Wednesday Author Interview: Karen Yankosky
Today, it is my pleasure to introduce you to humor writer, Karen Yankosky. Welcome to Bookin’ It, Karen. Let’s start by finding out a bit about how you became a writer. When did you decide that’s what you wanted to be, and what steps did you take to prepare for a writing career?
KY: The only two things I ever really did to become a writer were read voraciously and write constantly. I’ve been doing both for my whole life. Sometimes my writing took the form of long, story-filled letters and emails to friends, and I still write with that same voice. I’m not fortunate enough to call writing a career –yet—but it is a passion. I didn’t attempt anything formal with my writing until 2012, when my divorce led me to go bald. No wait, that’s not quite what happened. I only tore out some of my hair. And I also enrolled in a writing class called “Getting Started,” which, thankfully, lived up to its name and led to the creation of my humor blog at Splat-ospheric . That, in turn, led me to write Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing.
BI: I have to say, every time I read the title of your book, it makes me laugh! I’ve already bought it, based on that alone, and can’t wait to read it. Karen, were you inspired by any particular authors, past or present, and what is it about their work that impresses you, or moves you?
KY: Absolutely. I will never forget how hard I laughed when I read one of Dave Barry’s columns, “Bang The Tupperware Slowly,” in my 9th grade English class. I knew right then and there that I wanted to do that—write things that made people laugh, audibly. As I became a fan of Dave’s in my formative years, I was consistently impressed by his ability to write at least one thing in every column that made me laugh out loud, and to avoid being formulaic. Though he stopped writing the column, his annual Year In Review pieces still slay me every time. Ned Hickson is another observational humorist whose ability to crank out consistently funny and often very touching writing inspires me.
BI: Well, I have to agree with both of your choices! Dave Barry has always been a favorite of mine, and discovering Ned Hickson’s blog was a great day for me, too. Such funny men, both! What genres do you read most often for pleasure…those books you gravitate toward the minute you walk into a bookstore?
KY: I gravitate more towards particular writers than genres. When it comes to fiction, I will read anything Nick Hornby writes, because his insights into the human condition alternately make me laugh and cringe, and his characters are so well drawn it wouldn’t surprise me to see them sitting at my neighborhood watering hole. Zadie Smith has a similar gift for character portraits and is an outstanding storyteller. I also make a beeline for the humor shelf to see if Dave Barry and David Sedaris have anything new. (Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs and David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day remain my go-to reading when I’m feeling down.)
BI: Oh, those bad songs…and misheard lyrics! I’m still singing “Don’t go out tonight, it’s bound to take your life. There’s a bathroom on the right.” For years, I wondered what the bathroom was for! *grin* Let’s talk about your writing habits. Do you have a dedicated workspace, and are you consistent with the amount of time you spend writing each day?
KY: I don’t really have a space that I always use. I have a stand-up desk in the office of my tiny little house, and I find that staying vertical wards off restlessness (probably my biggest challenge). But it’s not a panacea, so when I get antsy and tire of hanging out at home by myself, I wander down to the local beer garden, library or coffeeshop. Being surrounded by books, caffeine and/or booze seems to do the trick. I do try to write every day, but practicing law is my full-time job, so I rely heavily on my world-class insomnia to give me writing time. It almost never lets me down.
BI: I must admit, I’ve never heard of a stand-up writer, before. Most interesting! Do you use visual aids, like inspiration boards, photos, or maps of your book’s setting? What reference books or other material do you consult most frequently as you write?
KY: Because I write nonfiction humor, if I don’t know something I just make it up! Every now and then I’ll do a bit of research if I think it will improve a joke.
BI: Oh, I want to do that, too. Make things up, I mean. So much more fun than research! Tell me, when you have an idea for a new book, do you sit down and start typing, or do you start with an outline, and figure out all the major plot points first? In other words, is your working style structured and organized, or more organic and free flowing?
KY: My writing is as free-flowing and organic as a 1960s sit-in, and considerably less organized. When I write essays for my blog, they generally originate with a single funny thing I’ve observed, and then I see where that takes me. I am working on a second collection of essays that is quasi-memoir, and right now I’m just focusing on telling the stories, and then I’ll see which ones play well together.
