Karol Hoeffner – Author Interview

We all allowed ourselves to believe that everything would be okay, when in fact, nothing would ever be the same again.”

Knee Deep – Karol Hoeffner

Back in June, I read Knee Deep, a fantastic read about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina splashed with themes of romance, spirituality and Mardi Gras! It was an absolutely fabulous book and even though it won’t be published until September, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy so it can sit proudly on my shelf. (That’s where all the best books go!) I’m really happy to share my recent author interview with author, Karol Hoeffner, and learn more about her ideas for the book and what she has planned in the future!

  1. There are some saddening topics covered in your book, Knee Deep, especially around the time of Hurricane Katrina. Is this something you found difficult to write?

What an interesting question.  Although I did not find the writing difficult, it was emotionally exhausting to live through Camille’s journey.  Even during the rewrite process, I would sometimes tear up as I polished the harder, more emotionally-draining passages. I was always surprised by my visceral response to my own words. But it was at those moments that I knew I had created something so very separate from me that I could experience the same kind of empathy that I hope the reader will experience.

  1. When did the idea of writing this book come to you?

I fell in love with New Orleans on my first trip when I was sixteen, the same age as the protagonist in my novel, Camille. As a teenager, I walked down the same streets that she walked, breathing in the culture of the Quarter.  That first trip was followed by many other experiences in the Crescent City, and she eventually became a part of my heartsong.

I began work on the novel fifteen years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which I witnessed from afar, safely cocooned in Los Angeles. I watched the continual news coverage for five days, unable to take my eyes off the TV screen as the tragic aftermath unfolded. When the levee broke, I ,too, broke down. My grief was so strong that my own family began to worry about me.

Although I was not there for Katrina, I visited shortly after. I drove into the Ninth Ward where I celebrated Twelfth Night in my twenties. All that remained of the shotgun house where I danced until dawn were cracked concrete steps from the side yard. I spent my days in cafes, talking to the survivors, listening to their stories. 

When I returned, I continued working on the novel, but ultimately I put the manuscript away, because I did not feel equipped to tell the story of the hurricane. That right belonged to the many who had lived through it. So I waited until enough time had passed and enough books had been written so that the storm could service the story I wanted to tell instead of the other way around. 

  1. Do you have any other plans for books of a similar nature?

After finishing Knee Deep, I developed a television series.  And I’m now  in the process of deciding what I want to write next. At the moment, I have no plans to write about natural disasters.  I feel more drawn to family tragedies, unexpected smaller events that turn lives upside down.  I’ve recently returned to family letters that I found after my mother passed, which I catalogued.  I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to the young adult and new adult market is because of the emotional landscape. The discovery of firsts – first loves, first heartbreak, first death are somehow so intense – almost bigger than life itself. The same reasons that readers of all ages are drawn to the YA/NA market are the same reasons that I love to write those stories. 

  1. Tell us your favourite thing about being an author.

The best thing about being an author is the freedom to inhabit different worlds.  I live for the days when I get lost in the work, when the writing takes over. My office is detached from the house, so that I can physically and literally remove myself from the day-to-day business of my world to enter imaginary ones.  When my son was little, he would sometimes burst through the french doors of my office, interrupting me with a burning question of his own.  Sometimes, I was so caught up in my own words that I would dismiss his enthusiastic outbursts or questions with a gentle nod, only pretending to listen.  But he saw through the ruse.  Instead of retreating, he invented his own code to get my attention.  When he felt that what he had to say was more important than what I was writing, he would begin with “Momma, see me.”  And he trained me to do just that: to disengage and listen. To see him. 

  1. Tell us more about the other books you’ve published!

All You’ve Got was my first novel inspired by my daughter Nancy’s experience playing varsity volleyball for the national championship team at  Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. I grew up in Dallas pre-Title IX, and there were very few opportunities for girls to play sports. When I was in the seventh grade, we had a school-wide race to see who could run the fastest mile.  I won, and I won by a lot. I can remember my gym teacher saying, ‘You are so fast. You are so good and you really should….”’  He stopped because he couldn’t suggest the next steps.  There was not a girls’ track team at my high school. No girls’ basketball.  I could try out for a girls’ tennis team or I could cheer for the boys’ sports teams.  I chose drill team and danced my way through competitions.

Because of the difference in my own experience with sports and that of my daughter, I wanted to write about the way sports impacts the lives of young women. Plus, I spent many days in gyms across Southern California, watching her play and observing first-hand how sometimes there was even more drama off the court than on it.

All You’ve Got  details the struggles of two very different high school volleyball teams, one from the affluent Villa Madonna Academy and the other the archrival Sacred Heart, which comes from a rough L.A. neighborhood. A tragic fire burns down Madonna Academy and kills the father of one of the girls from Sacred Heart, forcing the players from Villa Madonna to transfer to Sacred Heart.  The two former rivals battle on and off the court, clashing on racial, socio-economic and romantic lines. I wrote the story as a screenplay first, and MTV released the movie version, which was directed by Neema Barnette several months after the release of the book.

