Saturday, April 6, 2013

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Kirsten Mortensen

10 Questions for author Kirsten Mortensen. Visit her website or Follow her on Twitter.

Welcome, Kirsten! Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer? What got you into writing?

Good question? I have no idea! I've been a writer for as long as I could remember. My mom says I was born a writer; my first book was a picture book that I wrote when I was about five years old :)

That said, my road was a crooked one. I got a bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature, and could have gone on for a Masters in Creative Writing, but something tugged me to go out and get a "real job" instead. I wanted to get out of academia. I wanted to experience the world?I felt I needed to experience the world so that I'd have something to write about.
Because I'm a good writer, and a versatile writer, I supported myself by doing corporate marketing communications for many many years. And slowly I got to the point where I felt sure enough about myself to do what I knew I was born to do, which is start writing novels.

What kinds of books do you like to write? Do you consider yourself as having a particular genre?

No, because I hate coloring inside the lines! 

I see myself as a story-teller first and foremost. So I don't sit down and start writing with an idea that my novel will slot into a particular genre. I write what I write, and cross my fingers that what comes out the other end will find readers who appreciate it.

That said, I adore a love story, so inevitably all my novels have romancey elements. And two of them: my new novel, Loose Dogs, and my last novel, When Libby Met the Fairies?are more romances than anything else. Can Job is a comedic satire, but it has a sweet romance working in it as well.

Can you tell us about your latest book, Loose Dogs?

Loose Dogs is the story of Paige Newbury, an animal control officer who has both dog and man problems. 
Her biggest dog problem begins when she finds a pit bull and realizes he's been used to fight. That puts her on the trail of a criminal dog fighting ring.

Her man problems . . . well, she kind of brings those on herself. She has a boyfriend who doesn't want to commit. She gets the not-very-bright-idea that he might be less wishy-washy if he thought he had a rival. But the guy she enlists to play the part of the rival has a plan of his own . . .

What inspired your novel?

Several things, actually. 

One is my love of animals, and especially dogs. In Paige, I created a character I can relate to; in fact, I could see myself choosing a career that involved working with animals, if I were starting over again.

The flip side of that is that I'm horrified by dog fighting. And I'm saddened that some people acquire big, muscular dogs (including pit bulls) in order to project machismo or aggression, because those same people are often ignorant about dog behavior and training. 

And I have tremendous respect for organizations that are involved in educating the public about pit bulls, and who are trying to protect dogs from being misused or even tortured. I don't get preachy in Loose Dogs, but I do hope the novel plays some small part in helping raise awareness about our collective responsibility to these dogs.

The other piece of Loose Dogs that inspired me as a writer is Paige's love life. She gifted when it comes to handling dogs, but when she tries to handle men in the same way, it backfires. This touches on some of the most fundamental human questions. We're quite a bit like animals, but how much? 

Loose Dogs is your third novel. Was it harder or easier to write than the first two? 

Actually, it was much harder! But only because it entailed doing a major major re-write.
Let me preface this story by saying: writing novels is hard. A good analogy is building a car. You can drive cars your whole life, but building a car takes skills and knowledge and practice that you'll never get if you just drive them, no matter how much you might love to drive.

Novels are also complicated, and a lot can go wrong. Some goof-ups won't matter too much. A bad paint job won't cause your car to break down on the side of the road. But there are a lot of major goof-ups that writers make, that quickly render a novel un-drivable. 

So I was sitting there nearly ten years ago, and, like a lot of writers do, I was reading books and thinking "if she can do that, I can do too!" And "that," in my mind, was a fast-paced, saucy, commercially successful book, along the lines of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books.

And it seemed to me that a dog catcher protagonist had "commercial success" written all over it.

So I finished a draft of the novel, and I attended a writer's conference. I did all the right things. I researched which agents would be there, and picked the ones I'd most like to work with. And one of them, a top New York agent, held a workshop, and I'll be darned if she didn't start talking in her workshop about a book she'd acquired that featured dogs, and how she was a big dog lover. I was just about hyperventilating at that point. I pushed up to the front of the room afterward, and introduced myself, and pitched my book'and she asked me to send it to her.

I was beside myself.

And I sent her the manuscript . . . and waited . . . and waited . . . and months went by . . . and finally she got back to me and said, "No." 

I was crushed.

It was a polite "no." She even told me why: she didn't think she could sell it because she felt the plotting wasn't strong enough.

I had no idea what that meant, really. My novel had a beginning, middle, and end! Stuff happened; my protagonist ended up in mortal danger, for crying out loud! 

