Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Karen Schreck - Reflecting on the Past, Impacting the Present

Karen Halvorsen Schreck is the author of two previous novels, Dream Journal and While He Was Away. Her short stories and articles have received various awards, including a Pushcart Prize, an Illinois State Arts Council Grant, and in 2009, first prize awards for memoir and devotional magazine writing from the Evangelical Press Association. Karen received her doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lives with her husband and two children in Wheaton, Illinois.

Karen, it’s great to have you at Novel PASTimes today. Could you share with us some of the surprises you’ve encountered along the road to publishing?

For me, one of the biggest surprises (sometimes discouraging, sometimes encouraging, always a study in faith) is that my publishing journey has been circuitous, not at all a straight line from here to there, or beginning to end. In fact, the more I’ve tried to follow a map, the more the course has changed. For example, I first wrote the short story on which Sing for Me is based back in 1995. I tried to turn it into a novel soon after that, and I kept on trying to expand the material in all kinds of different ways for maybe twelve years. Along the way, I published a children’s book and two young adult novels, and finally, just when I had about relinquished any plan for these particular characters, this vision for the novel came to me. The road to the publication of Sing for Me was a long, winding one, and I believe it only came to fruition because I kept on keeping on, kept the faith, kept putting one foot, one word in front of the other so to speak, more than that I plotted my way. 

Please tell us something about your latest novel, Sing for Me.

Sing for Me is about a young woman’s sense of calling, and the challenges she faces trying to embrace and sustain her passions. We may not all be musicians like my main character, Rose Sorensen.  But I believe we all have gifts that the world desperately needs to receive, and we all face obstacles that threaten to prevent us from sharing these gifts. So in this sense, we all share in Rose’s experience.

Sing for Me is set in Depression era Chicago. What drew you to write about this time period and the location of your story?

Certain elements of Sing for Me are inspired by my father’s stories of growing up in Chicago during the 1930s. My father was an incredible teller of tales—like Rose, he was a singer with an incredible voice that made even the most banal memories magical—and when I was a little girl, it became a ritual for me to ask my dad to tell my story after dinner. Because of this, Chicago in the 1930s became almost as real for me as the Chicago of my childhood. Even now when I walk around the city I feel like I can sense what the city was like, some eighty years ago. It’s a kind of time-travelling sensation that I truly relish.  

Have you found that similar themes throughout your writing? Why?  Or why not?

I find that I write about loss, or the potential for loss—whether it’s of a person, place, ideal, or ability—quite a bit.  I lost my mother when I was a girl, and I imagine it has a great deal to do with that, but also I’ve always had a great affection for the past (again, at least partially thanks to my father’s stories), and I think this heightens my interest in things that might be lost if we don’t work hard to remember them.  I’m a real believer in learning from history—both public and personal.

What drew you to writing historical novels?

In addition to the answer above, really, truly:  learning from the past, and other peoples’ reflections on the past—the memories we keep or have to resurrect—is key to my experience of life fully lived. So I guess it’s no surprise that I would ultimately write historical fiction. My other two published novels have a contemporary setting, but even these books were deeply concerned with the impact of the past on the characters’ lives in the present. 

If you’re anything like I am, one favorite book is hard to pick! Do you have two or three top picks among the historical genre that you would care to recommend?

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will always be a favorite for me for its ability to evoke another time, place, and people through the voice of the main character, Scout. 

Beloved, by Toni Morrison, is set soon after the Civil War. I’ve probably read that book five times, but each time I do, I feel like I step back in time and gain some new insight into the traumatic repercussions of slavery in these United States.

I love novels set during World War II, but I’d have to say my top three are The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje, Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.  All three are incredibly evocative, and beautifully, beautifully written, down to the level of the sentence.

What do you consider the best resources for historical research? 

More tomorrow, from award winning author, Karen Helvorsen Schreck.
Please leave a comment by answering the question Karen is asking below
for a chance to win her novel, Sing for Me. Don't forget to include your
email address in the form of name[at]domain[dot]com before 8:30 a.m.
EDT this Friday morning to qualify for the drawing.

How do you define or experience your “calling”?  


Bonnie Roof said...

I have had numerous "callings" during my lifetime - my current calling is encouraging Christian fiction authors/writers. I felt God's nudging to do this last year, and have probably been even more blessed in heeding His call than the authors/writers I've tried to encourage. By encouragement I mean online commenting and sharing of posts, following blogs, buying, reading and reviewing their books, traveling to book signings/speaking conferences etc. whenever possible (to meet authors and have their books signed), and spreading the word, orally, about authors and their books, signings, and other events. I have become friends with numerous Christian fiction writers/authors who have richly inspired me!! Their prayers have meant SO much to me as I am currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer. God knew, before I even received the word I had cancer (for the second time) that these writers/authors would be a blessing to me at a time when I would need it SO much!! I want to thank ALL Christian fiction authors for the inspiration given through their writing, and the loving kindness shown - to their readers!!


Kathleen Rouser said...

Bonnie, what a thoughtful ministry! I’m sure
you’ve touched a great many authors whom
you’ve tried to encourage. Praying you will
be well soon! Thank you for taking the
time to leave a comment.

I’ve had several different callings, some
for much of my life; others were short-lived.
The Lord put on my heart the desire to be
a writer when I was four years old! I have
loved stories and books for as long as I can
remember. Even if I get discouraged or
am away from the writing for a time,
the Lord shows me the way back.

After a couple of years away from working
with kids at Community Bible Study, He
recently spoke to me through several
people, His word, and circumstances
that I should come back be a children’s
teacher in the fall.

traveler said...

When I think back to when I was young I was unaware of what life would be like. But having children and now grandchildren I never realized the emotions and the wonder that this experience gave me.

karenk said...

my calling....live life fully...one day at a time.

thanks for the chance to read this fabulous novel.

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Bonnie Roof said...


Thanks for your kind comments!! I certainly appreciate the two callings you mentioned for yourself in your comments!!


Kathleen Rouser said...

Thank you, Bonnie!

Travleler, being a mother and a grandmother are
indeed important callings. For me it included
homeschooling my kids for a season. Please
leave your email if you want to enter the drawing.

Karen K., would like to hear more about how
you do live more fully each day!

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