The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Karen McQuestion and A Scattered Life

September 27, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Although much has been written about Karen McQuestion’s extraordinary journey to publishing success (including Guest Karen McQuestion on Keeping the Faith), the most important story remains between the covers of her debut novel, A Scattered Life. After all that was the Kindle book optioned for film, adored by ebook readers, and put Karen — not only on the literary map — but in The Wall Street Journal as well.

So what’s it all about? Simply put, the novel’s story is based on a friendship triangle between three women and explores the author’s fascination with the idea of feeling like an outsider in your own family.

Acknowledging that her fiction is basically character-driven and the plot evolves from the characters’ actions, Karen began writing A Scattered Life with the following scene in mind:

“A shy man has a crush on a waitress who works at a Mexican restaurant. He’s thirtyish and conservative, almost nerdy, and she’s much younger, a free spirit who is at loose ends in the world. He’s been coming in to the restaurant to watch her, never quite getting up the nerve to talk to her until something unexpected happens.”

Now add the details that the scene takes place in a Wisconsin small town with the Green Bay Packers playing on Monday Night Football and the reader is likely to take a leap of faith and be drawn into the action too.

To share a bit more, here is the synopsis:

When free-spirited Skyla marries proper and predictable Thomas Plinka, she finally finds the love and stability she’s craved since childhood. She also acquires a new family: mother-in-law Audrey, disapproving and suspicious of Skyla’s nomadic past; father-in-law Walt, gruff but kind; and Thomas’s brothers, sofa-bound Jeffrey, and Dennis, who moved across the country seemingly to avoid the family.

Skyla settles into marriage and motherhood, but quiet life in small-town Wisconsin can’t quell feelings of restlessness. Then into her life comes Madame Picard, the local psychic from the disreputable bookstore, Mystic Books, and new neighbor, Roxanne, whose goal in life is to have twelve kids even though she can’t manage the five she has. Despite her family’s objections, Skyla befriends Roxanne and gets a job at the bookstore, and life gets fuller and more complicated than she ever imagined.

Next enjoy a lovely Video for A Scattered Life.

If the video reminds you of a quiet, somewhat simpler life, settle into Skyla’s neighborhood. It is there that the author has created a place reminiscent of the way people used to connect — on a one-on-one basis — and care about each other. However, despite the comfort zone feeling, this story of three women and their daily routines is not without problems.

Funny, poignant and incredibly honest, The Divining Wand wondered if the characters told Karen their stories or if the tales were written around them? And she said:

“I have heard other writers say that characters “speak” to them, but I’ve never had that experience. I usually have an impression of who my characters are, and a situation, and I work from there. On several occasions, I’ve tried to plot things out ahead of time. It seems the most sensible way to do things, but I’ve never been able to make plotting or outlining work. Once I know the whole storyline, I find that I don’t want to write it because it feels like homework. The fun of writing is finding out what happens next. For me, writing fiction feels more like discovering than creating, and I’ll often have eureka moments–oh, now I know why she was acting that way! I always aim for a happy (or at least hopeful) ending, but I never really know how it’s going to go until I get there.”

TRUST: The above explanation could be the most telling of the author’s success in writing genuine and appealing novels. For Karen McQuestion focuses on what intrigues her about universal human truths — those that are likely our own truths. A Scattered Life highlights this fact by presenting three unforgettable women who actually are Everywomen at some point in life. And, while their personalities and immediate situations differ, they all know (or have known) how it feels to be left out. Whether it’s the young wife, the next door neighbor with five sons, or the mother-in-law, these women share the desire to belong and feel needed.

Independence, strength, and accepting others for who they are go a long way towards belonging. Or it could be as simple as applying the wise words of “Open your heart.” In A Scattered Life, the reader will undoubtedly recognize at least one character as someone she knows and then realize the extent to which lives are intertwined. Karen McQuestion’s novel also reminds how important daily lives are, no matter how mundane they may seem because even small details make a difference later.

