Author Conversation: Talking Inspiration With Lesbian Novel Authors Robin Summers and Karis Walsh

Two award-winning authors of lesbian novels discuss the different inspirations and tribulations behind their writing.

BY Clea Kim

March 28 2013 3:00 AM ET

Karis Walsh and Robin Summers are both authors of award-winning lesbian novels. Walsh is the writer behind Sea Glass Inn, Worth the Riskand the Rainbow Award-winning Harmony, published by Bold Strokes Books. Summers's debut novel, After the Fall, is the winner of two 2012 Golden Crown Literary Society Awards, two 2011 Rainbow Awards, and a 2011 Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award. Walsh is releasing her new novel, Improvisation, in May 2013, while Summers is currently working on her second novel. The two authors recently came together to talk about their books, writing, and life.

Karis Walsh: You and I first met two summers ago in the Adirondacks at a Bold Strokes Books retreat and we found we had a lot in common, despite our many differences. Both of us were first-time authors then, with the same editor.
Robin Summers: Yes, we’re both lucky enough to work with Ruth Sternglantz, who is utterly fantastic. She became my number one cheerleader, and therefore also my most profound critic. She wanted to see the book succeed, and so I knew her edits – no matter how painful – were designed to make my book the best it could be.

You can really trust her to take care of your characters and your story, and that’s so important to me. We’ll be starting the editing process on my fifth book, a romantic intrigue called Mounting Danger, soon.
And here I’m still working on book number two! [Laughs] My first novel, After the Fall, took me nearly three years to write, on and off, with a lot of fits and starts, and several really crazy rewrites. I know you were able to write your first novel, Harmony, in a lot less time. I wish I could be disciplined enough to write daily, but I find that given my job [public policy in Washington, D.C.] I’m often too exhausted by the time I get home to do any writing, no matter how much I may want to write. Most of the time I write on Saturdays and Sundays, so over the course of several months, that’s how I build up. Do you write every day?

I wish I did. I have aspirations to write every day, but I don’t. But I think one of the benefits of my job – I teach horseback riding and I ride and do a lot of physical work outside – is that it clears my head. When I’m riding a horse a lot of times I’ll get ideas. Your mind is kind of freed up to move forward and come up with new thoughts while your body’s engaged in what it’s doing.
When you’ve had a day like that, do you go right home and write?

I’ll jot down the lines of dialogue or ideas right away or they disappear. But I wrote my first two books in a very linear fashion, so unless I was at the point where I wanted to insert whatever I’d thought of, I couldn’t write it. I had to write step-by-step. My third one, Sea Glass Inn, I wrote kind of all over the place. It was connected by a series of paintings, so once I wrote those scenes I was able to jump around more than before. That was very different for me because I usually have a very organized structure and I follow it in a straight path.
Another big difference. I’ve certainly learned over the years that I have to outline to some degree, but I do it under protest. I find if I have too much structure, I get completely bored with what I’m writing, and then I don’t want to write it. I’m like a five-year-old that way. But things changed a bit with the book I’m writing now, Season of the Wolf. Having to write a proposal for the book, instead of just submitting the completed manuscript like I did with After the Fall, forced me to go deeper. I had to break out the index cards, because I realized as I was writing out the proposal that I had these gaping holes in the plot. So it actually ended up being a very good process even though I hated every minute of it.

I love the proposal part, coming up with new ideas and starting to see the threads that will connect the characters. You start to have those little epiphanies about who they are and what’s going to happen. But the daily sitting down and writing is difficult for me, and I’m trying to work on that. I don’t have a specific place where I write, but I have certain pens I use, and I have lots of colored index cards and sticky notes. When I finish a scene, I like to rip up my notes and throw them on the floor around me. That way I can see the accomplishment scattered on the ground like confetti from a parade. What does your work space look like?
I write my best outside for some odd reason. Of course, that makes it a little difficult in the winter to get anything accomplished. I wrote the first half of Season of the Wolf on a little deck outside my apartment. Deck is a strong word – it was really more of a landing. But I put a little chair and a little table out there, and I had my thermos of coffee and my computer, and that was it. I’d sit out there for eight to ten hours and be completely happy. I miss that deck.

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