|Years ago, I had a big interview for a job at a magazine I really wanted. The day of it just happened to also be Halloween. I arrived to find the publisher, Carol McKibben, dressed as a devil, complete with long red fingernails and a pointed tail. I soon came to find out just how seriously this company took Halloween!
Yet, Carol was no devil. She was my first boss, and my first mentor in the world of writing and publishing. However … looking back on that day, and the turn that her career has taken now, little did I know that the costume of a conjurer of fantastic and dark worlds was what lived in her true, creative heart. Read on!
Carol McKibben is originally from the south. And while there are vestiges of that world in her – graciousness, generosity and a careful consideration of the words she uses – the geography of the West where she has lived for most of her adult life seems more suited to her deep love of horses, dogs and wide open spaces.
But there is something not quite east, west or south in her. Come to find out Carol spends a good deal of her day (and dreams) going in a different direction – into an exotic fantasy world filled with vampires, overlords, and heroic phantom dogs named Snow Blood, Moon Blood and Reign. Her journey to this world, while not as exotic as where she’d end up, is just as interesting.
In 2011 she wrote Riding Through It, a memoir of Carol’s life as a young woman coming to terms with her inner strength. On her website, Carol explains the title. “There’s an expression that horse trainers use whenever a client’s ride becomes difficult – “Keep riding through it.” I’ve heard it at least a hundred times while riding my horse. It’s a function of good horsemanship. If you give up or get off amid difficulties, you might win the battle that day but lose the war in the long run. Learning to be really good at something takes persistence and time. Such it is with life; so it is with writing.”
Following this success, in 2012 she came out with a second book, one that came to her in a dream. At the heart of Luke’s Tale is a yellow lab, the story of two lovers and their struggle with unforeseen disillusionment to build a lasting relationship. Luke is devoted to them beyond all reason and it’s his love that changes the course of their lives. After the book garnered much praise, it would seem Luke changed the course of Carol’s writing life as well.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS OF CAROL MCKIBBEN
“I write because I have to,” Carol says. “There are characters in my head that I have to get out.” To exorcise those characters and their stories into one of the two to three books she publishes a year (you read that right) Carol follows a tried-and-true process that works for her.
It begins with an outline of how the story might ultimately go. Each chapter is briefly outlined for what happens in it. Then she creates a description of the setting, the characters, who they are and what motivates them. She is also careful to pay attention to secondary characters at this point so they don’t get lost when the words begin to fly.
“The inspiration is all in the writing,” she says. “As I flush it out, I will look at something and say to myself, “Now I’m going to twist this up.’”
It’s those twists that her readers love most. Many of her books are now in a series format of anywhere from three to five books so the readers have time to develop a connection to the story, and Carol has time to do the same with them. She has built up a robust email list for newsletters and a large following on social media where she can offer them first reads and review opportunities as well as surveys and even contests as the titles roll towards launch day. Getting readers involved in the process has helped create a loyal audience that awaits her next works.
A Mother-Daughter Team
One of the most unique things about Carol’s process is that she often writes in tandem with her daughter. Stephanie McKibben, an author herself, is founder of Troll River Publications which operates with a revolving roster of authors. She was the publisher of Luke’s Tale and is an enthusiastic supporter of the worlds Carol creates. Now she too takes part in building those worlds with Carol through their new venture, Penn Scripter.
“One of us will take the lead and draft an outline,” Carol explains. “Then we talk it through, ask questions, and rip it apart. We go back and revise, then look at it again and rip it apart again until we can finally say to one another, ‘This works.’”
Right now, the two are working on a fantasy set in the 13th century — Triad, the Demon of Reginhart.
For me angels, devils, creatures, shape shifters and vampires are characters from Halloweens past and future. But they are present in Carol’s imagination, world and on her computer screen daily.
“It’s fun to live different lives,” she says. “As fiction writers, that’s what we do. I don’t do it for the edification of anyone else. I make myself happy and if readers like it, that’s great.”
Carol hears the calling to write books of mystery and adventure. Her readers answer by reading them. It’s a match made in heaven, or rather, some wild and exotic alternative universe that lives between the covers of Carol’s books.
To learn more about Carol and her books, visit her website here.
On November 2, Carol will be my special guest at a bonus session of my Writer’s Workshop! She’ll talk more about her creative process and how she builds a community of readers and stays in touch with them through social media and email. This very special session will be the kick-off for the November session of the ongoing workshops.
>> Sign up for the November session of Writer’s Workshop now and get this bonus class!