Canadian author Carmen Klassen has personally gone through transitions that became the inspiration for her series of books about women and how they cope with crisis and change.
We live in uncertain times. Professions appear and disappear with changing needs and technology. Our political systems are in turmoil, creating a need for all of us to have some kind of contingency plan for when things go wrong.
In this podcast, Carmen talk about the importance of a good support system and how she lacked one in her first marriage. She also discussed her fascinating background as a professional organizer, which gave her unique insight into psychology, insight that she would later use in her characters. And, like many fiction writers report, once she started writing fiction, the characters began to have minds of their own, guiding her stories.
A few highlights from our interview:
On Working as a Professional Organizer
So that really became my specialty, working with people that would classify themselves as hoarders. I absolutely loved it, it was really rewarding. And because people are so interesting, and it gave me a chance to get to know people on a different, very personal level. To me, what is going on in someone's mind is the most important.
On Her Books About Women Facing Crises
They all have these talents that they begin to explore. And with the support of other women find out that this is how they can make a living. This is how they can serve their community.
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Listen to My Interview with Carmen Klassen
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, and you're listening to inspirational indie authors. I'm a writer, editor and multimedia manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors and every week I interview a member of ALLi who has done something remarkable and inspiring. This is the only show in our Ask ALLi series that is not focused on the business side of self publishing. My guests talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
We live in uncertain times, professions appear and disappear with changing needs and technology. Our political systems are in turmoil, creating a need for all of us to have some kind of contingency plan for when things go wrong. And this is where my featured inspirational indie author comes in. Carmen Klassen has personally gone through transitions that became the inspiration for her series of books about women, and how they cope with crisis and change.
Carmen Klassen: So my name is Carmen Klassen. And I'm a Canadian writer. I write what I call comforting women's fiction. So it's women's fiction, real gentle tone to it, something that has some great characters overcoming challenges, generally, with a supportive system around them
Howard Lovy: Carmen knows from experience have a good support system can make the difference in accomplishing your goals, especially for a writer
Carmen Klassen: Way back in high school, English was my best subject. And yet, it never occurred to me that writing could be a career. And then about 10 years ago, oh gosh, it was more than 10 years ago, I started doing some nonfiction writing and submitting articles in that old fashioned way where you put things in an envelope, mailed them off to an editor, and I was seeing a lot of success. But unfortunately, I was married to a very unsupportive person. And I just gave up trying because it was two battles in one.
A little while later, I got divorced and put myself through school, finished my undergraduate degree in psychology and started working as a professional organizer, which I absolutely loved, got remarried again, this time to a supportive husband. And it's really good to get it right the second time around, yeah?
Howard Lovy: Wait, did she say professional organizer?
Carmen Klassen: What I did was I went into people's homes that were struggling with, for various reasons with chaos or clutter or scheduling, and just helped them figure out solutions that would work well for them. And it turned out that because I had my degree in psychology, I ended up sort of gravitating to the people that were maybe more chronically disorganized, or had underlying issues that really made it difficult to cope with each day because of too much stuff in their lives. So that really became my specialty, working with people that would classify themselves as hoarders. I absolutely loved it, it was really rewarding. And because people are so interesting, and it gave me a chance to get to know people on a different, very personal level. To me, what is going on in someone's mind is the most important.
And for clutter, there's kind of two types of clutter, there's I guess, the writers or the creatives clutter, you know, when we are working at something, and we focus on it, and everything else gets set to the side for the time being. But there's also a clutter that comes from people that struggle to categorize their own things. And that's really common with people that they could walk into someone else's house and tidy things up no problem, but their own things are so personally attached to them and how they think that it gets in the way of tidying up. So there's kind of two different things.
Now on I'm kind of weird as a writer, I actually need a really tidy space. And I struggle to write in chaos. And I admire these people that can just put the whole world outside of them and get right down and get to work. I'm not one of those but I do know the difference that having things where you can find them can really increase the flow of energy and creativity. For all types of people, really.
Howard Lovy: She became so fascinated by the psychology of clutter, that became the subject of her first book
Carmen Klassen: Then our family started moving with my husband's work. And I found that moving a business like that is really hard. And every couple of years, I was starting over again. So I was looking for a career that would travel well. And I have no idea how I stumbled back into freelance writing, except that now with the internet, there was so many options available. So I started working as a freelance writer and really thought this was it. You know, as long as I have a Wi Fi signal I have a job, I can work.
During that time, I quit doing professional organizing, and my husband was just almost hounding me, “You've got to write a book, you've got to write a book, you've got to write a book.” So finally, in an attempt to just get past that conversation I did. And I wrote my first book, it was a nonfiction book called Love Your Clutter Away, which I published in 2017. And that was kind of the kickoff to my indie publishing career, although I didn't really understand it at the time, you know, kind of figuring out formatting and putting it on Amazon and how challenging that all was, left it up there, went back to my freelance writing, and the book sold here and there. And that was really nice, it almost, it was like a little bit of an ego boost to have that there.