BI: As someone who has actually been to a 1960’s sit-in, I totally get your point. How about your reading habits? Do you prefer reading eBooks, or print? Why?
KY: I’m still a sucker for tangible books. Aside from the fact that I tend to fall asleep while reading, putting my Kindle in constant danger of shorting out if I drool, I simply like the feel of a real book in my hand. I also find that, for reasons I can’t explain, I read more carefully when I’m holding an actual book. But if I’m traveling, eBooks are the clear winner, hands-down.
BI: Now it’s time to tell us about the books have you published, and where we can buy them.
KY: My first book, Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing: One Woman’s Adventures in Dating, Plumbing, and Other Full-Contact Sports, was released on November 4 and is available on Amazon.com (eBook expected on November 19). It can be bought in-person at Riverby Books on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, a true local treasure, and at the Westover Beer Garden in Arlington, VA, because really, no one should read this book sober.
NOTE FROM KAREN: Good Luck With that Thing You’re Doing spent two days at #15 in the “Love, Sex and Marriage Humor” genre, and is still #4 there in hot new releases—yay! At my age it’s particularly exciting to be called “new.”
BI: Gonna remember your advice. Stocking up on wine, now. And don’t forget, you were called “hot” as well as “new!” 😀 Are you currently working on a new book? When do you expect it to be available?
KY: Yes, I’m about halfway through the first draft of my second book, which tells the story of my relationship with the first house I owned. Like so many casual relationships that are meant to be short-term, it went on for years, and we both got quite attached, which made the last part of our journey together a white-knuckler. I hope to finish it in the next year.
BI: Sounds like another winner, to me. Can’t wait! In your opinion, what is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?
KY: I write true stories about things that happen to all of us (well, maybe not everything I write about happens to all of us. For example, most single women probably haven’t had two relatively attractive, single, non-felon males pop up through the sewer cover in their fenced-in backyards, and that did happen to me…), so the best part of writing for me is the way it makes me feel more like part of a collective. And I love the writing community, too. I never could have imagined how generous and supportive it can be.
The worst part? Having to write, of course! No matter what else I’m doing, some part of my brain is always reminding me that I have more writing to do. Writing as an activity may not be hard, but writing well surely is. It helps to start out with natural talent, but that’s nowhere near enough. Getting to the point where you’ve published something people want to read requires the discipline of an elite athlete in training, minus the dietary restrictions. (Can anyone really write without donuts?)
BI: Wait a minute! I don’t even have a sewer cover in my backyard. I think you’re playing with an unfair advantage, here! I’d write more, but I have donut glaze all over my fingers.
BI Bonus Question: Are you self-published, and if so, what have you learned from the process, overall? Positives and negatives?
KY: I am self-published! I would advise anyone considering it to perform their own appendectomy with a penknife instead. It’s less painful. No, I joke. I used Amazon.com’s CreateSpace at the suggestion of a friend who self-published with great success. But because I work full-time and wanted to focus on just writing the book and making the content as strong as possible, I paid CS for comprehensive copyediting, interior formatting, and a few other services. No doubt I could have done those myself, but I felt that the book needed me to concentrate my efforts elsewhere. I also have a friend who’s an outstanding graphic designer, so I hired her to handle the cover from beginning to end. Understanding all of the formatting rules for both the text and cover would have made me lose my mind. It is wonderful to have complete control over your work, but being solely responsible for it (including promoting it post-publication) is daunting and can be exhausting. I hope to find representation for my next book, but you never know: I might self-publish again!
BI: Thanks for sharing that with us, Karen, and thank you as well for being with us today on Bookin’ It. A great, funny interview, which I enjoyed very much. Best wishes for huge success with your book, and please keep us posted on the next one!
I’ve spent most of my life in the Washington DC area, the only place on Earth where someone like the Secretary of Transportation is considered a celebrity. I studied Spanish extensively in college and graduate school and began my career as an interpreter. When I developed a hankering for a language that was harder to understand than Spanish, I went to law school. I’ve been a practicing lawyer since 2002 but am otherwise a decent human being. When I’m not working or writing, I co-host a podcast about dating and relationships called “Women of Uncertain Age.” I stay on the move as often as possible, partly to avoid the authorities but also to stay fit, and I especially love to swim, run and play tennis. I’m not really good at any of those, but I still love them.