Author Ka Hancock on Dancing on Broken Glass

Mar 13, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. ET

When I first heard about Dancing on Broken Glass, I thought that the author, Ka Hancock, was a young nurse who left health care to pursue writing. Turns out she's doing it all and keeping up with four grown kids and ten grandchildren! Now, I don't know what impresses me more -- that she is able to balance two career passions and a large family, or that she makes it to the elliptical every day!

Ka HancockSheKnows: You worked as a psychiatric nurse prior to writing Dancing on Broken Glass. How did you decide to make the change? Did you always want to write?

Ka Hancock: I never made the change from one to the other. I am both a psychiatric nurse and a writer... and a whole bunch of other things. I got married before I was a fully formed person, right out of high school. I know, nuts. I had two kids before I ever knew what I wanted to be when I grew up — except for writing. I've been writing all my life. So I went to school. Thank goodness I married a good guy who picked up the slack. I took classes at night so the wee ones wouldn't suffer their mom's indulgence and four years later I was a nurse. I had two more kids, worked nights so the hubs and I were still, for the most part, raising the kidlets — albeit a little sleep deprived. I will die a psych nurse. I love the work because it keeps me grounded. Right now it's my 20 hour/week day job.

For me, writing has always been the reward I enjoyed after the laundry (and everything else) got done. I have to work hard and stay pretty organized to put in my time at the computer and since it's how I treat myself, I tend to be very productive. I have lots of ideas, so everyday is an adventure. It all pretty much works out. I have everything I want scrunched up into one little life — long enduring marriage, kids that I'm proud of, little people that I adore. God. Work. Education. Writing. And good health. Oh, and lots and lots of laughs. Without the laughs none of it's worth it.

SheKnows: What are the best and worst aspects of being a psychiatric nurse? What are the best and worst aspects of being a writer?

Ka Hancock: The best and worst of psych nursing is the same — the patients. I've met phenomenal people waging the worst kinds of battles. Some are evil and doing evil things in the name of mental illness. Some are lost in worlds known only to them. The most frustrating are those who deny their illness and are determined to live sans medication or any form of treatment because nothing is wrong with them. Those are the toughest. Some are determined to die, some are determined not to. Some are mean. Some are perpetually confused. Some are sorely afraid. They are all interesting. When I worked in the hospital, I always liked not knowing what to expect. It kept me on my toes.

Writing is a different ball game. I get a distinct rush when it goes well. When words and ideas flow easily and brilliantly in the dead of night and still look just as good the next morning, I'm in heaven. I guess the flipside of that is a whole day/week/or longer, wasted on clumpy ideas -- flawed plot lines, clichéd passages, and gobs of bad grammar. Stuff that makes you spit at your computer screen. The worst thing to happen to me was the disappearance of 50 pages. The lesson learned: Technology can be tricky for dumb bunnies who don't fully grasp the function of a delete key.

SheKnows: As a nurse, did you witness any unlikely romantic relationships that thrived despite the odds?

Ka Hancock: Hook ups on a psych ward or in a substance abuse treatment setting are never a good idea. Two sick people who start this way rarely live happily ever after. It is always discouraged. But if by this question you meant a couple like Mickey and Lucy, I have seen that. And I've been very humbled by the love and loyalty shown to a child, spouse or parent going through a mental health crisis. Chronic illness requires the best of both parties: a willingness on the part of the patient to do Dancing on Broken Glass coverwhat's necessary to maintain stability -- for the spouse: patience, compassion and realistic expectations. That's the ideal, but it's pretty darn scarce.

SheKnows: Describe the area where you write. What are your absolute must haves?

Ka Hancock: We converted a bedroom into my den. The desk runs the length of one wall, and above it, ceiling high built-in bookshelves are filled to the brim. I have a hundred year-old wooden pie-keeper that is filled with more books as well as another book shelf. Books are stacked on the floor as well. When I'm knee-deep in a project, it gets very cluttered — oh, who am I kidding — think Hoarders — but only this room, I'm very fastidious everywhere else. In here I never throw a single piece of paper away while I'm writing a novel. I'm sure that is due to being permanently scarred by the aforementioned delete button debacle. As for must haves: Diet Pepsi and Wintergreen lifesavers (the big ones). I have to be warm enough and it has to be quiet. That's my perfect recipe.

SheKnows: You have four adult children and as I understand, grandchildren as well? How do you balance writing with your family life?

Ka Hancock: Balance? What's that? I set high goals everyday. Meet them about half the time. I have four married kids and ten little people and they all live within about 20 minutes of me. Something is always happening: a soccer game, a sudden need for stitches, a last minute babysitter cancelation, a school program, a flat tire, croup. Croup's been big this season. And of course, births, deaths and other various and sundry crises. I try for balance but I'm pretty realistic. I write at night.

SheKnows: You say that the elliptical is "the bane of your existence". Can you elaborate?

Ka Hancock: Two things I can't do without: I have to exercise and I have to pray. My life doesn't behave if I don't do those two things everyday. If I start my day with some sweat then I can always say at least I accomplished one important thing. And, you know, it has to be hard or it doesn't count. The elliptical is Satan, I'm pretty sure. But the darn thing does get the blood pumping and fresh blood is good for just about everything. Sometimes I just walk fast for an hour and think about the scene I'm going to work on… or how many pounds of tilapia will fit in my freezer… or that I really should go home and shave my legs. Just depends. But doing something that gets my heart pounding is essential. Even when I hate it.

SheKnows: I know it's very hard but if you absolutely had to, could you choose your three favorite books of all time?

Ka Hancock: You're right it's an impossible question. I try not to waste any time on bad books, so I only finish the good ones. And I'm very generous with my five star rating. Some of my all-time faves are: Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen, These is My Words by Nancy E Turner, How to Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I love almost everything by Philippa Gregory. And I'd make lunch for Jane Austen in a heartbeat just so we could talk about that male-only inheritance rule. Who's bright idea was that!

SheKnows: What's in store for you next?

Ka Hancock: I'm working on a story about 16-year-old January Duzinski who believes her parents were killed in a tragic accident the night she was born. But her mother survived, albeit with a traumatic brain injury. January has always known this woman as her mentally retarded aunt. What ensues is January's journey into the life of her remarkable mother. The backdrop is a mortuary called The Duzy House of Mourning (my working title) where January is being raised by her grandparents. Thanks for asking!

And thanks for letting me "lounge" with you because currently I am quite literally lounging on a deck chair in the middle of the ocean. I appreciate your interest in me and in Dancing on Broken Glass.

Visit Ka's website or blog to learn more about her and her debut novel

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