Friday, May 28, 2010

Interview Friday with Karen McGrath

Karen McGrath is a wife, mother, homeschool advocate, author and an editor for MuseItUp Publishing. A three time cancer survivor, Karen writes short stories and novels in several genres with a core message of hope in overcoming life’s numerous challenges. You can find her in the suburbs and streets of Boston corralling children, socializing with parents and jotting notes madly about imaginary characters, while carrying on real life conversations. No one finds this unusual but her.

Karen, I want to thank you for being my first interview here on The Writing Mama. I know being a parent and writer can be a bit much to swallow on some days. Finding time to write is not the only problem. I find myself sometimes wondering if I am giving my three children enough attention as well. I am sure you have been in my shoes from time to time. So to start here is the first question.

VS: Karen I am sure, before we begin our readers would love to know how many children you have and what ages.

Karen: Thank you so much for having me here on your blog, Virginia. I am delighted and honored to be your first interview. I have three girls. One is 22 and living on her own in the next town over, I love that she is close by. My two still at home are 13 and 15. I began writing seriously in the last ten years, seeking publication only recently, so they have grown up with me writing.

VS: Have you always wanted to be a writer? If so, what hooked you on writing?

Karen: Yes! I started telling stories to family and friends as a child and wrote some of them for school by age 8 or so. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book when I was 12 that my teacher wanted to publish but I was too shy to follow up on her invitation to submit. Writing is like breathing to me. I put it away for a while for other pursuits in college but found myself writing anyway, albeit non-fiction which I have written for years. I came back to my first love, fiction, in 2009. The draw for me is restoring hope. A good story gives you a reason to believe, I think, and I try to do that.

VS: Karen you are a writer and mom, what type of books do you mostly write? Do your children inspire any of them? If so, can you share what part of the storyline, character, etc.

Karen: I write novels in several genres but at the core of each is the message of hope in the face of adversity. My children inspire me by their willingness to trust that everything will eventually work out. They want a happy ending in a story and that compels me to supply. My oldest amazes me by her desire to grow. Her emotional courage is written into my main character in Primordial Sun. My teens are in my Christian YA fantasy. The main character is both of them, bold, sweet, and willing to reach out to others with their gifts.

VS: Besides writing, you are also an editor for MuseItUp Publishing. Do you find it hard to balance your personal writing time with your editorial job?

Karen: I have to schedule my personal writing time daily or it slips away from me and I’m not happy, it’s like not having my water in the morning. My day begins at 6:30 am when I get up and take care of my household. We start school around 7:30 am and I write for an hour or so providing my girls are settled with breakfast and their books. My goal is 15 minutes, if I can write longer, I am thrilled. At 9:00 am, I go through work email and promote on various social networks, then I start editing my current workload for Muse. If my writing is flowing, I will write as much as I can throughout the day in between everything. I carry my pen and notebook and sometimes my laptop wherever we go.

VS: Wow, Karen you sure are busy. You also mentioned in your email that you homeschool your children. Have you found being a writer and editor helps you as a teacher?

Karen: I think it does. Because I am a writer, I value my students’ imagination. More than once, I have put the schoolbooks aside for the day so they can explore their ideas, whether it is drawing characters for their books or writing lyrics and scores. I seize that creative moment that goes beyond the textbooks and give it room to live, whereas otherwise, I might miss it in favor of a worksheet, not that those are not important. Editing helps me teach because I can see the extraneous things that get in the way of what my children are trying to say and help them define it more so they can communicate their ideas the way they envision them.

VS: That is wonderful. I know totally understand helping your children learn to express and communicate their ideas. As a mom, what do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life?

Karen: Both of my teens are writers so they understand when I’m engrossed at times. I recently went on a writing marathon to get my novel ready for submission. It meant hours above regular work time and weekends as well. My family missed me sorely but they knew it was important to me. I try not to stretch them like that too often and they know when it’s over, Mom will cook again. They are happy now ... sandwiches were getting old! I am careful not to tax them too much; there are definite times it is unbalanced but it works out all right in the long run.

VS: LOL. My family has been through that as well. Karen, I noticed you self-published a cookbook. What gave you the idea to write a cookbook?

