Hello and welcome to Karen J Carlisle!
Karen J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. Her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, was published in 2015 and her short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, and the ‘Where’s Holmes’ and ‘Deadsteam’ anthologies.
Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.
She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea. http://www.karenjcarlisle.com
Karen is just about to release The Department of Curiosities. Here’s the blurb:
Miss Matilda Meriwether has a secret. Actually, she has several. One of them has shaped her adult life. Another now controls it. Her Majesty Queen Victoria has control of the Empire. She is the Empire, and creator of its secrets. Sir Avery works for The Department of Curiosities – the keepers of secrets – especially if they are useful to the Empire. When Tillie finds herself in the employment of The Department of Curiosities, she realises this is the perfect opportunity to uncover the truth she has been searching for. But the Queen has other plans for her.
The Department of Curiosities is a steampunk tale of adventure, a heroine, mad scientists, traitors and secrets. All for the good of the Empire.
And here’s a guest blog:
What doesn’t kill me…
“Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.”
“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche (German philosopher),
Twilight of the Idols (1888)
Today I’m writing about writing processes, the evolution of The Department of Curiosities and a long, long journey through the dark.
In 2012 my life changed. For six months I floundered. I’d worked since I was fifteen. Now, suddenly and unexpectedly, I wasn’t. I was lost. How had this happened? Why had this happened? Why me? Why?
I was given professional advice: do something I like. “Find your bliss,” they said. “Do something for yourself.”
I’d always wanted to be a writer and artist, so I turned to a quirky fantasy story that had been mulling around in my head since the late 1980s. But my mood was too dark for the characters. I didn’t blame them. There were other stories wanting to be freed. I turned to a steampunk story I’d been toying with… An adventure. It had a name: The Department of Curiosities. I started writing.
For almost a year I wrote, as my professional world began to crumble, and finally crashed in 2014. I felt used, abused, betrayed, and abandoned. My mental health was stretched. After twenty-eight years of looking after everyone else – my family, my patients – I had to learn to look after myself (not as easy as it sounds). I felt selfish. I felt exhausted. I felt useless.
I stopped writing.
The characters of The Department of Curiosities slipped back into the shadows not wanting to entertain the Black Dog. I didn’t blame them either. Eventually, Viola Stewart stepped forward, willing to sacrifice herself (and her eye) to support and guide me through the next three years. Jack the Ripper, and various nefarious villains, helped me explore motives and psychology as I delved into the darker side of humanity: why do people do what they do? In the process I confronted my own daemons and my personal Black Dog, which constantly nipped at my heels.
Being trained as a scientist, I needed not only to put a name to my emotions, but to discover why I felt this way. Almost five years of professional help, and I hadn’t progressed beyond: Anxiety, ‘deep breathing’ and ‘finding my happy place’.
In 2018 I changed professionals, and was challenged to confront myself. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I started desensitisation therapy.
Finally I felt a slight ease. Things made sense. There was the odd moment of calm. A smile here and there. Aunt Enid popped by, providing a glimmer of hope in my writing worlds. She was beginning to open the doorway back to my original fantasy story… but I wasn’t (and am not) quite there yet.
Tillie stepped forward. She was ready to be heard. I glanced over my notes, pulled out my original manuscript (of almost 80,000 words). I started at the beginning –rewriting, scribbling down notes and plot changes as I went. The story was a little darker than I’d originally envisaged, but overall was a much lighter story than Viola’s murder mysteries, with adventure at its heart.
The Department of Curiosities is my longest story yet – at 104,000 (ish) words/420 pages. Most of the plot has remained intact, though I’ve rewritten almost everything – cutting back on ‘tell’, rewriting ‘inactive’ sentences and adding extra characters. I’ve learned so much about writing in the past five years! During the process, I discovered Tillie, like me, has been fighting to control her own life.
I’ve heard people describe writing as a form of therapy. But it’s not an easy path (at least not the one I took), and not one for the faint hearted. I confronted some dark themes, shied away from some, and embraced others. I discovered catharsis. I’ve excised a character’s eye in revenge, peeked into the darkness of the soul, confronted the feeling of helplessness, and struggled to free myself (and my characters) from the control (or at least the perceived control) of others. I’ve even visited the happier memories from my childhood.
It’s been a long journey, and looks to be a long, rocky trek ahead. Writing has played a major part, sometimes taking me on unexpected side paths, but all heading in one direction: forward.
I feel like I’m starting to free myself from years of expectations and self-denial and neglect. I’ve found a way to work through some of my darker thoughts. It’s helped me to accept (on good days) that I deserve ‘me time’, to look after myself and my mental health. As Writing has made me stronger. I’m starting to believe in myself again. I’m facing my fears and anxieties one at a time. Sometimes I win. Sometimes they do. Perhaps one day I will bring that Black Dog to heel?
The Department of Curiosities is my fifth book – and my longest (if you don’t count that fantasy book still squirming in the back of my head), not only in word count, but in gestation time. I wrote another five chapters and shuffled two chapters into the second book of the trilogy.
I started this journey in 2013. It’s taken five years to see it to completion. It’s taken a year to finally finish the final version of the manuscript.
The Department of Curiosities will be officially released on 22nd May (Tillie’s birthday). A perfect time for new beginnings…
You can find out more information on where to buy it at: http://www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop Check out the book trailers at https://karenjcarlisle.com/books/the-department-of-curiosities/book-trailers-the-department-of-curiosities/
If you want to follow the rest of The Department of Curiosities book launch blog tour, check out the links on my blog post: http://www.karenjcarlisle.com/DOC1bookblogtour You can sign up for my newsletter at: https://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/
Or support me on Patreon (for less than a cup of coffee a month and you get cool rewards!): https://www.patreon.com/KarenJCarlisle