Bookpleasures.comwelcomes as our guest Kristen Wolf, author of The Way that was hailed by O, The Oprah Magazine as “A Title to Pick Up Now!”

Her second novel, ESCAPEMENT, won a 2018 IndieReader Discovery Award and received this praise: “Wolf is a masterful storyteller who has written an enchanting novel... it will resonate with anyone who has ever felt passion.”–IndieReader,

As a graduate of Georgetown University she was nominated to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and holds an M.A. in creative writing from Hollins University. She is currently working on several innovative ventures.

Norm: Good day Kristen and thanks for participating in our interview.

How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Kristen: Hi Norm and It’s an honor to be speaking with you!

Like a lot of writers I know, I got started early. I wrote my first “book” when I was six-years-old. I folded several sheets of paper from my father’s legal pads and stapled them together to make a little paperback. Then I designed the cover (with Crayons, of course), mapped out a proper table of contents, and wrote the story. I did this many, many times. I think the first book had something to do with a wolfman. Not a whole lot has really changed from those early days except that there’s been some obvious improvements in quality – but the spirit and the drive are still the same!

And I love this second question of yours – it’s a great one and not often asked. I guess I’d have to say what keeps me going, what drives me to sit in the chair and disappear into the imagination is first and foremost ideas. I’m definitely motivated by ideas – ones that strike hard and fast and won’t let go.

On top of being fascinated myself, I really enjoy sharing new ideas with others. Writing fiction has become my favourite way to do this. I was a journalist for many years and that was another great way to share new thoughts, but there’s something about taking people on a fictional journey that’s become far more important to me and feels more powerful.

I mean, non-fiction writing is incredibly powerful and can have an enormous impact on people’s lives and thinking but, over time, I’ve felt myself increasingly drawn to the special elements inherent to fiction – those being the magic of storytelling and the imagination.

Continually experimenting with these two elements is what motivates me most and is also what – to the heart of your question – keeps me going even when I (sometimes) don’t feel like it.

Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing? As a follow up, do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process. 

Kristen: Wow, more great questions!

I think what primarily characterizes my writing is an immersive sensuality – a way of unfolding people, places and events in a manner that stimulates all the reader’s senses.

A lot of people say my writing is highly cinematic, i.e. they feel like they’re actually there and can smell the setting or taste the food and so forth. I’m always happy when people say this because I work hard to draw people in and transport them to somewhere else.

As for logic or intuition, I think there’s a good bit of both but in the end I probably rely more heavily on intuition. Though it probably depends on the story. For example, sometimes I chart out scene and characters in a certain way and then I get going and instead of turning right, the character turns left and I think to myself, “Now why the heck would you go and do that?

You’ve just ruined a day’s writing!” But in the end, when I follow the characters and let them take the lead I always make far richer discoveries and advance the story in far more surprising ways that I would have if I’d stuck to the original plan. And that’s something I’ve had to learn to trust.

So I’d say my process is a bit of a mix – both planning and inspiration. On some days I’m very meticulous about what I want to accomplish (for a scene or a character) and on other days I’m literally just watching the story occur in front of my eyes, as if I’m watching a movie, and I just write down what I see (and hear and feel and so on).

Norm: What inspires you?

Kristen: Life. Life with a capital L inspires me. Most days I wake up and can’t believe we get to be here, on this little blue orb floating through deep space – with all its beauty and complexity, its difficulty and mystery. And if I could do just one thing all day it would be to chase after the mystery of what it means to be here. Not just what human life means, but all Life. And this desire inspires me to bring everything I have in an attempt to see deeper and more clearly in the hope of understanding something more. And then, of course, I so badly want to share whatever precious little fragments I might stumble upon.

Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

Kristen: My upbringing was very nature-based. My parents were particularly reverent of nature and creatures and the land. They were also very attentive to the details of life and I think taught me to be so as well.

And even though we had plenty of urban experiences in New York City, we also lived in heavily-forested places – and always had a house full of animals we’d rescued one way or another, including raccoons and horses, quail and squirrels, you name it.

Nowadays, even though I’m mostly on the go, I still seek quiet, natural settings in which to write. I think I find the stillness and the green and wild the most conducive environment for sparking my imagination – and discovering things that have been overlooked.

Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?

