Welcome to the one hundred and seventy-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with romance novelist Chris Karlsen. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Chris. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Chris: I am a retired police detective. My father was a history professor and my mother a voracious reader. I grew up with a love of history and books. Writing, telling a story that entertained was a wish of mine for many years but I never seemed to have the time with work and running a household. After I retired, I finally had the time to learn the craft and fill that long held dream.
Morgen: “dream”, I love that. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Chris: I write mainly romance and yes, I have considered other genres. I read a lot of thrillers and one of my books, which will be released later this winter is a thriller with a romantic subplot. My first two releases, “Heroes Live Forever,” and “Journey in Time,” are paranormal romances. Down the road, I’d like to write a horror story with a Victorian setting, something along the lines of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Morgen: Very popular themes. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Chris: “Heroes Live Forever,” was released in April of this year. It is book one of my “Knights in Time,” series. “Journey in Time,” was released in September. They are not in bricks and mortar stores but available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble for Kindle and Nook. They are in paperback from my publisher, Books to Go Now.
Morgen: So this question may not be relevant… have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Chris: No, but I look forward to the day I do!
Morgen: 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Chris: I wouldn’t say I strive to establish a “brand.” I hear everyone say it is absolutely necessary. At this early stage, I am trying to get some name recognition. I’m not so concerned with labels and brands. My first two books, like I said, are solidly romances, but “Golden Chariot,” is part of a different series and the romance is secondary. A part of me likes the idea of freedom from a special brand. Whether that will hurt me or help, I’ll have to see.
Morgen: Oh me too, I write so many different things (usually dark) that I couldn’t be pigeon-holed, which is probably why I’ve gone the eBook route. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Chris: Personally, I dislike competitions and don’t participate. I know of a few writer friends who have benefited greatly from winning contests but the vast majority of writers I know haven’t had much interest generated from entering contests.
Morgen: I’ve dabbled with some success but prefer submission route. The thing I find with competitions is that if there’s a theme / word limit it gets me writing something new but then I’m a short story author more than novelist so it suits me. 🙂 Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Chris: I do use a pseudonym. I like keeping some separation between my personal life and my writing world. Also, since I spent 25 years in law enforcement, I prefer not to use my real name. I really don’t know if a pen name makes a difference. In general, I’d guess it doesn’t.
Morgen: I don’t think it does as long as it’s memorable for the right reasons. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Chris: I don’t have an agent currently. I did for a couple of years but she left the business. The publishing world is in such a state of flux, I don’t know if an agent is vital but I think it’s better to have one, especially if you plan on a career that includes several books.
Morgen: I agree. You mentioned earlier that your books are available as eBooks, how was that process? And do you read eBooks?
Chris: The experience was easy for me as my publisher handled the details. My books are also available now in Overdrive, which is the digital system for the US library. Yes, I do read ebooks. On a recent trip, I brought my e-reader and read four books. I love the ease of a quick download, the cost compared to hardbacks and I don’t have to pack several books every time I go somewhere.
Morgen: I think most people will still end up having both formats; h/pBooks for home, eBooks for away… it works for me anyway. 🙂 Did you have any say in the title of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Chris: I chose the title for both my books. I think titles are very important. They certainly draw me in or on the flipside can put me off because it sounds dull or makes a reference to something I have no interest in.
Morgen: I love titles… and equally cringe at bad ones. I have ‘The Quickie’ by James Patterson and Michael Letwidge in my to-be-read pile but only because I loved their ‘Step on a Crack’ so much, unless it means something different stateside than it usually does in the UK. 🙂 Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?
Chris: Yes. “Heroes Live Forever,” is dedicated to my husband, Mike- ‘my forever hero.’ “Journey in Time,” is dedicated to my late father and my mother for always inspiring and encouraging me.
Morgen: 🙂 Who designed your book’s/s’ cover/s – if you did it/them yourself how did you chose what to go with?
Chris: I worked with Jenni Connor one of my publishers. Jimmy Thomas is a male romance cover model who has a terrific portfolio with images for purchase.
Morgen: He is rather scrummy. 🙂
Chris: I like his look and chose two photos from his portfolio for my covers. The first cover shot had the passion I was looking for between my heroine and hero. The second shot showed him carrying the heroine and it represented an important scene in the book. I also used personal pictures I had from my travels to England for the castle background. Jenni and I combined those shots with a couple of stock images to create the covers.
Morgen: The UK does have some great castles (Edinburgh’s one of my favourites). What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Chris: “Heroes Live Forever,” was the first acceptance and I am still thrilled. I’m elated when I read a nice review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble from a reader or they email me to say they liked Heroes or Journey.
Morgen: I’m hoping I have that to look forward to. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Chris: Yes, I’ve had many. It hurts and it can be disheartening, but, I don’t let it get to me. If you attend any major writer’s conference or read some personal stories from the best known writers around, you learn you’re not alone when it comes to rejects. The key is to develop a thick skin and keep writing. Don’t give up.
