"When I was growing up in Denver, I dreamed of becoming an artist or a writer. However, I’d never actually met anyone who made a living doing either job. So, I opted to become a lawyer instead. Somehow, it made sense at the time. My legal career lasted until my firm sent me to the SEC to represent a guy whose financial futures fund was under attack. I didn’t know what a financial futures fund was. I still don’t. But I represented him anyway, falling asleep during the proceedings. The room was hot and the discussion soooo boring. I’m only telling you this because the statute of limitations for malpractice has run. I took this experience as a sign that I should find a different path. My next pursuit – advertising for American Express – lasted fifteen years. I worked my way up to Vice President. Then one day, my world came crashing in. My boss called me into his office and said the two words dreaded by corporate drones everywhere: “You’re downsized.” Having no idea what to do with my life, I went to a psychic. The psychic told me to relax. In a few years, something huge would happen. It would change my life forever and I would finally have the career of my dreams. In the meantime, with two kids to support, she suggested that I find something meaningful to do that paid the rent.

Living in New York City, the most painful experience a parent endures is getting her kids into school. The top public schools are so competitive. And private schools put children and parents through admissions hell. If you aren’t connected, famous, or super wealthy, you’re screwed. So, I partnered with a friend who had tons of experience (and a Masters Degree) in counseling families on education matters and started a company helping Manhattanites get their kids into the best schools. Did I personally know about this business? Not really. But hey, I represented a financial futures fund without knowing what one was. How much harder could this be?

As it turned out, harder than I thought. After researching the ins and outs of Manhattan school admissions, I learned enough to convince others (and myself) that I knew what I was doing. Happily, our families fared well. More importantly, I had a ringside seat at the crazy Manhattan admissions circus. Don’t get me wrong. 99% of our families were fabulous. And the children we worked with were wonderful, as children naturally are. But there were always a handful of difficult parents who would lose it. There were screaming matches, threats and outrageous behavior – all in the name of getting children into the most desired school. We were written about in Forbes and The New York Times. I appeared on 20/20. It was a heady time, but there was one problem. The business could support one person, but not two. I decided to quit so that at least my partner could make a decent living. Yes, I am a good person.

I needed a new direction so I went to see another psychic. Like the first one, she told me a change was in the offing. It was huge. “Can you give me a hint?” I asked. “I don’t want to miss it.” “Don’t worry,” she said, “it’ll be like hitting a brick wall at 100 mph.”

My husband and children held an intervention imploring me to get a real job with a regular paycheck and paid vacation. I had a better idea. Why not write a novel inspired by my experiences helping kids get into schools? “How long will that take? My husband asked. “Three months,” I assured him. Did I know anything about writing a novel? No. But everyone said that my annual Christmas letter was really funny. How much harder could this be?

Okay, it was harder. Working day and night, I finished the first draft in three months. A friend arranged for me to show it to a well-known editor. When I took it to her mailroom, the magnitude of the odds I faced became clear. That room was filled with dozens of huge containers holding thousands of rejected manuscripts sent by others who, like me, fantasized about living the writer’s life. Still, I dropped my script off and waited anxiously. A few weeks later, the editor called. She said she liked the first 100 pages, but then lost interest. “Good luck,” she said. “Be sure to show it to me if you rewrite it.” Ouch.

For three weeks, I was too discouraged to write. When my son told me to get a job like a normal mom, I went back to the computer with new resolve. For the next two months I edited and polished, working fourteen hours a day. Then it hit me. Maybe this was the big thing those psychics had predicted. I finished the book with new confidence. If two independent psychics predicted it, how wrong could they be? With my second draft complete, I needed an agent. Agents can be as tough to get as publishers. But the stars aligned in my favor. I mentioned to our babysitter that I had written a book. “Oh, I know an agent. Do you want me to call her for you?” “Absolutely,” I said. Even though our babysitter had not talked to this woman in ten years, she got her number from directory assistance and dialed her immediately. The agent told me she wasn’t taking new clients, but she’d read the book and give me advice. A week later, she called to say she loved it. Could she represent me?

Meanwhile, my husband mentioned that the couple we were traveling with to the World Track and Field Championships both worked in publishing, but he had no clue what they did. He offered to call them for me. The next day, he asked, “have you heard of a book called ‘The Devil Wears Prada?” “Sure,” I told him. It turned out that Stacy, our traveling companion, was the editor of that book. As a favor, she agreed to read my manuscript. At the track meet, I asked her if she liked it. She apologized, saying she hadn’t had time to read it. I figured she must have hated it but didn’t want to tell me and ruin our vacation.

We came back to New York on a Friday. The next Monday morning, I received an e-mail from Stacy. “Karen, I read the book over the weekend. Love it and want to publish it!” My screams of joy could be heard all the way in Harlem (and I live downtown). I called my agent to tell her the good news. She alerted the other editors to whom she had already submitted the book that an offer was coming. By evening, we had three other offers. An auction was held that went on for three days. The book was sold to Viking. My picture appeared in Publisher’s Weekly! Let me tell you, this was way more exciting than hawking credit cards and defending financial futures funds (whatever those are).

After The Ivy Chronicles was sold, I went out and bought every book on "how to write a book" that was ever written. I decided that if I was going to do this for a living, I should learn more about the craft. I've now completed my second novel, Wife in the Fast Lane, and I’m hard at work on a third, India Fudge and the Time Travel Tunnel. This one is for young adults and I’m not sure I’ll keep that title, but I’ve loved working on it. Simon and Schuster contracted for two more titles in the genre of Ivy and Wife, so that’s next on the agenda. I live in New York City with my husband, Mark, our two children, Schuyler and Sam, and our cats, Smokey and Cookie. I still paint and my home is filled with my own artwork. We’ve been in New York City almost twenty years now and we wouldn’t live anywhere else. Please contact me through my website as I’d love to hear what you think of The Ivy Chronicles, Wife in the Fast Lane, or answer any questions you have."

—Karen Quinn
Return to Top

© Karen Quinn. All rights reserved. Site designed by
  Kevin Che.