Interview with Karen A. Wyle

Author of Playback Effect

As a novelist, I write SF (near future as well as alien planets), fantasy, and historical romance. I also write picture books, collaborating with various illustrators. I'm a quasi-retired appellate attorney, and have written one nonfiction book, attempting to summarize American law and legal practice for the benefit of anyone who wants to better understand the American legal landscape.

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What idea or ideas formed the initial seed of this novel?
  • As a longtime reader of science fiction, I tend to view events, and especially actual and possible technological developments, through a SF lens. Also, while I don't read my dystopian fiction, and while I'm a technophile of sorts, I do tend to examine possible new technologies looking for how they could be misused or otherwise go wrong. As a lawyer and a civil libertarian, I'm also well aware of the flaws in the criminal justice system and how it can engulf the innocent. The idea of recording human experience has been bouncing around science fiction for decades, and at some point it occurred to me how prosecutors and legislators might latch onto that technology. Add an unexpected aspect of that technology, plus the idea of lucid dreaming (a longtime fascination of mine), plus an examination of an imperfect marriage, and you get the plot of Playback Effect.
Was this book comfortably within your usual genre territory, or was it a departure?
  • In one respect, it occupies familiar territory, as I'd written several near-future novels before and have written two more since then. On the other hand, this was my first novel that could be called a thriller, and remains the only one.
Which authors do you admire? How have they influenced your writing style?
  • I admire far too many authors to discuss in a reasonable amount of space, but several of them write, or wrote, what one may call sociological science fiction (which combines perfectly well with other subgenres such as near future and space opera). These include Ursula K. LeGuin, Lois McMaster Bujold, and M.C.A. Hogarth.
When did you write your first novel?
  • If you count juvenelia, at age 10. That novel consisted of 200 2-page chapters, written longhand in pencil, and would have provided a psychoanalyst with years of material to play around in. I didn't write another until 2010, roughly 45 years later. (It's never too late, and you're never too old!)
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
  • Find your own process (see below for mine), and don't worry AT ALL if it isn't the same as what any other writer does or recommends. There's no one path that necessarily leads to either success or failure. Similarly, there are no rules (except, perhaps, for what I've just said . . .) that you must follow. There's some grain of truth in many of them, but if you want to, for example, use adverbs liberally, or start with a prologue, or write without outlining first, or conversely, write a detailed outline before you begin, go for it!

    Also, before you decide whether to pursue traditional publishing or to self-publish, study up on what both those paths entail. Use current sources -- this is rapidly changing territory.
Could you talk a little about your writing process?
  • I've written almost all my novels by taking advantage of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short). In NaNo, writers all over the world undertake to write a rough draft of a novel, at least 50,000 words long, entirely within the month of November. It's great for people who tend to second-guess everything they write, or to edit and re-edit as they write, because there's no time for either. Caveat: those rough drafts usually need a great deal of revising and editing afterward. I take December off and then dive in in January, spending months on multiple rereads and revision drafts.

    When I've got to the point where I think the book is close to final, and/or I can't stand to look at it any more, I send it to beta readers, along with a list of questions. I find those readers among fans of my earlier books and in Goodreads groups (e.g., the one helpfully called Beta Reader Group). If two or more readers raise the same concern, I give whatever they've flagged a hard look -- though I rarely adopt any solution they offer me.

    Then I self-publish.
Which character did you have the most fun writing?
  • I hope readers won't jump to conclusions when I say it was the sociopath. . . . I've never written anyone remotely like him, and trying to climb into his skin was good exercise.
Which character is your favorite as a person?
  • I have a special fondness for Arthur, whose name is no coincidence. Arthur would like to be a knight, riding around rescuing those in distress, and he (initially) tends to view people in terms of that subconscious preoccupation. I love him because he's fundamentally a good, brave, kind person.
Do you expect to write anything else in the world of this novel?
  • I have brief notes on a couple of story possibilities, though they've been on the back burner for years.
Where next? What are you working on now?
  • I'm in the revising/editing process with a fantasy novel called FAR FROM MORTAL REALMS, which I'd like to publish by late summer or early fall. Next November, I may go back to historical romance and write the rough draft of the fifth novel in my Cowbird Creek historical romance series.
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In the near future, new technology records the highlights of emotional experience for others to share. Buy a helmet and you can feel the exhilaration of an Olympic ski jumper, or the heat of a lucid dreamer's erotic imaginings. Commit a crime, and you may be sentenced to endure the suffering you inflicted on others.

But such recordings may carry more information than the public has realized. What will criminals learn about their victims? When a husband is wrongfully convicted of injuring his wife, how will their marriage change? And what uses will a sociopath find for recordings of the experience of death?