Friday, September 13, 2013

Author Spotlight – Karen Heuler

Posted by LD Keach on Friday, September 13, 2013

Karen Heuler's stories have appeared in over sixty literary and speculative journals and anthologies, including several "Best of" collections. She's published a short story collection and three novels, and won an O. Henry award in 1998. She lives in New York with her dog, Philip K. Dick, and her cats, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

DM: Tell us a little about your newest collection, The Inner City.

The Inner City is an insidious bunch of stories, with dog-human hybrids bred for a new servant class; with a sneaky under-city that's controlling traffic and parking spots and a whole lot more; with people growing out of the soil; with things that are certainly surprising and very often alarming. It deals with change, with evolution in the course of a lifetime, with the need to adapt, with the impossibility of knowing what the right change is.

DM: What's it like working with Chizine Publications?

I can’t say enough good things about this group of people. Look at the cover; look at the design of the book. The publishers, Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi, have been active, supportive, responsive. I loved working with them, all of them—Samantha Beiko, Stephen Michell, and of course Beverly Bambury, who got me blogging, among other things. I’ve been getting terrific reviews, and I have to say that means this book got to the right people; CZP knows what they’re doing.

Of course, they’re Canadian, so I think they get good health coverage. That means they’re happy. On the other hand, I think it’s too cold up north. So maybe they never go outdoors and thus can spend all their time working with books. Healthily.

DM: Also, feel free to elaborate on winning the O Henry award (so we can fangirl squee over you).

I was running out the door to get a tattoo when I got a phone saying I’d won an O. Henry award. I was very careful to be really impressed, but I wasn’t sure I’d heard it right. I looked up the name of the person who called, and yes—it all fit.

I had no warning about this. In the following years, people would tell me I was listed as a finalist for Best American Short Stories, or Pushcart or other O. Henry awards. I’ve stopped checking the list at the back of the anthologies. There’s no glory in it; all those near misses start seeming deliberate! I’ve been a finalist for the Iowa, the Bellwether Prize, and the Shirley Jackson award. I am proud to be able to say all this. But I would have been even prouder if….

DM: What's the best advice you can give to a writer just starting out?

You only have one real job in the beginning, and that’s to find out what you write. Be prepared to fail for a few years—that will toughen you up, and you’ll need to get tough. Write whatever you want, however you want to write it. After two years, look at your best work and also look at the themes of your most-loved work (they’re not always the same). This is how you discover what you write. Once you’ve figured it out, learn what you need to know about plot, character, pacing and for god’s sake, good grammar!