Morgen: Absolutely. If a writer has passion they’ll keep going. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Chris: Right now, I’m finishing the first draft of the sequel to “Golden Chariot.” Like “Golden Chariot,” it is a thriller with a romantic subplot. After I finish this draft, I will put it away for a few weeks and start the first draft of “Knight Blindness.” “Knight Blindness,” is the third book in my “Knights in Time,” series. I’ve done most of the outline and will see where the draft takes me.
Morgen: That’s what I love about writing, you never know where it’s going to go. Hopefully I’ll be a few words into my fourth NaNoWriMo when this interview airs. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Chris: I do try to write everyday or at least six days a week. I usually write for approximately five hours in the afternoon, sometimes longer. On the great but rare occasion, I’ve written maybe ten or twelve pages.
Morgen: Thirty hours a week, that’s good going. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Chris: I’ve reached places in a story where I just seemed to hit a brick wall. I didn’t know where to take the characters next. I find for me, and this is just me, that if I start thinking I’m suffering writer’s block, the more I think it, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can’t let myself go down that road too long. I have to force myself to write something, anything. I might not keep a single word I write but I need to put words on the page.
Morgen: That’s something I suggested in this week’s podcast (on ‘back to basics’)… keep going so you don’t lose what’s in your mind and because you can’t edit a blank page or move on and come back with fresh eyes. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Chris: From a variety of places. Heroes came from the old movie, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” I saw it as a young girl and thought it was sad they didn’t have a ‘life’ together. I knew even at that young age that I wanted to write a ghost love story with my spin, my ending.
Morgen: How lovely. I remember enjoying English lessons when I was younger but didn’t have a clue about being a writer. Sometimes I think I’ve missed out but then I have so much more experience to write about now. 🙂 And your other books?
Chris: With “Journey in Time,” and “Golden Chariot,” I was inspired by things that fascinate me, like time-travel and the Trojan War. I treated both with the premise of “why not,” or “what if.”
Morgen: Many writing guides have been written about ‘what if’. 🙂 You said earlier that you see where your draft takes you, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Chris: Yes, I plot but my outline is not carved in stone. As I write, the plot often changes.
Morgen: Going back to your hunky model, 🙂 do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Chris: I don’t have a method per se. The characters come to me almost simultaneously with the plot. As for names, I pick ones I like for the hero and heroine (of course). If one or the other is foreign, or from a particular historical period, then I research names from that country and / or time.
Morgen: How much research do you have to do for your writing generally? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Chris: I do tons of research. I will start my research months before I start the first draft. I read numerous books on a subject, I’ll email experts, and when possible interview experts. I do receive quite of bit of feedback from readers on the research, which pleases me.
Morgen: Because you put in a lot of effort. Going off at a tangent for a moment, do you write poetry?
Chris: I haven’t written poetry since high school English. That said, I love certain poems and poets, mainly the famous British poets of the Victorian Era, like Tennyson, Keats and Kipling.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Chris: That is a two-fold answer for me. My critique partners see the rough draft first (but they are also writers). My first “reader” and non-writer who sees the story is my husband.
Morgen: I think it’s great to have a mix because a writer will have a writer’s opinion and a non-writer a reader’s (hopefully). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Chris: I do a tremendous amount of editing. I edit as I write. I usually go back after a few chapters and reread and edit. I also do several drafts. I finish the first, let it sit for a month or so then return and read it with “fresh eyes” to catch the plot holes etc.
Morgen: So important. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Chris: When I’m writing a story, I can’t remember a day that the characters or a scene isn’t bouncing around in my head at various times during the day. Some I remember and incorporate immediately when I sit down to write. Others, I write down on a separate pad of paper for later use.
Morgen: I have to get everything down or I’d forget (and I’m pretty sure I have lost some ‘brilliant’ ideas); now every bag and coat has a mini pad and two pens (I’ve had one fail on me before, how frustrating was that!). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Morgen: Me too, but edit on paper. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Chris: I listen to music. But, if my husband has the television on in the den, I have no problem tuning the sound out. I find that when I’m concentrating on an intense scene, I don’t even hear the music I am playing.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Chris: I prefer third person. No, I’ve never tried second person. I’ve read a few stories lately that were written in the second person. I can’t say I was crazy about them. There seemed to be a tendency to be passive.
Morgen: It’s like Marmite – their own advert says you either love it or hate it. Second person is an acquired taste. I love reading and writing it but not so keen on Marmite. 🙂 If anyone reading this hasn’t tried writing second person but would like to, there are some beginnings on my sentence starts page. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Chris: I used a prologue in “Heroes Live Forever,” because I felt it was necessary to show how the knights died. However, I have not used prologues in my other books. I wrote short epilogues in “Heroes Live Forever,” and “Journey in Time.” I am fine with both prologues and epilogues if they’re really needed.
Morgen: And that’s the key “if they’re really needed”. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Chris: Yes. My former agent insisted I write a police story because of my background. I never wanted to write cop stories. Mike Connelly, John Sandford, Joe Wambaugh write fabulous cop stories and I’m happy reading theirs. I didn’t want to relive my career through my characters. But, since this was a NY agent and I was so happy to have an agent at the time, I wrote a cop story. It was a waste of two years of my writing life but I learned from the experience — if your heart isn’t in a story, it will show in the writing.
