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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Karen Y. Bynum

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Karen Y. Bynum.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

Since graduating from UNC Charlotte in 2004, I've been a fishmonger, a temp for a Dunder Mifflin-esque company, an HR generalist, a hitman--just kidding, maybe--an executive assistant in local government, and a stay-at-home mom. And through all of these jobs, I finally realized what I wanted to be when I grew up... An author!

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

I officially started my journey to becoming a published author after I turned in my notice as an HR generalist in 2009. I don't want to be overly dramatic or anything, but that commute from Newport News to VA Beach every day was, slowly, draining the lifeblood from the very depths of my soul. I tried. Truly. It was a prestigious job with great benefits and good hours...but, alas, I was dying inside. While I began looking for employment with a less soul-stealing commute, I decided to write the fantasy novel I'd wanted to for years but never had the time. As I began to breathe life into characters and mold my imaginings into an entertaining piece of fiction, I knew that being a word-wrangler was it for me.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

My husband and I moved to Newport News in 2007 for his job at NASA/Langley, and we bought our first home right as the housing market crashed. It was perfectly dreadful timing. We lived in that house for over a decade though and made so many beautiful memories there.

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Mentally prepare yourself for rejection. And lots of it. I wish that wasn't the advice I had to lead with. However, it's what I would've benefited from hearing when I first began sending out query letters to agents and publishing houses so many, many years ago. The publishing industry is like riding an emotional roller coaster. It does not pay well, is time-consuming, and may, on more than one occasion, cause fits of profanity. But having read these things, and you still want to become a published author, then I have three important pieces of advice. One... Join a professional writers organization. There are many different ones out there, and you'll need to pick the one(s) that best suit your genre of fiction. I write paranormal and fantasy fiction, both for young adults and adults. So the organizations I have found most helpful have been SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), RWA (Romance Writers of America), and a local Hampton Roads group called CRW (Chesapeake Romance Writers). Becoming a member of one or more of these organizations will help you improve your craft and make connections within the industry. It's also an invaluable place to meet a critique partner. Which brings me to my second piece of advice. Two... Find a critique partner. ASAP. Someone you trust. Someone who will tell you when your story isn't working. Someone who pushes you to be a better writer. It took me years to realize what a crucial piece of the puzzle this was. Once I found that person and began working together, my story-telling improved dramatically. It also gave me the support and encouragement I needed to pick myself up and continue pressing forward when the inevitable rejections came. And come they will. Yet, you must push onward with the story. Three... Once you've typed The End on your completed novel, hire a freelance editor or writing coach to help flesh out and improve your story. There is always room for improvement. I'm currently writing my tenth novel and have gleaned so much wisdom and experience from the feedback of a professional editor.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as an artist? In what ways?

Absolutely! I have two sons (ages 6 and 3). Becoming someone's mommy definitely impacted my career and changed how I viewed...well, everything. Before kids, I worked outside the home, so we had a bit more disposable income for me to go to writers retreats, conferences, and spend my free time writing. Once the boys came along, extra money and time were in short supply. I had to jump on any free moment I had to work on my craft. And I had to find ways to save money in order to pay for professional edits. Also, after I had my eldest son, I finally found the courage to begin attending therapy for my anxiety. Between inquisitive kiddos and a supportive therapist, I have gained a better understanding of my emotions, which I've applied to my writing.

Any closing thoughts?

One final thing. If you're thinking about becoming a published author and making it your career, ask yourself: Why do you write? I get this question quite a bit. Actually, it's a question I was asked recently for a writing competition. And my answer is this... I have a choice?! To be honest, there are days when I wish I didn’t, because the publication journey is not for the faint of heart. It’s arduous and consuming. Yet, undeniably rewarding. There’s beauty in the possibility of what could be. Of lush worlds yearning to be created. Of lost souls in search of redemption. Of wild and wonderful moments burning like stars in my imagination. So, really, I have no choice. I’m addicted to that glimmer of hope written between the lines. If you feel that way too, then don’t stop writing. Your voice needs to be heard.

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