Our seventh annual Popular Fiction Awards provided us with our first husband and wife winners. Together since 2003, Geoff and Karin Fuller, of South Charleston, West Virginia, were the Grand Prize winners of Crime and Romance, respectively.
We decided to take a deeper look into the relationship and writing life of this talented pair.
1. Here’s the question you know I have to ask: how did you meet and begin dating?
Karin: Geoff and I met in the summer of 2003 at the West Virginia Writers Conference. Some friends and I were taking an evening walk when it started raining. Voices from a nearby cabin porch—fellow attendees of the same conference—called out, “Over here!”
We talked for hours with those porch-dwellers, enjoying the pleasant chemistry between our group and theirs. But I had sworn off men forever, pronounced my heart hardened. After my divorce, it had seemed more sensible to plan for a life with just my daughter and me. The only males in our home would be furry ones—ones I could legally neuter.
But my eyes kept meeting his. Blue-gray eyes. Black lashes. Shy smile.
Throughout that evening and the next day, there were more looks, more smiles, more maneuvering to be in the same places at the same times. And then another evening with all of us back on that porch.
We sat side by side and talked, our hands “accidentally” brushing each other when we’d reach for our drinks. When the rain ended, we went for a group walk, and then a just-the-two-of-us walk. We stopped to sit on a bench by the lake, where we talked, oblivious of the time, until the sun began to come up.
We laughed about the schmaltziness of having talked all night, and then went our separate ways.
A week later, he drove nearly three hours to take me to dinner and a concert before driving another three hours back home. A week later, he drove half as far just to see me for an hour when I had business nearby.
And so began our cautious courtship, one that baffled us both for seeming too easy, for being devoid of awkwardness or conflicts right from the start. We’d each traveled vastly different roads in our lives, yet seemed to have arrived at the same point at the same time.
Even so, I was guarded. There was another whose heart would need winning over as well: my daughter’s. I’d not allowed them to meet until I was certain about my feelings for him.
Turns out there’d been nothing to fear. Within minutes, they were engrossed in a lying competition. By the end of the evening, she’d taken me aside to whisper, “You can keep him.” That same night, the confirmed bachelor leaned over to me and said, “So this is what I’ve been missing.”
We continued our long distance relationship until the following summer, when we again attended the same conference where we met. We sat with the same friends on the same porch, then took another late-night walk down that path to that bench by the lake. Where he dropped down on one knee. And my answer was yes.
2. So you’re both writers. Is that was “made the sparks fly”?
Karin: Since we met at a writer’s conference, writing definitely had something to do with our getting together. We lived a few hours apart, so we spent a lot of time talking on the phone and by email, and I started reading his memoir while he began reading my old columns. We essentially read our way through the getting-to-know-you phase.
We’re committed to being honest with each other about what we write. I trust his opinion. I’ve learned more about writing from him about writing than anywhere else. He’s made me a much better writer than I was before.
Geoff: I’m not so sure writing accounted for any sparks, but it certainly eased the beginning. We were at the West Virginia Writers annual statewide conference, for one thing; we might never have met otherwise. After we met, in addition to being able to talk about writing, which is endlessly interesting to both of us, we also had things we’d written. I could read a collection of her columns going back more than a decade and learn that way about her, her world, her life, and she could read a memoir I had recently finished about living with multiple sclerosis for 25 years. In some ways, we learned more about each other much faster than new couples usually do.
3. Do you ask for each other’s advice when writing? What is the best piece of advice you’ve given to each other (writing related or not)?
Karin: Geoff’s so good at seeing the holes in a story or figuring out different directions to go. His best advice came when I was upset about having to turn in a column even though I felt like it stunk. He told me no one hits a home run every time they’re at bat. When I think about my favorite writers—Pat Conroy, David Sedaris, Stephen King, Sara Gruen—I haven’t liked everything they’ve written, but I still admire their talent and continue buying what they write.
Geoff: All the time! When we want other eyes on something, when we have a particular narrative problem to solve, or when we just need some positive feedback. We’re there for each other like that constantly. That’s not to say that the response is always positive, but we both seem to sense when we need encouragement and when we need actual analysis or correction.
We not only act as editors for each other, we also help frame advice either of us wants to give to a client or friend. I edit other people’s stuff more than Karin, but we each act as sounding boards for the other’s editorial advice, especially if it’s an issue we haven’t seen before or if the client seems particularly fragile or prickly.
