Name: Hilary Lauren
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Where did you grow up?
I was born in Kittery, Maine at the Naval hospital there, but my family had to travel across a state-spanning bridge from New Hampshire to get there.
When did you start writing?
I wrote two books when I was four using the backs of paper that look similar to the timecard punch that hourly workers feed into machines. One was called the Potato Chip and it told the story of a potato chip guy who meets a lovely potato chip lady and they get married, illustrations included! I cannot remember the subjects of the other, although I can tell you that the story line was exactly the same!
At the age of twelve I realized I loved words when I completed an essay on a camel caravan in the dessert for a creative exercise in English. I looked up descriptive words and tried my hardest at the task, which I loved. That led to a role in our grade’s newspaper where I served as half of a writer for an advice column for my classmates. I have written in some way, shape or form ever since.
What made you start writing?
Losing myself in a story. Killing Karl is the first novel I have completed and published, and there were times after all-night writing jags that I would actually be surprised to enter back into my world and life. My protagonist, Doris, is so real to me, as are other characters. I have written beginnings to other stories, and I always get lost when I put down the words, wandering around, trying to keep my eyes open to what is really going on in the scene. I do use an outline, but it is loose, and I like the story to reveal itself to me … to surprise me periodically. There are times when I will wonder, “Well, how in the heck did we get here?” And then I need to bridge that moment. When you experience something like that, you just keep going back. It’s not like you have a choice.
Is it something that you have always wanted to do?
Always … and especially when I found out I could move affect people with words.
What is your favourite genre to read, and do you have any favourite books or authors you would like to recommend?
I enjoy all kinds of books … when I was a little girl, I used to read stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she told tales about growing up as a pioneer in Minnesota, and I felt a deep connection to that as my family moved here when I was in first grade. Lately, I have been diving into the kinds of books that make people look at you strangely if you are in public, say, on a beach or a park bench … true-crime accounts of horrific murders in unassuming trim towns, husbands hiding secrets, wives plotting revenge. While I was writing Killing Karl, I would read forensics books and lap them up like dessert. Stephen King is my favourite author, and I like that he has something to teach in his novels. With a background as a college professor, to me, he elevates and maintains the art of writing, a standard so many vanity authors do not bother with. And of course, the lovely and talented Claire C Riley, the author of the compelling Limerence!
What about to write?
My focus is shifting from the macabre, largely because I have liberated the main demon that drove me to record this story. I have exorcised myself, I guess you could say! I think now about writing some paranormal story lines, or story lines centring around the weird world of writers, and I have even dabbled in children’s writing. Several years ago I created a digitally animated children’s book called Vlassic the Vampire, which starred a young vegetarian vampire named Vlassic and dealt with his struggles with his parents who insisted that he try to partake of the more traditional vampire fare … rat-tail soup, and spider’s egg omelettes, for instance. I write what I want to write about, across genres, and ages … if it moves me and causes a cascade of questions in my mind, I want to write about it.
Do you write full time? If not, what do you do?
I am currently in between contracting gigs, but when gainfully employed work on retailer’s websites, helping them to increase revenue, and examining why there are weaknesses in sales. Think visual merchandising. My last client was Bestbuy.com When I wrote Killing Karl I was in school and had the time to spend on writing and innumerable editing sessions. I don’t know how people who work full-time do it!
Do you ever base your characters on anyone that you know, or are they solely from your imagination?
My characters are comprised of patchwork; people who know me say they can recognize some bits of this person here, or that person there. I do not have entire characters based on any one person, but traits, idiosyncrasies, etc. are sometimes inspired by a real person, and sometimes I have exaggerated that characteristic, or I might have left it at mellower level. There are still others who are complete creations in my head, top to bottom.
About your book
Your latest book is Killing Karl, tell us about the story/plot.
Killing Karl tells the story of a wife, Doris Mathers, trying desperately to love her husband, Karl Mathers aka the Keeper, even after she discovers he is a serial killer. When her infant daughter goes missing, Doris believes Karl to be responsible, and it is then that she must face the truth and decide what to do about it before it is too late to save her only child. Doris learns about her own power, and in the meantime reveals a world she couldn't have fathomed, a world she may not survive.
What gave you the idea for Killing Karl?
There was a prominent person from my childhood that I had a lot of contact with and who is now mentally ill. I witnessed the gradual decline of this person and cranked the knob as far as it would go in Killing Karl.
Who is your favourite character?
I love Peggy, Doris’ best friend! She is a spark and free and wild and wonderful, and she provides a delightful and needed infusion of energy and humour into a story that is very dark at times.
