For starters, William, tell us about your new novel, Kara Was Here.
It’s sort of a literary ghost story-mystery-character story-humor/suspense novel hybrid.
It tells the story of this charming, life-of-the-party actress, Kara Tinsley, who moved from North Carolina to New York to make it…and didn’t. And she has died suddenly at thirty-four. The novel then follows three of the people she left behind. We meet her college best friend, Margot Cominsky, who begins to suspect that Kara was actually murdered. Then there’s Kara’s teenage sister, Gwen, who was supposed to have been spending the summer with Kara and instead begins taking dangerous steps into Kara’s mysterious past. Finally, there’s Kara’s one-time significant other, Brad Mitchell, who is experiencing strange health problems and who also begins seeing Kara’s ghost.
Brad is not only seeing Kara—he’s seeing double.
Yes, he’s started experiencing some double vision, which he’d like to believe is nothing. He hasn’t even told his wife about the problem yet. So he’s dealing with Kara’s death and these health concerns, and his marriage is in a delicate place. And there’s Kara, chatty as ever, showing up as a ghost at his MRI appointment, raising questions about roads taken and not.
Brad’s relationships with his wife and with Kara aren’t the only precarious relationships in the book.
No. Margot is navigating a tricky long-distance relationship with a man in the Army who has been overseas for much longer than they were together. Meanwhile, Gwen at eighteen puts up a tough front, but all of her relationships are a bit fragile, particularly now that Kara is gone. Kara went from being Gwen’s guide and confidant to a topic best avoided in conversation. It’s not easy.
What is your writing process like?
I confess I’m not a writer who sits down to write fiction every day. I tend to work intensely for a few months at a time, generally with goal in mind: get through these chapters, or finish this draft, or work through these problems by such-and-such date. Then I’ll take a pause—to let the project marinate and/or to focus on other things.
Did you begin this novel at the beginning?
I did, actually. For both of my novels, I had an idea and started writing to see if I had enough of a hook and set-up to sustain a reader’s interest—and my own. In the case of my first novel, I eventually scrapped my very first chapter, and the opening you read now is a version of what was once the second chapter. We get to the action faster.
In the case of Kara Was Here, the first thing I wrote was a version of the first chapter: Brad en route to Kara’s funeral, where Kara’s oafish roommate du jour shows up and, to everyone’s surprise, introduces himself as her fiancé. This doesn’t sit well with Margot, because she can’t believe her friend wouldn’t have mentioned this; the news doesn’t sit well with Brad, who proposed to Kara many times before they eventually went their separate ways. So Margot starts to worry that Kara’s death by accidental overdose might have been more complicated, and Brad starts revisiting and reliving his past.
How do you get feedback on your work?
I’m a big fan of the writing workshop. I loved being in workshops as a student, and now I have a writers group with friends I met when I was in the MFA program at NC State. We meet semi-regularly and exchange work when we have things we’re ready to share. I shared Kara with them in chunks, and their feedback and encouragement was invaluable. Later, I gave a draft to my sister, who is a children’s book editor and sharp reader. Then I got some great and very helpful feedback from my agent, Bill Clegg at William Morris Endeavor; from Charlie Winton, who was then the publisher at Soft Skull Press; and from my terrific editor at Soft Skull, Liz Parker.
Kara Was Here seems like a big departure from your first novel, which was a humorous and suspenseful work of metafiction called Being Written. You must be eating this “self-interview” up. Why haven’t you mocked my attire yet or thanked me for making time in my busy day to sit down with you?
It has taken some self-control not to mention that little dab of peanut butter you have on your face.
Oh, thank you.
No, other side.
No, I’ll get it.
I can get it. Geez, give a fellow some personal space.
To answer your question, yes, my first novel, Being Written, was a dark comedy about a man who will stop at nothing to make himself the center of a novel that’s being written. He’s the only character who’s aware that he’s in a book, but he’s in a minor character role, and he wants a bigger part. Cue ridiculousness and bad behavior. Kara Was Here is a more straight-forward narrative (though there’s plenty of ridiculousness and bad behavior).
But beyond the metafictional element in Being Written, most of the characters are artistically-minded people in their mid-twenties and early thirties trying to figure out what to do with themselves. My characters in Kara Was Here kind of bookend that—they’re artsy people in their mid-thirties, plus an eighteen-year-old. I guess, because that was my world, I’m interested in what actors and writers and musicians do after college, when it’s time to “grow up.”
Anything else you see in common between your two books?
Well, both have central characters who are absent. In Being Written, we’re always looking for and wondering about “the author.” And of course, Kara Was Here circles around the life, death, and absence of Kara. So…they’re very different books. But I think readers of one novel will recognize me in the other.
We need to wrap this up, but tell us, where can folks get a laugh and, at the same time, learn more about your novels?
What a very specific question. Thanks for asking.
You can read a silly post-mortem interview with my protagonist, Kara, here. She’s talking with the host of a radio program for the dead: “The Cheerful but Deceased Reader.”
And to promote Being Written, I was interviewed by one of the novel’s minor characters. (She wanted more dialogue. A little awkward.) You can read that interview here.
I’ll be sure to check them out.
I’m sure you will. Thanks, Self. Good hair day, by the way.
Thanks. You, too.
Please read our excerpt of William Conescu’s Kara Was Here, which ran in December 2013.
WILLIAM CONESCU was born in New York and raised in New Orleans. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at North Carolina State University. He is the author of the novels Kara Was Here and Being Written, and his short stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New Letters, and elsewhere. Now a stay-at-home father, William is the former Executive Director of Development Marketing and Communications at Duke University. He lives with his family in Durham, North Carolina. Learn more at www.williamconescu.com or www.facebook.com/williamconescuauthor.