Kathy Leonard Czepiel - Five Questions
Contributor
Written by
Elisabeth Kinsey
March 2012
Contributor
Written by
Elisabeth Kinsey
March 2012

Greetings Shewriters - I am so grateful for our authors answering questions today.  We have Kathy Czepiel and later I will be posting a poet: Michele Harvey

Kathy Leonard Czepiel is the author of A Violet Season, forthcoming in July 2012 from Simon & Schuster. The novel, set on a Hudson Valley violet farm in 1898-99, has been hailed by Robert Olmstead as "fully imagined and beautifully written." Czepiel's short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, and CALYX. She is the recipient of a 2012 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Czepiel teaches writing at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

 

1) Before selling your first Novel A Violet Season, you published in Journals and Reviews.  How did you target your stories for the specific journal you submitted to?

 

Most journals’ websites offer a few excerpts you can read to determine whether your work seems to fit in with their taste, and you can look up their submission guidelines, stated needs, contest offerings, and so on there as well, so the Internet is a great place to start. I subscribe to Poets & Writers, which includes a call for submissions in the back of every issue. I also buy a copy of The Best American Short Stories every year, which is not only fun to read but worth studying, and includes a complete listing of the publications the editors read. When I enter contests, I look for those that include a year’s subscription along with the entry fee. And, of course, I subscribe to journals! I rotate my subscriptions to get more of a feel for what’s out there. Currently I get Tin House and Missouri Review, both of which I really like. Not every journal will be right for your work, and there’s no real shortcut for figuring out which publications are best. You just have to dig around and read and build your knowledge of them over time.

 

2) After working with your editor/agent on your first novel, what was the number one rookie mistake you made and have changed since as you work on your second novel?

 

A Violet Season isn’t out yet, so I hesitate to name my number one rookie mistake because I may not have made it yet! In terms of the editing process, I was confused about how the advance copies worked and didn’t manage them as well as I could have. It was hard asking writer acquaintances and others to read the book when I didn’t really understand the process, but I bumbled through. A bound manuscript went out early on to collect blurbs for the galleys. Now the galleys are out at long-lead publications that might be interested in reviewing or promoting the book. When the galleys came out, we had already been through an in-house editing process that wasn’t reflected in them. I panicked and e-mailed my editor asking what had happened to all of my edits, but of course that’s how it works. My edits won’t appear until the final copy. That’s why the front of the galley reads in capital letters “ADVANCE UNCORRECTED PROOFS.” That was kind of a “duh” moment for me.

 

3) When mapping out your novel, or constructing its chapters, what strategy worked most for you?  Outlining or going hodgepodge, writing bits and pieces at a time?

 

For A Violet Season the process was a mess, as you might expect. I had a set of color-coded sticky notes full of ideas for scenes, which didn’t really work for me, so I abandoned them and just started writing. I’m not sure I could have written that first novel any more efficiently because I was learning as I went. I was resistant to the idea of an outline, but after seeing how much time I spent working on passages, story lines, and characters that didn’t make it into the final manuscript, I decided to work with an outline the second time out, and I’ve found it quite useful. I spent several months “writing” this second novel in bullet points, and as I discovered new ideas, I went back and revised in that abbreviated form. The first draft has gone much more smoothly this time. There is still the thrill of discovery as the story moves in unanticipated directions and the characters develop. Some unexpected things have happened! But when they happen, I can adjust my outline to accommodate them rather than having to rewrite fifty pages.

 

4) Which do you prefer writing, a novel or a short story and why?

 

I’m taking a break from my second novel and working on some short stories now. I love the economy of a short story. Every story is different, but in a short story you can offer one taut image and know that you’ve made your point. I’m a pretty impatient person, and my mind is always running. Often I’ll say something to my husband, who’s much more thoughtful, and by the time he responds my mind is on to the thing after the next thing. So I’m probably better suited, by nature, to the short form. In order to sustain my interest in and discipline for a novel I have to really believe in what I’m doing, and I have to take breaks to work on other things. On the other hand, writing a novel is like piecing together a gigantic puzzle of your own creation. I love the intellectual challenge of that! With either form, if things are going well, I can inhabit the world I’ve created and find it disorienting to surface into reality again. That’s one of my favorite experiences as a writer.

 

5) For an emerging writer, what would be your biggest piece of advice?  In other words, if you were to go back in time, what would you do differently?

 

Well, I’m still an “emerging writer” myself. I’m not sure when we get to stop being “emerging” and just get to be “writers,” but some very accomplished people out there are still considered to be “emerging.” In fact, every writer should probably continue to emerge. But I digress! This is an interesting question for me because I will be 46 when A Violet Season is published, and sometimes I wish I had reached this point two decades sooner. There are reasons I didn’t. First, I wasn’t ready to write because I felt I hadn’t experienced enough. Then I had kids. I am really glad I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to write when my kids were little because now my older daughter is a teenager, and I am seeing that it is true they grow up fast. I’m not sorry I was paying more attention to them than I was to my writing. However, if I were to go farther back, to college, I would probably do two things differently. I would cultivate a relationship with a mentor, something I didn’t realize I should do. And I would consider an MFA. I didn’t even realize that was an option when I was in college and graduate school. I didn’t think of writing fiction as something I could actually do with my life, and it has taken me a long time to cultivate a life in which writing is something I can not only do, but be taken seriously for doing.

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Comments
  • Elisabeth Kinsey

    I agree with that thrill, although I can get addicted to it and when it's gone, (haha, like the song), I get worried and stunted.

  • The magnifying glass is a great metaphor, Deborah. Thanks for that.

    And yes, cultivating a writing life is something, indeed. A gift!

  • Deborah Batterman

    I could not agree more re: the thrill of discovery as a story unfolds. Yes, the internal (and external) editor will tell you when it needs to be reigned in (i.e., that's where the outline serves our purposes well). And, yes, a novel is a giant jigsaw puzzle whereas a short story, to my thinking, is a kind of magnifying glass on a situation, character, etc. Isn't it something to "cultivate a life in which writing is something I can not only do, but be taken seriously for doing"?