail. Those are my priorities.
I never set out to write erotic romance, but when I was on submission with Meant To Be my writing group was complaining that they missed having me submit my steamy scenes. I wrote my first erotic romance novel for them, on a whim. I had no idea I’d wind up submitting that story and it would be the first thing I got published. Good thing my group demanded more sex scenes or I might still be unpublished!
11. When did you get serious about writing and why?
I’ve always taken writing seriously and I’ve written all my life. I didn’t get serious about pursuing publication until I completed Meant To Be. It was a story I’d had in my head for so long (8 years) that when I finally started writing it I couldn’t stop until it was done. And then I couldn’t let it go until it found a home.
12. What was your path to publication? What’s different about your
My path to publication was an interesting one. I had submitted Meant To Be to numerous agents with a variety of results. I got a lot of requests for fulls and partials and a lot of positive feedback, but the conscensus was that it was going to be difficult to place. It’s a love story rather than a romance, it’s women’s fiction, but the main character is a man, and it’s
got a higher level of sexual content than your typical women’s fiction. It breaks a lot of rules. When I wrote the erotic romance for my group I had a writer friend convince me to send it to some epublishers and small presses. I wound up getting four offers on it, much to my shock. I accepted an offer from Ellora’s Cave. One of the other companies offered on it the day I’d decided to go with Ellora’s Cave so I told the acquisitions editor that I’d already accepted an offer but that I hoped I’d have the chance to work with her on another project. She asked if I
had anything else and I told her I had a completed novel, but that it was considerably over the word count limit for her company. She told me she liked my writing enough that she’d still be interested in taking a look. Six weeks later I signed a contract with her at Turquoise Morning Press and about a month later I signed with them for the sequel as well. So, had
I not written the erotic romance I might still be trying to place my women’s fiction piece. Everything happens for a reason. Or, as my friends always joke, “it was just Meant To Be.”
Ellora’s Cave and Turquoise Morning Press are very different companies. EC deals almost exclusively with erotic romances (they have one line that is non-erotic romance, but they’re best known for their Romantica) and, although they do some print books, they are largely an e-publisher. Turquoise Morning Press is a small press publisher. Any works over 40k are simultaneously released as both trade paperbacks and e-books and they publish a wide variety of genres (ranging from women’s fiction and romance to erotic romance to Young Adult). I’m very lucky to be working with both of these publishers because they’re extremely professional and they work very hard to put out good books.
13. Were any changes suggested to you that you were reluctant to
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky so far and have yet to have an editor suggest a change that I was at all hesitant to make. Very lucky. I’m knocking on wood right now.
14. What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?
I would be lost without my laptop. Literally. I have no idea how to use my GPS so I still look up directions online.
15. What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?
I’m a lifelong pen enthusiast. I love a good pen. My favorite at the moment are the Sharpie fine line no-bleed pens. I like a nice smooth writing instrument and always use black ink.
16. What is the most persistent distraction from writing?
Squirrel. Wait, that’s not me. Although a squirrel could easily distract me at times. When I have a story in my head I’m actually not very easily distracted. I’m more the type of person who is scribbling on the back of a receipt I dug out of my purse because I “saw” a scene while I was on line at the store and I’m afraid I’ll forget it if I don’t let it spill out immediately.
17. What is your ideal writing environment? Have you ever been able to create it?
I don’t write stuff until I see it play out in my head and once that
happens my environment doesn’t matter at all. I’ve written in hotels, at other people’s houses, at the library, a café, in line at the bank, on toilet paper in the bathroom with eyeliner at 4am. I’m very easy to please, environment wise. The majority of my writing takes place at my tiny kitchen desk which is smack dab in the middle of my house. I don’t mind having stuff go on around me while I’m writing. Once I see it and I’m ready to write all I need is paper or my laptop and I’m set.
18. Many writers go through a stage when they hate what they’re writing. Do you ever feel this way?
I never go through that while I’m writing a particular story. If I’m not in love with my characters, I’m not writing their story. After I’m done, while I’m editing, hell yes I feel that way. When I’m editing there are days when literally every sentence looks wrong or I can think of 7 ways to rewrite it. Those are the days that I know I need to stop editing.
19. What social media do you use? Do you use them solely for promotion, or do you have fun?
I use Facebook and Twitter. I prefer the chat room nature of Twitter so I’m much more active on there. Although I do some promotion I mainly do it because I have fun. I’ve met tons of people on Twitter who I never would have met any other way and I love that. I’m a very social person but writing is a very isolating profession. Twitter is my break room and my out for drinks with co-workers, not to mention my late-night friend who never sleeps.
20. Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Han! Without question. First off, it fit his character—you can be a good guy and a badass at the same time, if you’re Han. And second, I don’t believe in changing stories after the fact. Like I said, I “see” stories play out before I write them and at that point what I saw is what happened. Period. What I write is a retelling of what I’ve seen. Han shot first. End of discussion. You can’t change history.
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