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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Author Interview with Karen Cantwell

Karen Cantwell, author of Take the Monkeys and Run, has been writing plays and short stories for many years, some of which were published in various college literary magazines.  More recently, her short story “The Recollections of Rosabelle Raines,” was published in the mystery anthology Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin’ available at,, or directly from the publisher, Wildside Press.
But she had always wanted to write a novel.  She found that more difficult.  Finally, a few years ago she became inspired to write her first novel, Take the Monkeys and Run, a comedy-mystery, inspired, to some degree by a true monkey sighting.   She loves to laugh as well as make other people laugh, so she had the most fun imagineable writing the character Barbara Marr.  She wanted to write something that readers would say, “Now that was FUN.” 

Tell us about Take the Monkeys and Run in a few sentences.

Take the Monkeys and Run is a humorous mystery featuring Barbara Marr, a soccer mom and movie lover who unwittingly lands herself and her friends into the middle of an action adventure type fiasco complete with bullets and bad guys, just like the movies.  Only these bullets are real.

What qualities do you need to be a successful writer?
An ability to write well in the genre you choose, a lot of gumption and VERY thick skin.

What is your working method?

I work best with several hours of uninterrupted alone time.  It usually takes me at least a half hour to get “in the zone” so to speak, then I like to have at least a couple of hours to punch out a chapter or a piece of a short story.  I have three kids, so I don’t always get that, but it is how I work best!

How did you come to write this particular book?

I had written several short stories and one-act plays, but had never finished a novel.  I had STARTED a lot of novels, but never seemed to be able to finish one.  It was a sore spot in my spiritual universe.  So one day I decided I was just going to do it.  I was going to finish a novel.  I didn’t care how good or bad it was, I wasn’t going to stop myself every time something just didn’t seem to “be right,” etc.  So I came up with a character and a plot with an idea of how it would end, and started typing.   It took me about two and a half months, but I did it.  I finished a novel.  Then, I kind of actually liked it.  So did a friend.  So, after some advice from an agent, I fleshed it out, enhanced the story line, and I had this novel – although at that time, it was titled Monkeys in My Trees.  After a few more revisions, I changed the title.

If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?

Can I have two?  My favorite character for her actual character is Peggy.  She’s well meaning, but flaky.  She has a heart of gold.  You just have to love Peggy.  My favorite character to WRITE, is Barb’s mom, Diane.  Diane is . . . an interesting mother.  Let’s put it that way.  She’s a blast to write.

How can people buy your book(s)?

On Amazon – it’s available in both Kindle and paperback versions.

To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?

Grammar – you know, not so much. (love my grammar there?)  It depends on the piece.  I know my grammar well from years in school, but I take many liberties with it in my own novel because it is written in first person and the readers are in Barbara’s head.  People don’t think in good grammar.  At least I don’t!  But Spelling – that’s VERY important in my book.  Writers need to be very attentive to spelling, otherwise the reader can be thrown off and maybe not understand what you’ve written.

How much revision of your MS do you do before you send it off?

As much as it needs, really.  My problem is I could revise until the cows come home.  Every time I sit and read a few sentences or paragraphs or chapters of my book, I can find SOMETHING to revise!  So I go through it several times until it feels right.  Then I have an editor take a look at it for me, do more revisions, then I feel it’s ready. 

Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?

My novel is set in a “fictional” suburban town called Rustic Woods, Virginia.  I say “fictional” because really the only thing fictional about it is the name and the streets names. Otherwise, it really is my own suburban town of Reston.  I  just had to write about this place – it has such character compared to other suburban cities/towns.  And I like the idea of a place itself, being a character.  I changed the name though, to protect the innocent.

To what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?

For me it has been helpful in finding a niche and a group of supportive people who write in that same fashion and for a similar audience.  Yet, I often feel a little hemmed in by genre.  For instance, I call my book a mystery, because people want me to paste a label on it, but really, it’s not your typical mystery at all.  It’s not Agatha Christie for instance.  It’s not a “whodunit” as many people consider a mystery.  There is a lot of action, some thriller aspects, a lot of humor and a wee bit of romance.  So it stretches across genres.  Sometimes I just want to say it’s a funny thriller/action romantic mystery.  I think people’s eyes would glaze over if I said that though.  Did yours?

What sort of displacement activities keep you from actually writing?

Work, kids, and promoting my other works.  Especially now, I find myself spending a lot of time promoting Take the Monkeys and Run, which is interesting, but not nearly as fun as writing.  I’ve heard this is a common dilemma!

Is presentation of the MS as important as most agents and publishers suggest?

Absolutely.  I don’t care if you’re submitting to an agent/publisher or if you are planning on self publishing – a positively polished manuscript is essential.  It’s all about presenting a professional product, as far as I see it.  Do you want these people (agents/publishers/readers) to take your and your work seriously?  Give them something GOOD.

What are your inspirations?

I get inspiration from all sorts of places.  I love to people watch, so sometimes I’ll come up with an idea for a story or character while sitting on a metro train or at a park.  I once came up with an idea for a character and her story just from a street sign.  That street sign spoke to me I guess!

Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?

It’s a little of both.  There are those who are naturally inclined toward the writing arts, but then one has to work to hone that skill.  I’ve never met anyone that was a perfectly amazing writer that had not worked on their craft to some degree, either through traditional classroom type instruction, or peer groups, etc.

What are you writing now?

I’m currently finishing up a short story that will be part of a Barbara Marr collection that I will be releasing on Kindle very shortly.  Then I’ll be finishing the second in the series, Citizen Insane.

Is there any aspect of writing that you really enjoy?

I love creating characters.  Bringing them to life, but then watching as they take over and start to write themselves!  That’s the ultimate fun for me.

Do you have a website or a blog that readers can visit?

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

A studio set apart from my house; large with big windows and let in lots of light; a desk that spans the entire length of one wall and a computer with a 30 inch screen; a treadmill, a little kitchenette with a fridge stocked with Aranciata San Pelegrinos.  Oh.  And a cabana boy to wait on me hand and foot while I write from dawn til dusk.

Where do you actually write?

In bed.


Karen Cantwell  J

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