As the month comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on my October to-do list: what I accomplished and what there is left to do. While I finished a bunch of things, I still have items on my July to-do list that aren’t crossed off. But I also tackled stuff I hadn’t planned on! Overall, I felt pretty productive during October and, outside of a refrigerator full of stale food, felt healthy and well organized. Here’s the month’s journey in brief.
The Health of a Gardener Who Writes
I’ve been battling knee issues for years. A long time ago, I was digging out the lawn on my parking strip and my right knee ligament tore slightly. Since then, I’ve experienced pain on and off for years. In 2019, I was in severe pain. In spring, I could barely walk. After I went to the doctor, I learned a new word: bursitis. As in I had it. Probably because I’d sat cross-legged for hours at a time editing The Forgetting Flower.
Regardless, she prescribed anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. But despite that combination, it dogged me all summer and into fall. I felt desperate and depressed. Then, this month, I went back to my physical therapist who encouraged me to join a gym and gave me particular exercises to do for my knee. She also encouraged me to buy new shoes. I did both and voila! A month later, my knees (and me) are feeling 80% better.
Fun Time Interviews
This last month, I did four interviews! All were interesting endeavors. First off, I answered questions about my critique partner relationship with the sci-fi writer Natasha Oliver for the book Finders Keepers: A Practical Approach to Find and Keep Your Writing Critique Partner! It’s due out in early December. More details to come in a future post.
Next, I spoke with Michigan radio master, Tom Sumner for his show on October 3rd. We talked about The Forgetting Flower, the ideas behind it, my work with plants, life in Paris, writing thrillers, and more. To listen, click here.
I did another print interview with my fellow Goddard grad and friend, Roxana Arama for her site Rewriting History. We really clicked about The Forgetting Flower, touching on ideas of memory and forgetting, plants and scent, immigration and the working class. It was a wonderfully profound interview.
Finally, I did a television interview for New Day Northwest! This morning show is a Seattle institution. Hosted by longtime television journalist, Margaret Larson, the show covers local celebrities and events while spotlighting fun home and garden projects and charitable causes. I was terribly nervous and felt anxious for days beforehand. I’d never been on TV before!! But I managed to get my mouth to work and talked about spooky houseplants to decorate a Halloween home. Plus, we touched on The Forgetting Flower. It ended up being super fun! I’ll write more about the anxiety part in a week or so. Click here to watch.
Writing in Brief
I also wrote a couple of short pieces for other outlets. For instance, I’ve been disturbed for a while that my name, Karen, has ended up as a generic label for a nasty woman, so I ended up putting my thoughts in an essay called When Your Name Becomes a Meme, which Thrive Global published.
As Halloween approached, I published a short article on spooky houseplants for Garden Center Magazine. It was a fun piece about creepy plants.
Lastly, I wrote about my journey of putting plants into my fiction. This post is slated to appear in early November on a crime fiction website. When it does, I’ll update this post.
Face-to-Face With Writer Friends
October is my birthday month but unfortunately my husband was out of town during my birthday week. So I decided to get in touch with writer friends. In early October, I got to know the lovely Angie McCullagh, who’s written a coming-of-age novel about a young woman in Seattle in the 1990s. I visited with my fellow Goddard graduate, Roxana Arama, who’s written a fascinating alternative ancient history/fantasy novel called All But One. And I ate lunch with my sweet friend, Kimberly Christensen, a middle grade and young adult author.
In November, I’ll be talking on more podcasts and writing on this blog more regularly. I’ll be working out at the gym almost every day. I’d like to form a writers group. And read at least two books in my stack. Maybe even get to those unfinished tasks from July. My biggest goal though is to finish the edits on my new novel. Now that I list all of these to-dos, I realize it’s a lot of work. I’m not sure I can do it. But I’ve got some strong momentum going so, with my new strong knees, I’ll ride out this wave of energy for as long as it lasts.
Emily Carpenter is the bestselling author of the suspense novels, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, The Weight of Lies, and Every Single Secret. She took the time to speak with me about her novels, what writers influenced her, and why she writes multi-dimensional protagonists. She also offered her advice for emerging writers and what she’s working on next. Check out our inspiring discussion!
Your novels are full of suspense and family or marital intrigue. Were you drawn to those kinds of books as a reader? If so, do you have any favorites?
