Caren Werlinger


 Caren Werlinger

From time to time, I’ve asked readers of my interviews to drop me a line if they have a favorite author they want interviewed. This time the request came from my publisher, Lee Fitzsimmons, from Desert Palm Press. She met Caren Werlinger at the recent GCLS conference and found her to be very interesting. When Lee asked if I’d interview her, I sent Caren a request and she graciously accepted.

Caren was raised in Ohio, in the middle of the USA, the oldest of four children. Much of her childhood was spent reading Nancy Drew and Black Stallion books, and crafting her own stories. Her first degree was in foreign languages followed later by another degree in physical therapy. For many years, her only writing was research-based, including a therapeutic exercise textbook. She has lived in Virginia for over twenty years. There she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her partner and pets she refers to as their canine fur-children. She began writing creatively again in the mid-nineties. Her first novel, Looking Through Windows, won a Golden Crown Literary Society Award for debut author, and her next three novels all won or placed in the 2013 Rainbow Awards. Most recently, her book In This Small Spot won an award for dramatic/general fiction.

First, let me congratulate you on your recent win and thank you for granting me this interview. Describe the feeling of receiving such an honor and tell us a bit about the book.

Thanks, AJ. Before I answer, I’d like to say what a delight it was to meet Lee and her wife. They are wonderful people, and you’re very lucky to be working with her.

It’s hard to describe what it means to have won that award. We don’t write to win awards, and so much of the writing process is a lonely endeavor, but it is such a feeling of validation to have others find your work worthy of such an honor.

In This Small Spot is the story of Mickey Stewart, a physician who loses her wife to cancer and loses herself as a result. She enters a contemplative monastery in an effort to find her center again. This book is the story of her journey.

My books certainly haven’t had the sales success yours have had – congratulations on that. It would be great if we could figure out the secret to having both!

It surely would! You’ve been very successful as an author. Do you have any advice you’d like to offer aspiring authors?

It’s common advice, but you HAVE to have your early drafts read by people who will be honest, and that probably is not your partner or friends, who think it’s wonderful that you actually wrote a book. It’s not easy to hear that parts of your manuscript drag or there are plot holes that don’t make sense or your dialogue doesn’t sound realistic, but better to hear those things early on and fix them before you submit to a publisher who may reject your manuscript based on those very things. My second bit of advice would be don’t give up if and when you get rejected. I’ve got a stack of rejection letters in a drawer upstairs. Probably most authors have a similar collection. It’s part of the learning process.

How did you come to work with Lee and Desert Palm Press?

I was lucky enough to meet Lee when she was a beta reader. We developed a wonderful working relationship (except for the comma thing where I put them in and she takes them out!) When she decided to open her own publishing company, she called and asked if she could publish the book, Sunset Island, that we’d been working on for the better part of a year. And as ‘they’ say, the rest is history.

What project are you working on now?

I’m working on two books at the moment. I’m about 75,000 words into what will be my eighth book, but I’m getting ready to start working through edits and re-writes on my next release, titled Hear the Last Unicorn. It’s about a woman who got out of her small hometown as soon as she could, but she has to go back for her grandfather’s funeral. The visit home dredges up a lot of bad memories for her and starts her down a familiar path of alienating everyone around her. Her partner and her ex, who still loves her, have to work together to try and help her before it’s too late.

What are you working on now, AJ? 

Hmm…sounds like some complications could evolve from that plot. Actually I’m working on a book called It’s Complicated. It’s about a woman struggling with remaining true to her partner who is unable to be an active participant in their relationship. It’s due to be released in late September. Thanks for asking.

When do you expect to release your next book?

I’m hoping to have Hear the Last Unicorn released early in 2015. 

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to?

It’s funny, people keep asking for sequels, especially for my first novel, Looking Through Windows, but I just haven’t been able to come up with a compelling enough reason to go back. I’ve got so many untold stories running around in my head, I may not live long enough to get them all written!

