Saturday, January 25, 2014

Persistence Pays!

Persistence Pays

 Persistence.  This one word is the main reason I got published.  Most of the time a good product isn’t enough.  Neither is experience or knowledge for that matter.  When I finally did get the magical phone call from Christina Hogrebe, my amazing agent from the Jane Rotrosen Literary Agency, telling me that she would be thrilled to represent me for my Amish themed YA novel, I had neither experience nor knowledge of the publishing industry.   I was about as green as writer could get.  Truth be told, I wasn’t a writer at all.  I was a horse-back riding instructor and 4H coach.  My only writing experience was the monthly articles that I’d submit to the local newspaper about the farm’s events and activities.  My entire life had been dedicated to learning about horses, not writing.  I’d attended just about every equestrian discipline and husbandry clinic available in a tri-state region, but I’d never taken a single creative writing class.  But...once upon a time, before the five children came along and the homeschooling began and the horse farm grew, I’d been an avid reader myself and that's what helped me get started.

At this point, you might be wondering how I ended up writing a three hundred and eighty page novel that would eventually become the first of a published trilogy with Harlequin Teen.  Persistence and strange circumstances are the answers.  There’s that P word again, but I’ll get to that later.  You see, in 2008, my family moved from the mountains of Tennessee to the middle of an Amish community in northern Kentucky.  It was one of those reluctant moving experiences.  My husband had found a better job in Kentucky and we made the move, leaving behind a successful horse-back riding stable, dozens of much loved students and close family to start over fresh in another state.

My general advice is that If you’re ever faced with such a major life changing move, think very carefully first, AND take your parent’s advice into account before deciding.  Of course I didn’t do those things and a few years later, I was a divorced woman caring for five children and a slew of horses and other pets on my own in unfamiliar territory.  My ex returned to Tennessee and immediately remarried another woman.  I learned the hard way about not listening to my momma, and my gut. 

Getting back to the beginning of my writing career and moving away from unpleasant thoughts, I found myself living in the middle of a community of people who lived their lives as if they were trapped in an episode of Little House on the Prairie.  It was completely fascinating!  Immersing myself into learning about and understanding my new community is what kept my mind distracted from the troubles I was enduring at home.

I was in a unique position.  There was a group of about fifteen Amish teens visiting my farm on a weekly basis to watch my non-Amish students take their lessons in the arena.  Soon enough, the Amish youth were riding with the non-Amish ones and some of the older Amish girls even assisted me with my lesson program.  Through these experiences, a seed of a thought began to grow in my mind.  What if a non-Amish teen and an Amish one fell for each other?  I soon realized that it wasn’t far fetched at all as I witnessed the daily interactions between the two groups of young people.  Friendships were forged and there was some definite flirting going on. 

“How could this ever work out?” I asked myself.  That question plagued me day and night and the idea of Temptation took hold.  It took almost two years of experiential research, observations and discussions with the Amish before I felt confident enough about the foreign culture to tell Rose and Noah’s story.  I was lucky.  I interacted with the Amish on a daily basis.  The youth spent time at my farm, the boys hung out with my teenage sons and the girls babysat my small children.   I drove Amish families to town to shop and I even took an Amish family along on a Gatlinburg vacation.  I had a lot of opportunities to observe and ask questions, and that’s just what I did. 

I had to write Temptation for two reasons.  First, I knew that it was a unique and fascinating story, especially for young adults.  Second, I was a single mom with five kids and a farm and I needed the extra income. 

That’s where the persistence part came in.  I had to learn to write, which I did through trial and error and many rejections.  I thankfully took advice and continued over the course of a year to revise and improve the work until it was finally at the level where an agent embraced it.  That’s when the real work began.  My agent helped me with some more edits before she began submitting to publishing houses.  I was lucky, having both Harlequin Teen and another large publishing company make offers on Temptation.  Ultimately, I chose Harlequin Teen and began a writing career in earnest. 

