Interviewer: You write both fiction and nonfiction, in addition to penning a column for Psychology Today. Which genre do you feel most passionately about?
CK: I believe that nonfiction is the truth about what happened when and fiction is the emotional truth of what happened and why. I read and write both. In writing nonfiction, I lean towards creative nonfiction that gives room to a personal perspective on what is happening and how I’m processing it personally. Creative nonfiction has a clear personal point of view.
My fiction is character-driven rather than plot driven. In character-driven fiction you create a character, give them something they want and a reason why they want it, then put roadblocks in their way and problems to solve. These roadblocks give the story twists and turns and a chance for your character to make decisions, grow and change. I talk about the difference between character driven and plot driven fiction in my writing workbook, A Self-Guided Workbook and Gentle Tour on Learning How to Write Stories from Start-To-Finish.
I would have to say that my favorite genre is short fiction. I love the complexity and demands of creating a short story where every word moves the story forward. That said, I’m always happy when a month rolls around and it’s time for me to write another column for Psychology Today. When they asked me to write a personal perspective column, they said they wanted me to write about any and everything.
The column is both a challenge and great fun for me to write.
Interviewer: Where do you find your writing inspiration for both genres?
CK: My inspiration for my column comes from what is happening around the world and in my world. For instance, I recently wrote about Texas’s stance on abortion, suggesting that Texas might want to consider reinstating Shot Gun Weddings. The next month I wrote about retiring. There have been dozens of columns that have grown out of my personal as well as our collective experiences living with COVID.
The same things that inspire me to write my column also inspire me to write fiction. Where in the column I’m working from a creative nonfiction stance on what is happening from a point of view, in fiction, I’m trying to answer the question of why something is happening and to uncover the emotional truth and impact of the situation.
Interviewer: Tell us about one of your titles that you are most connected to, and why?
CK: I am deeply connected to Ashoan’s Rug. It’s a small book of ten connected stories about ten people who owned the same prayer rug and how it changed their lives. I started writing this book because I wanted to explore the idea of the “work” of art: of how art and objects impact our lives. I started Ashoan’s Rug by first writing a 50-page essay on what makes something a work of art and what is the work of art. After I wrote the essay and thought about it for a bit, I had done the thinking and research I needed to start writing about a small prayer rug that changed lives.
It took me about three years to write this little book. Our responses to art and objects are very personal, which meant that each of the chapters was grounded in the needs and desires of the characters in each chapter.
I spent a great deal of time with each story trying to imagine why and how the rug would change their lives. I liked that the “work” of art has a rather magical quality to it.
Interviewer: What inspired you to write your latest novel, A Musical Affair?
CK: Our oldest son, Neil, is a classically trained, professional musician. He and I worked together to create an international music festival, which later became the basis of my last novel, A Musical Affair.
Interviewer: Did your experience with the festival feed the research process for the novel?
Yes! I was the director of the festival for five years. Just like the central character in the book, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Directing the festival taught me that although the outcome looks like it’s about the music, it is really about the money. That was a revelation and the hook for writing the book.
Interviewer: How do you begin the process of getting to know your characters?
I spend a lot of time building my characters. I want to know how they think, how they walk, how they talk and what they dream of and why. I also need to know what they might say and the words they would use before I write dialogue for them. I want the words they say to ring true to the character and his/her background and dreams.
I guess you could say that I live with them in my head before I ever put them on paper.
Interviewer: How has your writing changed from your first book, to your latest?
CK: I hope my writing has gotten better. Over my career, I’ve found the courage to dig more deeply and tell a more emotionally truthful story.
Interviewer: What is the best piece of advice you would give to an aspiring writer who wants to make writing their full-time career?
CK: I strongly advise them to find something they are passionate about, whether it’s politics, raising goats, growing tomatoes, or working with children, and to learn as much about that subject as possible. They can use that knowledge in writing both fiction and nonfiction. Anyone who wants to be a writer needs to be curious about everything, and knowledgeable about some aspects of their world!
I’ve been lucky to be able to make a living as a writer because I was willing to let my nonfiction writing pay the bills while I worked on writing fiction. I also saw the nonfiction world as a rich library of ideas that could feed my fiction work. The more I knew about something from the nonfiction world in depth, the better I could use that knowledge to build fictional characters.
I’ve done a lot of commercial work writing about and for anything from real estate to annual reports of major corporations. I’ve also written hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles about food, restaurants, and travel. Through writing about food, I became a good cook, and because I was a good cook, I was able to write about food with authority. I also became a restaurant reviewer for several publications. I guess you could say I learned to eat well as well as write well during that time.
If you want to be a writer, it’s important that you can work alone and meet deadlines, be professional and able to take direction as well as criticism. You also need to know how to do research in depth, not just skim through the internet for information.