Rivers latest book delves into the relationship of two best friends

British Columbia author Karen Rivers’ latest book, All That Was ($21.15, Raincoast Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), was published Jan. 16 and tells the story about two best friends – Piper and Sloane – who grew up together and do everything together.

“To Sloane, Piper has always been extraordinary: fierce and pretty and powerful,” says the book synopsis. “The only thing that makes Sloane special is that Piper chose her for a sisterhood that was supposed to last forever. That is, until Piper caught Sloane kissing Piper’s boyfriend, Soup and the next day, Piper is found dead, washed ashore on a beach.
“As Sloane and Soup relive their deep, sometimes painful histories with Piper and face a future without her, they are racked by questions: Who is to blame for Piper’s death? How do you make amends for hurting someone you love if that person is no longer around? And how can you ever move on and love again?”

Rivers kindly answered my questions about her inspiration for All That Was, her writing process and what type of writing she likes best.

Hi Karen,

Congratulations on the release of All That Was. You mentioned on your website that while your stories are emotionally honest, they aren’t about real people. Where did you get your inspiration for All That Was? What was the goal of writing this story? What was the lesson you hoped Sloane and Soup, and therefore the reader, learned from this experience?

All The Was by Karen Rivers was released Jan. 16. The young adult book looks at the friendship between two girls who have a love-hate relationship, made more complicated by the fact Piper winds up dead.
All That Was by Karen Rivers

A. Thank you!  All That Was had a lot of iterations before it became the book that it is today.  I originally was interested in writing a crime drama where the perpetrator and the victim were both in the same class in school, and exploring the psychology of that, of being victimized by someone who you may have had a crush on, someone who you thought you knew.  In rewrites, the book moved away from that as I realized the most interesting part of the story was the fierce love and intense hate that the girls had for each other, the way they didn’t always want to be friends but didn’t know how to not be friends either.  In a way, Soup was almost incidental.  He was the catalyst for so much, but the major relationship in this book was between Sloane and Piper, and how they needed so badly to figure out how to be separate people.

Q. Who is your favourite character in this book? Who is your least?
A. I’m very attached to Sloane because in a way, Sloane is me, or a version of the me who I was when I was a teenager. I think in order to write any character, you have to have a certain degree of love for them, but the bad guy in the story (I don’t want to give it away) is definitely a dislikeable person, a psychopath by any definition. He made my blood run cold.

Q.  You mentioned on your website that even when you are not physically writing a book, you are writing stories – or untangling bits of your stories – in your head. Where do your ideas come from? When coming up with a new story, what comes first, the character or the plot? How do you develop each?
A. Ideas come from everywhere, all the time. Something will happen to me or to someone I know and I will attach a “what if” to the scenario. What if I were a child when this happened? What if this was to happen to a teenager on the cusp of becoming an adult but without the agency of an adult?

What if is, of course, the guiding light of all authors everywhere. Writing fiction boils down to what if what if what if every time. Generally, my ideas can begin with either a plot or a character – usually character, but there have been exceptions.

I absolutely do not sit down and begin to write until I feel like I really truly know and understand the character who is ultimately going to live out the plot.   You hear a lot of talk about “plotters” vs. “pantsters”, the latter being people who just write without following a specific outline. Most of the time, I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants author, I’m always so excited to see where the characters are going to go with the what if that I’ve put in front of them.

Q. Congratulations on your success. You have three books coming out in 2018, three in 2019 and one, so far, in 2020. What is your writing process? Do you write one book, before moving on to another or do you have multiple books on the go?
A. Thank you! It’s been a flurry of activity, for sure.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I have a lot of characters vying for my time and energy at all times these days.  Luckily, all three books are in different stages of development, which makes it easier to juggle them and to keep them straight.  My worst nightmare is conflating the plot of one with the plot of another, or misplacing a character in the wrong manuscript. All my deadlines are staggered, which allows me to devote as much time and attention to the first draft of each one as they require. When they overlap in revisions, it seems more manageable than in the drafting stage, because everyone is already firmly who they are going to be, and the thing that’s going to happen has happened.

Q. I noticed on your website you write middle grade, young adult, adult and anthologies. What is your favourite group to write for? What do you like most/least about writing for each group? What is the easiest/hardest to write?
A. I love writing, period. It’s impossible for me to really pick a favourite. Each audience brings with it a certain set of expectations that guide the process, but overall, it always boils down to telling the story in the best way that I know how.  Writing for young audiences versus adults brings an entirely different set of responsibilities and joys.

Visiting schools, for example, and reading to auditoriums full of kids who are so openly rooting for you to succeed, for you to entertain them.  It’s incredible.

Writing for adults always feels more serious somehow.  The audience is not always openly cheering for you in advance; they are more reserved, less wildly willing to go along for the ride.

In my head, I imagine it like people in line for a roller coaster at a theme park.  The kids are uniformly excited, but the adults have a wider range of emotions – scepticism, fear, doubt.  Adult audiences seem more guarded, I suppose is what I mean, in the context of fiction.  I am working on an adult book of fiction that is somewhat genre defying:  it’s funny, so it doesn’t really fit as literary; it’s definitely speculative, but it’s also realistic; it’s not exactly commercial, but it is quirky and accessible.  If I ever finish it, I have no idea where it will be shelved!

Exploring beyond my comfort zone is exciting but it’s also scary, much like everything in life.  Writing and life are always in such close parallel, don’t you think?

Q. What is the best part about the writing process? What is the best part of the publishing journey? Your least favourite part about writing/publishing? What are you most looking forward to upcoming promotion of All That Was?
A. The best part of the writing process is always the first draft for me. It’s also the hardest, but it holds the most magic. Discovering who these people are, finding out what is going to happen. There is such a feeling of astonishment each time that I’ve created something that feels – to me – real and alive out of absolutely nothing, to making people breathe on the page.

The best part of the publishing journey is all the people who I’ve been so fortunate to meet and to know and to read.   All That Was is quite a personal story for me, because it’s different from a lot of what I’ve written in the past.   Exploring this intense female friendship was something that I’d shied away from previously out of self-protectiveness. I didn’t want to look too closely at it because of my own history, but I’m glad I did. It was hard.  It was a very difficult book to write, but I’m so proud of it and I hope it finds its readers, the teens out there who need to see a toxic friendship on the page in order to recognize it in their own life, the adults who can look back and say, “Oh, I remember this. This is how it was for me.”

Q. Is writing a full-time job? What else do you do?
A. Writing is my full-time job.  I write/revise/do publicity for between 60 to 70 hours a week right now, which is more like full time and a half! For the last two years, I’ve taught one semester per calendar year at UVic (University Victoria) as part of the Creative Writing faculty, teaching Writing 406, which was designed for upper level writing students looking to explore writing for young audience.

Q. Anything else you would like to say?
A. Thank you for having me on your blog! I really appreciate it.