I’ve never really been anything other than an author, it’s odd. I must be the dullest person in the world. For several years I was an amateur mineralogist, which is why I have so many comparisons in my books, body parts to “rocks.” I can describe blue eyes in forty different gem ways. All of my hobbies relate back to writing in some way. I recently learned to shoot a bow and arrow, but of course I’m always thinking “I can use this in a book.”
Show us when you realized you had a passion for writing?
I was 4. I remember this as clearly as if it was yesterday! I was looking at a copy of The Bee Man of Orn thinking “What power there is in writing. You write down the world you see inside your head, and someone on the other side of the planet reads it, and is instantly transported into your world.” I think that’s why I learned to read and write so young. No one taught me—when I entered first grade, I already knew how to read. No one can explain it. My mother would read aloud to me and I’d look over her shoulder and put two and two together, I suppose is what happened. I was so eager to read everything I could get my hands on. I would win all the spelling bees, and one particularly crowning moment was making this boy cry when he lost.
Tell us your preferred writing genre and the genre you prefer to read.
I prefer historicals, because it’s so much easier for me to put myself into that time and setting. Sounds strange, but it’s much more comforting to go back to 1880s London than to imagine being a spy in modern-day Austin, Texas. Even if London is a polluted, dank, depressing hovel, to me it’s more glamorous and romantic. My first three historical fiction books were set in sub-Saharan Africa, not the most enchanting or alluring spots. To me it is, especially during the precolonial era—when men were men!
Going back to the beginning, show us the day you received your publication offer.
Oh, my. I was unable to have children, so one day I had an epiphany: “All my time is my own. All my money is my own.” See, I needed to look on the bright side, and stop sobbing into my beer. “I can get back to writing, and even get published.” This goes hand in hand with most normal people’s idea that “published writer” equals “rich.” Even though I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I, too, had the light bulb that if I just sold one book, I could purchase a house. Mind you, the median house price in the Bay Area at that time was around $800,000 for a 1950s tract house.
So I got my first offer in 2005, for an odd historical romance set in 1897 Nigeria. I ran screaming down the street to my neighbors who were loading a tractor or a gun safe onto a flatbed (I lived in Sonoma County). I realized they might not know what I was shrieking about, so I streaked it back to my house and called my little brother. He goes, “A book contract, huh. So, let me tell you about my colonoscopy…”
Boy, that lust for life lasted all of, what? Five minutes? But what a great five minutes it was.
Ready to shine? Tell us the name of your book(S).
Working the Lode, the first in my trilogy of California Gold Rush-set books entitled Going for the Gold.
Going to California. It’s three thousand miles nearer to hell.
Mountain man Cormack Bowmaker meets up with Zelnora Sparks on the eve of California’s great rush—the discovery of gold. Zelnora is fleeing from her mentor, the mighty businessman Brannagh. They are being shadowed by the most scandalous Spanish bandit in the frontier. Joaquin Valenzuela wants to rob them of their gold, but soon discovers a desire for much more. Californians call for the pickled head of Valenzuela in a jar, but his passion for the two Americans overpowers his zeal for mayhem.
They band together in their quest for riches, love, and the good life. Bowmaker is a sharpshooter, his aim true. Valenzuela will slit the throat of anyone who wanders by. Zelnora knows where to find the gold. And Brannagh will do everything it takes to stop them.
They are about to discover the frontier—within themselves.
Release date December 29th, available for pre-buy today at http://www.bookstrand.com/working-the-lode
This new release is offered at a 15% discount for four weeks
What is your normal day like?
I wake around 4 or 5AM, and take my Newfoundland dog to her doggie daycare. Ishmael just has fun playing with other dogs a couple days a week. I say the word “school” and she jumps into my Miata. She’s a good girl, and she fits into my car. Then I shop for dinner, and come back home, start writing. I like it when things are quiet, no neighbors shouting. The birds are singing, and I can take a break and go garden or clean up the house in between scenes.
I set a goal for myself every day: “I’ll finish editing this MS,” or “I’ll make it to the end of this scene.” I set mild goals, nothing too strenuous. I usually knock off around 3 or 4, and go cook some elaborate dinner, in between watching Mythbusters™, Bones, or Criminal Minds. Did I say writing was stressful? No. It doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to be full of angst to write.
What would you say is a true hero?
I was just talking to my sister about this. She was bemoaning how modern men aren’t willing to put the tiniest shred of effort into things. Ten miles is “too far” for them to drive for a date. One guy proved unappealing when he told her to call after 9PM so he wouldn’t use up his phone minutes. That’s why I write historicals. It’s much easier for me to imagine a heroic man of the 19th century crossing a mountain range for the love of a woman, or slaying someone with a sword. Modern men think a cup of coffee is too much hassle. Basically, putting some incentive and energy into a quest is a heroic quality.
Which comes first, the story, the characters or the setting?
Definitely the story. The first book I sold, set in 1897 Nigeria, was inspired by an African art book I received for Christmas. There was the story of the most incredible civilization with vastly advanced bronze artwork that was being equated to Egyptian art, but it was still being cast at nearly the turn of the century! The forbidden city was decimated by the British Army because they wouldn’t stop their annoying habit of human sacrifice. No one had ever fictionalized this amazing story. In three days the entire civilization was sacked, because they wouldn’t open palm oil trade routes to outsiders.
Of course I would find it fodder for a historic romance. Sure, why not? So I studied Nigeria, and luckily have spent many months in Central African jungles, so I got the basic gist of the flora, fauna, sociology, and weather. Then I set a historical romance in Ethiopia, because I wanted to write the story of an insane Emperor who tossed subjects over cliffs taller than the Grand Canyon. If you sit around reading history books, enough bizarre stories just leap out at you, dying to be told. “Stranger than fiction,” as they say.
What is the big project you're working on now?
I am doing final edits on the second book in the Gold Rush trilogy, Either Ore. This time it’s set in the actual town of San Francisco, which was fascinating. Writing about a city I’ve known all my life back when it only had two thousand people! And I know about San Francisco’s horrifying “summer” weather, so I had to stick my people in the freezing fog even in September.
It was the most fun writing about the human-sucking streets. The mud was so deep people and horses would just disappear, literally by the side of the road. I decided that would be a good way for the hero and heroine to meet. So I had her get sucked waist-deep into this cesspool, and he hauls her out. Now that is heroic!
Tell us where we can find you on the internet.
And now for the fun part, the contest... Leave a comment for Karen and one lucky winner will win a free eBook copy of her book "Working the Lode".