“My hair was so much redder then, I’m browner than that now.”
When I was growing up in Denver, I dreamed of becoming an artist or a writer. However, I’d never actually met anyone who made a living doing either job. So, I opted to become a lawyer instead. Somehow, it made sense at the time. My legal career lasted until my firm sent me to the SEC to represent a guy whose financial futures fund was under attack. I didn’t know what a financial futures fund was. I still don’t. But I represented him anyway, falling asleep during the proceedings. The room was hot and the discussion soooo boring. I’m only telling you this because the statute of limitations for malpractice has run. I took this experience as a sign that I should find a different path. [Note: a year later this man was murdered. My pathetic lawyering had nothing to do with it, but isn't that sad?] My next pursuit – advertising for American Express – lasted fifteen years. I worked my way up to Vice President. Then one day, my world came crashing in. My boss called me into his office and said the two words dreaded by corporate drones everywhere: “You’re downsized.”
Psychic #1. Having no idea what to do with my life, I went to a psychic. The psychic told me to relax. In a few years, something huge would happen. It would change my life forever and I would finally have the career of my dreams. In the meantime, with two kids to support, she suggested that I find something meaningful to do that paid the rent.
Living in New York City, the most painful experience a parent endures is getting her kids into school. The top public schools are so competitive. And private schools put children and parents through admissions hell. If you aren’t connected, famous, or super wealthy, you’re screwed. So, I partnered with a friend who had tons of experience (and a Masters Degree) in counseling families on education matters and started a company helping Manhattanites get their kids into the best schools. Did I personally know about this business? Not really. But hey, I represented a financial futures fund without knowing what one was. How much harder could this be?
The Smart City Kids years. As it turned out, harder than I thought. After researching the ins and outs of Manhattan school admissions, I learned enough to convince others (and myself) that I knew what I was doing. Happily, our families fared well. More importantly, I had a ringside seat at the crazy Manhattan admissions circus. Don’t get me wrong. 99.99% of our families were fabulous. And the children we worked with were wonderful, as children naturally are. But there were always a handful of difficult parents who would lose it. There were screaming matches, threats and outrageous behavior – all in the name of getting children into the most desired school. We were written about in Forbes and The New York Times. I appeared on 20/20. It was a heady time, but there was one problem. The business could support one person, but not two. I decided to quit so that at least my partner could make a good living. She has gone on to turn the company into a million dollar plus business, so I’m really proud of her and not jealous at all. I swear!!!!
Psychic #2. I needed a new direction so I went to see another psychic. Like the first one, she told me a change was in the offing. It was huge. “Can you give me a hint?” I asked. “I don’t want to miss it.” “Don’t worry,” she said, “it’ll be like hitting a brick wall at 100 mph.”
Chasing my dream. My husband and children held an intervention imploring me to get a real job with a regular paycheck and paid vacation. I had a better idea. Why not write a bestselling novel inspired by my experiences helping kids get into schools? “How long will that take?” My husband asked. “Three months,” I assured him. Did I know anything about writing a novel? No. But everyone said that my annual Christmas letter was really funny. How much harder could this be?
Lots of Hard Work. Okay, it was harder. Working day and night, I finished the first draft in three months. A friend arranged for me to show it to a well-known editor. When I took it to her mailroom, the magnitude of the odds I faced became clear. That room was filled with dozens of huge containers holding thousands of rejected manuscripts sent by others who, like me, fantasized about living the writer’s life. Still, I dropped my script off and waited anxiously. A few weeks later, the editor called. She said she liked the first 100 pages, but then lost interest. “Good luck,” she said. “Be sure to show it to me if you rewrite it.” Ouch.