Through the process of working with editors like Adam Wilson and TS Ferguson, my writing continued to improve and what was once an unattainable dream has become a career.  If I’d given up early, when the rejections were coming in, Rose and Noah’s story would never have been told.   The fan base for this series continues to grow and I’m reminded almost every day by people reaching out to me that the books have made an impact on many lives.  I was even contacted by an Amish girl who was shunned by her family for leaving her community to marry her ‘outsider’ boyfriend.  She tearfully told me how much my books mean to her and how they've helped her get through her own ordeal.  The Temptation series has opened up a mysterious culture to mainstream young people and I’m ever-so-glad that I was ever persistent with the project. 
I'm excited to say that Forever, the third book in the series, will be available on January 28th!  Rose and Noah's journey, which began in Temptation and continued in Belonging, will finally be resolved in this final installment.  Be ready for a roller coaster ride of emotions!
I love to hear from my readers!  If you have questions about the series or the Amish lifestyle in general, please contact me on Facebook.  

Karen Ann Hopkins

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Writes Well With Others

Though the title of this post may suggest this entry will be addressing the subject of creative collaboration, it won’t. At least, not in the sense of combining brainpower with another writer or artist on a single project. Rather, this is a post about community, the importance of creative support in an artist’s life, and maybe even a bit of a thanksgiving on my part, as well.

We all know writing can be a lonely business. Most of the time, it is just you, the page, your characters and your story. Sometimes, when you get knee-deep into the spinning of your yarn, the solitude can be a blessing, even a rare and precious commodity. Silence, space and time are the elements from which most of us spin our best gold. Other times, when the road gets tough and the whole Rumpelstiltskin-in-the-tower act starts to wear on you, it can be an equal boon (if not a greater one,) to have a friend (or five) to call on.

Non-writing friends and family members can provide a wealth of support in their own right, but more often than not, it is the artist-to-artist relationship that supplies just the right type of salve or the much-needed nudge in the right direction, the advice that reminds us the odds aren’t impossible, or the outside suggestion and fresh perspective that gets us out of the dreaded rut and moving once again.

Writing is scary. Creating is scary. Incubation, diligence and butt-in-chair discipline gets us going. But when the shine begins to wear off of what we’re doing, when we’re eye-high in a project we’re not sure we can pull off, or behind schedule, or facing the precipice of a complete do-over (or that even more daunting precipice of self-doubt,) we can start to feel lost in no-man’s land. The desert is treacherous and lonely country indeed. Treacherous but, thankfully, well-trodden.

And here comes my thank you, which I address not only to those close to me, including my mentors and teachers, my critique group, my beta readers and fellow Spalding MFA alumni, but to the Children’s Writing, MG, YA and NA community as a whole.

If you haven’t noticed (though I’m sure you have) we all tend to write well with others, don’t we? I believe this is one of the reasons the Children’s book industry continues to thrive. So thanks for lending an ear to each other, thanks for lending your eyes and expertise to one another’s work, thanks for pep-talking each other, for providing the encouragement needed for fresh ideas to grow and become art. Thanks also for challenging each other to come up higher, to be better at what we do, to refine our craft and our stories. Thanks for celebrating victories with one another and for mourning defeats and losses, too.

Thanks for reaching out. As writers, many of us are introverts, and it’s difficult for us to seek guidance. We might shy away from bugging another writer or asking for help or advice because we know how precious a resource time and attention can be. We can be afraid to tap the shoulder of another artist who seems busy. But a kind word and a warm smile from someone traveling the same road can sometimes mean the difference between the realization of a project and its demise. I know it did for one of mine.

(And don’t forget that it was Tabitha King who pulled Carrie out of the Stephen’s wastebasket.)

So thanks also for being that smiling person, the manuscript rescuer, the tough-love truth-giver, the save-the-artist activist.

I mean, for reals, we’re like the Avengers or something.

And a community like ours is a force to be reckoned with. So let’s keep up the good work.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


So today’s YA has sex in it. Whether it is implied or thrown right out there, it’s there, and some character, main or secondary, is having it. That’s a huge change from about seven years ago when one of my novels was turned down by agents who said they loved my manuscript, but it was “too edgy and, therefore, too tough a sell.” So I should be thrilled now that my writing style is in vogue. Yet, ironically, my anxiety is building as I approach the end of the first draft of my latest contemporary YA realistic fiction novel and know I have to go back and edit it. I keep feeling a lot of pressure to ramp up my romance scenes with increased intimacy between my characters even though my M.O. is to let my characters dictate what my characters need – and they don’t necessarily need more sexual activity.