Author (The Dogs of Babal, Lost and Found, and The Nobodies Album) Carolyn Parkhurst Reviews “A Scattered Life” and concludes with the following:

McQuestion writes with a sharp eye and a sure voice, and as a reader, I was willing to go wherever she wanted to take me. After I finished the book, I thought about how I might describe it to a friend, and I settled on a phrase that says a lot without saying very much at all. It’s the way these conversations usually end: “You should read this. It’s good.”

Yes you should read this book. It’s much better than good!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Karen McQuestion on Keeping the Faith

September 21, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Karen McQuestion (A Scattered Life, Easily Amused releasing today, and Celia and the Fairies for ages 7 – 11 coming November 2, 2010) believed she was born to write and write she did, novel after novel for almost ten years. The only problem was they weren’t being published. In today’s guest post, the author describes what happened in her literary version of, “If you build it, they will come.”]

Keeping the Faith

I didn’t set out to become a self-publishing guru, but lately I’m finding myself in that role. When I first self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, I had modest expectations. At most, I’d hoped to gain a few readers and make a little money. As it turned out, I got so much more than that. Just over a year later, I’ve sold over 75,000 e-books, signed contracts for five books, and have a film option on one of my novels.

Originally I was a freelance writer with credits that included Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune and the Denver Post. But it was when I started writing novels that I really came into my own. I loved writing fiction and longed to get my work out in the world and into readers’ hands.

I wrote novel after novel for nearly a decade and made every attempt to get them published. Over the years, I had two different agents represent my work. I got complimentary feedback from editors, but neither book sold.
Later I was a semi-finalist in a novel contest, but the book didn’t make it through to the next round. I submitted to publishers on my own, and got encouraging notes, but no offers. It was very disheartening and somewhat embarrassing. When friends and relatives asked how the writing was going, I felt like the biggest loser ever.

It would have been easy to give up, but I didn’t. I knew I was made to do this.

And so it went until I read an article about a writer who uploaded his unpublished novels to be available for sale on Amazon’s Kindle as e-books, and was so successful he went on to sign a contract with Simon & Schuster. I was familiar with the Kindle, but had never seen one. In fact, I’d never seen any e-book device. Prior to reading the article, I hadn’t known writers could self-publish on the Kindle, but now I was intrigued. I learned all I could about uploading and marketing a Kindle book, and decided to go for it.

I uploaded two books at first, but didn’t tell too many people. I figured I could always take the books off Amazon if there weren’t any sales, and no one would be the wiser. But an amazing thing happened shortly after the books became available for sale: someone bought one. And that was just the beginning. The sales rolled in, just a few at first, but more every day.

Within a few weeks, I started getting emails from readers who enjoyed the books and wanted to know if I had any others. Spurred on by these requests and my initial sales, I got out my remaining manuscripts, did some revising and uploaded them one by one. After a few months, readers started recommending my books on the message boards and the word of mouth helped drive sales. The increased sales helped my rankings, which gave my titles added visibility and led to more sales.

Over the course of the first several months, my husband and I found ourselves exchanging the same few words to each other: unbelievable, amazing, unreal. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that people are reading and enjoying my books. I’ve wanted this for so long that it feels too good to be true.

In November 2009, five months after I began this venture, I got an email from Eric Lake, the head of an L.A. production company. The email asked for the contact information of the person handling the movie rights for my novel, A Scattered Life. Apparently no one had told Eric that there was no such person, only me, a woman typing in her basement. I did a search to see if this was a legitimate production company (it was) before responding.

During the next week, Eric and I talked on the phone, and emailed back and forth. Once we agreed on terms, we were able to finalize the deal. He envisions my novel as a full length feature film along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine, a movie I love. So far the project is on track and I hope to eventually see my story on the big screen.

At the beginning of December 2009, I had steady sales and a film option and couldn’t imagine my life getting any better. Then I received an email from Terry Goodman, Senior Content Acquisition Editor for Amazon’s new publishing division, AmazonEncore. The email congratulated me on the film option and mentioned the novel’s positive reviews, but this was my favorite line in the whole email: I would love to speak to you about acquiring the rights for the physical book under the AmazonEncore imprint. At that point, I wasn’t even pursuing traditional publication, so this was an unexpected, wonderful bonus. I was excited about partnering with AmazonEncore, especially after talking to Terry, a smart, funny man, who shared my vision for the novel.

