Grande Prairie Herald Tribune Review & Interview - Drummer Girl

Reviewed by: Kirsten Goruk

Bass takes leap with Drummer Girl - Former librarian focuses solely on writing; new young adult novel launched

Two months ago Karen Bass took the leap from part-time young adult novelist to full-time writer. All she had to do was quit her day job.

The 49-year-old Alberta-born author left her position as manager of the public library in Hythe, the village where she and her husband, Mike, live.

"I just quit my day job in June. So now I have to focus full time on writing," she says. "Now that my husband is back at work - he's a teacher - I can get into a routine and see how this full-time writing gig works."

While Mike is off teaching Grade 7 and 8 students at Hythe Regional school, she's got the release of her third novel to keep her busy. Drummer Girl will officially launch at the Alberta Arts Days festival in Grande Prairie on Oct. 1. 

Unlike her first two novels, which featured a secondary, historically-accurate storyline, this one is completely contemporary.

"I wasn't really sure that the publisher would want it because the first two had that WW2 component, but they were happy to give it a go," she says.

It wasn't a transition that Bass planned. During a trip to Hamburg, Germany - where she was doing research for her second novel - the idea just came to her. 

"All of a sudden there was this lightning bolt and I got this idea, a basic premise," she says. "It was just one of those weird things. I guess that happens to everyone, you get that random thought and you have no idea where it came from."

Bass admits the story line had its challenges.

"The problem with contemporary with me is coming up with the story lines because for me, my kids are all moved away from home now, so I don't have as much direct interaction with teenagers."

Her three kids, all grown up, are spread out between Edmonton and Grande Prairie. She managed to make it work though, as she tells the story of Sid, a teenage girl who wants nothing more than to be a drummer in a band. 

"It's about a girl who is asked to change who she is and how much is she willing to change to get what she thinks she wants? It's a book about choices and peer pressure," Bass says. 

Without any historic characters or events, Bass spent less time researching.

"It was a lot of fun to write. There was a lot less research. I still had to do some because I know nothing about drumming."

In order to get it right she read books, looked up terminology on websites and watched YouTube videos of Neil Peart, the drummer in Rush.

"One of the primary things was interviewing a good friend of my son's who is a drummer and asking him all sorts of weird questions - things like do you get sore when you've been sitting on the 'throne' for a long time. I didn't even know it was called a throne," she says, referring to the seat drummers sit on.

When Bass first started bouncing ideas around for the plot, she didn't even know that Sid's character would be a drummer. That evolution and experimentation is what she loves about young adult fiction. 

"It's an interesting age to write about. You're deciding who you are and making decisions that will impact you for the rest of your life," she says.

Even though all of her kids are grown up and have moved away, Bass doesn't have trouble diving into the mind of a teenager.

"I actually think I have an inner teenager that just refuses to shut up. Some people say they have a nine-year-old child inside of them, yeah, mine's a teenager."

From the very start of the novel, Sid and the rest of the characters run into some of the classic issues teenagers face today, including sexual orientation, peer pressure and underage drinking.

Bass says it's important to frame those issues around a strong, real character who rings true for readers.

"Within the book when you're exploring a risky behaviour, you're giving the teen reader a safe way to experience that without experiencing it in real life and to realize that it does have repercussions."

At the same time, Bass is careful not to cross the line into preaching at the reader.

"You don't want to be wagging a finger at them during the story or they'll just drop the book. They don't tolerate that very well."

Over the next month Bass will try to hook readers as she makes the rounds on a small book tour throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan.

After the launch is finished up, the now full-time writer will get back to some other projects she has on the go. In addition to revising a historical novel, she's also working on some contemporary ones. 

"I've got about three different ideas churning around in my mind. I just have to settle on one so that I can get into first draft phase and lock myself away in my office."

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