The pressure comes from that very fine line between Young Adult and New Adult books. Let me be clear that I’m a New Adult addict. I LOVE them, read more NA than YA, and couldn’t be more thrilled for the success of some of those indie and traditionally published ladies out there who have truly become pioneers in the New Adult market. Yet, as much as I read New Adult, I can’t write it. My voice is a sixteen year old’s, and my writing genre is definitely YA.

The industry has very clear definitions of what constitutes YA vs. NA. New Adult is based on characters between 18 and 24 and explores the tumultuous aspects of that age group, many of which are related to sex and intimacy. Still, my current anxiety springs from the fact that many sixteen year olds are grabbing up New Adult books like crazy, and some writers are even being classified as YA/New Adult in order to attract the younger market.

To relieve some of the pressure of having to add a dash more fondling and a pinch more nudity, I came across this awesomely thought-provoking article by librarian Kelly Jensen from Bookstacked. Kelly says:

Sex in YA is important, but sex in YA is not about being a steamy affair nor about being explicit and adult. It's about being awkward, about being confusing and scary, about being really huge experience that can be horrible or can be really amazing. There's an incredible range of experiences and exploring that within YA is perfectly acceptable and possible. But the key is it is about that exploration. Teen sexual situations are not, however, adult nor are they erotic.

As a YA writer, I find this viewpoint comforting because I still get to make my characters romantic, sexual beings without making any of them as over-the-top as Christian Grey. As a 42 year old reading New Adult, I understand what’s happening there. I like how fresh and new it feels because I remember that time in my life. But for a sixteen year old, reading this material could reinforce false precepts about what sex is and could create, for some girls, insecurities about how they should be acting sexually in the same way stick-thin models on the cover of fashion magazines have dictated to girls how they should look.

YA books exist to address the very embarrassing, mortifying, OMG-ing, first-kiss, first-love, frustrating, misunderstood, traumatic, rebellious, defining, BFF, mad-mad-world moments that occur during a teens life. New Adult books are by their very moniker adult books, and getting too graphic in YA books in order to come close to that NA line cheats teens out of stories specifically about them and for them.

On that note, I have a novel to finish. It is far from erotic but I have to believe, for the sake of my characters and for the teens I write for, that it is no less valuable in the market.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


I don’t know where you live, but here in Kentucky we’re hunkering down, preparing for some seriously cold temperatures, ice and possibly snow. We’ve known about this storm, Ion, for several days, with both The Weather Channel and local news channels updating forecasts every hour. In response to these dire predictions, there has been a mass assault on grocery stores. (Personally, I’ve closed down all unnecessary rooms in my house, moved my living into a much smaller space, and bought a second pair of Smartwool socks.) Why? Because we’ve known it’s coming so we’re planning ahead and preparing for survival.
As I’ve watch all the warnings posted on TV and driven past the full-to-capacity grocery parking lots, I’ve thought about my writing career. Yes, career. At this moment, I’m still pre-pubbed but that will change soon. And I’m realizing that I need to be prepared for that moment when I flip over to the Golden World of Published. I need to lay out a detailed plan for Book Two and Book Three. And Book Four and Five. I have no intentions of being a one and done writer, I want a career. So I’ve got to ruthlessly hack out time in my schedule for writing.
Since I’m choosing to go the Indie route, these plans and preparations are even more necessary. There will be no editor or agent pushing me to make deadlines. It’s up to me to want it enough to sit down and do the work.
There won’t be a staff of editors ready and waiting for the arrival of my manuscript. It’s up to me to schedule this weeks or months in advance. There won’t be cover artists on stand-by, either. I have to plan ahead and reserve a time slot.
Success in the Indie world is seldom an accident, it’s a planned effort. It’s a disciplined preparedness that keeps you at the computer working on the next book and the next book and the next book.
There are moments when having all the decisions in my hands is overwhelming, but there are also moments when it’s sheer joy, when I know this is right.
So if you’re considering this route, I encourage you to move past dreams and start planning. Prepare to face the mountains of decisions. Prepare to read marketing books till you’re cross-eyed. Prepare for the feeling of elation when you finally do it.
And buy some Smartwool socks. Seriously. They’re great.