Kristen: People always say reading is the best way to learn writing. And I agree. Especially reading from a wide variety of time periods and styles and geographies. I also think watching movies in an active way is helpful – both as far as teaching what aspects of storytelling to emulate and what to avoid. Then, of course, there’s just living as varied a life as one can.

Traveling is critical, I think, in offering different perspectives and enjoying new relationships. And studying diverse subjects – or just learning diverse skills and trying out new ways of life. All these aspects are helpful to enriching one’s stories.

What has proven destructive is the computer. Not using the computer as a tool – which to me is beyond amazing for reasons that are too many to go into here. But when the computer, or being online, becomes more of a distraction and something that prevents me from doing “deep, focused work,” I feel it becomes a destructive influence.

What I’ve found so far is that the best way to prevent the destructive aspect of the computer is simply to set limits on how I use it. To prioritize the deep work over the shallow work and to guard that priority with my life.

Norm: What are common mistakes writers make?

Kristen: Hmm. Probably holding the belief that rewriting is somehow less important than writing. Being afraid of mistakes. Being afraid to “kill one’s babies,” i.e. to cut writing or characters that are amazing but which don’t advance or serve the story.

Another mistake is to be petrified by what I call “the soufflé moment” – that instant when it seems your whole story has to go into the trash, that it’s collapsed. It’s a very scary moment, for sure. But, thankfully, by surviving more than one encounter with the dreaded soufflé I now realize that those moments don’t indicate a complete failure – rather, they indicate that the story is on the verge of a marvellous metamorphosis – one you simply can’t yet see.

Norm: What do you think makes a good story?

Kristen: I think a good story can entertain – can give people a cathartic experience – while a great story transports someone out of their ordinary way of being or thinking and enables them to adopt a new belief or a new perspective on life or to develop an entirely new empathy that they didn’t have before.

Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for Escapement?

Kristen: When I was in college I took a music history course that explored the great classical music repertoire. I’d never really listened to classical music before and was completely overwhelmed.

I became enchanted and obsessed at the same time. I basically fell in love – hard – not only with the music but with the stories and lives of the composers and musicians themselves. In fact, I was so inspired that I decided to learn how to play piano. I found a teacher and took some basic lessons and then played for hours and hours and hours.

Literally. Finally I could start to play some of the music that had so enchanted me and it was the most amazing experience. So it was then, when I was eighteen and obsessed, that the seeds of the story first took root.

Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story? As a follow up, what do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?

Kristen: Wow. That is a difficult question to answer. For me it was important to explore the minds and hearts of those who possess a spark of creativity that approaches genius. Who view paying attention and giving freedom to their inspiration as a form of reverence.

I wanted to spend time with people who lived with that type of intensity and passion. I wanted to see the joys and the intense sacrifices that such a life, and its many gifts, entails. I also wanted to explore what happens when someone possesses a creative gift (as so many of us do) but, for whatever reason, allows it to languish. I also wanted to explore sound – both the making of it and the phenomenon of recording it. And how the ability to capture sound changed everything about how we view not just music but also life – changes that we no longer seem to remember or be aware of.

I also wanted to explore the possibilities of women living outside and beyond their normal station for that time period – both creatively and sexually. And lastly to imagine all the possibilities and contributions that never made it into the history books but which might nevertheless be true! All of these subject matters and explorations felt equally important to me while I was writing.

Norm: How did you go about creating the characters of Henri, Ava, Clara, Cristopher, Richard and Jacque into the story?

Kristen: I’m not sure I created them as much as they just arose. Though not in a flash of insight or anything like that. I think they actually emerged over a long span of time. Mostly likely they began their lives as composites of the various composers I’d been learning about when I was eighteen – then were further refined by my own life experiences and studies – and continued to simmer in that broth and in my imagination for years and years. They really were quite fully formed when I began to write – which was a unique experience for me.

Norm: How much research went into crafting the story, particularly the intertwining of music as an important theme?

Kristen: I don’t know if it was research as much as drawing on decades of impassioned study and finally finding a practical use for the information I’d been gathering.

I really didn’t undertake any formal research before I began writing. I mostly drew on what I’d already learned. Going in I felt that I had a solid understanding and knowledge of the characters and subject matters at hand and I didn’t want to overly concern myself with historical accuracy. By that I mean I wanted to create a sensual verisimilitude of the time period and the artistic and scientific disciplines involved – enough so that I could effectively transport the reader and have something of worth to share – but not to the degree that would prioritize historical accuracy over storytelling.

