BookView Interview with Author Karena Stoner

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked with Karena Stoner, the author of the top-selling guide for expatriates in Switzerland called “Bâlehoo: An Expat’s Guide to Surviving –  and Thriving! – in Basel.” The Candy Tree is her first children’s book (read the review here)

Karena Stoner is a writer and candy addict who first moved to Switzerland in 2002. She and her lovely writer wife (tammylynnestoner.com), crazy kids, enormous Bernese Mountain Dog – and one very grumpy cat named Bob –  live, play and write in the beautiful Swiss town of Muttenz. She is the author of a top-selling guide for expatriates in Switzerland called “Bâlehoo: An Expat’s Guide to Surviving –  and Thriving! – in Basel.” The Candy Tree is her first children’s book.

You can learn more about Karena at karenastoner.com and get more info on The Candy Tree along with free printables and other fun at candytreebook.com

How often do you base your characters on real people?

 If not always, I would say often. Having a kernel of truth in my characters helps me give them a stronger core. It’s the center of the emotional Gobstopper that makes characters relatable. That said, I mix and match. One character might have elements of my wife, one of my kids and my best friend. This kind of character mashup is part of the fun for me.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

Starting. The blank page is SUPER daunting.  My hack is to just start typing sentences to outline the shape of the story with no pressure to make it “pretty” “pithy” or “perfect.” About a half-page in, this tends to shift until eventually I am off and writing the real content. I think of it like the writing equivalent of pre-game stretches.

How many hours a day do you write?

Not enough. I write in bursts, not consistently.  I once wrote my screenplay “Vivian’s TV Dinner” in a weekend, for example.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. I feel “exhauster-gized”… excitement and intense focus but it can be zapping, too.

Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?

My wife. She’s a better writer than I will ever be. She’s always been my inspiration.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

It can do both. If used wisely, ego can give a writer the confidence to forge, ahead, take risks… try something really boundary pushing. But if left unchecked – or if focused too much on the reader response instead of as a means for clearing a path for the story and the characters, it can keep your writing (to mis-quote Lady Gaga) “in the shallow.” I personally struggle to stop looking ahead to the outcome and the reaction from readers/reviewers. It’s something I’m working on and on my best days I put ego at the door.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Write more!

What is your favorite childhood book?

Skating Shoes (and all the “shoe” books) by Noel Streatfeild. 100%.  Also for Christmas, “Pom-Pom’s Christmas” by Jon Whitcomb.  I desperately wanted a dog as a child and I was in love with the idea of getting one for Christmas. I still have it and read It to my own kids. (And, btw I did eventually get a dog for Christmas but my parents wisely chose to wrap up a dog bowl instead of a real dog!)

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Discipline and time management.

Is writer’s block real?

Absolutely. But there’s good news! My go-to trick for writer’s block – or as it tends to manifest for me: “idea block” – is simple. I wash my hair. It has worked without fail for decades. I come out the other side with sparkling clean locks and a fresh perspective.   

What’s more important: characters or plot?

This is the “Sophie’s Choice” of the writing world. I always think people can attach strongly to a great character, but when I was writing The Candy Tree, I showed my daughter early spreads and she practically wailed: “Mama, nothing’s HAPPENING.” Er. Note received!  So, my answer? You need both.

What inspired the premise of your book?

Two of my close friends used to have a Christmas party every year and it included having a tree covered in twinkle lights and candy –really jammed with all kinds of candies! As kids arrived at the party they handed them a goody bag and invited them to fill the bag with treats from the tree. It was truly the stuff dreams are made of. Neighborhood kids still talk about it. And so do I! I also wanted to honor our new hometown in Switzerland. We moved here from Portland two years ago and have really felt embraced by the community. In such a grumpy, Grinchy year I wanted to do something to help spread some Christmas cheer. So, I wrote The Candy Tree of Muttenz and had it translated to German, the local language. I was lucky enough to have two kind friends who are Swiss locals to help me check it!

Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?

The scene at the ice skating rink. Francyli, the main character, has a vivid imagination and she is picturing all the people and things around her turning Into candy.  The illustrator – an amazing artist named Luisa Galstyan – captured this so perfectly! It’s the kind of picture that I would have looked at for hours as a kid, imagining my own magical candy world.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Two things:  First, the importance of kindness and being there for each other.  Especially in these times, connecting (in COVID-safe ways) with people who might be alone or isolated is such a gift.

The other thing is simple pleasures. Candy. Sweets. Imagination. Traditions. What beloved traditions do you want to revive – or start! – for your family?

What’s next for you?

Francyli will be having another sweet adventure, for sure. But my current project – working title: “Sparky the Spork -A Happy Utensil Tale.” –  is a book to help explain gender non-binary and transgender concepts to children, in a fun way. Because the earlier we can help to build understanding and inclusion of diversity in our kids the better. And also – who doesn’t love a good spork story?!

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