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1- ON-1 WITH KARA Q. REA
For The Art is Ours Blog with Kirsten Neill of Worthy Writers Editing
Hi Kara! Please introduce yourself and share 5 fun facts!
Hi! My name is Kara Q. Rea, and I am an emerging author based in New England. My first published short story, ‘The Burn Pile,’ will be featured later this year in the Running Wild Press Anthology of Stories: Volume 5.
Here are five fun facts about me!
I am a full time work-from-home mother to two little girls ages 4 and 2, and we are expecting a baby boy in late May!
I was born and raised in Massachusetts, but I lived in Texas for a few years and will always have a soft spot for that beautiful area of the country. Maybe that’s because I met the love of my life out there before dragging him back to gloomy old New England to marry me. (Just kidding, he loves it here.)
I started keeping a journal at age 8, and the things just escalated from there. I had already written, typed and edited six (terrible, horrible) novels by the time I turned 15. Around that age my focus began to shift to other things…
I spent almost my entire young adult life training to be a professional ballet dancer and against all odds, I was actually able to do it! I toured briefly with the Eugene Ballet Company before “retiring” at age 23 to a regular job and a regular life. (Bonus fun fact—that’s how I met my husband! He was a professional ballet dancer, too!)
After all that, I ended up going to the University of Massachusetts and majoring in Accounting. (What was I thinking?)
What inspired you to begin your writing journey?
I’m pretty sure that Harriet the Spy inspired me to begin my writing journey way back in elementary school, but I want to give credit to one of my oldest friends and writing buddies—Skye Shirley—for encouraging me to get back into writing, and to finally take my work seriously.
After I retired from ballet in 2010, my life was stuffed so full with work, school, and family obligations that I stopped writing – and even reading—completely. In 2019, Skye challenged me to meet with her to write for one single hour each week. At first that seemed almost impossible to do. Our virtual meetings were at the crack of dawn for me (she was living in Florence, Italy at the time) and I was so out of practice with my writing that I couldn’t even think of anything to say. Skye would give me writing prompts and assignments to keep me accountable and would ask me to show her what I’d worked on during the week at our next meeting.
Knowing that she would ask to see what I’d done that week was usually my only motivation to write. But then, the more I practiced, something strange began to happen. I started to actually enjoy writing again. Ideas flooded in, and after years of being creatively stagnant, it felt absolutely incredible. Then, Skye challenged me again. She asked me why I wasn’t submitting, and I told her it was because I never have. And she said, it’s time you did. And she was right.
What is your favourite thing about writing crime and thriller?
I’ve always been fascinated with the dark side of human nature. I love to read within the crime and thriller genres because the good stories leave me feeling stunned and shaken. Some stories have such shocking endings or plot twists that they stay with you forever. I absolutely love that—when there’s a plot twist that I didn’t anticipate, no matter how much energy I’d spent trying to predict what would happen next.
My favorite thing about writing in this genre is that it’s easy for me to come up with new material. My near constant consumption of crime/horror/thriller/mystery books and shows seems to be having a small effect on my writing (haha). Most of the time when I get an idea, it’s either a mental snapshot of something horrible and terrifying, or the skeleton of a storyline. I spend a lot of time filling in the morbid details and contemplating the possible repercussions of different dark twists in my head while I’m switching the laundry or cooking dinner (or responding to work emails… don’t tell my boss!) The best part, for me, is imagining how people might react to the story. I’m always hoping that my writing can make someone feel that nervous rush of horror and adrenaline that I love so much.
What are the most challenging parts?
The most challenging parts of writing thriller/crime fiction, in my opinion, are giving it the right tone, and making it both believable and shocking at the same time. I struggle to keep wordiness and melodrama out of my work. I want things to have a moody feel to them because often the topics are not lighthearted ones, but I don’t necessarily want to establish an angsty, dramatic context before anything bad has even happened! I also find myself struggling with the “truth is stranger than fiction” conundrum—can I put this in there, or is that too far fetched? Would people have a hard time believing something like x could happen, or will they say to themselves, ‘Oh, I saw this on an episode of Dateline?’
What is the best short story you have written?
That’s a hard question! I think that in general, writers don’t have a very accurate perception of how good or bad their pieces really are. They’re too close to tell. It’s like trying to figure out which one of your kids is the prettiest. My critique partner is always sending me stories that she thinks are subpar, and the ones she feels worst about are usually the best in my opinion! At this moment, I’d say my favorite short story is called ‘The Red Victorian.’ It’s a sad story with themes of loneliness and isolation, but it also has hints of comedy and ends with a snappy punch line. It has been out on submission for the past four months and I’ve gotten loads of rejections already, so maybe it’s not my best—but I still like it!
What do you like the most about writing poetry?
I like to write poetry when I’m having a hard time with my fiction. I find that it’s better for my mental health to take a break and write something else than it is to just give myself a day off. That makes me feel way too guilty. Writing poetry gives my mind a break and gives me a sense of accomplishment—there, I started something today, and now it’s finished (my poems are never very long—or very good!)
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned on your writing journey?
When I first started writing with Skye in 2019, she had me make a list of all of the reasons why I couldn’t write. It was a long list. I shared it with her, and she had a remedy for each item on the list. The exercise made me realize that I hadn’t made a list of reasons why I couldn’t write—I had made a list of excuses. These days when I feel like I am having a hard time, I write down what’s in my way and I plan strategies to get past the roadblocks.
