I’ve decided to focus the next couple of blog posts on writing nonfiction. And what better way to kick that off, than an interview with writer and clinical psychologist, Carolyn Kaufman. You all may know Carolyn from her work on the QueryTracker blog and around the QT Forum. Her book, The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately about Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior is the must read for all fiction writers!
And now, let’s get to know her a bit better:
CF: Why did you begin writing?
CK: I started writing fiction when I was 11; nonfiction came later. I started publishing psychology- and writing-related nonfiction in my mid-20s.
CF: How long have you been writing?
CK: LOL – if I tell you you’ll be able to do the math to figure out how old I am! Let’s just say…quite a while.
CF: What made you write The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately about Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior?
CK: While I was in graduate school I got really into media psychology – which includes research on how psychology is portrayed in the media. I learned that references to psychological issues appear in nearly 70% of books for adolescents, a third of all adult prime-time television shows, and at least 1 in 10 films, yet most of these portrayals are inaccurate. (For example, a recent study claims that only 5 in 400 film portrayals of psychiatric treatment are on track.)
So I decided to write the book that needed to be written – one that helps writers, novelists and screenwriters, as well as producers and journalists, use psychology accurately in their stories! From how shrinks think to what electroshock therapy really looks like and why psychopaths kill, the book uses myth-busting illustrations from fiction and includes sidebars on things like character development, controversial and cutting-edge treatments, and common pitfalls to avoid.
Whether you’re looking for facts to fill out a story you’re already telling or just need fresh ideas to inspire you, this is the book for you!
CF: Do you write other genres? What are they?
CK: In addition to writing nonfiction, I write fantasy and science fiction. And yes, there’s almost always psychology in there!
CF: Tell me a little about the Nonfiction journey towards publication? Is it anything like the Fiction journey? What has been the hardest part so far? The most rewarding?
CK: Like the fiction journey, you need to find an agent, who submits your work to publishers, who work with you to get your manuscript ready for publication.
The thing I think is most different from the journey for fiction is that you can often attract agent representation and even sell based on a proposal, rather than the full manuscript.
A proposal is just what it sounds like – an introduction to your idea, an argument for why it can fill a hole in the market, a comparative market analysis, a post-publication marketing plan, and two or more sample chapters. Just like in business, a proposal is intended to get someone to invest time and money in your idea.
The hardest part for me so far was putting the initial proposal together. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and had never done anything quite like it before. I wanted to get it right!
The most rewarding thing is the idea that I can actually make a difference in people’s stories (and even their lives) by providing a resource manual on psychology that includes so much info on the little details writers so often get wrong.
It was also pretty cool that my educational background gave me an “in” with some people who might never have been willing to talk to a writer otherwise.
Two examples: First, I got a tour of a local private psychiatric facility, and was sure to include in my book all the details only someone who’d actually visited such a place would know. Second, I spoke with a doctor who both administers ECT (electroshock therapy) and works with VNS (vagus nerve stimulator) patients. ECT is so controversial that I kept hitting roadblocks when I tried to get someone to talk with me; VNS is so cutting-edge that it’s tough to find someone who really knows it inside and out. To talk to someone who was willing to give me the top-secret scoop on both was exciting.
CF: What are the most important things you are doing to get ready for your publication date?
CK: Right now I’m working closely with both my editor and the publisher’s publicist. I’m currently building the website for the book – The Writer’s Guide to Psychology. Be sure to check it out.
CF: How do you manage to balance writing with other real-life things (like relationships, etc)?
CK: I’ve been a lot of things in my life – a graphic designer, a project manager, a webmaster, a therapist, a professor – but one thing that has always been true is that I’ve always been a writer. Sometimes I’m writing more than other times, but fortunately the people around me are cool about that.
It also helps to remember that if you don’t get out of your head sometimes, you won’t be able to find fresh material – so when I’m away from my keyboard or notebook, I try to live life fully!
CF: Where do you find your inspiration?
CK: When I was in business, someone told me that I should never come to the table with a complaint unless I already had some potential solutions to share. That really stuck with me, that it’s not enough to complain and hope someone will fix it – you have to be willing to get in there and do what needs to be done yourself.
So when I found oodles of research showing how rampant misconceptions are in psychology, I wanted to do more than add to the research. I wanted to bridge the gap between professional information and the people who are actually steeped in the misconceptions. I get excited about being able to do something nobody else has done.
CF: What can you share about some of your future projects?
CK: I have another book for writers wanting to get out, one that uses psychology to help the writer deal with practical writing problems: insecurity about one’s skill, for example, and procrastination.
So once again, I’m inspired by a need in the marketplace. J
I am also currently querying a new fiction project. Cross your fingers for me!
CF: Tell me a random fact about you.
CK: I’m a die-hard fan of the 1970s anime Gatchaman. I maintain one of the top two informational fan websites for it: http://gatchonline.com. Every few years someone promises to make it into a movie; to tell you the truth, I’m so afraid they’ll screw it up that I’m not devastated when it falls through!
CF: Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about you or your books?
CK: The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately about Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior will be available on December 1st, 2010. You can pre-order a copy today at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite online retailer!
Thanks so much for stopping by Carolyn. As a fellow psychologist, I know this book is a greatly needed resource. You can find our more about Carolyn or her books at her website. For facebook users, The Writer’s Guide to Psychology has a great page with up-to-date information on the book.