Surf Ed. is about Molly Browne, who is ripped from her comfortable Lubbock, Texas, home by her mother following her parents’ divorce.  They move to a Marineland Mobile Park in Hermosa Beach. Molly discovers that some of her credits from her Texas high school won’t transfer. So despite the fact she’s never surfed, she enrolls in surf ed. instead of the sixth-period loser P.E.” Mentored by her surfing instructor, Duke, a former surfing great who’s fighting his own personal demons, Molly finally makes it past the breakers, but her feelings toward her high school crush, Kai, takes a back seat to issues of life and death. 

The book was inspired by a true story.  A surfing instructor in the Beach Cities where I live was saved from drowning in the ocean by a group of teenagers in a Surf Ed. class. Tragically, he committed suicide a month later, leaving the community to wonder if his near drowning was a first attempt. I decided I want to write about the experience of saving a life that does not want to be saved from a teenager who must come to terms with the suicide of her mentor.

  1. When you get writer’s block, what gets you out of it?

I’m fond of saying that I don’t believe in writer’s block, as if the nonbelief will keep the dreaded feeling of being stuck at bay.  The hardest thing a writer ever does is face a blank page, which is why I often begin a writing day by revising the last few pages of the day before.  That way I slide into the next scene or pages without staring at a blank page.

When I do experience writer’s block, I search for the reason I’m being blocked, because sometimes the inability to move the story forward comes from a legitimate concern.  Perhaps the narrative decisions I made earlier need to be reconsidered.  I may be blocked for good reason and need to pause writing and examine where the story is going.

But sometimes, we writers just don’t feel like writing. To break that block, I suggest timed writings, literally putting pen to paper.  I am partial to lined yellow notepads and brightly colored gel pens, but any paper or pen will do.  Set a timer for fifteen minutes and write in longhand whatever comes to mind.  If you draw a blank, then doodle or write the same word over and  over until another one occurs to you. The point is to play and in doing so break the pattern of fear that’s keeping you from doing what it is you know you must. Which is to write.  

  1. Tell us more about Knee Deep!

I’ve been fascinated with the idea that not all love is equally given or returned and how you maneuver through those relationships.. I wanted to explore the feelings you have when you love someone more than they love you – the painful inequity of caring too much.  Camille experiences both true love and true disaster and asks the question which is harder to survive.  

I hope that readers will cry at least one during the book, that good kind of cathartic cry and will be buoyed by the hopeful message that the deep feelings of loss are replaced with hope.

  1. What are you currently working on?

This is a very timely question because I’m taking off the last two weeks in July and carving out time to find my next project.  I recently completed the pilot for a limited series entitled SISI, based on the life of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, who was one of the most alluring royal figures of the Victorian age. The child-bride to a powerful ruler in Europe, she rebelled against the confines of royal life to support and defend the marginalized in Hungary and Italy. 

I became Sisi obsessed when I was teaching in LMU’s study abroad program at the Budapest Film Academy in Fall 2017. I’m playing around with the notion of turning her life into a young adult historical novel.  And I have several other ideas that are not fully formed.  Hopefully, if you ask me again in August, I’ll have a more definitive answer.

  1. Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I hope I’m back in Budapest filming the third season of Sisi for Netflix. Dream big, right? 

  1.  What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to new authors?

I believe that too much importance is placed on writing stories that will sell.  No one knows what will sell, what will capture the zeitgeist of the moment.  Instead, I stress the importance of discovering your own writer’s intent. What is it that you want to say about the world, about yourself, about your family. If you don’t have something to say, then why bother saying anything. I tell my graduating Screenwriting students who are breaking into the industry that the stories that they are best qualified to tell often means looking for the cause and effect in their own lives. To gain possession of our artistic core, we must grasp what drives us, searching for the way life has marked us. And when we embrace that, we find the stories we not only want to tell, but the ones we should be telling.

About the author

Karol Hoeffner is the Chair of Screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She has fourteen film credits including Mary Kate and Ashley’s Winning London and MTV’s All You’ve Gotseveral Danielle Steel adaptations, a television mini-series Harem, movies-of-the-week based on true stories – The Making of a Hollywood Madam and Miss America: Behind the Crown. Among her other credits are the original movies, Voices from Within and Burning Rage. She has penned two young adult novels, All You’ve Got and Surf Ed.

You can pre-order your copy of Knee Deep from Amazon now!

Want to be under the spotlight?

Fancy answering a few questions to allow your readers to get to know you better? Please do get in touch! See my other author interviews here.

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