Karla Huebner joins The Spotlight this week to chat about her novel, In Search of the Magic Theater
Author Name: Karla Huebner
Book Title: In Search of the Magic Theater
Book Genre: Literary/Women’s Fiction
Release Date: 6/1/22
Publisher: Regal House
Welcome, Karla! How would you describe In Search of the Magic Theater?
In Search of the Magic Theater follows two alternating narrators, the fortyish Kari and the twentyish Sarah, in their search for creative and personal growth in the worlds of experimental theater (Kari) and classical music (Sarah). Along the way, they grapple with their own past relationships (husband, family), form new connections, and in many ways redefine who they really are.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I was at a point in my life where I was getting ready to move on from dead-end jobs and a not-quite-right relationship, and it occurred to me that it could be interesting to write a novel about a woman at a similar crossroads.
How long did it take for you to write the book? Did you do any research?
While I had the initial vague idea of a novel about a midlife woman leaving her marriage some years before I actually began writing (in the meantime I began work on a PhD in art history!), and so the idea had been rattling around in the back of my mind, the actual writing did not take long. I wrote nearly the whole novel in about three months. I was nearly done with my PhD dissertation–just making edits and cuts, really–and felt able to return at last to writing fiction. It was a wonderful time. I did next to no research for the novel; the only research I can recall doing was some investigation into composers who had written duets for guitar and cello.
What drew you to literary (or women’s?) fiction?
I’m not really fond of categorizing fiction, but I recognize that it helps readers find what interests them. Here I need to define my terms because people don’t always agree on what is literary fiction or what is women’s fiction. Regarding women’s fiction, I’m taking the definition that WFWA uses, which emphasizes a focus on character and emotion. I wouldn’t call all of my writing women’s fiction, but In Search of the Magic Theater is strongly focused on two women and their emotional and creative lives. Regarding literary fiction, I define that as fiction that is well written and takes some risks–for example, when literary fiction follows a formula or fits a genre, it usually does so in unexpected, often playful, ways. Literary fiction can also address themes that might be more philosophical than are typical for genre fiction. In my writing, I always pay close attention to language and voice, and some of what I write is a bit experimental or plays with expectations.
What’s your favorite part about writing/being an author? What do you find challenging?
I love most things about actually writing–the ideas, the discoveries along the way, the fine-tuning and perfecting. I would write for most of most days if I could! What I find challenging about being an author is the need to be my own publicist and marketing manager. Not that I don’t enjoy parts of publicity and marketing–it’s fun answering questionnaires like this and it’s fun doing readings–but these days new and even established authors have to put in crazy amounts of time and effort at publicity and marketing, and that’s tiring and is really a whole additional job that not every author is comfortable with or can afford financially. It’s not uncommon to spend more money on promotion than will ever come in from royalties.
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read In Search of the Magic Theater?
I try to tailor my pitch to the person I’m speaking to. I might mention that it’s a novel about strong and creative women; I might mention that it has a sub-theme of generational tensions. I might mention that it’s about theater and music and that I hope it’s a fun read, never depressing
What about the writing/editing/publishing process has been the most surprising to you so far?
I’m not sure any part has been very surprising–I’ve been writing and publishing for a long time by now even though this is my first published novel–but I did not expect that I would find the promotion to be quite so exhausting or so expensive.
Any words of wisdom you give your pre-published writer self (or to a new writer)?
To a new writer, I would say learn as much as possible about the business of being a writer. Don’t expect that just because someone else successfully writes at 5 a.m., or can outline a novel before beginning it, you should also do these things. Find what works for you in terms of style, technique, genre, time of day, etc. Be flexible. Be true to yourself and your ideas. Join writers’ groups and writers’ organizations. Learn how to recognize what you or an agent need to negotiate to improve any contract you are offered.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I most recently worked as a professor of art history, specializing in Czech surrealism and history of gender and sexuality, so I have some pretty interdisciplinary scholarly interests that are a lot of fun to delve into. I’m a genealogist too, and sometimes give talks on DNA genealogy and on how to get started researching Germans from Poland. I enjoy hiking, camping, biking, dancing, and downhill skiing, but in practice don’t do very much of any of those although I recently bought a very cool little trailer that is fun to take to the park and write in even when I can’t camp. I also always have a couple of adopted house rabbits and advocate for rabbit rescue.
Are you working on a new project? Please tell us about it.
Yikes, I always have a bunch of projects! I recently completed a middle grade novel about a girl who wants to be like Harriet the Spy. Right now I’m working on a novel whose narrator becomes somewhat obsessed with the question of what became of a super-talented artist friend from college–why isn’t this friend famous, where did she go, what happened? The narrator and friends dig into who their friend really was and seek to find her.
Where can readers find you?
On Friday, June 10th, I’m giving a talk on the gender-ambiguous Czech surrealist artist Toyen at the High Street Gallery in Dayton, Ohio, at 7pm.
On Saturday, June 18th, I’ll be signing books (along with Erin Flanagan, Valerie Nieman, and Jess Montgomery) at the Barnes & Noble in Beavercreek, Ohio, 1-3pm.
More events in the planning stages… links on past Zoom talks on Toyen are on my website.
Thank you, Karla! In Search of the Magic Theater is out NOW.
Why, the rather staid young cellist Sarah wonders, should her aunt rent their spare room to the perhaps unstable Kari Zilke? Like the nephew in Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Sarah finds herself taking an unexpected interest in the lodger, but she is unable to stop at providing a mere introduction to Kari’s narrative of mid-life crisis and self-discovery, and develops her own more troubled tale of personal angst and growth, entwined with the account Kari herself purportedly left behind. Generational tensions, artistic collaborations, and even a romance steeped in Greek myth follow as Kari and Sarah pursue their very different creative paths in theater and music. And while Kari seems to blossom post-divorce, Sarah must grapple with the question of what the role of mothers, fathers, aunts, mentors, and male collaborators should be in her life as a young musician.
Bio: Karla Huebner has lived on a boat and worked in factories, offices, theater, publishing, oil refineries, private investigation, and adolescent drug rehab. Over the years, her fiction has appeared in such places as the Northwest Review, Colorado State Review, Magic Realism, Fantasy Macabre, Weave, and Opossum; she now teaches Art History at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and her prize-winning book Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic is available from University of Pittsburgh Press. Her novel In Search of the Magic Theater just came out from Regal House and her collection Heartwood was a finalist for the 2020 Raz-Shumaker award.