Oh, absolutely. As a kid I was all over Nancy Drew and Lois Duncan’s books. As a teen I loved romance with suspense or intrigue. Also Agatha Christie. I’m a huge fan of Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and the Bronte sisters. And of course, reading Gillian Flynn and Harlan Coben helped me pinpoint books I wanted to write myself.
You expertly jump back and forth between locations, time periods, and/or narrators in your novels. What’s your writing process like? How do you keep track of the story?
For me, my process is (borrowing a phrase from Sara Paretsky) very untidy. It kind of drives me crazy because it’s unique from book to book, very organic and therefore really unpredictable. It scares me sometimes, because I take a leap of faith with each new book I start—believing that at some point, things are going to click and I’m going to really understand a character or figure out a great plot point. But I never have it all at the beginning when I start. I just have this incredibly strong hunch that this story has a lot of fascinating elements and it’s full of possibility. So my process is just to forge ahead and get it all down on the page and trust that it’s all going to work out if I keep hammering away at it.
Your new book Until the Day I Die focuses on a mother-daughter relationship. Having a teen daughter with a well-formed personality myself, I was impressed by how realistic Shorie was, and how realistic their relationship was. It’s complex and not always perfect. Did you draw on real life experiences for that?
Definitely. I mean, even though I’m older, the feelings of being a teenager are never that far away for me. I remember so much of the stuff I dealt with really vividly. Also I do have three kids, all boys, all very different, and we’ve totally had our clashes. They’re all very particular to who that kid is and how the two of us relate to each other. Girl or boy or anything in between—honestly, relationships are complicated.
I think specifically, the beginning of the book where Erin is moving Shorie into her dorm room at college and their fighting was something I wanted to capture. The intensely emotionally-charged feeling. And how when it doesn’t go well—it doesn’t turn out to be this picture-perfect moment of a bittersweet, loving send-off—well, that is just crushing.
Most of the protagonists in your books are strong-willed, smart, and a bit flawed. I love that. I think their multi-dimensional natures make them so interesting. What or who has been your inspiration for this approach?
I find characters that are too sweet or compliant and passive to be really uninteresting. That said, I do happen to be writing a character now who’s basically dedicated her life to shielding and protecting her fragile mother, but she’s really incredibly bitter and resentful about it, and I consider that just below the surface, she’s basically this powder keg ready to blow up all over everybody. I just think that’s far more realistic, fun, and interesting to have those kind of people as protagonists. And, I don’t know, I happen to be extremely strong-willed, and sort of smart-ish, and very definitely flawed, so maybe I’m just writing characters I can relate to.
All of your books contain a plot mystery that needs to be solved, which makes for fun and engaging reading, but when I read Until the Day I Die, the plot was so compelling and thrilling that I couldn’t help think that this particular novel would make a fantastic movie. Any plans?
That one was super-fun to write because it was such an adventure as opposed to my other books which lean more toward the interior and the psychological. This one had running from bad guys and jumping off waterfalls and dodging scalding sulfur pits. The previous book I’d written, Every Single Secret, involved a lot of creeping around an old, decrepit mansion deep in the woods, so I loved having the contrast of the modern, technological aspect of the app, Jax, along with the physical action.
What advice would you give to new writers? Any querying stories or publishing setbacks you’d like to share?
I think there are two things for all new writers to keep in mind. Get better and keep trying. One doesn’t work without the other. Do whatever it takes to improve your writing: read great books, take classes, and seek out smart criticism. And then keep trying to get that agent or to sell your book. It’s a tricky thing to know when to keep pushing versus giving up on a particular book. I’ve got three in the drawer that, for different reasons, just didn’t work. But you have to follow your gut. Sometimes it’s just a matter of reworking and revising. Sometimes a book needs to be abandoned.
What are you working on now? Any events or plans we can look forward to?
I’m writing the follow-up to my debut Burying the Honeysuckle Girls. It’s called Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters and it follows Dove Jarrod, one of the characters from the original book. She was a tent evangelist in the 1930s and beyond, but she has a secret—several, in fact—that her granddaughter Eve is uncovering and having to face. In terms of events, I’m going to be talking to the Georgia Romance Writers group next weekend. I’ll be in conversation with Kimberly Belle at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, Georgia at the end of June and up in New York and Pennsylvania in mid-July.