Karen Bovenmyer on Writing, Research, and her latest novel ‘Swift for the Sun’ (guest blog and interview)

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Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer
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reamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anna Sikorska

Release Date: Mar 27, 2017

Buy Links: Dreamspinner Press ebook | Dreamspinner Press paperback

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Karen Bovenmyer here today talking about writing, characters, and her latest novel, Swift for the Sun. Welcome, Karen!

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Karen Bovenmyer

  • How much of yourself goes into a character?

A lot. I strongly believe in “write what you know,” but I’m not a gay nineteen-year-old man in 1820, and that was the story I wanted to tell in SWIFT FOR THE SUN. While Benjamin and I do have a lot in common—we love reading, music, and are a little competitive—I don’t speak French, have an undying desire to be a sailor, nor am I very good at talking my way out of predicaments in the moment.

I researched this book thoroughly and reached out to a range of consultants for the things I didn’t know—chiefly, the gay male sexual experience. I shared chapters with gay friends and had several blush-worthy conversations about it. I wanted to get both Benjamin and Sun “right.” I also read many novels written by naval people of the time to get a feel for language and culture.

  • Do you feel there’s a tight line between Mary Sue or should I say Gary Stu and using your own experiences to create a character?

No. I think personal experience is complex and nuanced and having some personal experiences in common with your character is a great way to give them more dimension. If your beta-readers report that they are bored or confused, that’s when you should make sure the personal experience you included fits your character and enriches the story. If not, cut it and give them something else that shaped them. Remember past experiences predict reactions to future experiences, so do a little reverse engineering to help you understand why your character is reacting the way they are. If it enriches the story, then include that little backstory/explanation in the text, but most of the time it’s only important that the writer know it.

I find being a life-long roleplaying game nerd helps. I always try to create characters for games that will compel not only me, but the other players.

  • Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write?  Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?

I usually write science fiction and fantasy, but nevertheless, I research a lot. I know my audience is brutally intelligent, and I had better have an understanding of what my space ship uses for propulsion and how it defeats the enormous gulf between stars. I don’t need to elaborate on it in the story, but I need to understand the theories behind it and have them in my back pocket if needed.

For me, what plays the biggest role on choosing a genre, is the pre-writing I do. I’ll get a loose idea, and then start playing with it on paper. Then I stop drafting and write a seven point outline to shape the story. If I’m not feeling it—I’m not bonding with the character or the predicament and it’s not interesting me, I’ll start over, reshaping the ideas. Yesterday, while drafting a new short story, I spent time on a crashing starship with shape-shifting lovers, scrapped the setting, put them in a postmodern apocalypse, scrapped the characters, then put everything on the moon with shadow-traveling space wolves. But I had better know the rules of that shadow travel and how everyone’s breathing on the moon. It’s a delicate mix of make-believe and science, for me.

  • Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

The genre I read the most as a kid was epic fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons spinoff books, and Star Trek novels. Of the long fiction manuscripts I have drafted, none yet fit these genres. I think part of it is because I love them so deeply, I want to do them right. My current novel in progress is a Chinese-inspired fantasy murder mystery, so that one comes the closest to what I usually love to read. I like to think I’m growing toward being able to write the fiction I loved when I was a teen.

  • Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it?  You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed?

Absolutely. When a story is too close to my personal pain, I can’t make it work. I need distance before I can process. When I’m writing stories for publication or for the entertainment of my friends, I can’t get too personal, or the enjoyment of the thing falls apart for me. Every time I’ve tried to process something too fresh through a story, it hasn’t worked. Time does not heal all wounds either—when I write about something really painful, then go back to it later, all the pain feelings come back. I usually can only use the story by recombining elements and themes until I find something charged enough to be interesting but not so overpowering I can’t write about it.

  • Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?

I don’t like books to end. I want them to go on and on forever, so I like HFN. I like to imagine what the character might do next, and having a little hint that not everything will always be perfect for them from here on feels more realistic and fires my imagination.

  • Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult?

As a teenager I read very few romances—Auel’s VALLEY OF THE HORSES, Small’s THE KADIN stick out in my mind. As an adult, I’ve read a lot of Laurell K Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, and J R Ward. I primarily love fantasy and science fiction, but enjoy a strong romantic sub plot. The first draft of SWIFT FOR THE SUN was an action story, but in editorial we were able to bring the romance out of a sub plot and into greater prominence.

  • Who do you think is your major influence as a writer?  Now and growing up?

That’s a hard question. Everything I read influences my writing. Growing up, Pini’s ELFQUEST was a huge influence—I’ve always been drawn to writing dramatic story arcs. I’ve been writing a lot of first person lately, which could be due to Brust’s JHEREG or the first few books of Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. A couple of short fiction authors I adore, who continually inspire me, include Kelly Link, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, and Catherynne Valente. I love reading their stories.