Karen: When I was a newlywed, I dreaded Thanksgiving. My first turkey was a disaster. The following year I called my neighbor for directions in a last minute panic, we did not have the internet then. I knew I could not be the only woman nightmaring about salmonella so I wrote a cookbook on how to prepare and organize the whole thing. It’s more prose than a listing of recipes.

VS: Would you ever consider self-publishing a book again? Why or Why not.

Karen: It depends on the piece. If it is better backed by a publishing house, then I will go that route, if not, I will self-publish. My Thanksgiving cookbook is targeted to a finite group of people at a specific time in their lives. I do not think a publisher would pick it up because it has such a limited market. I think self-publishing is a wonderful option, my only drawback in saying that is some may consider self-publishing without using the services of an editor. If you decide to self-publish, you need an editor to help you get the book in tiptop shape for the public. It’s next to impossible to edit your own work completely; I can tell you what my backyard looks like from my kitchen window but my neighbor’s porch gives her a vastly different perspective. Find a good editor, one who will push you to do your best. And remember, the red pen is your friend!

VS: I’m sure you saw the red pen often working on your first novel which is due to release very soon. Can you tell us the name and a bit about your book?

Karen: Primordial Sun, the Heart of the Amazon, is book one in the trilogy. It is a paranormal romance mystery. The protagonist, Kylie Watson, is trying to heal from the unexpected deaths of her missionary parents. She is plagued by nightmares and stalked by a predator; her subconscious is driving her actions and reactions. She returns to the land she rejected as a teen to mourn her parents. There she is thrust into a whirlwind of family secrets, church corruption, international espionage and true love.

VS: Sounds very interesting. Now that your novel is due to come out, do you have any other works in progress? Can you share a little about them?

Karen: I am working on the second book in the series, Primordial Sun, the Birth of a Nation. It’s in the beginning stages so I don’t have a tag line or synopsis yet. But it is more adventure and romance, of course.

I am also working on a fictionalized historical biography. It’s loosely based on the true story of a New England community torn by domestic violence in the 1940’s. I am hoping it will be a story documentary; at least, that’s what I’m aiming for.

Other works in progress are a YA Christian fantasy, two more novels, a short story collection, my collection of poetry from adolescence and some non-fiction works, including another specialized cookbook.

VS: Karen, you sure do cover all genres of writing. With that in mind what tips can you give writing parents with children at home to help them see publication?

Karen: I suggest setting aside at least 15 minutes a day to write what you love. You have to make the decision and just do it no matter what, like brushing your teeth. Your children naturally want to do what you are doing. If you have small children, you can have a daily writing party where they make their own books and color them in; that will keep them busy so you can get your 15 minutes in. My girls loved doing that when they were younger. My teens and I did NaNoWriMo last November for school. We had a great time together, that’s how Primordial Sun came about.

Once you have a story that congeals, revise and edit and revise and edit. Find a reader to check it out for you, hire an editor or take advantage of a local writing group or online group to help critique it for you. When you feel ready to submit, research publishers for your genre and follow their guidelines. As an editor, I appreciate writers who submit under our guidelines. It’s just easier all around and shows they respect their work.

Try not to take rejection personally. Keep writing and submitting. Seek help for things you do not understand and partner with other writers who are willing to share.

VS: I couldn’t have said it better myself. As an editor as well, I think it is very important writers do their research before submitting to any publisher. Karen is there anything else you would like to share with us about being a “Writing Mama”?

Karen: You are not alone! I coordinate a homeschool group of parents that I thought I knew fairly well. Imagine my surprise when I mentioned getting published and almost half of the group said they were either working on something or wanted to. Two of them are already published, I had no idea. And several of the children are writing stories. I am so thrilled by this discovery. Some of us are planning to work together to form a small writing group. We will ask some of the older children who don’t write, to care for the younger ones so the mom’s can get in some writing time. You do not have to be a homeschooler to do this, talk to your local librarian. She might like to read to young children for an hour at the library while you and your friends gather to write at a nearby table. There are a lot of possibilities. Also, my boss, Lea Schizas, runs the Muse Online Conference every October. This is ideal for busy moms. It is free and online, no expense and no travel.