Setbacks and Breakthroughs. For three weeks, I was too discouraged to write. When my son told me to get a job like a normal mom, I went back to the computer with new resolve. For the next two months I edited and polished, working fourteen hours a day. Then it hit me. Maybe this was the big thing those psychics had predicted. I finished the book with new confidence. If two independent psychics predicted it, how wrong could they be? With my second draft complete, I needed an agent. Agents can be as tough to get as publishers. But the stars aligned in my favor. I mentioned to our babysitter that I had written a book. “Oh, I know an agent. Do you want me to call her for you?” “Absolutely,” I said. Even though our babysitter had not talked to this woman in ten years, she got her number from directory assistance and dialed her immediately.The agent told me she wasn’t taking new clients, but she’d read the book and give me advice. A week later, she called to say she loved it. Could she represent me?
You Never Know Who Can Help. Meanwhile, my husband mentioned that the couple we were traveling with to the World Track and Field Championships both worked in publishing, but he had no clue what they did. He offered to call them for me. The next day, he asked, “have you heard of a book called “The Devil Wears Prada?” “Sure,” I told him. It turned out that Stacy, our traveling companion, was the editor of that book. As a favor, she agreed to read my manuscript. At the track meet, I asked her if she liked it. She apologized, saying she hadn’t had time to read it. I figured she must have hated it but didn’t want to tell me and ruin our vacation.
The Most Exciting Day Ever! We came back to New York on a Friday. The next Monday morning, I received an e-mail from Stacy. “Karen, I read the book over the weekend. Love it and want to publish it! My screams of joy could be heard all the way in Harlem (and I lived downtown). I called my agent to tell her the good news. She alerted the other editors to whom she had already submitted the book that an offer was coming. By evening, we had three other offers. An auction was held that went on for three days. The book was sold to Viking. My picture appeared in Publisher’s Weekly! Let me tell you, this was way more exciting than hawking credit cards and defending financial futures funds (whatever those are).
Today. After The Ivy Chronicles was sold, I went out and bought every book on “how to write a book” that was ever written. I decided that if I was going to do this for a living, I should learn more about the craft. I’ve now published a second novel, Wife in the Fast Lane, and a third, Holly Would Dream and a fourth, The Sister Diaries, and a fifth (non-fiction) Testing For Kindergarten. For twenty years (until 2009), I lived in New York City with my husband, Mark, and two children, Schuyler and Sam. We have two cats named Smokey and Cookie and two Pomeranians named Olive and Bronco. From 2009 – 2011, we lived in Miami Beach 33 floors high overlooking the ocean. In 2011, we moved to Coronado, CA. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org as I’d love to hear what you think of The Ivy Chronicles, Wife in the Fast Lane, Holly Would Dream, The Sister Diaries, Testing For Kindergarten, or answer any questions you have. Also, if you are on facebook, ask me to be your friend. I promise to say yes!
Interview With Karen Quinn
These questions were posed to me through by an interviewer for her web site. If you’re not absolutely sick of me by now and you want to know more, read on…
Question #1: It’s rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a ‘real’ job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life?
I started out as a lawyer and absolutely hated that. After I dozed off in front of my client during an SEC hearing, I quit that. Luckily, the client died that year so he never sued me for malpractice. Then I moved into marketing and advertising. I worked for American Express for fifteen years until they downsized me. At that point, I came up with the idea of starting a small business helping NYC families get their children into the best private schools. The company was called Smart City Kids – it still exists today. But after two-and-a-half years, I got out. There were too many tears – not from the children, from their parents.
Question #2: What compelled you to write your first book?
After leaving Smart City Kids, my husband wanted me to get a job. We really needed the money. But I had always had a dream about being a writer. I’d never done anything about it – it was like one of those fantasies we have about becoming a movie star. Wait, I take that back. I did always write a holiday letter that everyone said made them laugh. Anyway, I realized that after leaving my company, I had lots of funny stories about my experiences helping these neurotic parents and their adorable kids. So I told my husband that instead of getting a job, I wanted to write a bestseller like The Nanny Diaries about getting kids into private school. Mark asked me how long that would take. I had no idea so I told him three months. He let me go ahead as long as I promised to get a job after three months. I wrote like crazy after that and had a first draft of The Ivy Chronicles done before my deadline. The threat of having to get a real job is a powerful motivator when it comes to writing.