Karin has given me plenty of good writing advice, but I don’t think I could point out a “best.” Although she says I’m funny in person, and I should put more of that into my work. That might turn out to be the best advice. It also could be an utter disaster.
4. Would you ever co-write something together?
Karin: We’ve written a few shorts together and a screenplay, but my favorite is one called Threnody about a professional mourner. We came up with the idea during dinner, and as soon as I got home, I wrote a few paragraphs, sent it to him, and he added on. It only took a few days of back and forth before we had a story we both really like. It’s in an anthology called Dark Tales of Terror published by Woodland Press. I’m sure we’ll do it again, but never anything as ambitious as a novel.
Geoff: We have done that and will again in the future. Our best collaboration to date was “Threnody,” a keening little short story about mourning that was published in a collection called Dark Tales of Terror. We’ve done some other short pieces and a couple of screenplays. Karin thinks we could never write a novel together, but luckily, she’s wrong.
5. You’ve both entered a lot of contests. Could you estimate how many between the two of you?
Karin: I enter far more contests than Geoff. He only enters if I nag him relentlessly all the way to the mailbox, or if I enter it for him. I’m a big believer in contests since winning can help stories move out of a publisher’s slush pile. They see it as already having already been vetted. I figure contest wins help with agents, too. It shows that a writer is good enough to win prizes and makes the effort to put their work out there.
Geoff: Maybe dozen and a half. Not that many, really, considering I’ve been doing it off and on for almost 20 years. Not sure about Karin, but she’s likely entered more than me.
6. What are your future writing plans?
Karin: I’d give anything to have a year just to write. Even just six months. Or three. It’s so hard taking on anything more than short stories when you can only write in fits and spurts. Keeping complicated story lines going when you’re so frequently pulled away for long periods of time is more than I can manage. When I was younger, I could get up at 4 a.m. and write, but I can’t do that so well any more. For now, I’ll just keep working on my short stories and entering contests like mad, occasionally submitting to magazines. And working my way through the genres.
Geoff: More novels, for sure. Working on one now. More contests, as well; I’m sending one off in a couple of days. I’d like to do some more ghost writing—that’s often fun. I also have a couple of graphic novels sketched out and am looking for an artist to work with.
My ultimate writing dream is to be able to write all day, every day, and to do it at the same time Karin is also writing. And of course, both of us getting published constantly.
7. Geoff, how does it feel that Karin pushed you to enter the WD crime contest…and then you won! Tell me about that day and the events leading up to and after you both found out you won.
Geoff: Karin really did push me, and for that I will always be grateful. If it were up to me (and money wasn’t an issue), I would probably write all the time but rarely submit anything to a contest or publication. I’m just very bad about that. When I focus on writing something, I completely forget anything else I may have written in the past. Karin is very good at finding contests and publications to submit to, and so on. Every so often, I’ll get a note from her with a link in it. That’s how it happened with the WD crime contest. She knew I had written the piece and one day just sent me a link to enter the contest. So I did, even though I thought it was a waste of time because I wouldn’t have a chance.
Then Karin got notified she had won the Romance category, which made us both very happy. After a couple of days, though, I stopped hoping I had done well. Then came the call, an unexpected lift.
8. Walk me through a typical day in the life of Geoff and in the life of Karin.
Karin: I’m a state worker in a data entry type job, so writing is something I do on the side. Tuesday evenings are dedicated to writing my weekly newspaper column, which runs in the Life section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail (Charleston, WV, www.sundaygazttemail.com). I have a teenage daughter who is very active in the local theater scene, so we’re always driving her to and from rehearsals. When I’m not writing, working, or driving, I’m working on some type of remodeling project, which Geoff is most patient about (patience is required since many projects are started, but few ever finished).
Geoff: The best times, to me, are when Karin and I have a day to ourselves in the house and we’re both working on something. It feels kind of like a dry run for our dotage. Karin will be up in her office, working on a short story or her column, and I’ll be down in the man pit, working on whatever I’m doing. We keep in touch by email and sometimes meet on the middle floor in the kitchen, and I make us lunch. (I was a restaurant cook for a decade, and Karin loves power tools, so our division of labor around the house breaks down pretty naturally.) In afternoons in the summer, I’ll hear her take a break by going outside and working around the yard; I usually stay in, thankful for the air-conditioning.