The new version of A Scattered Life has already been released on Kindle and paperback, and is doing extremely well. Four more of my previously self-published books are now also under contract with AmazonEncore, and will be published in the next several months.

I didn’t set out to be a self-publishing guru, but I guess I am one now. I get emails all the time from other writers who’ve heard about my publishing journey. They say that my story is very much like theirs. They know about the rejections, the encouraging letters, and the agent failures. I understand where they’re coming from. They love to write and want to connect with readers. It would be easy for them to give up, but they aren’t going to. They feel like they were made to do this.

I share what I know, then tell them to keep the faith and be open to new things. Opportunities present themselves, sometimes when you least expect it, and often when you’ve almost given up hope.

Note: To celebrate the launch of Easily Amused, Karen is having a four Book Giveaway — today through Saturday. Please visit her Blog to enter.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Jenny Nelson’s Georgia’s Kitchen in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Jenny Nelson and Georgia’s Kitchen. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of Karen McQuestion

September 15, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Karen McQuestion (A Scattered Life, Easily Amused coming September 21, 2010, and Celia and the Fairies for ages 7 – 11 coming November 2, 2010) proclaims to be “the luckiest writer in the world.” Why? Because her dream(s) of being published are coming true…one book following the other. The author explains:

“After years of trying to get published traditionally, I self-published my books on Amazon’s Kindle in 2009. Sales were great, and as a result, I now have five books (paperback and e-book) coming out under the AmazonEncore imprint, and one novel, A Scattered Life, optioned for film.”

Also there’s great praise for A Scattered Life:

“An emotional and engaging novel about family.” – Delia Ephron, author of The Girl with the Mermaid Hair

“McQuestion writes with a sharp eye and a sure voice, and as a reader, I was willing to go wherever she wanted to take me. After I finished the book, I thought about how I might describe it to a friend, and I settled on a phrase that says a lot without saying very much at all. It’s the way these conversations usually end: “‘You should read this. It’s good.'” –Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel, Lost and Found, and The Nobodies Album

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of A Scattered Life for Monday, September 27, 2010. However, in the meantime, let’s meet the author by reading her “official” bio:

Karen McQuestion’s essays have appeared in Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor and several anthologies. She is the author of six books self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, one of which, the novel, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of an L.A. based production company and became the first self-published Kindle book to be optioned for film. Five of her previously self-published books will now be published by AmazonEncore. McQuestion lives with her family in Hartland, Wisconsin.

And now for the upclose/personal revealing of Karen:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Unpredictable, ever changing, a little messy, always interesting.

Q; What is your motto or maxim?
A: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I made that one up just now.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: A weekend with nothing planned.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: I have a lot of anxieties, but my biggest fear is that something bad will happen to one of my kids.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Standing on a digital scale with “120 lbs” in the display.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Louisa May Alcott, because both of us are writers and the second of four daughters.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Erin Brockovich

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: In my writing: seem, look, nodded. In real life: “Do you know what I mean?”

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: It’s a tie between being invisible and flying. Or else being a really good cook.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Getting my older son out of bed in the morning for four years of high school. I seriously doubt many people could have done it and kept their sanity.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: I’m a bit of a control freak.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: Empathy.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Regrets, I have more than a few. Most of them involve hurting other people’s feelings.

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: Myself, only taller, prettier, and ten years younger.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: I blend in well in a crowd.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: The Count of Monte Cristo

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Hannibal Lecter

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: To any of them I’d say, “Dude, you don’t need to be running around all the time. Have you heard of reading a book?”

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Women who are effortlessly thin.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: For the purpose of this reveal, we’ll say reading in my favorite recliner.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Stand-up comedian

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Sense of humor, compassion, intelligence.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar, butter, and cream.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: Right now:
Für Elise by Beethoven
My Heart Will Go On (Celine Dion)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
So Happy Together (The Turtles)
Cooler Than Me (Mike Posner)

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Talented, determined, and very grateful, Karen McQuestion’s success is limitless. Discover what’s next for her by following on Twitter and becoming a fan on Facebook.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Leah Stewart and Husband and Wife. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.