Karen Essex's latest novel, Dracula in Love, was published by Doubleday in August 2010.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
My mother says I could read full sentences by the age of three. I do not remember learning to read or a time when I could not read. I read everything I could get my hands on, and luckily there were no limitations by my parents on what I could read as a child. As a tiny tot, I loved the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, and as I got a little older, I started reading biography and history. At twelve I became obsessed with Gone With the Wind and once read it backwards. In sixth grade I had my first exposure to Shakespeare through a gifted teacher and that love affair began (with the bard, not the teacher). By fifteen, I was obsessed with Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and the Southern writers (I’m from New Orleans). So I have always been a great lover of books.
When did you first realize you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I tried to write my first novel at seven. As a child I was made to watch Lawrence Welk with my great grandmother, and I wanted to write a novel about the Lennon Sisters. I don’t think it was very good. As far as my ambitions for my novels’ effect on readers, I have a 3-E rule. I want my readers to be Edified, Educated, and Entertained.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I do go through periods when I cannot read for pleasure but that is usually when I am researching a new project. At those times, all my poor brain can handle at the end of the day is something like a rerun of Sex and the City. Yes, everything I read does come under my writer’s microscope but I am also very forgiving if there is an element that hooks me into a piece of writing. If something in the narrative grabs me, I can get swept away like any other reader. Please, God, don’t ever let that change!
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
Strangely I rarely read historical fiction. That’s because I never want to confuse history with fictitious history in my own mind, and it’s quite easy for the line to become blurred. I don’t read similar writers when I’m writing because I don’t want their style to creep into my narrative. The process of writing is such an unconscious one that we never know what is coming or from where. We have to be careful with what we feed our brains. I do have a few favorite authors of historical fiction, and they are either so reliable in their depiction of history that one needn’t question them, or so clearly writing literary fiction set against a beautifully depicted era that I won’t deny myself: Sarah Dunant, C. W. Gortner, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Margaret George, Michelle Moran, A. S. Byatt.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
Marcel Proust, Lawrence Durrell, Naguib Mafouz, Iris Murdoch, and Flannery O’Connor.
If you were traveling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
Proust’s A la Recherche les Temps Perdu because it is a complete universe unto itself.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
Two things: falling in love with one or more characters, and not being satisfied until knowing what happens next. The reader must be invested in the character’s fate as if s/he were a relative, friend, or lover. Some of my readers were so invested in the fate of my protagonist, Mina Harker, in Dracula in Love that they are furious with me for the fate she chose. But this is what Mina wanted! I tell them that I will make it up to them in sequels.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Disinterest. If I’m not hooked in 100 pages, I put it down. Or throw it across the room, depending on my energy level and how much I paid for it.
Do you have a favorite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
My favorite authors range from Euripides to Christopher Marlowe to Proust to Anne Rice to Iris Murdoch to Raymond Carver to Daphne du Maurier to Tom Stoppard…you see the problem! I could never name one, and I have been as influenced as much by playwrights as by novelists. Impossible to say.
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
I would have to say Sarah Dunant’s Sacred Hearts. 2010 was not a big reading year for me. I was finishing Dracula in Love in the winter, editing it in the spring, and also working on a screenplay the whole time. From June until the end of the year, I was touring and promoting Dracula in Love. My daughter had major surgery in the fall, which was very traumatic. I had to do an Italian book tour as well, and I also broke my ankle. It was one of the best/worst years of my life. That Dunant captivated me with a book about NUNS during this period was truly an achievement. The novel was lyrical and riveting and gave a fresh, poignant look into women’s lives and choices in the 17th century.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I have a Kindle, and I probably purchase more books because of that device than I would otherwise. Readers tell me that they have purchased all my books on Kindle at once. I doubt that anyone other than a stalker would walk into a brick and mortar bookstore and buy all of my books at once. So I am a fan of the electronic book. I think we will always have books in print and ebooks, and I believe that all of us, readers and authors alike, must embrace the new technology and use it to our advantage. It isn’t going to go away. Hating it is like wasting your time reminiscing for the days of dinosaurs.
Karen Essex is an award-winning novelist, a journalist and a screenwriter. She is the author of the national and international best-selling novel, Leonardo’s Swans and Stealing Athena. She has also written two acclaimed biographical novels about the queen of Egypt, Kleopatra and Pharaoh, which she adapted into a screenplay for Warner Bros.
Find out more about Karen here.
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