Morgen: It will… if you’re bored the reader is likely to be too. 🙂
Chris: As I said earlier, she is no longer my agent. The story is in a box on a shelf in a closet where it will remain.
Morgen: I guess you can put it down to practice. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Chris: I love going deep into a character’s head. I love putting them in a situation and then really living the moment with them. I hate staring at a page knowing I have to give the character something important or exciting to do or learn and not having a clue how to accomplish that.
Morgen: But hopefully it comes to you in the end. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Chris: What an obsession it is.
Morgen: Oh good, I’m not the only one then. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Chris: Study the craft. Read the books from some of the best instructors out there. Be patient and know that almost every successful writer has to do several drafts. It’s the nature of the beast. When you finish a draft, set it aside for a few weeks and then come back to it. See it again with fresh eyes as it’s called. READ. I can’t see how someone who doesn’t read can be a writer.
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Chris: I like romances, thrillers and historical fiction the best. My favourite authors are: Julia Quinn, Julie Anne Long, Mike Connelly, John Sandford, Joe Wambaugh, Bernard Cornwell, Edward Marston and Steve Berry.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Chris: There’s two quotes I like about writing. The first: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway. The second: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Ray Bradbury.
Morgen: I’ve heard the first but not the second, thank you for that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Chris: I read (for fun). There’s reading I do for research but late at night, I read for me. I take belly dance lessons and I’ve just gotten into Yoga. I am not a gourmet cook or diner but I’m part of a group of friends who like to do theme dinners. Every other month we get together and do a dinner with dishes from a region or country. Last time it was Morocco, next is Russia.
Morgen: Mmm, nice. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Chris: The books I find most useful are by Don Maass. I refer to them all the time. I’ve attended his writing seminars and I think he’s a brilliant instructor. His books are: “Writing the Breakout Novel” and “The Fire in Fiction.” I also liked “On Writing” by Stephen King and “The Elements of Style,” by Strunk and White.
Morgen: On Writing is a popular choice. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Chris: I am based in the US, which is helpful.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Chris: I’m currently not on any forums where I actively participate. I hope to change that down the road. At the moment, I’ve been busy trying to do promotional work, interviews and blogs etc. I haven’t had a great deal of time to “chat” on forums. I am on Facebook but not Twitter. I have one writer friend who loves Twitter, I am not ready to dive in yet.
Morgen: It can be time-consuming but fun. Finding the balance between losing yourself online and in writing can be very tricky so you’re probably very wise. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Chris: I have a website, www.chriskarlsen.com. My site has book trailers, story blurbs, excerpts, and with “Heroes Live Forever,” a free read. There’s a podcast interview on my site where I discuss “Journey in Time.” I also have personal photos and a research section where I list sources. I also have an author page on Amazon and Night Owl Romance sites. Readers can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook under Chris Karlsen writer. I am just beginning a forum on Coffee Time Romance.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Chris: I’m not sure how everything will shake out what will self-publishing taking off and the emergence of small indie publishers but I’m optimistic. I know a number of good writers who couldn’t catch a break in the traditional publishing world and now have a way to get their stories out to the reading public.
Morgen: Like me. 🙂 If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Chris: I’ve sometimes thought I should’ve gone for my PHD and become an archaeologist since I love history so much. But—on the rethink, I’d say given the opportunity to redo the past, I wouldn’t. To change anything, changes the current dynamic, which I wouldn’t want to do. I’m happy. I have a good marriage, good friends, good health, a house filled with loveable rescue dogs. Life is good.
Morgen: 🙂 Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Chris: Who are your favourite authors and what made you decide to start this blog?
Morgen: I love quirky so Roald Dahl (especially his Tales of the Unexpected) and Kate Atkinson (especially her collection ‘Not the end of the world’), as you can tell I love short stories. I started this blog (late March this year) because I’d heard it was the thing to do to get your name out. I put a post up every few days but then was asked to do a couple of interviews and loved it so thought I’d do the same and it built from there. 🙂 Thank you Chris.
I then invited Chris to include some of her writing…
From HEROES LIVE FOREVER: A man stood a few feet away. At least what was visible looked like a man. He appeared to be a knight, similar to the one in her favourite painting, except semi-transparent. He wore mail and a dark blue surcoat with a leopard embroidered on it in bronze silk. Tall, with shoulder length hair, in the soft lamplight, his eyes were as black as his hair.
From JOURNEY IN TIME: “Alex, what is going on?” she asked in a frenzied whisper.
“Shh.” After they mounted, Alex sidled over, so close their boots touched. “We’re riding into a very perilous situation. I’ll explain everything when we’re alone. Your life, my life,” he stressed, “depends on you being quiet until then.”
Confused, it took Shakira a few seconds before she nodded yes.
“Remember what I told you,” he warned and trotted ahead.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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