Writing with integrity

Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Hi Liz. My name is Kara Lucas and I live in central California with my husband and kids. I am a social worker, and work in adoptions part-time.  Because of the busyness of life and my kids’ activities, I mainly find myself writing in the evenings, or when I can squeeze it in, in the mornings. When I don’t write, I do typical mom stuff, but I love to read, and garden, and go to the mountains.

Where are you at in your process?

I have finished two novels. My first novel I never really tried to get it published, and my second one I began querying in November. I wasn’t really serious about it (self-sabotage, maybe?), but after Christmas, I became committed to querying up to 100 agents. In the end, four agents requested fulls and I got two offers. I signed with an agent, but have recently changed agents.  

I didn’t know that was possible.  How did you change agents?

My first agent, Lora Rivera of CGLA decided to leave the business to pursue her own writing career. She is a sweetheart, we are still friends, and it is okay. I wrote about it recently in my blog, and it explains what happened. http://playingbeethoven.blogspot.com/  Anyway, next time around when I started querying, I ended up with 9 requests for fulls and five offers–so I had way more interest this time around! I’m now with Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch literary.

What did you think of the query process?

I suck at queries for myself, but am pretty good at writing them for others. I went to a query workshop with Nathan Bransford back when he was an agent, and I liked his kind, straightforward approach. Check out his website, plus Janet Reid’s and Query Shark and Kristin Nelson’s Queries that Got to Yes.

What did you look for in an agent?

When things really started happening, and it looked like I was going to get an agent, I started stressing out. What should I look for? What to do? Luckily, when I spoke to the two on the phone, Lora I could tell really “got” my vision for the book and we really seemed to click. So, for me, the choice was easy, because she is a passionate about my book as I am.  🙂

Why don’t you tell us about your book?

My YA novel is FINDING PONY, an issue-driven YA contemporary about a boy named Jesse. I have met many kids like Jesse trapped in the system and have always wondered what happened to them. Without further ado:

 Fifteen-year-old Jesse Sampson would love to escape his pathetic, dead-end life in Bravo Hills trailer park, but he can’t—not with a little sister to take care of and a tweaked out mom who could give a crap. But one night, he gets more than he bargained for when the cops break in and arrest his mom and stepdad for a mini-mart robbery gone wrong.  Determined never to go into foster care again, Jesse hides his sister under a pile of dirty clothes and escapes through a window.  In the morning, he finds his mom and step dad arrested, the trailer trashed, and Pony gone. And due to a botched drug deal, she may also be in danger. Scared, homeless, and desperate to find her, Jesse sets off on a trek that sends him from dusty rural back roads to the gang-infested streets of Los Angeles. He must dodge drug dealers, gangs, cops, and social workers as he searches to find Pony, and ultimately, himself.

Do you ever surprise yourself when you writing it?

Yes! FINDING PONY is way, way edgier that who I think I am as a person. There is cussing. There are drugs. But it’s real, and I had to be honest to the character and the book, and I had to be brave to do it.

Is there a scene you are willing to share with us?

Jesse meets a girl early in the novel, and they made a connection. Through all of the tragic situations he finds himself in, he idealizes her, and she becomes his version of the “ideal girl”. At the end of the book, he is court-ordered to volunteer at a homeless shelter and meets up with her again:

“Thanks.” She withdraws her hand, coloring a bit.  She composes herself. “Okay, today you’ll be helping to organize the incoming food. We’ve had several new shipments of donations, already. You’ll be busy most of the afternoon. Think you can handle that?”

                I nod slowly. “I can handle that.”

I catch a whiff of her hair. It doesn’t smell of chocolate but vanilla.

That’s nice, too.

“Well.” She notices that I am still staring at her, and her eyes twinkle. “I’ll get you started. Shall we go inside?”

We shall, I think.

And so it goes.

Why do you write YA?

I love writing YA because I can remember so much about what it means to be a teenager. There are so many firsts, you know? First kiss, first love, first heartbreak, first job. It’s the diving board into adulthood, and there is lots of change, so naturally it is very exciting to write.

How do your characters come to life?

Sometimes a real person will inspire me, or an actor on television, or even a song. I have to see the face of the character before I can write about them. Then I usually do this exercise where I ask my character to sit in a chair, and have he/she just tell me about themselves. Sometimes really cool things come out of this particular exercise. Towards the end of my first draft, usually my characters have become very, very real to me. Sometimes they tell me things that I didn’t even originally know about them.

Funnily enough, lots of characters talk to me when I am driving, so I often jot down dialogue on little scraps of paper (and try not to crash!)

Do you characters like to listen to you, their creator, do they like to pull all the strings and write you into corners?

Oh, no. They have their own minds. They do what they want and I have to follow!

What keeps you going?

I appreciate a good book so much. When I read some really amazing words, I am in awe. Recently I finished Lauren Oliver’s DELIRIUM and I just sat back and was dumfounded by her ability to write magically. I guess the reason I keep going, is to try and create that sort of art in my own stories, to tell it well in my own way, and have other be moved.

Who do you go to for support when you’re feeling miserable about your book (come on we all have this moment)

Ooohhh, THE CRAZIES! (As Nathan Bransfod has so eloquently posted about so many times.)

What really helped my writing journey take off was 1. support from my husband and kids 2. finding a good critique partner and 3. finding a critique group

 Those three things have been HUGE. During the last round of revisions for my agent, it was so grueling, and my day to day life was so busy, that I just wanted to throw in the towel. It was my amazing husband who sat my down and said, “You can do this. Don’t give up now. I won’t let you.” Also, I meet with a critique group every Monday, and that has been invaluable—the support and the mentoring.

Do you tend to laugh and cry when your characters do?

Yes, I have cried with this book. And I try to be funny. It’s always a rush when my critique group laughs in the right places.

How do you deal with writers block? The word count thing really helps, I think. Just tell yourself, I am going to write X amount of words today, even if it’s all crap. It’s getting those words down that matters. After a couple of minutes, I will realize, hey this is not ALL bad…

What have you learned about yourself through your writing?

 That I can do it! It is truly an accomplishment to finish a book, so even if it’s not published yet, you should be proud of yourself.

Is writing a novel easier or more difficult than you thought?

Easier, because I know that I can do it. Harder, because I want it to be good. It is a reality now. I have an agent—there is no pretending. She is counting on me, too.

What strengths do you have that make you the next great author?

 I try to write with honesty. I try to have integrity with writing and getting the story right.

What weaknesses do have that make you human?  (Yes, we all know that we know you are superman, but no one would appreciate him if kryptonite wouldn’t bring him down to size)

I am a procrastinator; I could stare at a blank wall all day and be happy. I yell at my kids occasionally, and during this whole writing process they have eaten not the best dinners in the world. 🙂

What is one piece of advice that you have received that you thought was good?

Mandy Hubbard’s website has a saying that’s really cool: A published writer is someone who never gives up. Never give up.

What advice do you have for others that are considering joining you on this rocky path?

Find support with other writers. We are a crazy bunch and only other writers know what it’s like!

Where do you see yourself in one year?

A published book, movie rights, bestseller list. (Hey, go for the gold, right?)

How about 5?

More books, two or three more!

Tell us where and how we find you.

Blog:  http://playingbeethoven.blogspot.com/

Twitter:  @karakristin

Books or sites that you have found helpful

Natalie Whipple’s blog, Nathan Bransford’s, Querytracker, Query Shark, Literary Rambles, Books: ON WRITING Stephen King, K.L. Going’s HOW TO WRITE YA, BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, umm…there are so many more out there—so many great resources.


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