Author Interview: Kara McDowells

SP: Hi Kara! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey?

KM: Hello! Thanks so much for having me! My writing journey began in earnest in Summer 2016. I’d spent the last year lackadaisically querying agents with the contemporary YA novel I’d written in the Spring of 2015. I was getting requests followed my rejections, and I knew my manuscript needed more help than I knew how to give it. I entered Pitch Wars and my manuscript was selected! I credit the program with changing my writing life. Not only did it teach me how to revise a book, but also it connected me with other writers, which has been so important to my journey. A few months after Pitch Wars, I signed with my first agent. A few months after that, my debut novel JUST FOR CLICKS sold!

SP: Can you tell us about your novel, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER? How long did it take you to write it? I must say I was in love after reading the book blurb! Sliding Doors meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!  

KM: Thank you! ONE WAY OR ANOTHER is the story of Paige, a 17-year-old girl with anxiety and extreme difficulty making decisions. When she’s presented with two opportunities for her Christmas vacation, she can’t decide whether to go to New York for the first time or go to a snowy mountain cabin with Fitz, the best friend she secretly loves. Fate steps in in the form of a slip and fall and when Paige bumps her head, the book splits into two timelines: Fate One in New York, and Fate Two in the mountains. The chapters alternate between fates, but I wrote them separately and wove them together during revisions. I wrote Fate Two over the course of a few months, paused for two months while plagued with extreme anxiety over the book, and then picked it back up again to write Fate One. That took me about three weeks. Everything fell together quickly after that!

SP: Mental health rep is so important, what inspired you to write your main character as someone who struggles with anxiety?

KM: Paige’s struggle with anxiety closely mirrors mine! I’ve also had anxiety for as long as I can remember, and as a teenager, the prospect of making potentially life-altering decisions left me paralyzed. One of the things I love about the book is the fact that Paige doesn’t know she has anxiety. Over the course of the story, she slowly begins to realize that her brain works differently than those around her, and more importantly, that there are things she can do to help herself cope.

SP:  What advice to you have for readers and writers struggling with anxiety? Any favorite quotes from your book?

KM: In the beginning of the book Paige shuns the idea of therapy or seeing a doctor because she views her anxiety as “not that bad.” She knows there are many other people suffering worse than she is, so she tries to brush it off. But throughout the course of the book, she must come to terms with the fact that her anxiety is holding her back in a meaningful way, and there are people who can help. Someone tells her that “There’s no Olympics of suffering, some threshold of pain you have to meet. Everyone deserves help.” That’s my advice for readers and writers struggling with anxiety. If you feel like something is off—it probably is. Talk to someone. Reach out. Ask for help.

SP: What part of the writing process do you most enjoy? The first draft? The development in revision? The final touches?

KM: First drafts are tough for me. Every page feels painful. The same is true for final touches/copy edits. By that time, I’m sick to death of my own words. Revisions are the sweet spot. The best feeling is when I can see the story coming together in the way I envisioned. When I’m close to the finish line, but not quite there. I love that.

Is Kara a…

Plotter/pantster? I’m a reformed pantser! I plotted ONE WAY OR ANOTHER with the help of The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. I swear by that book!

Last book you read? Daisy Jones and The Six. I listened to the audiobook and was blown away. Highly recommend the full cast recording.

Current dream vacation spot? I’m restless by nature, just like Paige. COVID has made it ten times worse. I spend way too much time dreaming of taking a plane to Italy. I’m going to do it as soon as it’s safe.

Something always in your fridge? Chocolate chips. A handful of cold chocolate chips is what I use to power through an afternoon slump.

Would you rather be a professional: Marine Biologist? Spy? Opera Singer? Brain Surgeon? OR? I’m afraid of fish, so Marine Biologist is out. I’m clumsy and incapable of whispering, so I would make a loudy spy. Brain surgery is far too much pressure. I’m also a terrible singer, but if I could be good at it? That’d be pretty great. I’d love to stand on a stage every night and sing under the lights.

Favorite childhood book?  This is an impossible question! I loved so many. I was given the first two Harry Potter books for my tenth birthday, and I spent that whole year hoping for my Hogwarts letter. I also vividly remember the first time I read Anne of Green Gables and fell in love with Gilbert Blythe. I was also smitten with Bloomability by Sharon Creech. I think I got some of my wanderlust from that book.

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Kara! We are so excited for ONE WAY OR ANOTHER!

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