I like your covers. Who does them?

Thank you! I have been thrilled with my covers. Patty G. Henderson of Boulevard Photografica does my covers. I’ve been able to come up with photos I thought would work, and Patty has done her magic to turn them into beautiful covers that convey exactly the feeling I wanted.

When you are not writing or working, what do you enjoy doing?

Well, I still work a day job as a physical therapist, so that takes up much of my time. When not working or writing, I love to exercise, build furniture, play guitar and hang out with my partner (not necessarily in that order).

You mention your ‘fur babies.” Tell us about them and how they came to be a part of your family.

We have just two dogs now, Hermione, our only corgi at this time, and Maxwell, a Blue Heeler mix. It’s funny, both of them came to us by accident. Hermione was returned to her breeder (my doctor) and she remembered we had been looking for a corgi, so she called and Hermione came into our family that day. Maxwell became ours when a co-worker brought him to work to re-home him to someone who answered a Craigslist ad. I sat on the floor and he crawled into my lap, and that was it. He was ours.

To what do you attribute the success of your books?

I think one of the things I hear most often from people, is that the characters feel real to them, like they walk off the page. They’re folks readers would like to know or be. Not that they’re perfect, but they try to be decent and honest (at least most of them do). And while my books often involve hard story elements (deaths, illness, family drama), they are the kind of things we often have to deal with in real life, but ultimately, every story ends hopefully. Not always happily, but always hopefully.

Is anything in your books based on real life experiences or are they purely all imagination?

Looking Through Windows, In This Small Spot and Year of the Monsoonare all partially based on my past experiences. The others were purely fictional – I have no idea where those stories came from.

Describe your writing process.

I don’t usually start writing until a story has kind of started telling itself in my head. Some of my books have started with one thing: an inscription in an old book, a memory of an old house. Others, like In This Small Spot, I knew were going to be based on my past experiences. But I have to let the story and characters grow a bit before the rest of the book can take shape.

Describe your writing environment: pen and paper, laptop? Quiet room, music?

I always start my first draft with pen and paper. I usually put together a soundtrack of music for each book, and I listen to the music in the car or on walks to help me think about the story and where it’s going. I can’t write in a noisy public place unless I have my music, but I prefer quiet space.

How do you come up with the titles for your books? Do the titles come first, or as a part of the writing process?

I really struggle with most of my titles. Usually, as I’m writing, a few possibilities occur to me, but I almost never have a firm title until the first draft is completed.

Your books have obviously received great acclaim. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?


Well, getting a rejection from a publisher is always a huge blow, especially if you’re not given a reason why it was rejected. Poor reviews hurt as well, but I think (once the initial fit of umbrage is past) what you have to do is read the review again to see if there’s anything constructive in the criticism. If so, use it on your next book. If there’s nothing constructive there, let it go. Never read it again.

You revealed that you do read the reviews readers leave on Amazon/Goodreads. What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

I do read them, but I’ve learned to take them all with a certain amount of objectivity. If you let yourself get puffed up by the good ones, it’s too easy to let yourself be devastated by the negative ones.

How about you? Do you read them?

Yes, I do...the good, the bad, and the ugly ones! Like anyone, I love the positive ones. I try, like you, to take from the good ones what folks generally appreciate about my books: characters that seem real and stories that are generally easy reads with a touch of humor and often a surprise for the reader. As for the negative ones, I also try to learn from them. I don’t mind the thoughtful ones where the reader takes time to say what it was that they didn’t like…I do take a bit of exception to the ones that simply say, “This book sucked!” Period. Why bother to write a review if that’s all you plan to say?

I’m curious, how important a role do you think reviews play in the reader’s selection of a book?

