Karen Guzman has worked as a journalist at the Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn, and the News and Observer in Raleigh, NC. She holds an MFA from George Mason University and a journalism degree from Boston University. Guzman works as a writer for the Yale School of Management.
1. What was it like writing in the voice of a man?
I get asked this question a lot, and in truth, it wasn’t difficult. Maybe it’s because I have three brothers, many close male friends, and a husband and a son! I don’t know. But I think the important part is that when I conceived of my main character, Seth, I conceived of him as an individual, a person I could see and hear and relate to. He also happened to be a man. But he was an individual person first. That said, there were a couple of spots in the editing process where I was advised to make changes where the narration had perhaps strayed a bit too far into a woman’s perspective.
2. What was your most trying part in the process of writing or publishing the book?
In the writing and rewriting, I would say making the time to get it done. That’s a struggle we all face. I have a full-time job and a family, so discipline is the key. As for the publishing, it takes a lot of tenacity and a thick skin—unless you get really lucky really quickly. A lot of agents and publishers passed on this manuscript, many admitting how much they liked it but just fearing they couldn’t sell it. You’ve got to be able to suck up the hard realities of the marketplace today and push on. Not easy. The support of good writer friends goes a lot way.
3. Follow-up: Most enjoyable part of the process?
Polishing the manuscript through rewrites and seeing how much better it becomes is always hugely rewarding. And of course the surreal email from the publisher saying she wanted to publish it. I’ll never forget that moment. My first few public readings were great, too, especially one in Mystic, Connecticut, when my 6-year-old son presented me with a gift of earrings he had chosen himself to honor me!
4. Two strong Mothers are in the novel. Can you talk a little about Millicent and Dorothy? How did they come to be? Are they based on real people? Any challenges with having such bold secondary characters?
Millicent and Dorothy were two of my favorite characters. I had a lot of fun creating Millicent and her antics, and Dorothy was a character I could just see and hear viscerally. I had great empathy for her. While neither is based solely on an individual real person, they are both composites of different people I’ve known.
Because these characters are so bold, I had to be careful to not let them overshadow Seth, who is a little wishy-washy at times. In the end, I think they’re assertiveness played really nicely off his reticence.
5. Balancing backstory with the present narrative, especially the father’s affect on the narrator. How did you create a balance so that the narrative and flashbacks worked together?
This is a great question. I’m very wary of flashbacks, because too often they slow down or dilute the narrative train. But I just can’t find a way around using them—judiciously. My rule for flashbacks is that they must be absolutely critical to understanding the present day characters and storyline. They must ADVANCE the narrative. I also try to keep them as short and gripping as possible. I like to try to sprinkle in mini flashbacks where I can—three or four or five paragraphs—rather than devoting a chapter to a flashback.
That said, I think Homing Instincts absolutely required flashback scenes with Seth’s dead father, who looms so large in the present storyline. We needed to see these characters interact and feel their bond. The flashback car accident scene when Henry Apgar is killed was necessary, too, because its trauma hangs so heavily in the present storyline.
6. Have these characters appeared in other works? Plans to use them in the future? A sequel?
I’m afraid I don’t have any future plans for these characters, though I never say never. I am in the middle of a new novel now, one that is very different. It’s a third-person voice with multiple points-of-view, and it covers a lot of territory. Please keep up with my readings and my work at www.karenguzman.com I am happy to participate in book club or other literary events.
Thanks so much!