Monday, 16 May 2011

Book Expo America - Interview with Karen McQuestion

Karen McQuestion is the author of six books, including A Scattered Life, which has been optioned for film. She'll be at Book Expo America this year and I asked her about what she plans to do while she's there:

Q:) Hello Karen, thanks for agreeing to answer these questions. Am I right in thinking that you have been to Book Expo America before?

Hi Helen, thank you for inviting me to be interviewed on your site. In answer to your question—yes, I’ve been to the Book Expo twice before. The first time was in 2004, when it was held in Chicago, a two hour drive from my home. I had no business being there. The Expo is for publishing folk, booksellers, and librarians, and I was just an unpublished novelist. But I desperately wanted to go, so I applied for a pass using the name of a publishing company that had recently accepted one of my essays for an anthology. I was sure I’d get busted, and all day I was a little nervous about getting found out, but it never happened.

I attended again last year in New York. That time I was legit, and I did a book signing for my first novel, A Scattered Life. I was able to hold my head high that day.

Q:) Do you have any tips for authors who are visiting BEA for the first time? What should they expect to get out of it?

The Javits Center is enormous, so comfortable shoes are a must. Keep your eyes open for celebrity authors. The first time I went, I bumped into R.L. Stine, literally. I stepped on the poor man’s shoe. He was very nice about it. Later that day, I spotted David Sedaris and walked past Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. Last year there was a huge line for the singer Rick Springfield, but he’s not from my era, so I didn’t join the hysteria.

There’s a great energy at BEA. You’re among book people, which, for me, is just the best. It’s a little humbling if you have a book coming out, because there are so many great books on display. But it’s also validating to know that if you’re there as an author, well then you’ve made it, and you’re no longer just some wannabe from Wisconsin. :)

Q:) You have two teen novels out this spring: Favorite and Life on Hold. Can you tell me a little bit more about them? Are they connected or are they two standalone stories?

Both are contemporary, standalone stories. Favorite has a mystery element to it. The main character, a teenage girl named Angie Favorite, is the victim of a botched abduction. As the story unfolds, she finds connections between the family of the man who grabbed her, and her mother, who’d gone missing five years earlier.

Life On Hold is the story of Rae, a 15-year-old who yearns for a stable home even as her mother thrives on moving from place to place. There’s a love story and a surly new girl at school and a tragedy and a happy ending. Everything a book needs.

Q:) I noticed from a Q&A on Amazon's site under the book description for Life on Hold that you don't outline your books. I just did a Q&A with Charlie Williams on this blog (he'll be at BEA this year, too) and he mentioned on his website that he doesn't outline, either. I'm trying to discover whether that's an indicator of how writers tackle other things in their lives. Does it mean you won't be planning meticulously for BEA?

You’ve made an interesting psychological observation, Helen. I think you might be on to something. You are correct--I’m not doing any planning for the trip to New York, and thought I’d just figure it out as I went along.

Q:) Do you have any other events planned this year where readers can see you in person or are you trying to shut yourself away and write your next book? If you're writing, can you tell us what you're working on?

I’m visiting with a few book clubs, and will be appearing at the Butler Public Library in Butler, Wisconsin later this summer. For the most part, though, this New York trip to the Book Expo is the big excitement.

My current writing project is an adult novel. It’s kind of a big mess right now, but I’m ignoring the urge to abandon it and am trying to trust the process. Fingers crossed it all comes together as I go along.

Q:) Where can we find you online? Do you have a Facebook or Twitter account or a blog?

If someone is looking for me, they can find me. :)
My website:

Thanks, Karen. See you in New York.


inga said...

Thanks for this interesting interview!

inga from

Helen Smith said...

Thanks, Inga! It was great to have a chance to talk to Karen - I had heard so much about her. I'm really looking forward to meeting her in person next week.

R.J. Keller said...

I LOVE that she crashed BEA 2004! She's my new hero.

Helen Smith said...

Thanks, RJ. It's a great story, isn't it!

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Karen is so funny. I'm sure you both will have a great time at BEA.

Suzie Bee said...


What do you think are the three most important books that any writer should read?


Helen Smith said...

Oh bloody hell, Suzie, I don't know!

It's useful to read as much as you can - almost anything will do - because you can learn from other writers that way. If it's good, you'll see what holds your attention and delights you as a reader (and, of course, it will be different for different people - but it's what you enjoy that counts) and if it's bad, you can learn a lot that way, too.

I haven't read many books on the craft of writing but Stephen King's 'On Writing' is good. From memory, he talks about what it means to be a writer rather than how to do it, which I don't believe can be taught - I think you have to work it out for yourself.

A few years ago a friend gave me a copy of The Paris Review book of interviews and I have worked my way through all the volumes since. The interviewees talk about what it means to be a writer as well as talking a little about their processes and the craft of being a writer. Each one has a different approach, which is quite liberating as you can see that there's no rule about what you should and shouldn't do. Sometimes a famous writer will say something and I'll think, Yes! That's what I do. That's how I feel. And I get that fizzy feeling that I used to get went I went into book shops and looked at the shelves,before I ever got published, and thought One day this will be me.

Good luck, Suzie.

Karen and anyone else reading this, please feel free to chip in with your recommendations.

Helen Smith said...

And Karen W B - hello and thanks!

Helen Smith said...

By the way, Suzie, Chuck Palaniuk usually has something interesting to say about writing. Here's his official site - maintained by others but featuring essays, hints & tips by CP: