Interview conducted by Gusto Dave.
KAREN CHAPLIN has the awesome job of being an Editor at HarperCollins Children's Books. Although it says Children’s Books, (that threw me because when I was in Jr. High no one could tell me I was a child…even though I acted worse than one) she acquires tween and teen fiction. And I might add that she is one of the most pleasant editors with whom I’ve corresponded. Some of the projects she is editing include Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard (forthcoming July 2012), Starling by Lesley Livingston (forthcoming August 2012), Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon (forthcoming August 2012). She also worked at Puffin/Penguin before moving to Harper, and while she was there, she worked on Students Across the Seven Seas series, Zombie Queen of Newberry High and Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby, Paris Pan Takes the Dare by Cynthea Liu, Exclusively Chloe by J. A. Yang, and the Specialists series by Shannon Greenland.
Welcome to the Rock, Karen!
KC: Thanks so much for having me!
CIR: You’re a fan of the Princess Bride! To me, not only was that film and book amazing, but all of Goldman’s work is brilliant. And he’s known for this quote: “Nobody knows anything.” Although he said it about Hollywood, but especially since he was first and foremost a writer, is there any truth to this about the publishing industry?
KC: Yes, I absolutely love The Princess Bride—the book and the movie. It’s one of my all-time favorites! I do think there is some truth to Goldman’s quote “Nobody knows anything,” especially with regard to the YA marketplace. It is a constantly changing entity. I think the minute you start thinking you know everything, something changes and the market shifts. Tastes are fickle, and what was once the hottest thing could start to be on a downtrend. I feel the key is to not write to trends or what you think the market wants. Just because dystopian novels are hot doesn’t mean you need to write the next one. It may not be your forte, and I think it’s a recipe for disaster. Just write for yourself, write the story you want to tell.
CIR: Way back in 2007 on Pub Rants, Literary Agent Kristen Nelson’s blog—she’s a good friend of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers being that she lives so close to us, she said that a YA psychological thriller is something you’d like to see. Is that still true? And is there some data that suggest this market could be hot?
KC: Yes! I love psychological thrillers; I just find them so utterly compelling. I actually just signed up a wonderfully creepy thriller. I don’t know that there is actual data saying that this is a hot genre. But I think with people having paranormal (and to an extent, dystopian) fatigue, we’re all looking for something new and fresh, whether that be thrillers or realistic/contemporary. And really, I am just always looking for something that truly resonates with me, a story that I fall in love with and can’t stop thinking about.
CIR: I’ve been dying to ask a YA editor this question. Why is YA booming? I can understand that our education system is hungry to find good reads for students, but are adults moving toward it, or worse, tapering off from reading?
KC: This is an interesting question. One of the most dramatic times in one’s life is high school. So much of what happens during those four years really shapes a person and informs what they will be in their adult lives. I think we all carry a piece of high school—the awkwardness, the joy, the friendships, the sadness, the relationships—with us into adulthood. Essentially, everyone can relate to the high school experience, so there is a huge market out there. Not only kids who are going into or are currently in high school, but kids who have gone on to college, and twenty-somethings. There is a lot of cross-over potential in the YA marketplace into the adult market.
CIR: Who are some of the authors you admire that you’ve had the opportunity to meet?
KC: Well, there are just too many authors that I admire to really list them here! And there are always some amazingly talented authors that emerge and I would inevitably leave someone out! But I can tell you that I had the privilege and honor of meeting the wonderfully talented S. E. Hinton when I was at a conference a few years ago. I was a bit star-struck, to be honest—I mean, she wrote The Outsiders when she was sixteen! But I got past my awe and found her to be an absolutely lovely person, incredibly smart yet down to earth. It was such a wonderful experience to talk to her and hear her stories about writing and making the movie.
CIR: How important is it for an author to be flexible to changes to his or her manuscript? By the way, I’m so flexible, my leg is behind my neck as I write this.
KC: Oh my, don’t hurt yourself! :) But seriously, flexibility is incredibly important. Part of the editorial process that I love is brainstorming. When a writer turns in his/her manuscript, I understand it was a labor of love for them. This is a monumental moment for them—that they are giving their work to someone else to read. However, from an editorial standpoint, there needs to be flexibility for me to do my job, which is to take a writer’s story to the next level and make it the best it can possibly be. And to do that, an author needs to have an open mind to suggestions.
CIR: Because we strive to be the most unique writer’s blog on the web, I must ask a peculiar question. What entertainer do you think would be good at writing a fiction piece? And it can’t be someone who has been published in fiction or writes screenplays. For example, I’d say Tom Waits.
KC: This is a difficult one. There are just too many options! I think Tom Waits is a good one. Perhaps Neil Young—I feel he would have some amazing stories to tell. Really, I would say any musician—actually songwriter—who had been in the music business a long time might be able to sit down and write a novel. They are, I think, intense observers by nature. By writing songs, they are telling a kind of story in their own way.
Follow Karen on Twitter @CapChapReads.