Contemporary YA and New Adult author, Karah Rachelle and I first crossed paths during the #StorySocial chat on Twitter. As we traded notes about our work, I smiled at the serendipity of all our shared interests: the overlap of geek and literary culture, our common backgrounds in Film/TV, experimental use of different media in storytelling, how music inspires our writing, and a commitment to diversity in publishing. It was really fun to properly sit down and talk shop in this interview. You can now read Karah's latest novel, Over Again, on Swoon Reads.
Katie Li: Hi Karah! Are you ready to talk shop for our Writers On Writing interview?
Karah Rachelle: Sure!
KL: Awesome! So, my ice breaker whenever I chat with fellow writers is--what is your process like? Do you have any rituals or daily routines?
KR: My process is sort of chaotic. I work full time, which makes it hard. I have learned to embrace seasons. Right now I am coming out of a season of rest from writing and am moving into outlining and starting the first draft of my second book. I am planning on writing at 9 PM for however long, four times a week.
KL: Chaotic pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? I feel like whenever I'm working on a project, it feels all messy and complicated, and I look at my other WIPs like they would be easier to write.
KR: Each project is so different too.
KL: They are! Have you noticed if there are sort of recurring techniques that you use? For example, I've been working on my second book, and it feels so different from Somewhere In Between that I feel a little bit like I'm re-building the wheel. But I noticed in the past week that I started cutting a bunch of unnecessary material--which is something that I did the last time I wrote a long manuscript. I had this sort of 'ah-ha' moment and realized, "I must be moving from rough draft to first draft."
KR: I get that. My only two big projects I've worked through have been Ellie Versus Season One and Over Again. These are completely different projects, but I can definitely see a pattern for how I break down my work and really it's just about layers. Each draft is just a new layer. I'm a huge plotter, but a lot of that it messy note taking and then synthesizing that into really structured spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets!
KL: Me too! My strategy when I approach a story is a mix between story telling and idea management--a fair amount of time is spent doing peripheral organizational tasks. Spreadsheets, charts, notecards, and what not.
KR: Yeah, you don't want the story to get away from you. It needs to be somewhat manageable in order to mold the draft into something useful later. Also, I can't just write. Scenes need purpose first, then I can get going. So organization is important.
KL: I've noticed that we both have interests in other modes of story telling, beyond novel writing. How would you say other mediums--video games, film, graphic novels--influence your work?
KR: Yes! I'm a nerd for all forms of storytelling. I think it helps me to be inspired to break the rules and challenge myself. Also, I minored in film studies in college and studied script writing, which really helped me learn how to condense my work and make the most out of every scene and character. Novels can be nearly any length from 50,000 words to over 100,000. Movies get only roughly 90 minutes and shows are even more condensed at either 20 or 40 minutes and they still have to have a beginning, middle, and end!
KL: Yeah, I think this brings up the need to...economize? maximize the impact?... of each aspect of the story, and control the sprawling of the story's world.
KR: Keep the pace up! Many novels are too slow.
KL: Do you think that is a result of the intense, serialized tv that is being produced?
KR: I think it's a product of our world in general. We are busy, we're hyper-connected, there's a lot being produced and your work has to shout over top all the noise. Though, I think there is still room for literary works, just like there are still art house films being made. But I work in entertainment and it's a faster paced, eye-catching industry.
KL: Another similarity that I noticed we share, is the way music influences our storytelling. For instance, Ellie Versus has an accompanying soundtrack. How did music come to influence your writing?
KR: Music has always been a big influence. In high school it was the main thing. I would write Lord of the Rings fan fiction to the soundtracks. I was big into emo music then too and I even worked on a novel with each track from the album What to Do When You Are Dead by Armor for Sleep as the chapters. I have a stage musical concocted for Shiny Toy Guns’ album Season of Poison. Basically, my weirdness knows no bounds.
KL: How did you get the idea for Over Again?
KR: Oh man, it comes from an actual life event. I was Sadie at the bar on New Year's Eve, crying in the cold, wishing to go back in time. Only, it didn't happen for me, so I worked it out in a book instead. That moment in my life made me wonder "what if", but I knew I wanted to include that exact moment, because it was just too story-worthy.
KL: What was so great about it was the way it felt like, if time traveling existed, it would probably happen that way. Friends would give each other the side eye, but no one would actually have you committed or anything. Did you have any unexpected challenges come up as you were coming up with the time traveling aspects of the story?
KR: I struggled with it a bit, because I knew the time-traveling was the catalyst, but not the main point, so I wanted her friends to accept it pretty quickly and move on and not need to explain the science of how it happened. I considered doing some flashbacks to strengthen the reader's connection with Seth, but it didn't really fit. I also knew I needed to get the items of the Do Over list ready to go as a starting point, then as I wrote characters like Robbie and Chester popped up as unexpected to both me and Sadie. So it was an interesting process.
KL: Yeah, I think when a story is described as 'time travel' it conjures up a particular kind of image to the reader--like, speculative/star gate or something like that. When I was working on Somewhere In Between I had to remind myself that I could throw those expectations out the window and make my own rules--which is hard! I guess that goes back to the need for structure and organization in the process--to make guard rails for the story.
KR: True. I consider Over Again "romantic comedy" and "new adult" with a hint of time travel.
KL: You've published both Ellie Versus and Over Again on Wattpad. What has your experience been like on that platform? Can you talk a bit about some of the benefits of digital publishing versus print on demand services?
KR: I think self-publishing platforms help artist’s take control of their vision and reach their audience on their terms. When it comes to Wattpad, I honestly just scratched the surface. Some people have dug deep and gone on to earn book deals with their Wattpad stories. As for me, I was very inspired by Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work and I highly recommend it to aspiring artists of all trades. I have a lot of ideas that aren’t necessarily traditional publishing worthy, but, through various social media channels, are a good way for me to get my work out there and show my style while I continue to work towards publishing more traditionally.
KL: Reading Over Again, I really appreciated the way you featured a diverse cast of characters. What can authors do to make sure their work is inclusive or socially conscious?
KR: I think the biggest thing authors can do is listen and elevate authors who are telling their own stories. There’s a Twitter movement called #OwnVoices and I highly recommend it. When writing diverse characters, I think it’s important to write every character as a complex human. Even if you include stereotypes know why you are doing so and write your character fully so the reader knows too. I think authors simply get into hot water for being ignorant and it looks lazy, because it’s clear they didn’t take the time to get it right. And if you can’t get it right, don’t do it.
KL: Are there any books (or movies/games!) that you are looking forward to in 2017?
KR: Of course! Mass Effect Andromeda for PS4 and the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie are at the top of my hype list.
KL: I forgot about the new Mass Effect!! I've been playing the multi-player version online--it's great stress relief. I need to catch up on the story mode!
KR: You do! It's so wonderful.
KL: Last question--any advice for aspiring writers?
KR: Write a lot and absorb everything. What makes a work original is your fresh perspective on what's already out there.
KL: Awesome--thanks for taking the time to do this interview Karah!