I thought, I want to do that. I want to write stories that evoke emotions in readers. I know this sounds oversimplified, but after that, I just sat down and started writing. I think storytelling has always been inside me. I just didn’t know I wanted to write down the stories I told myself in my head.
Crime fiction author Karen Kutcher knows a thing or two about perseverance. It took her four novels and eight years to land an agent. It was another two years of waiting before she was able to hold her first published book in her hands. We chat to her about her writing routine (with thinking time scheduled in), the ongoing juggle of family life and how one episode of Oprah inspired her to start writing.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work
I write character-driven crime novels. My most recent release, River Bodies, is an Entertainment Weekly New and Notable selection. It’s the first book in the Northampton County series. My first two novels, The Secrets of Lake Road and The Sisters of Blue Mountain, are standalones that blend mystery and women’s fiction. I live with my husband and our two daughters. Our flat-coated retriever, Tucker, is the best dog ever.
What made you want to be a writer?
When I was home with a toddler and newborn, I happened to turn on the television to Oprah’s book club. The audience was arguing over a character’s choices in Sue Miller’s novel, While I Was Gone. It was a fascinating glimpse into just how subjective readers’ views are about books. After watching the show, something inside of me turned on. I thought, I want to do that. I want to write stories that evoke emotions in readers. While I know this sounds oversimplified, but after that, I just sat down and started writing. I think storytelling has always been inside me. I just didn’t know I wanted to write down the stories I told myself in my head. And then I did suddenly. Also, I didn’t know how hard it would be to find an agent or get published. Most of my early submissions were snail mail, so there wasn’t all this information about rejection on the internet, yet. I was naïve. But there is a certain freedom in believing you can do something because no one is saying you can’t or that it’s too hard. It took me four novels and eight years to land an agent. And then another two years before I held my first published book in my hands. So it took me ten years to reach my goal after watching Oprah’s show. But I did it. And just recently, I turned in developmental edits on book number four.
Do you have a writing routine?
I do have a writing routine, although it probably doesn’t look like what you imagine. When you think of someone writing you picture them sitting in front of a computer for however many hours. My routine involves a lot of thinking time away from the computer and yes, I schedule this too! I take at least two hours every morning to exercise and think about whatever is I’m working on that day. I work out plot problems or I get to know my characters better or I think of a scene, whatever. Then for the next few hours I’ll sit at my computer and write. I take a lot of writing breaks during the day to play with the dog, do the laundry, answer my kids text messages. I wish I could have uninterrupted writing time, but that’s not realistic for me right now. Of course, not every day goes smoothly, and I have to be flexible. But I taught myself to write around my family’s schedule. Sue Miller came into my life again when I listened to a podcast interview recently where she mentioned that she taught herself to be an “interruptible” writer. I did too.
(Sue Miller writes literary fiction, but the novel While I Was Gone intrigued me because it had a murder in it. I really do believe this influenced my writing style in what I call character-driven crime fiction.)
How do you outline your work and begin writing? Are you a plotter or pantser?
I’m a hybrid between plotter and pantser. I don’t “plot” the story out on paper, but I do think about who my characters are, how the story begins, what the black moment is, and how I want it to end, although the ending usually changes. And then I “pants” my way through scenes and chapters. One word at a time, right?
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
My best advice for aspiring writers is to block out the noise, whatever it is that keeps you from writing. Set writing goals and make them a priority. I will write X amount of words per day or week, whatever is manageable for you. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Everybody’s process is different.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for new authors?
Discoverability. How do you get your book noticed when there are so many other great books out there? You need to understand what makes your book different, but also what makes it similar to other books so that you can pitch/sell it to the right audience.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
The number one marketing tool is writing a great book and then hope that your publisher gets behind it. It takes a team to publish and market a book and even then, there are no guarantees as to how well it will do.
What struggles did you face in the writing and publishing process?
It changes with every book! But the daily struggle is balancing family and writing. I don’t know any female authors that don’t struggle with this.
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
I use rejection to motivate me to write a better book. I’ll show you! Ha!
What is the best writing advice you have received?
Read. Write. Repeat.