  • How do you feel about the ebook format and where do you see it going?

I like reading books on an e-reader. I read huge, door-stop fantasy, so the act of holding the physical book up and turning pages was actually causing me wrist pain before I switched from paper to e-books. I see ebooks as the new standard, with audio-books a close second.

  • How do you choose your covers?  (curious on my part)

Dreamspinner sent me five mockups by Anna Sikorska to pick from. I wanted something that wasn’t too sexy, because the book is more about the two men coming together and defeating their pasts than it is about sex. I also wanted a strong, central character looking out at the reader, inviting them into the story. I told the art department I liked two of the five they sent and gave some suggestions. Anna used the suggestions to make four new mockups, none of which I particularly liked, so they sent me four more, the first of which is the one I chose. All the work was very high quality and I was impressed with both Anna and the Dreamspinner art department.

  • Do you have a favorite among your own stories?  And why?

My current favorite is a 1500 word short fiction called “We Are Still Feeling” featuring lesbian psionic zombie masters fighting the robot apocalypse (available to read online free in Sockdolager’s Women of War issue). That story opened a world in my mind I find myself returning to. It was the first story I’d written that earned a “Finalist” ranking in the Writers of the Future Contest. My science fiction epic novella (17500 words) “Failsafe” is a second favorite, also because of the setting and character relationships. It earned an honorable mention for 2013 year’s best horror from Ellen Datlow, but I don’t think it’s the external validation that really counts for me with both of these stories. It’s the strength of character, setting, and plot that keeps calling me back there. I will probably write more stories inspired by both.

  • What’s next for you as an author?

I’m currently drafting a Chinese-inspired noir fantasy novel with detectives and dragons, empresses and duelists. I hope to complete work on the novel (currently 60000 words) by August (probably topping out around 100000 or 120000) and pitch it to agents. Fingers crossed!

About Swift for the Sun

Benjamin Lector imagines himself a smuggler, a gun runner, and an all-around scoundrel. A preacher’s son turned criminal, first and foremost, he is a survivor.

When Benjamin is shipwrecked on Dread Island, fortune sends an unlikely savior—a blond savage who is everything Benjamin didn’t know he needed. Falling in love with Sun is easy. But pirates have come looking for the remains of Benjamin’s cargo, and they find their former slave, Sun, instead.

Held captive by the pirates, Benjamin learns the depths of Sun’s past and the horrors he endured and was forced to perpetrate. Together, they must not only escape, but prevent a shipment of weapons from making its way to rebellious colonists. Benjamin is determined to save the man he loves and ensure that a peaceful future together is never threatened again. To succeed might require the unthinkable—an altruistic sacrifice.

Karen Bovenmyer earned a B.S. in anthropology, English, and history; an M.A. in literature; and an M.F.A. in creative writing—popular fiction. Fans of historical romance, Tarzan, Master and Commander, and Pirates of the Caribbean will enjoy this funny, romantic action-adventure.

80k words
Pages: 230
ISBN-13 978-1-63477-764-3

About the Author

Karen Bovenmyer was born and raised in Iowa, where she teaches and mentors new writers at Iowa State University. She triple-majored in anthropology, English, and history so she could take college courses about cave people, zombie astronauts, and medieval warfare to prepare for her writing career. After earning her BS, she completed a master’s degree with a double specialization in literature and creative writing with a focus in speculative fiction, also from Iowa State University. Although trained to offer “Paper? Or plastic?” in a variety of pleasant tones, she landed an administrative job at the college shortly after graduation. Working full-time, getting married, setting up a household, and learning how to be an adult with responsibilities (i.e. bills to pay) absorbed her full attentions for nearly a decade during which time she primarily wrote extremely detailed roleplaying character histories and participated in National Novel Writing Month.

However, in 2010, Karen lost a parent.

With that loss, she realized becoming a published author had a nonnegotiable mortal time limit. She was accepted to the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program with a specialization in Popular Fiction and immediately started publishing, selling her first story just before starting the program and three more while in the extremely nurturing environment provided by the Stonecoast community, from which she graduated in 2013. Her science fiction, fantasy, and horror novellas, short stories, and poems now appear in more than forty publications including Abyss & Apex, Crossed Genres, Pseudopod, and Strange Horizons. She is the Horror Writers Association 2016 recipient of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. She serves as the nonfiction editor for Escape Artist’s Mothership Zeta Magazine and narrates stories for Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Far Fetched Fables, Star Ship Sofa, and the Gallery of Curiosities Podcasts. Her first novel, SWIFT FOR THE SUN, an LGBT pirate romantic adventure set in the 1820s Caribbean, will be published on March 27, 2017.

Social Media Links:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenbovenmyer

https://www.facebook.com/karen.bovenmyer

https://twitter.com/karenbovenmyer

http://karenbovenmyer.com/

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