Question #3: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I have always wanted to be a painter. That’s something I love to do and I’m good at it (in a Grandma Moses kind of way). My home is filled with paintings I’ve done. But I discovered when I wrote The Ivy Chronicles that I genuinely love to write. It’s very exciting to discover something new about yourself when you’re in your mid-forties.
Question #4: Tell us a little bit about your book/s. What are their titles; which is your favorite if you have more than one, and briefly let us know what they are about. Pay particular attention to your most recent book and/or your first book:
The Ivy Chronicles is the first book. It is about a woman who reinvents herself after losing everything that is dear to her – her husband, her upper-east-side lifestyle, her job. She starts a business helping families get their children into private school. Through this, she discovers a new life for herself that is better than the old one. I wrote Ivy at a time when I had lost my corporate job and I reinvented myself by becoming an author. So that book is particularly close to my heart. Wife in the Fast Lane is about a mid-western girl, a track star turned businesswoman, who marries a powerful mogul and moves to the upper-east-side. It is about how she juggles the demands of work, love, and motherhood in the most exclusive zip code in Manhattan. Finally, Holly Would Dream is about a woman named Holly who wishes her life was like an Audrey Hepburn-Cary Grant movie, but of course it isn’t, until it is. This one is really a modern day fairy tale that is about all the things I adore – fashion, travel, and old, romantic movies from the 1950’s. Holly Would Dream is my favorite of the three I’ve written. My books tend to be women’s fiction, page-turners, and funny.
Question #5: Are you currently working on any writing projects our readers should watch for release soon?
Just this week it was announced that Sarah Jessica Parker is going to star in The Ivy Chronicles movie. So readers should look out for that. I just completed a fourth book called The Sister Diaries about (ta da!) three sisters who live in Tribeca. I’m also doing a non-fiction book about what parents can do at home to be sure their children are ready for kindergarten.
Question #6: Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?
No, I haven’t. My books are perfect for the beach, long airplane rides, or to take you to another world after a long hard day. I don’t think they give awards for books like that. But they really should, don’t you think? Call me shallow (and I’m sure someone will), but I’d rather read the latest Bushnell than Dostoevsky any day.
Question #7: How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?
It felt like I had accomplished something wonderful. I was so proud of it. No one was home when it arrived so I ran downstairs and showed my doormen. Now they treat me like a movie star and they always buy my books for their mothers and wives.
Question #8: What type of music, if any, do you listen to while you write?
I’m very ADD so I don’t listen to music while I write. When I do listen, it tends to be songs written in the eighties or earlier.
Question #9: What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
When I am really into a good story, I can’t wait to get to the computer. What will my characters do today? I often have plans for them and then they surprise me. When I sit down to write, I can go for a good eight hours.
Question #10: What one thing are you the most proud of in your life?
Professionally, I’m most proud of the fact that I became a published writer – I did something that other people can experience and enjoy. So many people write to me and tell me how much they loved reading my books. That never gets old. I always write people back and thank them because their good words mean so much to me.
Question #11: What about your family? Do you have children, married, siblings, parents? Has your family been supportive of your writing?
In life, I’m most proud of the fact that I have been married to the same wonderful guy for 28 years. We met in law school, so at least I got something out of becoming a lawyer. We have a girl and a boy, Schuyler, seventeen, and Sam, fifteen. I have two brothers and my mom. Dad died a few years ago. It makes me sad that he never got to see me become a writer because he would have loved that. But my whole family is supportive of my writing. Mark and Schuyler come to all my local readings. Sam doesn’t because he’s a teenage boy so he is pretty much sequestered in his room most of the time. Whenever a new book comes out, I always go to Denver (where my mother lives) and she drives me to all my appearances, helps me sell books, and brags about me to anyone who will listen. It’s a family affair.
Question #12: The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?
In each of my books, one of my characters is always based on myself. I am Ivy in The Ivy Chronicles. I am Renata (the ten-year-old little girl) in Wife in the Fast Lane, and I am Holly in Holly Would Dream. The other thing about my books is that they are full of real stories from my life. Anything fun and interesting that happens to me or one of my friends invariably ends up in one of the books.
Question #13: Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your own writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
There are many writers I admire, but I don’t try to emulate anyone. My formula is to write a book that I would want to read. That drives everything in my work.
Question #14: When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?
I was a huge reader growing up and I think that is why I’m able to write. As a girl, I devoured books. My mother used to take me to the library and I’d come home with an armful that I would read in a day. I especially loved Nancy Drew.
Question #15: What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?
I read many different kinds of books. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, is one of my favorites. I also love Time and Again by Jack Finney. The time travel genre appeals to me very much, as does historical fiction. I read lots of humor writers to see how they do it. My books are always funny so I like to see the tricks other writers have to make people laugh.
Question #16: Hey, let’s get morbid. When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your book/s and writing? What do you hope they will say about you?
I hope they say I sold more books than Danielle Steele and Stephen King combined and that I entertained millions of readers worldwide. If they don’t say that, then I hope I at least get my own unpaid obit in the New York Times. You have to really special to get that, and I probably don’t qualify yet. If I got married today, I could probably make the New York Times Wedding page. The obit page is way more selective than the Wedding page.
Question #17: Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now – city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?
I grew up in suburban Texas and Colorado and moved to New York City about twenty years ago. For me, New York City is the best place I could ever live. I love the pace, the people, and the culture here. Also, as an observer from the west, I find the customs here fascinating, which is why I always write about them. New Yorkers are such generous and interesting people (contrary to popular belief). The downside of New York City is that it is so expensive, especially when you’re trying to raise a family. We moved to Miami in the summer of ’08 to cut our costs, enjoy warmer weather, and live near the beach, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. By accident, we moved next door to a nude beach which is not something I ever aspired to do. My goal is to have a place to live in Miami and in NYC.
Question #18: Do you have any pets? What are they? Tell us about them.
We have two older cats – Smokey (a Russian blue) and Cookie (a Berman). Last summer, My daughter got an adorable pound-and-a-half Pomeranian named Olive. It was her bribe for moving to Miami. She immediately abdicated responsibility and the dog became mine. The cats are very upset about this. Cookie has gone into hiding and Smokey just walks by the puppy and hisses at her. I’m praying things will improve.
Question #19: Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
I have a lovely office in my apartment, which is on the 33rd floor. One wall is entirely filled with books. In front of the books facing the door (very Feng Shui) is an antique desk that is usually very messy. Next to it (making an “L” shape) is my computer desk, which faces the window that looks out on the (nude) beach. But it’s really very beautiful. You mostly see the water and feel like you’re in a cruise ship. My cats are sleeping at my feet.
Question #20: Do you watch television? If so, what are your favorite shows? Does television influence of inspire your writing?
I am addicted to Law and Order. I love how they get so much story into so little time. If I’m flipping through channels and I see that, I’ll always stop. I also love Sex and the City.
Question #21: What about movies? Same as above.
Like my character Holly, I love old romantic comedies from the 1950’s – Sabrina, Roman Holiday, An Affair to Remember, Charade, To Catch a Thief. All these movies were muses for Holly Would Dream.
Question #22: Focusing on your most recent (or first) book, tell our readers what genre your book is and what popular author you think your writing style in this book is most like.
My books are women’s fiction in the tradition of Sex and the City, The Nanny Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Starter Wife. The difference is, my books are funnier. I don’t mean that in a braggy way. I just mean that I inject more humor into my work, either situational or one-liners.
Question #23: How long did it take you to write your most recent (or first) book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long (or short)?
As I mentioned earlier, I wrote the first draft of The Ivy Chronicles in three months. That’s because it was that or face having to get a real job. My next books have taken a year or so to complete.
Question #24: Is there anyone you’d like to specifically acknowledge who has inspired, motivated, encouraged or supported your writing?
There are so many people. If you look at my acknowledgements, they are always very long. But there is one person I should mention who really helped me – my friend, Judy Levy. When I was writing The Ivy Chronicles, I would send her my chapters and she would read them, call me back, laughing hysterically, and telling me how much she was loving the book. It was that daily encouragement that kept me going with the first book. The other person who was a tremendous help was my babysitter, Beverly Knowles, who introduced me to my agent. My mother is also a great help. She always reads my work at the very beginning when it is truly rough.
