Author Feature: Karen Nesbitt

Author Feature: Karen Nesbitt

Declan’s life in small-town Quebec is defined by his parents’ divorce, his older brother’s delinquency and his own lackluster performance at school, which lands him with a tutor he calls Little Miss Perfect. He likes his job at the local ice rink, and he has a couple of good buddies, but his father’s five-year absence is a constant source of pain and anger. When he finds out the truth about his parents’ divorce, he is forced to reconsider everything he has believed about his family and himself.


What was the hardest scene to write in your book, Subject to Change?

The last one – I felt like it had to be perfect. Looking back, I had trouble letting go. Like when my first child, my daughter, moved out.

What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?

Usually some weird little idea keeps working its way into my thoughts, like how does a kid get into prostitution? Or what is it like to find out a secret about your parent? I guess this happens because I work as a high school counselor and the first thing I need to have is empathy. Then a character begins to take shape, and I live with that character in my head for quite awhile, like a little friend. We talk a lot, and eventually I hear a consistent voice begin to gel. We keep on talking until the story unfolds – sometimes all at once – in my imagination. I see the story, like a movie in my head, before I write anything. Of course, once I get down to business, lots can change. But the basic story structure is there.

What part of a book is your favorite to write?

The first chapter – I have many first chapters already written, like lonely trees without a forest, waiting for the day I have the time, energy and confidence to commit to giving them an accompanying forest of chapters.

What are 5 words that best describe your writing process?

Exhilarating, flow, hunker-down, cave-dweller, immersed.

Which author, living or dead, would you want to have coffee with?

Heather O’Neill, because she’s adorable, a genius and had a tough childhood. I know she would make me laugh.

Subject to Change by Karen NesbittWhat’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled for book research?

Probably images of teenage boys with long blonde hair (I know, creepy, right?). Coupled with my current obsession with juvenile prostitution, that could raise a few eyebrows, I think. I also love immersing myself in the music my characters are listening to while I write (amazing that it can be considered research). My YouTube history includes a lot of things most 50-year-old women aren’t listening to.

Besides writing, what’s the most interesting you’ve had?

Working in a lumber yard and at my father’s car dealership. I learned a lot of really handy things, like the size and type of nails you need for particular jobs, and I can identify a weird number of cars and models by sight. I’m obsessed with big trucks. And I have the best day job ever for a YA writer. I get paid to listen to the absolutely knock-your-socks-off real-life stories kids tell me.

How do you select character names?

I imagine other characters calling them by different names until something fits. I try to make sure none are similar so readers don’t get confused. I also take into account my characters’ family history. In Subject to Change, all the members of my main character’s family have Irish names.

How do you combat writers block?

First, I deal with the anxiety created by writer’s block because of procrastinating, and it works. My anxiety abates – for a while. If I’m working with a deadline, I force myself to sit and write something, anything. I believe in the idea behind a vomit draft. Editing is always easier for me. Once I’ve vomited something up, then I can roll up my sleeves and get to work making it sing. I wrote most of Subject to Change while on sabbatical. For six months, I woke up every weekday morning, got my family off to school and work, and went to write just like I would have gone to work. Having a schedule to write was the best thing for me. I’d never had that kind of freedom to prioritize writing. Some days were really hard, but I got into the habit of coughing up words between 7:30 and 2:00 every day. Mordecai Richler inspired me. He said being an author is a job, like anything else. So you sit down when you’re supposed to be there and you write. Then, at 4:30 you go to the bar.

Subject to Change is on shelves now!

Nesbitt, Karen 07-05-16


Karen Nesbitt works as a high school counselor near Montréal, Québec. The mother of two teenagers, Karen spends most of her days immersed in teen culture. She lives with her husband and children in Pierrefonds, Québec. Subject to Change is Karen’s debut novel.

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