Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Unread - Interview with Karen Akins

Karen Akins does a lot of her writing while her little one is asleep. I think a lot of us moms can relate to sneaking writing time in whenever we can, so I asked Karen if she'd be my guest for this month's Unread. I'm all for spreading the mommy writer love! Karen writes kidlit in Northwest Arkansas where she lives with her husband, son, a.k.a The Pea, and one mischevious dog. She holds a M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy from John Brown University and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She also runs a great blog called Novels During Naptime. How appropriate!

Finding time to write can be hard to do, especially when you have small children. How do you manage to sneak in the time?

You know those women who pop out of bed before the rooster and squeeze two hours of writing in before their children wake up? I am not one of them. Night Karen holds way too much power, so that’s when I get the majority of my writing done—after the Pea goes to bed. But I think you hit the nail on the head about “sneaking” in time to write. I keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas, snippets of dialogue, a few sentences here and there. It adds up.

(I'm not sure those women who get up and write in the morning before the children get up exist. If they do, they have super powers and I want some. -H)

How does your family feel about your writing?

I could not have asked for a more supportive husband. He also pushes me to make the most of my time and take risks. And all he asks in return is that I write the next Twilight. The Pea…well, the Pea is a toddler (i.e. a benevolent dictator), so his mind is tied up with more important things right now. Like how many goldfish crackers he can feed the dog before mommy catches him and how many times in a row he can talk me into reading his current favorite book. (“Llama! Llama!” The current record is 4.)

(Go Pea!)

When did you start writing? Is there a reason you did?

This is a tough question. I’ve always been a storyteller by nature, whether it was with my dolls, skits with friends, or making up vignettes in my own mind. In middle school, I cranked out a few half-hearted picture books so I could get out of school for the day and attend the local young writers’ conference. (The keynote speakers were S.E. Hinton and Judith Viorst. Yes, you read that right. Yes, I regret my lack of note-taking.) But I didn’t have any real writing aspirations until after I graduated college. I scribbled some plot notes and a few scenes for a couple picture books and a novel, then tucked them away in a box.

Flash forward ten years. After the Pea was born, I started reading more picture books. It reawakened a passion for children’s literature, and I wrote a few (looking back…plotless, horrible, near-rhyming) picture books. I went online and every reputable website pointed me towards SCBWI. I’m a cheapskate frugal so rather than just join, I entered their writing contest to win a membership. And I did! With four words. The contest was to summarize a classic children’s book in four words. Mine was “Corduroy: Obsessive Bear Seeks Closure”.

And I’ve been writing consistently ever since.

What keeps you going?

My faith, my family, my friends. And feedback (I promise I did not plan those f’s).

(Freakin' fabulous!)

What types of stories do you write? Care to tell us what you’re working on now?

Hubbykins is in marketing, so he’s always reminding me to “brand myself”, but my imagination isn’t very cooperative in being confined to one genre. I write quirky, humorous picture books with twist endings. I also write humorous chick lit. Humor. I like humor.

Most of my picture books feature objects or animals acting in ways they shouldn’t. I have one particularly feisty sheep who’s been playing the kazoo in one of my current WIPs.

How do you find that belonging to a critique group helps you?

The better question would be, “How did I ever manage without my critique group?” They are my cheerleaders, editors, taskmasters, muses.

(You're right. That's a much better question! I don't know how I ever managed without mine either.)

What part of writing do you enjoy most?

The initial rush of creativity that comes with a new idea. I imagine that’s what a runner’s high must feel like. (This is sheer conjecture as I haven’t run a full mile since the Presidential Fitness Test in sixth grade.)

(Ew. The Presidential Fitness exam was the bain of my elementary school existence. That and the kid that picked his nose constantly.)

What are your writing goals and what have you done to further them?

My top goal as a writer is to glorify God through my work. That being said, my writing doesn’t fall under the specific sub-genre of “Christian fiction” though I hope the reader would find themes of my faith (forgiveness, redemption, joy, etc.) woven throughout. And, of course, an ongoing goal is skill improvement. There are so many aspects of the publishing business that are out of my control. But I can control how many conferences I attend, how much time I spend writing (okay, the Pea has a say in that as well), and how often I submit my stories.

(I should have asked you about submitting too! It's a whole 'nother challenge on the mommy front. It's hard to find time for everything.)

How far would you go to get your book published?

You’re asking this of the girl who once ate a carrot out of a kid’s nose in an attempt to get a laugh out of him. Granted, I was a camp counselor and getting paid the big bucks to do such things…something like 17 cents an hour.

But, hmmmm. I’m open to suggestions.

(Eating a carrot out of a kid's nose should definitely be far enough! Where's that contract already? What? They don't give publishing contracts for eating things out of people's noses? Darn. I'll cross that one off my list.)

And here’s what I really want to know, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

***not skipping a beat*** Anne of Green Gables. Hubbykins took me on a dream trip to Prince Edward Island a few years ago, and even he was taken in by the Island’s charms. It would be a step back to simpler times, but not so far back as to not have access to important things like raspberry cordial and syrup of ipecac.

Runner up: Would love to hang out at Hogwarts except I know the Sorting Hat would stick me in Hufflepuff. And nothing interesting ever seems to happen in that house.

(Ha! Just realized I gave the exact same answers as Deb Marshall.)

(Ding ding ding! We have made a reading match!)

You can read more from Karen at her great blog: Novels Durning Naptime. You can also find her on Twitter where she goes by the handle naptimewriter.


  1. Thanks again, Heather! I love your comments. They crack me up.

    Must get back to writing. :)

  2. Ha! Gotta Love Karen!! This was an awesome interview and great comments for you to Heather!

    PS. I'm biased, one of her crit buddies.

  3. Thanks for doing this interview! Karen's picture books sound like they'd be fun to read.

  4. Heather,

    You do such a great job on your blot. I love hearing about the as yet unread writers. Karen, you did a great job, and you live near me. Hop over to an Oklahoma conference sometime so I can meet you. I would love to have that opportunity.

    Stephanie Theban

  5. LOVE this interview! Thanks for the peek into your life.

  6. Another great interview! I love this series, Heather. Your 'asides' are a hoot.

  7. Great interview! It's super fun to learn more about Karen! How cool that you won that SCBWI contest! And Heather, great questions. I'm glad I found your blog via Karen's!

  8. Hey, thanks everyone! Learning about Karen and her writing was so much fun. I'm happy she was nice enough to do an interview with me. Hopefully someday we'll get to see one of her books!