AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: KAREN STIVALI
Welcome Karen Stivali to JR….
Tell us a little about Leave The Lights On:
Wow. I just realized that I can’t answer that question without giving away a big secret from the book. Hmmm….
I originally thought of the main character, Parker Wood, while I was working on a different story. He wasn’t even a secondary character, he was just someone who was going to have contact with the characters in that book. For some reason all these little details about him poured into my head—what he looked like, what he sounded like, why his eyes had a haunted look to them, where he got his scars—and I realized he needed his own story, one that had absolutely nothing to do with the book I was working on at the time. So I plucked him out of that story and put someone else in his place in the bit role. And Parker got to tell his story (and his secret) in Leave The Lights On. Parker most definitely deserved his own book and his happily ever after. (Sorry I can’t tell you what the secret is but I promise you’ll know what I mean when you read the book!)
The main thing that inspired the way the story plays out is the thought of what would happen if two friends had the same dream for their lives and it came true for one, but not the other. Would one life be “perfect” and the other ruined? Or would the person who got the dream not have a “perfect” life after all and want what the other person has? As it turns out, there’s nothing perfect about the lives of Parker, Joey or Sophie. Every life and every person has flaws. Sometimes those flaws lead to the best stuff.
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
I have to see a story play out in my head, like a movie, before I can write, so I always know what’s going to happen before I begin writing. If I haven’t seen a scene yet in my mind, I can’t write a word of it. Once I’ve seen it I’m just writing down what I saw. I can’t force myself to write any other way.
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
I’m a sucker for a love story. Not every love story is a “romance” according to the rules of the romance genre, so I started out writing romantic love stories…and wound up writing mostly romances. My first two books (Meant To Be and Holding On) broke the rules of romance so even though they’re very romantic in nature, they’re not true romance novels. They have happily ever after endings but non-traditional story lines. Every story I’ve written since then has had a traditional romance arc. I can’t write a story without a happy ending, so romance, where a happily ever after ending is a requirement, is a natural fit for me. There’s enough unhappiness in real life. When I get to control the outcome, the people are going to end up with their happily ever after. I insist!
What does vary in my books is the heat level of the sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong—there are always sex scenes, and they’re always steamy (I don’t believe in closed door or fade to black sex scenes) but the erotic romances I’ve written do take the heat a little further than my other contemporary romances. Like the difference between medium salsa and hot salsa.
Who was the toughest character for you to “get right” that you have written so far?
I don’t ever feel like I’m having a hard time getting my characters right. They tend to spring into my head fully developed and before I write a single word about them I make sure I know them inside and out. At that point I know them so well I’m sure what they will and won’t do/say in any situation. I’ve never struggled to get into someone’s head. If I do, I know it’s not a character I should be writing so I don’t write them.
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
I never base characters on anyone from real life. Not even celebrities. My characters are total figments of my imagination. Once in a while I’ll sneak in a little bit of story—a restaurant, or a funny event—something only a few people will recognize or catch the significance of from my real life. I’ll have a character grab pizza or a cannoli from one of my old favorite haunts (my foodie romance Then, Again is full of references like that).
Fun story? There’s a scene in Meant To Be in which Daniel is recounting how his foot fell asleep during an interview and he fell over when he stood up. That actually happened to me during a college interview, years ago. Up until now only a handful of people in the world knew that. I knew when they read Meant To Be they’d catch that repurposed bit, so it was sort of a mini-shout-out to them. I don’t do that often though. And it’s never more than a tiny moment like that. Just a dash of realism from my own life once in a while, for kicks.
What do you find the hardest part of writing?
Waiting. I hate waiting and in the publishing industry you’re always waiting—waiting to hear back on a book you’ve submitted to see if you’ll get a contract on it, waiting to get comments from your editor to see what needs changing, waiting for the book to release, waiting to get reviews. Sometimes I’m waiting for all those things on multiple projects all at once. It’s nerve wracking and exhausting but there’s no way around it. It’s part of the deal.
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
Although I love movies and watch them all the time, there are a few movies that pretty much everyone has seen that I’ve never watched. The first ones that come to mind are Top Gun and The Matrix. They’re both on TV a lot but I always find them when they’re half over and I like to watch films from the beginning. One day I’ll have to see them both.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I don’t believe in feeling guilty about pleasure. There’s enough unavoidable pain and sadness in the world. If you find something that brings you joy or pleasure I think you should enjoy it without having to feel bad about it.
What TV Show/s are you addicted to?
Mad Men (love the characters and the writing) and The Bachelor (because I’ve watched it for years and I just can’t seem to stop).
Do you have a hobby that you like to try and squeeze in?
Cooking and baking are my favorite hobbies and luckily eating counts as a necessity so I get to squeeze them in pretty often. It takes a lot to drag me away from the computer. Food will do it. Although I do work in the kitchen so I often write while I cook. Did I mention it’s really hard to drag me away from the computer?
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juice don’t flow?