In other words, for this particular story, I set verisimilitude and the rendering of passions above historical accuracy. Which I hope won’t disappoint readers of more traditional historical fiction who, I know, are accustomed to a high degree of accuracy. Yet I’m equally hopeful that the style will attract readers who wouldn’t otherwise choose to read the historical fiction genre.

Norm: How difficult was it to intertwine music into the plot?

Kristen: Thankfully it wasn’t difficult but a true and complete pleasure. There were two reasons for this, I think. First, I chose actual pieces to use as models for the “fictitious” musical pieces. So, for example, I chose my most favourite concerto, the First Piano Concerto in D minor by Johannes Brahms as the inspiration for the main piece of featured music – the piece that Cristofer struggles to write for Jacque. And I chose other actual pieces to serve as models for the other works that are played within the story. In fact, I included a list in the back of the book to acknowledge the inspiration provided by these pieces. (As a side note, we had a pianist perform all these works on a historic piano – an 1895 Érard – for the audiobook!)

Norm: Did you know the ending of the book at the beginning?

Kristen: I did, yes. Though I was open to the fact that it might turn out differently. But as the story unfolded and continued to unwind, I became more and more confident that it would conclude much as I had imagined.

Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Escapement?

Kristen: Ahh! That’s a great question and an easy one. Ever since I can remember, I’ve only been able to write when there is peace and quiet. But, to my great surprise, when I began Escapement I quickly discovered that I could only write when I had music playing.

In fact, I kept the second movement, the Adagio, from Brahms’ First Piano Concerto playing on a repetitive loop. It would just wind down to its ominous conclusion and then start right back up again, over and over.

When I completed the first draft, I checked the little counter on iTunes and it said I’d listened to that piece over 2,500 times. I was completely shocked when I saw that! But, for some reason, I had to have that music playing while I wrote. Maybe it brought on a sort of musical trance that helped to enter the composers’ state of mind, I don’t know.

Naturally I thought I’d discovered a secret to my writing process that would make every book so much easier. But when I picked what I thought would be a conducive soundtrack for the writing of my third book, I was completely surprised to find that I couldn’t stand listening to music at all!

It was entirely distracting and uncomfortable! And so I realized that listening to music was just something special and essential for the experience of writing Escapement, and not a practice that would carry over to other projects. When I think about it now, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising, but it really was!

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Escapement?

Kristen: There is a bit more about the project on my WEBSITE  including two versions of a really fantastic Trailer we made to allegedly promote the book. I say allegedly because the real reason I made the Trailer was to dust off my director and filmmaker skills and see if the concept could be developed into a full-length feature. (Which has always been my secret hope for the story.) Fortunately, we had an amazing cast and crew and I was incredibly happy with how the Trailer turned out. So I’ve now begun to work on developing the feature.

Norm: What is next for Kristen Wolf?

Kristen: Aside from working on making Escapement into a feature film, I’m writing a third novel. It’s entirely different in style and subject matter from anything I’ve ever done. It’s a speculative novel that explores dreams and sleep and the greater purposes that might be behind them. I’m very excited about it! I’ve also written a great deal of a fourth novel but took a break from it as I wanted to do more research first.

It’s an epic saga, very futuristic and speculative – and returns to the themes I mentioned earlier about Life, the reasons why everything might exist and to where it might all lead. It draws on an enormous variety of disciplines and discoveries that, when distilled together, offer possibilities we haven’t really considered yet. It’s a large, all-encompassing work and I have a feeling it will take awhile to complete or, perhaps better still, be developed over time as a series.

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?  

Kristen: Ha ha! Another fantastic question!! I guess no one has ever asked if I was sad when the story of Escapement came to an end. And whether or not I had a hard time letting go. The answer is an emphatic yes. I was very sad to leave the world those characters pulled me into. I was also sad not to listen to that music every day in such a meditative way. No other story has been so hard to leave as that one. Maybe it’s because the characters and the setting had been with me for so long before I wrote it all down. I don’t know. I only know that if I could disappear back into the world of any one story, it would be that of Escapement.

Norm: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and read Escapement.

My thanks to you, Norm, and to the readers of This was a wonderful experience and I was honoured to have had the opportunity!