Interview with Karen Pokras Toczydlowski

Dear reader,

I shall be engaging in a number of interviews with independent authors. May you find these informative, entertaining, and perhaps even inspiring to go out and locate their books!

This interview is with author Karen Pokras Toczydlowski.

Dear Karen, can you offer us a little insight into who you are?

First and foremost, I’m a Mom. In fact, I started writing my children’s books because of my three children.My two older kids (now teens) would grumble something fierce everytime I suggested they read “for pleasure.” Even just getting them to read what was required for school was a chore. It was difficult to believe we shared the same DNA, as I’ve always loved to read. Of course, I did not grow up in a generation of computers, video games, cell phones, movies on demand, and hundreds of television channels. There are so many distractions for kids today. They complained that reading was boring, and so, I decided to write a series that kids would enjoy reading to prove them wrong. About two years ago, I sat down and created 10-year-old Nathan Rockledge, aka Nate Rocks. The first book, Nate Rocks the World, came out in July, 2011. The second book, Nate Rocks the Boat, comes out May 1st. I also have an adult contemporary novel called Julia’s Song, written under my pen name, Elyse Pierce.

What is the reason that you started writing? When did you start writing?

I’m not really sure why I started writing, other than I had a story swirling in my brain that I wanted to get down on paper. I really had no expectations of ever publishing anything. It was more just an excersice of expression at first. This was 2009(?) At 40-something years old, I quickly realized that I loved to write. I’ve been writing ever since.

Are you writing under a pen-name, do you use your own, or is your work out in both ways?

Yes – I actually write under two pen names. My children’s books are under the name Karen Pokras Toz (which is a shortened and much easier to spell verson of my very long Polish name) and I also have recently published an adult contemporary novel called Julia’s Song, under the pen name, Elyse Pierce.

What, do you think, is your best book? And why is that?

That is such a hard question, it’s like asking me which of my children I love best. Now that I have the second Nate Rocks book coming out, I have a feeling I’ll be asked this question a lot. Honestly, I can’t choose – I love them both. Julia’s Song is such a different book from the Nate Rocks books, it’s impossible to even compare them. Like my children, I love them all for both different and similar reasons.

In my children’s books – the aspect I love best is Nathan’s humor. Kids are under so much pressure these days. I think it’s so important to be able to maintain a sense of humor when trying to work out so many of the daily obstacles and challenges kids (and everybody really) face.

Naturally, after the best book, what is your worst, if there is one? And why do you feel that way?

Well if you asked me this question last year, I would definitely say Julia’s Song. It was a story I wrote several years ago, and it was the first novel I had ever written. I, of course, thought it was amazing (and my mom agreed so it had to be true!) Luckily, I became distracted with Nate. When I picked Julia’s Song up again last year and began re-reading it, I thought, “Wow – this is really awful!” I basically kept the story line, but otherwise gave it a major overhaul. Now it is something I can be truly proud of.

How do you think your writing has changed over time? Did it change at all?

Yes- well – Julia’s Song is a perfect example. There is no doubt that my writing has changed and (hopefully) improved over the last couple of years. I can only hope it continues to develop and impove over the years.

And can you say that writing has changed you?

Absolutely. If you told me 5 years ago, I’d wind up being a novelist, I would have laughed in your face. I’m a numbers person. I’ve worked as an accountant for 15 years. The most I had ever written was an email asking a client about their taxes. But, my creative piece eventually made it to the surface, and here I am! Over the last few, I’ve gone from being an accountant who likes to write, to a writer who does taxes on the side.

What is the most daring thing you ever did or tried in your writing? In which book did that happen?

Well, I tried to write a sex scene in Julia’s Song, and I failed miserably!! I think part of it had to do with the fact that I knew my Dad would eventually be reading my book. Hopefully the readers won’t be too disappointed by its absence.

 And, if your feel up to it, what is the most daring thing you ever did in your life? Feel free to skip this one, not everybody is up to revealing much about themselves…

Uh – yeah – skip 😉

Is there something you still want to have a go at, in your writing life? Is there a challenge you envision that’s worth pursuing?

My favorite genre to read is Historical Fiction. I also feel as if this is one of the most difficult genres to write. I would love to have a go at writing something in this genre, but I feel I’m not quite there as a writer yet. Hopefully one day!

Has your writing ever been compared to the writing of another (perhaps even famous) writer/author? And do you like that?

Yes & Yes – I love it! For the Nate books, I have been compared to Judy Blume (who I just adore!), Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and James Patterson (for his Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life book.) I’ve also been compared with C.S. Lewis & Authur Miller in my ability to shift from reality to fantasy. I take all of those as HUGE compliments!

Do you have one or two favourite books (written by someone else)? If so, what are they, and why do they appeal to you so much?

I have so many books I love, but if I have to pick two, here are two that I’ve read recently and I loved… – both are character driven historical fiction. One traditionally published, one by an indie author:

  • Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
  • Jonathan’s Cross by ML Gardner

Which book you ever read would you label as least readable book, so far? Feel free to comment as liberally as you want to the why.

I have several books that I have started and have been unable to finish. However, I have a policy of refraining from publicly giving bad reviews. As an author, I know how much work goes into writing a story, and I also realize that tastes are very subjective and personal.

Is there a book that you know of that should never have been published, in your opinion?

For me, it’s not so much a question of whether or not a book should have been published as much as whether or not the book was ready to be published. For me, as an independent author, it is vital that I put out a quality book that I am proud of. This means having beta readers, a professional editor, a cover artist, and someone experienced with proper formatting.

Is there a writer that you would love to co-write a book with? And what genre would you like to write in then? Something you’re familiar with?

I would love to co-author a middle grade book with Judy Blume! That would be a dream come true! Of course, I’d probably be so star struck and intimidated that I wouldn’t be able to get two words out.

 Let’s see… is there something in the realm of ‘wise words’ you once picked up that you would like to share? This does not have to be limited to writing, there is more to life than writing. At least, I heard there is. 😉

This is quickly becoming my favorite quote: “We have the power to shrink our dreams to fit reality, or the power to stretch our reality to fit our dreams.” (Anon.)

And as a last question, what is cooking with you? What’s your work in progress? Is there a tip of a veil that you can lift for us?

In the world of Middle Grade novels, I’ve got Nate Rocks the Boat, the second Nate Rocks book, coming out May 1st! In addition, I’m working on two projects: 1st: the third (and most likely final) book in the Nate Rocks series, and 2nd: a book tentatively titled “Millicent Marie is Not My Name” – about a 12 year old girl who blogs. I’m also working on a short Nate Rocks story for an anthology I’ve been invited to participate in, to come out next fall. As for Elyse Pierce, I don’t want her to feel left out, so I’ve got some ideas stirring for her next book as well.

If there is anything else you would like to share, for example a thought, some promotion for your book(s), then here’s your chance!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog – I’d love to share where you can find out more about my books:

Watch for Nate Rocks the Boat – coming out May 1st!

To learn more about the Nate Rocks Series:

Barnes & Noble:

Julia’s Song is available exclusively for Kindle: Amazon US  – Amazon UK

Thank you, Karen, for your time, and for sharing your words with us!

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