And worst? (I think I know this)
Karl. Yes. Why is he fascinating? Why are killers fascinating? Because they are people that we can never figure out (if we are not off our rockers); they commit some of the most atrocious crimes, stunning us with their violence and black hearts. And it is like a puzzle you can never solve because you can never understand why. So you read more and try and gain insight, and it never comes … and so goes the evil cycle again. Karl, at times, as I was writing, I almost felt sorry for. Serial killers, it has been proven, have specific events occur in their lives, and to remain true to the psychology and composure of a multiple murderer, I had to craft a childhood containing certain elements. Those memories that he has, how bereft he has felt and abandoned, at times it was enough to break my heart … at least for that little boy who had yet to perpetrate any crime. Karl, as any antagonist needs, had layers. He had to be a man that the reader would be able to see as married … completely dysfunctional and unremorseful … but still cast in believable roles in the story. He even has to operate as a father. Can you picture him turning a screwdriver as he puts together a crib? The reader should be able to envision those things and more importantly, find them believable. Still, there comes a point when the reader disengages with Karl, when they stop trying to see him as the product of his unfortunate society, when he allows his monster out; it is at that point that I hope my readers can imagine the worst villains that their imaginations that unleash.
You recently self-published. What made you decide to go down this route instead of the traditional way?
I had worked with a literary agent whom I met at a writer’s conference in Hawaii in 2008. I travelled about 1,600 miles to pitch my book, to buy opportunities to pick agents’ and publishers’ minds, and I came home with a wallet full of business cards. One particular agent and I conversed back and forth via email for a year, she sent me to a reputable editor with the understanding she would represent me at the end of the project, and who I employed twice to comb through my MS. In the end, my agent stopped representing my genre. I did put all of my eggs into one basket with that one and so I guess I had it coming, but it was very disappointing. I then worked with an e-publisher who went out of business. I have tried to pry that traditional publisher’s door open for many years, and the experience has left me disenfranchised. I began to wonder why I was trying so hard to be published in an industry that is changing and whose biggest competitor is the digital word. The people I met who were published in the brick and mortar industry were not willing to read for a fee, to recommend anyone else who could help, but wanted so much support from me on their books. It seems as though those in traditional publishing must sign a do-not-disclose waiver, or do-not-promote-others’-work waiver. Traditional publishers offer large advances for well-known and marketable authors. First timers receive an estimated $5-40k (according to my reputable editor and former literary agent) and very little promotional budget. First time books usually do not sell as well as authors’ subsequent works because the first book is about building readership and not enticing returning readers. I stacked this information and experience against self-publishing and think I made a good decision. The company that published my book, Booktango, is a division of Penguin Books, and I feel good about that because Penguin is established and knows the publishing industry. I paid for formatting, but largely edited the MS myself. I have access to multiple sites where my readers can purchase and I get to keep 100% of the royalties if I sell my books through Booktango’s website. There is no limit on how many I can sell, or if I can go elsewhere to hard-copy publish. I own the copyrights, I picked the cover. The limitation is marketing. But this is something an author must become proficient in anyway, whether funded through an advance from a traditional publisher or through their own self-publishing wherewithal. Authors nowadays must absolutely wear multiple hats: writing, editing, marketing. They must become an expert in each.
What are your hopes for Killing Karl?
I’d like to think that Killing Karl could be the little novel that could, with good writing and intrigue to substantiate sales and additional products. I would be lying if I said I would not want this novel to be a success, to be a game-changer for my life. But I am realistic. There is a lot of legwork and energy that is going to have to happen.
What’s the next project that you’re working on?
Deadly Fate (a working title) picks up twenty years after Killing Karl leaves off. I completed about two-thirds of it several years ago and need to get back at it. And I have been toying a lot with a novel about a woman who falls in love with a ghost. It is fun to get out and explore different territory.
What’s the best piece of advice that you have been given in regards to your writing?
Your book is a product. If you cannot take criticism and accept that there is an entourage of experts out there who need to help you do the jobs you can’t (because they are experts), be it your photographer, your layout person, etc. then you will have a tough time selling “your baby.” There is a ton of pride and ownership associated with writing a book, especially a first book, and all of that needs to be taken off the table when you sell it. For those sentences and phrases that I loved, but that my editor hated and felt were not germane to the story, I created a document where I would paste those succulent, forlorn and irrelevant pearls, and where I could visit them. I do pop-in and read what I cut out now and then, but not as much as I originally thought I would. I tried to make myself as objective as possible in hearing feedback about my work, and if the comments and recommendations made sense to the story and improved it, I would make the change, and if not, I would argue for why whatever it was needed to stay in. But I made a rule … if I want to keep it there must be a solid motivation why … otherwise, out it goes! As a result, I feel like I am a stronger, more decisive writer.
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