Karen Rivers absolutely loves writing books told from the point of view of kids and teens. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with her own kids, whose ideas she tries not to steal too often. She has two dogs, two fish, two birds, and two kids, because if one of something is good, then two of something must be twice as good. If she’s not writing, she’s probably reading, taking photos, attempting to weed her garden, or vacuuming up the dog hair in the house. Or, let’s face it, wasting time on the Internet, although all Internet time is not wasted time, because some of her best ideas come from random snippets she stumbles upon on Twitter. She spends a lot of time walking and thinking in the forest behind her house. One day, she hopes to own a hammock in which she will lie frequently, in the shade of the trees, and look up at the clouds and imagine even more people to write about and even more things for them to do.
1. Favorite books/authors who inspired you?
I think it’s safe to say that every book, every author inspires me. Even when I read a book that I don’t particularly enjoy, I feel hyperaware always of the fact that this novel was the work of someone’s heart, something they sat down to write every day, something they had to excavate the far corners of their imaginations to pen. When you think about the sheer volume of words that thousands and thousands (millions?) of authors have arranged on paper, that alone is inspiring. That said, I really started to want to try my hand at middle grade after reading Rebecca Stead, Kate Di Camillo, Katherine Applegate. These women made me think of MG differently than I had previously; I could suddenly see all the magical possibilities that it held.
2. What’s your writing routine?
Lately, I’ve been doing more teaching, so my writing routine has been re-jigged. I write whenever I can find the mental space and the creative energy to do it. I find that in order to clarify my ideas, I have to take long walks before I sit down in front of the keyboard. My favourite days are days when I don’t have anything else planned, and I can go for a hike in the forest with no particular need to arrive home at a certain time. While I’m walking, my story unfolds in my imagination. Then when I get home, I’m excited to write it down. If I sit first, in front of a blank screen, my brain fills up with worries and distractions. I have to walk first. Highly recommend!
3. What part of your book was the most fun to write?
When I sat down to write Love, Ish, I was planning to write about a girl who was fixated on going to Mars on the first no-return-trip sent up by a private company. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I had a very clear idea of who Mischa Love was going to be. It’s always fun when one’s book suddenly takes on a mind of its own and just starts flowing. It’s like when you’re cycling, you have to do all the work of pedalling and pedalling to get to the top of the hill, not knowing what the road down is going to look like. Sometimes it’s unexpectedly beautiful. Sometimes all you have to do is man the brakes so you don’t tumble off into the undergrowth. When I was writing Love, Ish, I realized this book isn’t just about the possible colonization of Mars. This book is actually about love, in all its forms.
4. Which part was the most difficult?
The ending was both the most difficult and the easiest. I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll understand what I mean when you read the book.
5. Is there one particular character in your new book that you most relate to? Why?
As a consummate outsider, I relate to the way Ish feels separate from her peers in unexpected ways. I think to some degree, I’ve always felt like everyone else has a guidebook that I haven’t been given, they all know how to BE at every age. Oh, this is what twelve is like? I will embody twelve! I don’t think I figured out twelve until I was thirty. I’ve always been slightly out of step.
6. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
My advice is almost always the same: Write. Trust your voice. Keep writing. Then rewrite. Read as much as you can. Observe. Travel. Say ‘yes’ to things that make you uncomfortable. Remember that everything is useful. My kids have been obsessively watching YouTube videos lately, which is something that I find pretty deplorable. Then one day, something just clicked for me and within this YouTube cacophony, I found an incredible idea for a piece of writing. Be patient. The ideas are hiding everywhere, much like Pokemon. You never know where the best one will suddenly spawn. Oh, and go for walks. Walking is often the answer.
7. Cats or dogs?
Definitely dogs. Still. Just last week, I was at a local park after dark with my kids. (Confession: we were collecting Pokeballs). Suddenly, I tripped over something soft and furry. I was relieved when I looked down that it was just a cat. A black cat. I took another step and tripped again. It was another cat. How many cats hang out in the park in the dark? (That sounds like the beginning of something, actually.) (Something possibly ominous.) Anyway, the cats were purring. They definitely seemed like pets, not like wild beasts. Both lay down and exposed their bellies, blinking their green eyes up at me in the dark. They looked like they were yearning to be scratched. I bent to scratch the closest cat’s stomach, convinced that these dark park cats were going to win me over to the cat-side, after all these years. At my touch, the cat sprang to its feet and sank its teeth into my wrist. Conclusion: The dogs still have it.
8. If writing weren’t part of your daily work, what career would you like to have?
If “wealthy philanthropist” is off the table, I think I’d like to be an artist. I like uncovering surprising details and adding layers to create meaning and shadows. I think painting with colours is similar to writing, like you’re painting with words. I like to imagine something from a blank space.
9. Which author would you most like to spend the day with?
This is a difficult question because every author whom I’ve ever met has been wonderful company. When I was teaching a class at the local university recently, I said to my students, “Look around the classroom. THESE are your people. These are the people who hid at the back of parties, reading books they smuggled in their purse. These are the people who never quite felt like they fit in. These are the anxious people. These are the people who observed. These are the readers. And look at us now: We are doing what we were always meant to be doing! And we’ve finally found each other.” We are all in this great tribe, more easily brought together now by social media. But if I can choose only one, I’ll choose Kate DiCamillo. I’ve never met her, but I feel like she has an incredibly powerful and yet soft presence. She is a gentle and keen observer. I like that. I think I’d like her.
10. What is your secret superpower?
I can make a whole loaf of white toast with butter disappear in a remarkably short period of time. I’d tell you how I do it, but then it wouldn’t be a secret. I will say this: It’s part of the writing process. Carbs matter!