VS: I love the Muse Online Conference. I go every year and even present when I have the time to put a workshop together. I think all writers should take advantage of this conference because it’s not only free like you said, but also convenient.

Karen, I want to thank you for taking the time to share with me and my readers about being a writing mama. It has been lots of fun.

Karen: Thank you, Virginia. I wish you continued success and happiness!

To learn more about Karen you can visit her websites:




Muse Author Page:

Muse Online Writer's Conference:


  1. Wow! That's so inspiring! Home-schooling kids, writing, editing, and hopefully finding time to sleep and eat sometime. I'm a stay at home mom currently, and I haven't found a lot of time to write despite not working at a "real" job. I think the "15 minute" rule is just what I need to do. Thanks Karen for sharing, and thanks Writing Mama for posting this interview!

    Bethany Valles

  2. Hi Bethany, You are working a real job! And quite an important one, I might add! 15 minutes takes all the pressure off for me. I usually find I can get away with more but if I expect 15, I'm not disappointed when it's just that.

    Best wishes on your writing!

    Karen :)

  3. Yay! Great interview! So glad to get to read more about one of my favorite people! Thanks, Virginia!

  4. Absolutely wonderful interview. Thanks for brining this dynamic woman to my attention.

    Best wishes,
    Children’s Author
    Write What Inspires You Blog
    The Golden Pathway Story book Blog

  5. Wow, this interview was well worth the read. ;o) Karen, I loved what you said about letting your homeschoolers put aside studies for the day to follow their creative projects. That sounds heavenly! It made me long to do the same thing. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. And thanks, Virginia, for hosting.

  6. Thanks everyone for stopping by. I couldn't have done this post without Karen. She's one amazing woman!

    I have a few other interviews planned, but if anyone would like to share some insight to how they balance their writing with a family, please email me at

    And thank you so much Karen for being so wonderful and my first interview. I really enjoyed getting to know you better.

  7. I'm a big supporter of the Muse Online Conference.Great interview.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer
    Children's picture Book Klutzy Kantor
    Coming Soon Marta Gargantuan Wings

  8. Lynn, Donna, Beth and everyone, thank you so much for stopping by and your very kind words.

    Virginia, thank you for the interview, this was a lot of fun.

    I am so proud to be a part of the fellowship of writers with you all.

    many blessings, Karen :)

  9. Dear Karen,
    I admire your commitment to writing, even if just for 15 minutes.
    I enjoyed reading the interview.
    Best of luck with your writing and editing at Lea's new publishing company.

  10. Love the interview, Karen & Virginia. I've discovered the crock pot is a writer's friend. Set it up at night, put the ceramic part in the frig and then pop it together & turn it on in the morning. After work, I write feverishly until everyone is home and ready for dinner. An extra hour or so of writing time every day!

  11. Thank you, Mayra, Muse is a wonderful place! I'm thrilled to be there working with everyone.

    Debra, (one of our authors!) That is a great idea I can use today. Thanks!

  12. Yes, Debra the crock pot is the writers friend. For those who don't know what to cook in a crock pot, other than a roast, there are many cookbooks out there with dozens of ideas. I've made about everything you can cook in an oven in mine.

  13. Great interview, Karen and Virginia. You certainly wear a lot of hats, Karen. I'm in awe. I feel so spoiled with my two stepkids, who lived with us full time, just this last school year off to college.

  14. What a great interview. Karen is certainly inspirational.

    I also attend the Muse Online Conference. It's a great way to learn and hone your craft, and even get to pitch to publishers!

    Thanks for sharing, Virginia

  15. What a wonderful interview! I loved what Karen said about finding fifteen minutes to write what you love every day. That is so important! Great advice. Karen is a true inspiration.

  16. J. Aday, Marsha (another of our Muse authors!) Karen, Dallas, and everyone, Thank you so much for stopping in and for your encouraging words.

    I'd love to hear your tips on managing your writing careers. Please send me a note sometime on one of my links, I learn so much from other writers.

    Virginia, you have a great blog going here. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

    Have a great day, everyone!