Holy happy hour (chatting it up with Karen Neches)

Touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week is our fearless founder, Karin Gillepsie. Her new release, Earthly Pleasures,, which is being published under the pen name Karen Neches, is about a greeter in Heaven who falls in love with a mortal on Earth. Buzz is divine with nibbles on the movie rights as soon as the book was reviewed in PW. How does this girl stay grounded as her career continues to soar? Is it the red wine or the watermelon-flavored gum?

First, give us the backstory on the book. Hand of God or a deal with the devil?
Over three years ago, I had this sudden thought: Lovely Bones meets Bridget Jones. I was so excited, I felt like I’d discovered how to turn rocks into gold. Then I spoke with a publicist who said, “What a horrific notion.” She hated the pitch because the two books were so different Too late. I was already 70,000 words in. My agent hated it. My editor wanted to use it for kindling. I almost gave up on it. I cursed the novel many times but now it’s my favorite.

How did the celestial world of Earthly Pleasures evolve?
I’ve always thought of Earth as a school, but a rough-tough school similar to boot camp or Outward Bound. I wanted my Heaven to be a frivolous, touristy place, almost like Disney World. I chose the characteristics I’d like to see in Heaven so that’s why there are bathtubs that fill up with Perrier and rose petals, an unlimited supply of nonfattening chocolate and champagne without consequences. It’s a hedonist’s paradise, and yet, the heaven dwellers still crave a little gritty drama, which they get by watching mortals on Earth via the TV station “Earthly Pleasures.”

When and how did you know that writing is your thing?
When I was ten, a boy threw a rock at my head and I wrote an essay called “The Blood Curdling Experience” The kids were howling in the aisles. I thought “hmm, maybe there are something to this writing jazz.” I didn’t get serious about writing until ten years ago though.

I was VERY lucky. My first novel, Bet Your Bottom Dollar, was only the second novel I’d attempted. I’d gotten a lot of positive feedback at writers’ conferences so I queried widely and landed an agent after only a couple of weeks. After a few revisions, she sold it and it ended up being a lead title for Simon and Schuster.

And it’s been sunshine and lollipops ever since, I’m sure. Because being published means happily ever after…right?
I have a very humbling story about being a published author. Once I spoke at Cocoa Florida library and the crowd was sparse and composed primarily of elderly retirees. The librarian apologized for the small turnout. A retiree who was listening in said, “You should have been here last week. There was an author who had a long line out the door.”

“Who was the author?” I asked wearily.

“I don’t remember,” said the retiree. “I just remember the name of his book. It was called Overcoming Incontinence.”

This is a true story. On the other hand, actor James Woods once called me out of the blue and optioned the film rights for my first novel. Being a published author is a series of highs and lows and I’ve finally gotten used to them.

Why the pen name for this project?
Under the name Karin Gillespie I wrote The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Ass Novel with Jill Conner Browne and three novels Bottom Dollar Girl series. All of those books are very, very Southern. Although Earthly Pleasures is set partially in Atlanta and Birmingham, but those settings aren't characters the way my setting was in my Bottom Dollar girl novels. It could take place anywhere. Karen Neches and Karing Gillespie have a few things in common. All my novels rely heavily on humor, quirky characters and twisty plots. (The plot in Earthly Pleasures kicked my butt. Took me two years to write and is very twisty and turny. I DARE you to figure it out. I double dog dare you.)

Let’s talk process. Are you particular about how, when, and where you write?
I write first thing in the morning after I’ve gone for a four-mile run. I keep persevering until happy hour, which hopefully occurs at 5 p.m. instead of say, 11 a.m. Diet Coke in crushed ice, never cubed. EXTRA gum on hand, watermelon flavor only. I sit in a chair with my laptop (so there’s no internet to distract me.) I also like it quiet. I can’t even to instrumental music when I write. That said, if conditions weren’t ideal, I can still write I’ll just be bitter about it.

I try to get the book out in less than six months, writing 1,000 words a day and I don’t edit myself. The book is a horrible, unreadable mess which takes me at least another six months to sort out.

The Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit, a virtual tour for women authors, got some great press last summer in the NY Times. Pretty proud of your brain child?
It was so exciting. We’ve also had a mention in the Village Voice. It’s been gratifying to connect with so many wonderful authors. It's almost four years old now. I got the idea from Kevin Smokler's virtual blog tours. His tours always featured literary authors so I decided to start one just for women. I've loved every minute of it and although I haven't met all the "girlfriends" I feel a connection to them through this tour. The main goal initially was promotion but now the relationship and support of so many great authors is much more meaningful to me.

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