This is an interesting question that has been bandied about quite a bit on various Yahoo groups. Some readers insist they deliberately don’t read reviews, but the question that occurs to me then is how do they find new authors? I think maybe, they don’t. They just keep reading the same authors and publishers, which is a shame, because they may be missing out on some great books. I had one Amazon reviewer who actually said she almost didn’t buy my book because it only had a couple of reviews, but she took a chance and was glad she did. I think that points out a very real phenomenon – whether readers ‘read’ reviews or not, they look at the number of reviews as a recommendation, a stamp of approval, if you will. There are certain reviewers that have developed their own following of readers – people who share a similar taste in books – and their reviews tend to be like word of mouth, a recommendation from a friend. 

Was it difficult getting your work published?

My publishing history could be either a lesson in perseverance, or a cautionary tale! It was difficult finding my initial publisher, but I was thrilled when I got that acceptance. Unfortunately, that was just as the economy crashed and bookstores started closing. My first publisher wasn’t taking on any new projects, and later re-organized to avoid bankruptcy. I had a book accepted by a second publisher, but they sat on the manuscript and never got around to publishing it. My third publisher closed when the owner passed away unexpectedly – a very sad situation. Come to think of it, maybe I’m publishing poison!

Anyway, at that point, I decided to publish my own books. I had learned a lot about writing, editing and publishing during my experiences with publishers, but still needed a great deal of help from others to learn the ropes of indie publishing.

Okay, let’s finish up with some easier questions. Describe yourself in a single sentence?

You call that easy?! Hmmm, I guess I’d say, “Loyal to a fault.”

If you were to be reborn, who would you want to be?

Wow, this is an interesting question. I’m sure I could keep coming up with different possibilities, but I’m going to say St. Luke. He was a physician, a healer, but more importantly, his gospel is the only one that contains Mary’s whole story. He’s the only one she confided in, or perhaps the only one who thought her part in the story was important enough to include when he wrote his gospel. Can you imagine being able to sit at her feet and listen to her describe everything that happened to her?

Do you have any fears/phobias?

Bad reviews! No, I actually don’t have any phobias.

Country Mouse or City Mouse?

Oh, definitely country mouse. I live in a smallish town an hour away from Washington, DC. I can get into the city when there’s something to see, but I don’t have to put up with the noise and traffic and crush of people on a daily basis.

Cup half full or half empty?

Half full!

Strangest job you’ve ever had.

Babysitting as a teenager. Anyone who knows me now would have a good laugh picturing me actually choosing to spend time with children. They terrify me now!

Do you have a favorite saying?

“Always choose to do what is right, even if you think it is impossible.” I don’t know who to attribute it to, though.

For the final question, you get to ask yourself one question. What is it?

Actually, I have talked enough about myself, so I’m going to ask you a question, AJ. What does it feel like to see your book hit number one on the Amazon charts? (Because I have not been anywhere near that!)

Really? That tidbit of information surprises me. You’ve had critical acclaim though, and that has to feel good.

Having a book hit number one an amazing feeling. It’s a form of validation of all the hard work that goes into a novel. Sunset Island hit number one and stayed there for weeks. I was amazed, absolutely amazed. I can laugh now, but I had the page on my iPhone that showed rankings and I must have checked my book's position ten times a day. That was a thrill, for sure. This time, One Day Longer Than Forever hit number one in both the UK and the US. Wow! I was on cloud nine. But with whatever success there is, whether the book is #1 or not, do you think anything can compare to holding the print copy in your hands for the first time? That never gets old.

You are right – there is nothing like the feeling of holding a new book in your hands – seeing the culmination of the months or years of work finally in solid form.

I know I said you got to ask the last question, but I did think of one more question I'd love to have you answer.  Where do you keep your Goldie?

On the bookshelf in the living room! And yes, I keep craning my head around to look at it every now and then.

Well, at least you know a good physical therapist if you get a crick in your neck! 

Thank you so much for a wonderful interview. It’s been a genuine pleasure chatting with you and getting to know a little more about you and your books.

You can contact Caren here:

You can find her books here: Caren Werlinger at Amazon

Caren at Wordpress

Caren at Facebook 


© JEN 2014