The Journey So Far . . .

I'm not sure whether my writing journey mirrors that of other writers or is unique, but people have asked how I came up with my story ideas and got published, so here you go.

I've always been a reader with an imagination that sucked me into the stories I read. That began with my father's reading to me from the day I came home from the hospital until the day he died. Over the years I decided I wanted to write my own endings and create my own stories. In first grade I started writing and illustrating my own books and stapling them together. In second grade I started acting the stories out with my younger brother. We made costumes out of paper, tape, and mostly staples, and became all kinds of things. About that time Star Wars came out in the theaters as well, and after seeing the movie, we started playing what we called "Space," which was basically our version of playing "House." It was certainly a lot more fun than the latter. We rescued princesses and fought with "light sabers" made out of wooden sticks and journeyed all across my grandfather's farm pretending to be something or another. We even tried riding the sheep, but that stropped quickly after my brother, Sean, was bucked off. 

When I was twelve, I read a book by Gordon Korman called "This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall." After reading the book, I looked to the back to find out about the author, and lo and behold, the guy had written the book as an English assignment when he was in 7th grade--the exact grade I was in at the moment. It was the very first time I ever realized I could actually be published. That it wasn't just a dream but a real possibility.

I continued to write poems and short stories, both by myself and with my brother for several years. I was great with dialogue and he was incredible with description. Together we made a great pair. I remember an paper he wrote for an English assignment where he described a tree, and I was astounded at his gift. I could smell that tree, could feel the roughness of the bark. It was REAL. I decided then and there that being good with one aspect of writing was not enough. I needed to be good at much, much more if I ever hoped to be published.

I continued writing stories through high school and and into college, and then my second quarter of college, I got a severe case of mononucleosis. The doctor told me to go home. He said I'd be wasting my time and money staying in school as sick as I was--so I went home. I turns out he was right. For six months my brain would hardly work, I was so exhausted. Finally I got to go back to work, tried returning to school, but it just didn't come together for me. It wasn't until I was a missionary for my church that the idea for what eventually became known as The Sapphire Flute came to me. I was serving in Hartford Connecticut at the time and had a dream about a girl standing outside of a pup tent, a glowing blue sapphire flute in her hand. It was dark, a full moon the only light, with clouds skittering across the sky and mist coming across the nearby river. She put the flute to her lips and began to play. It was a soft, lonesome kind of song, and after a while, a beautiful white wolf with glowing green eyes came through the mist and sat on the bank on the other side of the river. He watched her for a while, his head cocked to the side, then joined in her music, howling harmony to her tune.

That was it. Three short pages on very small paper that gave me the idea that haunted me for several years before I actually sat down to write the story. I was married by then and working at a relay service for the deaf. We had a lot of downtime, with the hours I worked, and my boss was kind enough to let us do other things when we weren't on the phone. A lot of the ladies did crafts. I did too on occasion, but after a while that wasn't enough and I bought a laptop and started writing. I loved the feel of creating these people and letting them live on the page. I only had one real problem.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I wrote the first four chapters. And then I wrote them again. And again. And again. They were different every time. After a while I set it aside, not knowing what to do. I checked out books from the library and bought others. I talked to authors. I went to every event I knew of where authors would be so I could pick their brains. There were two people at that time that made a huge difference for me. The first is Darla Hanks Isackson. She was a friend of my mother's and had been an author and editor for many years. She read some of my poetry and told me, "Karen, the only way you won't get published is if you stop writing." Somebody had finally validated my abilities! The other person to make a difference was Michele Ashman Bell. She was at a Murder Mystery Dinner I attended and I spent a lot of time visiting with her. She also told me I could do this writing thing, and that the most important bit was to just finish, even if it wasn't what I wanted it to be.

I went back home determined to be done with The Sapphire Flute before my next birthday. I worked night and day, though more nights, I must admit, and finally around two o'clock a.m. on the day of my birthday, I typed "THE END" and had finished my first book. That day I celebrated with the people who had made a difference to my writing, inviting them out to have dinner with me. It was one of the most awesome days of my life. I had no idea the real work was about to begin. 

Being a novice, I didn't realize the necessity of editing before submitting a manuscript so started sending it out there. I got several no's, a lot of no answers, and a couple of requests for a partial. The last was thrilling! Eventually, they said no, as it wasn't ready, and looking back I can see why. For many years I was devastated, thinking that my manuscript was total garbage, and so I started on another, thinking that would get me published. I finished manuscript number two, and then something amazing happened.

I discovered writing conferences.

I was trying to find out when a book by James Dashner was going to be released, and discovered he was going to be at a writing conference at the university just sixty miles away. And the conference was FREE! There was no keeping me from that one. While there, I met James, and Brandon Sanderson (before his first book had even been released) and more authors than I could count, many of which have become dear, dear friends. James invited me to another conference, and while I could not attend that year, I came the following year and every year since. That conference, the LDStorymakers Conference, was where I finally learned to write. They had this awesome thing called Boot Camp, that gave me a chance to have my own work critiqued in a small group setting, learning about different elements of writing as I went. The first year was awesome. The second year, they started a first chapter contest. Nervous and on a whim, I decided to enter. As they announced the winners, I heard my name called. I'd won second place in the fantasy category for one of my chapters. As I was walking back to my seat, shaking and looking at my certificate, thrilled as could be, the first place winner was called. I didn't even hear who it was. Dead silence surrounded me. Then applause roared. The voice of my friend James Dashner called from behind me. "Karen, come back! You won again!" I turned around, totally flabbergasted. I'd won first AND second place in fantasy, and that first place win was for The Sapphire Flute. I realized one again that maybe it had some potential and I started to edit it.

The next year at the conference I entered again. That year I won first in fantasy, and the following year, 2009, I won the grand prize over every other category. Later that day, I was sitting in a chair talking to one of my author friends. I had my manuscript out with a publisher and hadn't heard back for five months and was worried. Candace told me she was starting her own publishing company and that if things didn't work out with the other one to come to her. I jokingly said, "Yeah, I'll tell her to hurry up, I have another offer on the table."

Candace slapped her hand down on the table and said "YOU DO!"

That was that for me. I really thought about it for a while, and finally realized I had to follow my heart, and I signed a contact with Valor Publishing Group in May 2009. The Sapphire Flute was release in March 2010. 

In 2011 Valor went out of business. To say I was a bit freaked out would be a bit of an understatement. What was I going to do now? I contacted publishers, but no one seemed interested in taking on a series that had already been started. After three months of worrying and praying over it, I finally decided to go independent and publish the rest of the series myself, and boy am I glad I did! It's not that being independent has brought me more sales--it hasn't. But the joy in writing I'd lost came back and now I can't write fast enough. I hired an artist and an editor and decided to make this book as professional as I possibly could.

The Armor of Light, Book two in The Wolfchild Saga was released in August of 2011. I did all the typesetting myself and released it in both paper and e-book form.

In December 2011 I released The Misadventures of a Teenage Wizard: Two Souls Are Better Than One. Three days after being released, I received notice that it had been nominated for a Whitney Award. The Armor of Light  had also been nominated, as well as The Sapphire Flute the year before.

I participated in NaNoWriMo in November of 2011 and in nine days of writing I wrote over 62,000 words. I actually finished a book in nine freakin' days! It was the most awesome feeling. 

It has been an amazing journey. I have no idea where the future is going to take me, but I love being a writer. I love hearing from people telling me how much they loved it. I love hearing them say they hated reading before my book and now they can't get enough. I love knowing that in my own small way I can make a difference. 

And that, my friends, is really what it's all about. Making a difference in whatever way we can.