We're honored to feature new fiction by Karen E.F. Lerner in Issue Three of Orson's Review. Issue Three of Orson's Review was published on September 24th, 2019.
We're also very fortunate for the time Karen took to chat with us about the writer’s journey. Check out the discussion below.
*The following interview involves Orson's Publishing (OP) and Karen E.F. Lerner (KL).
OP: How did your journey with the written word begin?
KL: My journey began as a reader. Sounding out Dr. Seuss books, I was enthusiastic about the idea that someone had grouped a bunch of letters and words together with the express purpose that I should puzzle out some meaning from them…piece together something whole. It gave me a sense of pride to be able to do it, but more than that—it gave me confidence that I might be able to connect those kinds of dots in the wider world. I was a kid who didn’t have a ton of confidence, and I don’t think it’s going too far to say that it gave me hope.
OP: Is fiction writing your primary occupation?
KL: No, but words are a big part of my “day job” at a small catalog company. Along with editing books, catalogs, program guides and blog posts, I’m often called upon to craft creative descriptions for new products.
OP: What about this story are you most proud?
KL: That I managed to take the protagonist from a state of powerlessness to a place of power without compromising her sense of compassion.
OP: Tell us about your writing process. Do you approach all pieces of writing in the same way?
KL: My process is evolving. For example, I used to bristle at the idea of creating an outline at the start of a project, but that’s something I’ve been doing more often over the last couple of years. In addition to keeping the work more focused, the outline helps to keep me going if I’m having a day (or a week) where I feel like I “can’t” write. For the writing sessions themselves—unless I’m experiencing a flash of inspiration, or starting a new project from scratch—I usually start by re-reading what I’ve already got on the page. I make adjustments as I go, and it helps me to ease back into the world of the story.
OP: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that impacted your writing?
KL: I would have told anyone who asked that I wanted “to be on the stage like Donny and Marie.” My college education was focused more on musical theater performance than writing. Perhaps because of that, I struggle against the impulse to keep everyone likable at all times…and against the impulse to deliver an overly pat ending.
OP: Tell us about the biggest sacrifice you’ve made while pursuing writing.
KL: I haven’t had to give up anything notable yet—except maybe the idea that the people I love should always like (and “get”) my writing.
OP: How many books do you read in a year?
KL: Not as many as I’d like. Between 15 and 20.
OP: Do you attend readings? If so, tell us about the best one you’ve ever attended—what made it so good?
KL: I do attend readings, although not very often—maybe one a year. I tend to get the most out of readings by newer writers, because both the work and the performances tend to be kind of raw. However, the reading that stands out to me the most was at a Dar Williams concert. She had a writer deliver a reading to the audience instead of having a traditional opening act. It was wholly unexpected, entirely wonderful, and I think a brilliant idea for folks playing in smaller venues.
OP: What do you want most out of your literary community?
OP: Do you believe that an MFA is crucial to success as a writer today?
KL: I’ve asked myself that question on a regular basis over the last decade! However, I don’t have one, and I don’t despair of reaching some level of success.
OP: What do you cross your fingers for as a writer?
KL: That the work will make the reader feel engaged…and less alone…and like there’s hope.
OP: Where do you see your journey with the written word going?
KL: I’ve begun to explore forms of writing beyond the short story, and I see some experiments with playwriting and novel writing ahead.
Karen E. F. Lerner has been a musical theater performer (earning a BFA from The New School), a high school English teacher (in Lodi, NJ), and has spent a decade as the Editorial/Product Manager for a nostalgia-themed catalog company. Her writing has previously appeared in New Jersey Family Magazine. She lives with her husband, children, and rescue dog in Parsippany, NJ.
Be sure to check out Karen E.F. Lerner’s fiction in Issue Three of Orson’s Review.