Question #25: Is there any one particular book that when you read it, you thought to yourself, “Man, I wish I’d written that one!”?
When I read David Sedaris, Wendy Wasserstein, and Laurie Notaro, I wish I could do humor as well as they do.
Question #26: Thinking about your writing career, is there anything you’d go back and do differently now that you have been published?
No, it has been a journey and I have learned so much from everything I did right and from all my mistakes. I never look back with regret because I think every experience has made me who I am today and I love that woman, warts, tummy, wrinkles and all.
Question #27: What is your main goal or purpose you would like to see accomplished by your writing?
I would love to be discovered by a very broad audience of women and to bring them joy and make them laugh when they read my work. My books are always about strong women who face adversity, but who persevere and end up in a better place. They are hopeful. I want women to read them and know that no matter what they are facing, they should press on and they will be fine. Every woman is the heroine in her own story.
Question #28: How has having a book published changed your life?
I am making a lot less money than I made in the corporate world, but I am living my passion. As Mastercard says, being able to do work you love is priceless. This is ironic since being downsized by American Express is what led me to becoming a published author. By the way (and I know this isn’t what you’re asking), when Amex fired me, I was devastated, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, when “bad” things happen, I realize that I don’t have the perspective of time and I look for the wonderful gift this seeming disaster will this bring me.
Question #29: Many authors have said that naming their characters is a difficult process, almost like choosing a name for their own child. How did you select the names of some of your lead characters in your book/s?
I choose names that relate somehow to the story or the character’s personality. Ivy was named Ivy because the book was about getting into the Baby Ivy’s in New York City. Holly was named after Holly Golightly, and like her namesake, she was a single woman trying to make it in the big city.
Question #30: Have you ever had a character take over a story and move it in a different direction than you had originally intended? How did you handle it?
This happens all the time. I remember when I wrote The Ivy Chronicles, the story opens when Ivy’s husband is caught in the bathtub with Sassy, the wife of the man who just got Ivy fired. I had intended for Sassy to have a bit part, but she was so interesting that she became a fairly big player in the story. I tend to loosely outline where I think the book should go, but if something better strikes me as I’m writing, I’ll go with it.
Question #31: Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?
Yes, keep going no matter how many obstacles are thrown in your path. You are the heroine of your own journey.
Question #32: Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where?
I just did a reading for Holly Would Dream in New York City. It was so much fun. Women came in their favorite little black dresses and pearls. When I toured Denver, they did the same thing. I’m going to Wilmington, NC July 10. Check out my website at www.karenquinn.net for the location and time.
Question #33: It’s said that the editing process of publishing a novel with a publisher is can be grueling and often more difficult than actually writing the story. Do you think this is true for you? How did you feel about editing your masterpiece?
I have always found that a good editor will help me make my novel much better. When I first get the editorial letter, I read it, then put it away for a day because it feels so daunting. Then I’ll read it again and see what I agree with and what I don’t. But I usually listen to a good editor’s advice and this has always led to a better story.
Question #34: Now that you are a published author, does it feel differently than you had imagined?
I suppose I thought I would feel different if I became a well-known author. But I feel like the same woman, and my family treats me like they always did. My children could care less about my professional success. They keep me grounded. This is my fourth career, so I feel like the same working mother, only in a different job.
Question #35: Now, use this space to tell us more about who you. Anything you want your readers to know. Include information on where to find your books, any blogs you may have, or how a reader can learn more about you and writing.
My three books – The Ivy Chronicles, Wife in the Fast Lane, and Holly Would Dream – can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, or at a local bookstore. If they don’t have a copy, they can order if for you. I do have a website and I send out a very funny newsletter whenever something funny happens to me (which seems to be about once a month). If you’ll go to www.karenquinn.net, you can sign up for the newsletter and read more about my books. There is a blog there as well. You can also email me at email@example.com. I am the author who always writes back. I might even meet you for coffee.