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Author Interview: Karen S. Bennett

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Karen S. Bennett, author of Beautiful Horseflesh.

FQ: Reading about your background, I noted that you previously worked as a nurse practitioner. What brought you to the world of writing? Was being an author something you always wished to do as a career?

BENNETT: I was third of three daughters in a Pennsylvania town. After high school I went to NYC on an art scholarship. Despite that I’d always been good at art I couldn’t afford the art supplies. I quit art school in my second year and thirty years later wrote about it. Got a job in Saks Fifth Ave. Started selling umbrellas. Wrote about it. Sang in many church and secular choirs, wrote about it. Got married, had three kids, went to night school to become a nurse, my eyes opened, got divorced and annulled, wrote about it, moved kids from NYC to Atlanta GA to graduate school for me to become a nurse practitioner. My first job after graduation was as a nurse practitioner in the prison system. I was the first ever, and ONLY Correctional Nurse Practitioner. My daughter was in University of GA, so I moved the two boys and me to Baltimore for the Art and Music. At 57 years old I remarried, but was dreadfully unhappy. While walking the dog around the airport where I’d bought a house because of the husband’s necessity to have a small plane, I started plotting a fictional variation of my years as a nurse practitioner in correctional settings. I had years of close contact with bizarre and wonderful characters in my correctional career, and ample opportunity to write after driving home from work, (65 miles one way), where the plots were crafted, written and rewritten.

FQ: Although this is a story on the “dark” side, so to speak, did you find it difficult to include the levity and humor you utilized within the story; or is this just a talent you possess?

BENNETT: If I were walking to the scaffolding of a guillotine, and stubbed my foot on the steps on my way up to my fate, I would have a terse and ironic observation to say aloud. There is no chance to write something funny immediately before or after a beheading, so suffice it to say, I see comedy in life. I enjoy witty or artfully turned phrases. I enjoy people and celebrate how smart some are with fast comebacks, and bright answers. My dark story, in fact, surprises me. And in review of my body of work, it is mostly serious, although peppered with humor that surfaces, because I’ve noticed that no matter how solemn, “funny” often is naughtily curling around the edges.

FQ: What would you say is the most difficult part of writing? And what is one piece of invaluable advice you would give to upcoming authors?

BENNETT: In general I have a lot to say. So, if I have a laptop I’m ready to go. My stories come to me. I’ve lived a long time and have been paying attention to people, situations and stories for lo, those many years. Sometimes I’m impressed by a sentence or a phrase, and eventually use it in writing. I can write on a couch, at a kitchen table, propped on a bed, sitting at a desk, or in the front seat of a car. When it’s time to write, I can do it. I think this ease is from the discipline of a writing class where the instructor put several unrelated words on the board and we students used those words to fashion a story. Ten classmates can come up with ten very original ideas. The practice is enticing—whetting the appetite to write. Not the least of which is we all genuinely compliment one another on how that person took off in such an original direction. Kudos were the unintended gravy in this writing exercise.

My advice to writers: Just write. Maybe your circumstances are that you’re surrounded by distractions. You can get good at writing with drilling into your work, or by absenting yourself to a quiet spot. But don’t put off until everybody is asleep. Put the computer on the table and write. You don’t need the third table near the window at the lunch room. Just write. Maybe you work better with a deadline. Give yourself one. Maybe you prefer NO deadline. Just write. Think about it. Did you submit a short story? Why? Because you didn’t write it? Just write.

FQ: Along those same lines, does the idea for a plot simply “come to you” one day, or are you a planner who sits and struggles to put together an outline for each chapter and character?

BENNETT: I’m going to go out on a limb and say novels are not usually written in one setting. I’m aware GF Handle wrote the Messiah in 30 days, per rumor, so I can’t speak for him, but I find that writing a whole novel takes time. When smacked with the plot idea, but then one has to fill in the “where’s he from?...Why not add a peppy blood hound for a house pet...who is the drunk guy with the good advice? How the heck did he lose that thumb…why now?” I can tell you I love to name characters. I should have had eight kids! First names, nick names, secret last names, all kinds of stuff with names. I like to name the pets too.

I don’t necessarily outline. Here’s why. I can have a teen in trouble, then the person with whom I swap reading pages of our novels will say, “why not start with her as a little kid—that would flesh out her adult behavior...” Then I contemplate and weigh if that’s a good idea for the story or not. Heck, yeah I can write her younger, except now I have to explain two parents…the plot we need to have poverty, illness, bullying in there now that she’s a kid? An outline would work if you realize there may be ultra big changes in the outline. Look at flashbacks. I mean!! That’s fine. What matters is the finished story. So what if it took several years. In the end you have a whole book. Yaaaay!

FQ: I came across a tidbit of information that said your motto is: From Fibs to Fiction. Can you expound on that a bit for readers?

BENNETT: This is my motto. As a third grader I desperately wanted a horse. We lived in a one story house, 750 square feet with a tidy little wrap around lawn. I’d say, “I sure wish I had a horse,” and my dad would say, “Where are you going to put it?” So I got my horse rides at the county fair where I’d spend a slew of quarters on one of about seven presaddled horses. I’d remember his name and dream about him later. I loved the smell of a horse, the heat of the sun on the leather as I mounted the saddle, even tolerated the horse droppings, loved EVERYTHING, so without one to call my own, I bold-facedly lied to my classmates about my horse, Prince, and here’s the photo of me on him, (an Asbury Park beach, New Jersey). There I was. A snapshot of me on a real horse. But my teacher was on to me and wrote in fountain pen on my pretty good report card in the comments section, “dishonesty.” I was immediately sobered. Never expecting to grow into a fiction writer I limited all my conversation to truthful. Of course, when I was writer I was awarded for the fiction, so there it was; my career, “From Fibs to Fiction.”

FQ: You were born into a Pennsylvania Dutch family. I know they have a huge artistic culture, but does that background involve horses in any way? Was Bumble B perhaps a horse you once knew personally?

BENNETT: Penna Dutch was my heritage. This meant we ate sausage, sauerkraut, mashed and every version of potatoes, had pies, cakes and donuts always available. I started baking the family’s favorite chocolate cake at age eleven. We sisters fought over whose turn it was to do the dishes, but when we were getting low on cake, one of us would hurry up and bake a chocolate cake. No time to argue.

Did know Bumble B? No. He’s fiction. I spent a lot of time on the computer’s site of Thoroughbred’s names. Didn’t want to offend a horse or its owner, so made up a bunch of horses’ names for the book then researched to see if my ideas were original enough to be used. My favorite of the names was “Typesetter.” You can just hear it, can’t you?

FQ: What comes next? Are you currently working on a new book for 2022? If so, can you give us a sneak peek?

BENNETT: Oh yes indeedy I have other books. My first was a book set in a women’s prison. I’d worked in prisons and jails for years before I wrote about it. The book I wrote was titled, “Natural Life , No Parole” and won first place in fiction in Maryland Writer’s Association in 2006. I started query letters to agents and still have not found an interested agent. That poor manuscript has been reworked, and renamed, reedited, and what I have now is a fabulous book that no agent will touch. The book is now, The Dictionary Defense. I tell stories you’ve never heard about in prison. From movies you’d think that all that happens in prison is sex and fights. Not so. The women take classes, have jobs, have friends...and one woman was not permitted to receive cancer treatment because she was on death row! I found that UN-believable, so wrote about it. My characters are Tigerette, Shorty, and Tazie from England, who poisoned her husband at last, and of Veronica who stabbed her husband as he was beating her. Her official records were lost and when it was time for court, the judge dismissed the case. We see officer abuse and officer angels on the job.

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