Rough Times and Fiction Transition
Howard Lovy: Carmen's next challenge was to transition from nonfiction to fiction. And when she started, she discovered what happens to many fiction writers. Sometimes she feels she is just taking transcriptions while the characters take on lives of their own. It's all a writer can do to keep up with these creations. And for Carmen, personal and world events intervened.
Carmen Klassen: Personally, one of my favorite genres isn't a genre, really, is those those rags to riches stories from really the 1920s to the 1940s and 50s. You know, people really, especially women, you know, a lot of war widows just finding a way to get by and then doing really well. And I love those and I kind of ran out of them. And I started thinking, you know, isn't there anything modern that has that same twist to it. And
I started to think about my own life, when I was a single parent, there was some really rough times financially, and I had to be pretty creative to survive and there was just this one scene that has always stuck with me of coming out of a grocery store in tears because I had spent too much money and I knew I wouldn't be able to pay all of my bills. And that became the opening chapter for my first book. And in a way after that this character took over and didn't really give me much say and how the story played out.
As I was writing that book, and I was, I don't know, maybe four or five chapters, and I finally admitted to my family that I think I'm writing a book. And we were we were living in Scotland at the time, this was last fall when or last Christmas, almost when there was a big hoopla about Brexit. And we were all joking about how it's the apocalypse coming. And again, my husband turned to me and said, you could write a book about that. And I said, “Seriously, I'm just starting, you know, my first book”. And that night, the idea came to me, as they often do to us. And so I had to pause this book that I really wanted to write to get this Brexit story out of my head.
So that ended up being actually the first story I wrote, I published it under a pen name, because I just thought it was so silly. It's a book called The Boy Who Survived Brexit. And it, again, turned out to kind of be something a few people like to read, which was a total shock. So I had to get that silly book out of my head. And I still feel it's silly. I mean, it's kind of an apocalypse light. It's a fun story. And so that I can get back to the series that I really feel comes from my heart. And so I'm currently working on the manuscript for book six in this series, I have no idea if that's the last one or not. My characters, they don't really follow my plans. So I haven't figured that out yet.
Books About Women Redefining Themselves
Howard Lovy: What Carmen writes about our women redefining themselves, at all different ages and phases of life.
Carmen Klassen: It's different ages too. The first character is in her early 30s. And then there's other characters that join the series. And so some of the books are about them. And then their stories, interweave with the first character. So we've got, book two is about a young girl who leaves home right after graduation, leaves a really unhealthy home, and then ends up kind of having to face her issues with her parents a few years down the road. And then we go back to the first character in the third book. And then in the first book, we bring in another character, but they're all they all have these gifts, as I feel all women do, these abilities to provide for themselves to start their own businesses, to operate creative businesses. They all have these talents that they begin to explore. And with the support of other women find out that this is how they can make a living. This is how they can serve their community. And they all, they're very different women, and yet, they all bring something really interesting to their friendship circle.
Howard Lovy: Starting over as a theme that can resonate with other audiences too no matter the gender. In these uncertain times, many men and women of all ages find themselves adrift and need to reinvent themselves or their careers.
Carmen's Latest Book
Carmen Klassen: The latest book is going to be coming out on August 19. And it's called A Roof Over Their Heads. So this is book five in this series. And at this point, we have four main characters and one of the main characters is a young teenage mom. She's a really cool girl and I really admire her but she's exposed to poverty and and housing challenges for the first time after a very privileged little life. And and she's determined they must do something about it. So we've got these four women in age between 19 and 43, who want to do something with the success they found in their life, and want to somehow create a housing solutions. So the story follows each of their personal lives as they're going through their own challenges. And then as they're each trying to contribute something that will make a difference for their community. So it's a little bit different than the first four, because we have the perspective of each of the women's throughout the book, but it has an ending that I kind of like.
What's Next? Disabled Access for her Books
Howard Lovy: Carmen is already planning on the next phase of her writing career.
Carmen Klassen: At this point, looking into the fall I have two goals. The first one, one of the things that became a theme in the books is disability, chronic illness, accessibility. And I want to carry that over into the actual production of the book. So one of the important things for me is to get large print editions out of all of the books, so that they are more accessible to people that have vision challenges. And I also really would like to get them into audible format, which is a bit intimidating but important, so that everybody who wants to hear the stories can hear the stories. And the second is that in book five, there is a transgender boy that becomes a minor character in the book. And he needs his own series. So I'll be looking at working into a series that may be more of a young adult series from the stories that he has to tell. I'm still getting to know him because I was surprised when he showed up. He's quite a character and I'm really excited to see what stories he will tell.