I'd built a car. Some major doohickey in it wasn't working.

And I realized I had no idea what that doohickey was or how to build it the right way.

So I filed the novel away and went to work to learn more about plotting.

And then I wrote two other novels, and guess what? One of the things readers praise about them is how well plotted they are.

Meanwhile, Dogs sat in my filing cabinet. I thought about it from time to time. And finally one day I took a deep breath and pulled out the manuscript and read it and saw immediately that the agent was right.

I'll tell you something else. It's a lot easier to write a book "the right way" the first time than it is to rewrite a book with major structural problems! I had to tear the novel down to the foundation; it was almost like starting from scratch, except that I had junk lying around getting in my way as I worked!

What do you think of the old saying, "write what you know"?


Because to write a novel you have to build a world, and the more you know, the better you become as a world-builder.

And Loose Dogs is a perfect example. I've always had a dog, and my first full-length book was a nonfiction dog training book, Outwitting Dogs. I wrote it collaboratively with Terry Ryan, a super dog training professional in Washington State. Between that book, and the things I taught myself about dog training with my own dogs, I gained fluency in that area, and that allowed me to create a protagonist who is gifted when it comes to handling dogs.

My novel Can Job draws on my years of experience working for large corporations. I finally got to the point where I'd worked for large corporations for so long that I began to realize how funny they are. 

Incidentally, the most important thing writers have to "know" is human nature. You have to understand what makes people tick. 

What kinds of books do you like to read?

I read very widely, from classics to nonfiction to genre. 
To give you an idea, in recent months four books I've enjoyed recently are James Boswell?s London Journal, which was published in the mid-1700s and is exactly what the title says, a journal! DH Lawrence?s Lady Chatterley?s Lover, a 20th century modernist novel that was banned for many years because of its explicit sexual content; Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, a gorgeous contemporary novel that comes very close to literary without crossing the line; and A Tear of Blood by Julie Harris, a terrific vampire novel that came out about a year ago.

My favorite novels are those that deal with big ideas without being pretentious about it. 

What do you think of the future of publishing? Will bookstores ever become obsolete?

I'll answer your question about bookstores first: no, I don't think they'll ever become obsolete. They'll adapt and change. In fact, many independent bookstores are doing better now than they have for many years. They're discovering that people really do value local shops and the sense of community they foster. 
I'm also convinced that bookstores will increasingly embrace print-on-demand technology: people will be able to browse titles in online catalogs, read sample chapters, and if they find a book they want to buy they'll be able to have it printed and bound while they wait. 

As far as the future of publishing, I don't see print books going away. We're already seeing the growth in ebooks begin to plateau. Part of this is peoples' resistance to technology. But there's also the fact that print books are tangible objects. When you buy an ebook, you're purchasing a reading license. But when you buy a print book, you actually own something you can touch. 

It's like the difference between renting a home and buying it. There will always be people who view books a little bit like assets that they accumulate over a period of years. That's very different from books as an entertainment experience that lasts only as long as you?re reading the book.

I buy both. I buy ebooks when I want entertainment only. I buy print editions when I want to enrich my personal library in a way that is more lasting.

If you could pick any one character you've created to bring to life, who would you pick and why? What would you do with them once they came to life?

Oh, that would probably be Charlene, from Loose Dogs, because she's a psychic. And although Paige, the heroine of the book, claims she doesn't really believe in Charlene's abilities, if you read closely enough you'll see that Char is, at the very least, highly intuitive and emotionally supportive. She also has the good sense not to push her advice too hard; that's always nice to find in a friend! 

If I brought her to life, I'd try to learn as much as I could from her about our connection to non-physical reality. And I'd repay her by giving her business advice, since that's something I'm good at that she needs.

What's your favorite part of writing?

If you're talking novels, I have two favorite parts. The first is when I start a new novel. I love the world-building and the discovery. I love how I am so often surprised by things my characters do, and plot twists that arise that I didn't consciously plan. 

My other favorite part is when I'm putting finishing touches on a novel. It's very exciting to think that very soon I'll be sharing the book with readers, and they'll be discovering some of the same twists that I did when I wrote it. It's exhilarating. 

If you're talking writing in general, my favorite part about it is how it thins the veil between normal, waking consciousness and the "other" reality; the one of dreams and the subconscious. Writing of any kind is a form of meditation. I never get tired of it. (And by the way, I've published a short non-fiction essay on this topic, titled Writing, Dreams, and Consciousness, available as an ebook for 99 cents.)


  1. Thanks so much, Mary, this was fun!

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