A few years ago, I stumbled upon Such a Girl and fell in love. There was something about the story that really spoke to me and made me take notice. Since then, I’ve recommended Such a Girl and everything else by its author, Karen Siplin, to everyone I know. I liked her novels so much I sent her an email and now we’ve also become pen-pals. Karen is based in New York City, which is also the setting of Such a Girl and His Insignificant Other (her debut novel). Her latest release (another favorite of mine) was the fantastic Whiskey Road. She’s now hard at work on two new novels, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about writing, chick lit and everything in between. So let’s kick back and get to know her…
New York City plays a huge role in Such a Girl and His Insignificant Other. For Whiskey Road, the small town of Frenchmen’s Bend pulls the reader in. Do you have any tips for writers on how to make the setting of the their novels/short stories come alive?
We’re often taught to write what we know, but I recently came across a quote by author Yusef Komuniyakaa that I believe is much more useful to writers: “Don’t write what you know, write what you are willing to discover.” Frenchman’s Bend is a fictional town in my third novel, Whiskey Road; a town loosely based on rural New York towns I’ve passed through while traveling. In order to get a better feel for such places, I visited Phoenicia and Woodstock, and set up breakfast dates with locals to get a better sense of how to make my setting seem authentic. This helped me to create a place I had only imagined. I definitely advise writers to visit a place they’d like to write about when possible.
Chick lit has been proclaimed dead by agents and the media. Do you agree with this sentiment? Also, why do you think people look down their nose at chick lit?
The term “chick lit” may not survive as a marketing label, but stories about women coming of age in their twenties and thirties, and struggling with work, love, weight and family will always exist. In May of this year, I picked up Jennifer Close’s Girls in White Dresses at Book Expo America. It isn’t being labeled “chick lit”, but according to Publisher’s Weekly, it explores the “chick lit staples” of relationships and disappointing first jobs. The publisher compares her writing style to Melissa Bank. And a search at UK book sites turns up several recent releases that would have been labeled “chick lit” in the US ten years ago.
There are probably a lot of reasons why people look down their nose at chick lit, but I’ve heard some argue that chick lit fails to encourage women to dream bigger and aspire for something other than meeting a nice guy to marry. In the end, I’m not sure anyone has the right to tell people what they should be reading.
Which of your protagonists is your favorite?
I love Caleb (Whiskey Road) and Kendall (Such a Girl). Caleb is sexy, volatile and loyal; I’m a big fan of tough, misunderstood, tattooed men in fiction. And I think the way Jimi describes him the first time she meets him says it all: “…he has the face of a man who wouldn’t desert her even if it meant he might be hurt.” Kendall is also misunderstood, and I adore that she’s a total ballbuster. The risk of making enemies at work never stops her from speaking her mind and that is an admirable trait in my opinion. She’s an adult struggling to find her place in the world after making a lot of mistakes.
How would you describe a typical day of writing?
My writing day typically begins around 9 in the morning, after I’ve had breakfast. When the weather is nice, I try to make it over to Central Park. Otherwise, I go to a library or sit in front of my computer until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
Do you have a favorite writing space? Could you describe it for us?
I’ve always been partial to writing in coffee shops, but ever since I gave up coffee in 2007, I avoid them. I haven’t found a satisfying substitute. Libraries are a close second, but I really miss having that cup of coffee next to me. I try to walk to Central Park on nice days; I have four favorite spots in the park where I like to revise my work.
So many times, writers are advised to “kill your darlings”. Do you follow this advice?
I don’t kill my darlings, I massacre them, but I don’t call it that. It’s just the editing process to me. If a question comes up several times from early readers about a scene or moment or phrase, a writer should consider whether she’s holding onto it because it moves the story forward, or because she’s emotionally attached to it.
What titles are on your must-read list this year?
Deanna Raybourn’s fifth Lady Julia Grey novel is high on my must-read list this year, as well as Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow, Duane Swiercznski’s Fun & Games and Cate Tiernan’s Darkness Falls.
What are you reading now?
I read way too many books at once. I’m currently reading Wendy Burden’s memoir, Dead End Gene Pool, Kody Keplinger’s second teen novel, Shut Out, and Gilded by Deborah Davis.
What book inspired you to become a novelist?
I was a film major in college, so movies had a stronger creative influence on me, but I was a diehard Jim Thompson fan in my twenties and would still love to write something as fabulous as After Dark My Sweet. James Baldwin’s Another Country blew me away when I read it some time in the nineties. I wish I could write as lyrically as he did.
Are you working on a new book now? Can you give us a sneak peek of the plot?
I’m working on a novel for adults and a novel for teens. Both books are wiping the floor with me, so I’m not entirely comfortable saying too much about their plots. I can say there’s a misunderstood bully in one, and the other features a recovering bad boy multimillionaire.