For example, I started outlining a novel in 2019, worked on it for a couple of months, and then abandoned it to focus on short stories. I didn’t think I had it in me to write a novel just as I was getting reacquainted with my craft, and so I gave myself some grace there, which I think was a good idea. But now it’s 2021, and it’s time to finish that first draft and see if I have anything worthwhile. How else will I know if it’s a good story unless I write it—then rewrite it—then edit it some more?
In March I challenged myself to write 2000 words per week (with two weeks off in May to have a baby) so that I will have written 50,000 words of the novel by August. Maybe that’s my whole first draft and maybe it’s not, but either way by 50k words hopefully I will have gathered the momentum I need to finally finish the thing. And I’m happy to report that the challenge has been going really well! The writing is utter garbage—but at least I’m hitting my word count goals each week!
What can you tell us about the novel you’re working on?
I’ll share the rough blurb with you!
When Julia Aldrich and her husband Nick move their young family to the quiet suburban town of Wyman, Massachusetts, they believe they are leaving their troubled past behind and starting over. But when Julia joins a writing group at the local library, she begins to suspect that the violent, detailed depictions of murder penned by her elderly writing partner are more fact than fiction. As her obsession with a decades old cold case begins to spiral out of control, Julia can’t help but put everything on the line in a desperate attempt to find out who murdered Ginny Cohen on August 19, 1960. Can Julia uncover the truth without losing her family, her sanity, and her life--or is she dead wrong about everything?
Where has your work been published and how does it feel to share it with others?
I have two pieces forthcoming at the moment. One is the story of my daughter Trinity’s birth, which will appear in the Spring 2021 issue of Birthing Magazine. I am especially excited to share that one with her when I get my contributor copies—she’s thrilled to see her photos and name in a magazine, and I don’t blame her! I’m pretty excited about it, too!
The second forthcoming piece is a short story called ‘The Burn Pile,’ which will be featured in the Running Wild Press Anthology of Stories: Volume 5. It should be in print and available for purchase by August/September of 2021. I can’t even comprehend how it will feel to see my work in actual book form. I’m sure it will be completely surreal.
What do you hope readers gain from reading your work?
I want to leave my readers satisfied, but with questions. I want to leave them thinking—either about the characters in the story, or about the characters in their own lives. Mostly, I hope that my readers will remember the way they felt when they came to the end of one of my stories, and that the memory of that feeling will make them want to read the story again someday.
What are your writing goals for the next few years?
My goals for the next few years are lofty: I want to write a viable, marketable novel. I want to polish it until it’s shiny enough that I can begin to query agents, and then I hope to eventually gain representation and sell my work worldwide. I somehow also expect to be writing short stories and submitting those to journals along the way. The dream is that all of my favorite stories will find homes someday. Wouldn’t that be great?
What does your typical writing session look like?
If I’m working on my novel, a typical writing session looks like this: I wait until my husband can watch the kids, then I go up into the office, put on my noise canceling headphones, and close the door. I open up Google docs and immediately check my word count and figure out how many words I need to write this session in order to hit my goals. I reread a little bit of what I wrote yesterday, but not too much, because it really needs editing, and I can’t afford to delete any words at the moment. I curse yesterday’s self for writing up until a good stopping point—why didn’t I stop in the middle of the action?! It’s so much easier to pick up writing in the middle of the action! I check my outline for guidance. Then I check the time. I check my texts. I check my emails. I check Submittable. I check the Submission Grinder. I write one sentence. I check my word count. I cry one sad, silent tear. (See?! Melodrama!)
If I’m working on a short story, a typical writing session looks like this: I get an idea at the most inconvenient time possible, like just before a Zoom meeting for work, or during my daughter’s virtual piano class. I realize that I should write it down and save it for later, because I really need to focus on my novel right now. Instead, I think about it obsessively throughout the whole meeting/piano class. By the time that’s over, the idea is fully fleshed out. I then sit down and write feverishly for a period of 1-3 hours without coming up for air, completely oblivious to my children climbing my body like a jungle gym and complaining that it’s past dinnertime. I finish the story with my hands sweating and my heart pounding. Then I order pizza because it really is past dinnertime.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your journey?
I wish more than anything that I had never taken such a long break away from writing. Sometimes my writing sounds stunted, like something a high schooler would write, since that’s about how old I was when I stopped honing my craft. I think that if I had started writing at age 8 and never stopped, I would know now what I wish I knew back when I was at the start of my journey. But I don’t think I’m there yet. I feel like I still have so much to experience and learn before I am at the point where I can look back and give wisdom to my younger self (or to anyone else!)
Any last words to share about you and your experiences?
Kirsten, I can’t thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to share about myself and my work on your blog. You really do a lot to keep writers inspired and working, and I hope this interview can do the same for anyone who may be struggling with some of the same obstacles I’ve faced on my journey. If you are interested in following along with me, my Instagram username is @karaqwrites. You can also visit my website at www.karaqwrites.com, and you can check out what my lovely friend Skye is up to by visiting her website at www.skyeshirley.com Cheers!
This interview was conducted in April of 2021 and first appeared on the Art is Ours Blog, 9 July 2021
Learn more about Kirsten McNeill at Books. Community. Imagination. - Worthy Writers Editing
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