I just need to see it all in my head. Once I’ve seen it play out in my mind all I need is a computer keyboard or a pen/pencil and a scrap of paper and I can write ANYWHERE. And chocolate. Chocolate helps.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
Music doesn’t influence my writing but there tend to be songs that I’ll hear while I’m working on a project that will strike a chord with me (no pun intended). It’s like when you’re in love and you notice love songs more, or you’re breaking up with someone and you notice the sad songs. When I’m writing certain songs will stick out because they “go with” the story and then I’ll start to associate that song with what I’m writing. A few years ago when I was writing my first novel, Meant To Be, I kept hearing the Ingrid Michaelson song “Everybody” and when I was working on the sequel, Holding On, I kept hearing the Jason Mraz/Colbie Caillat duet “Lucky”. Those songs fit those story lines so well I will forever associate them with those books. But the songs didn’t influence the stories, they just fit them.
Similarly, after I’d chosen the title Leave The Lights On (which has significance because when Parker and Sophie were growing up that was their code that their parents were asleep so it was okay for them to go to each other’s houses) I started hearing the Meiko song Leave The Lights On. Even though that song has nothing to do with the plot of my story it pops into my head now because of the title.
Do you write one book from start to finish or are there multiple works underway at any given time?
There are always multiple books underway at one time, but when I really get into a groove with one book I’ll write until I finish it. Right now I have the first few chapters written on somewhere around five projects but I’ll be diving head first into one soon and the others will go on back burners until that one is finished.
Where were you when you got your first contract? What was the book and who did you tell first?
I was sitting at my little kitchen desk, where I do all my writing. The email came through and I stared at it for quite some time, rereading it to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. My critique partner and I chat in IM all the time and she was the first person I told, then I stumbled into my husband’s home office and told him. I remember thinking it wasn’t real and having him actually read the email to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. Yes, he thinks I’m nuts.
How old were you when you read your first romance book?
You’re not going to tell my mom, right? I read a ton of romance novels when I was growing up. My grandmother was an avid reader and whenever she’d come visit or we’d go to see her she’d give me all the novels she’d already finished. I was a very precocious child and I read constantly. I’d say I probably read my first romance novel when I was nine. I started with the sweeter romances like Danielle Steele’s books but by the time I was eleven or twelve I was devouring the raciest things I could get my hands on. That probably explains a lot. *cough*
Do you have an all-time favorite romance book (not written by you J)?
I get asked this question a lot and I don’t have a good answer. Most of my all-time favorite books are not true romances, they’re love stories—books like Erich Segal’s Love Story or Anton Myrer’s The Last Convertible. For pure romance I always enjoy novels by Jennifer Crusie or Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
What author causes you to “go fan girl”/ squeal over/anticipate upcoming books?
One of the biggest perks to being a writer is that you often get to read your friends’ books before they come out, or sometimes before they’re even finished. I’m lucky enough to critique and beta read for some of my favorite authors so I get sneak peeks at their works all the time (I’m looking at you, Tiffany Reisz and Karen Booth). I would probably fan girl like a total lunatic if I ever got the chance to meet Judy Blume. I’ve loved her books (YA and adult) since before they were even appropriate for me to read! I’m also pretty anxiously awaiting Emma Chase’s follow up to her novel Entangled because I really enjoyed that novel and I’m excited to see what comes next.
If you still have one of those pesky non writing jobs what is it?
All my jobs are writing related at the moment. I’m very lucky.
Do you have a favorite movie you have seen in the last few months and an all-time favorite?
I haven’t seen many movies recently and certainly none that would rank as favorites. I have lots of all time favorite films—I’m a big movie lover—but if I had to choose one I’d probably pick Good Will Hunting…or The Princess Bride.
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
I’m currently writing a contemporary romance titled Four Days To Forever that will release from Samhain in August 2014. I’m also working on a novella (a friends to lovers tale), a companion book to Leave The Lights On (Joey’s story—yum) and a series about three sexy brothers (and their smokin’ hot cousin) who run a family business together (because why write one hot hero when you can write four?).
If you could co-write with another author who would it be?
I’ve co-written with my critique partner, Karen Booth (we co-wrote Long-Distance Lovers for Ellora’s Cave) and I’d write with her again if we came up with a story we wanted to do together. There are too many other authors I’d consider co-writing with for me to name them all. I think co-writing is a lot of fun as long as you and the other writer know each other’s styles well and agree on the direction of the story. I definitely plan to do it again in the future.
How did you hear about the “bunnies” at Joyfully Reviewed?
I met Joy at the Ellora’s Cave Romanticon conference in October 2012. She may or may not have taken some incriminating videos of me. *shifty eyes*
Where can readers find you?
And for the silly side –
What is your favorite type of ice cream?
Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food (chocolate ice cream with chocolate and marshmallow swirl and dark chocolate chunks)
Ranger or Morelli?
Why choose? I’ll take both. Please. And thank you.