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Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Interview with Karen Bergreen
What a treat ! This week I was lucky enough to interview Karen Bergreen, an attorney turned stand up comic, a mother and a writer. Karen's novel, Following Polly,was deemed better than The Nanny Diaries by one reviewer. That got my attention.
Following Polly has been recommended by both The New York Times and O Magazine. Karen plans to release her second book, Perfect is Overrated, in July.
Perfect is Overrated looks like another great Chick Lit type book. Here is a bit from the "blurb" on Amazon.
"What the best cure for post-partum depression? After years of barely moving, Kate springs back to life when the mothers-you-love- to-hate in her daughter’s preschool begin to turn up dead."
Here's her take on what she does and how she does it!
1. Tell me about your story, not just an overview, but what it is that makes it special to you.
I grew up in Manhattan, attended Harvard College, went to law school and worked as a lawyer at a well respected firm, but my parents really wanted me to become a starving stand-up comic so I gave up everything I knew and started from the beginning.
2. How do you develop a character?
I always say start with the truth and end with a lie. You don't want to describe your best friend or mortal enemy on paper--that's what all those years in the law has taught me. I usually obsess over a particular aspect of an individual I may or may not know well. For example in Following Polly, I created Mona Hawkins, an unpleasant casting director. I do some acting, and there is a particular casting office I can't stand. Every time I'm there, the assistants along with their boss spend more time studying the various NYC takeout menus than in moving along the auditions. It's like a big lunchroom over there. But the woman who owns it is super skinny and sneers at the non waify actresses--even if the script calls for someone with a little chunk.
But that isn't interesting enough for me to put in a comic novel. So I make the boss a former chubster who has had bariatric surgery but still wants to eat all of the time. She is obsessed with every restaurant in the neighborhood and forces her underlings to code the menus. She eats ten bites of ten entrees every day for lunch and refuses to let anyone give the leftovers to the poor. From this, her character grows. Anyone who does this isn't nice to work for. And then I imagine all sorts of horrible things a mean, hungry, control freak boss could do to people over whom she has power. It's kind of fun.
3. How does plot happen for you? Does it evolve as you write or do you outline it in advance? Describe the process.
Plot for me starts with a premise. In Following Polly for example, I asked the question: what if someone were to follow someone else around obsessively? Again, this just isn't interesting enough to sustain a whole novel. So I ask, what could make it interesting? I know, I say to myself: the followed person ends up dead. And then to make it more interesting, the follower is the obvious suspect because she has left a trail of evidence.
Alas, I then have a problem, I want the book to be a fun, and death is less fun than no death. But all is not lost. I make the character Polly so loathsome, we don't mind that she is killed. And I make Alice so sympathetic that we don't mind that she is so insane that she followed her. So I have to do the back story on both. The remainder of the novel moves forward by Alice getting out of the situation based upon what she learned while she was following Polly. And because I need to have a little romance, I throw in my fantasy love story.
4. Do you write in first person? Third person? Why did you choose that point of view? In what way does it make your work stronger? Did the POV present challenges for you ?
I write in the second person. It's all about you M.H. --haha
First person is easier for me. I have a lot of acting training so when I write I become the character I'm writing. I became Alice in Following Polly--Alice is funny, un-confident, and insecure--she is sort of an orphan, and she has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. In my new book Perfect is Overrated, I became Kate. Kate is way more confident and competent than I am, but I write as if I were incredibly self-assured. Becoming the character makes it easier to write.
5. What personal experience do you bring to your book?
Interestingly, I followed a person and then she was murdered and I was the suspect--Nah, but wouldn't that be awesome. I bring some of my emotional life to the book. Like Alice, in Following Polly, realizing my hopes and dreams didn't come easily to me. I was paralyzed by other people's expectations of me. As for Perfect is Overrated, my upcoming novel, the protagonist is getting through post partum depression. I pulled some of my own struggles from when my children were very small. The book also satirizes some of the Mommy-types with whom we are all familiar.
6. What other projects have you written? What plans do you have for the future?
Perfect is Overrated will be out in paperback and in all of the e-books in July. I am going to keep writing more of these coming of age for women tales. I also have an idea for a YA.
7. What else can you tell us about yourself or your work that we might find of interest?
As I said, I am a comic. I perform all over the country. I love Facebook and I write funny posts. Friend me