Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Karen E. Olson

"Olson brings a journalist's eye for detail and immediacy to this series. You'll want to give yourself an early deadline to read her latest story."
- Richmond Times-Dispatch

JAN: Karen and I met via Internet, just shortly after my first book came out. Since both of us were working at New England newspapers, we immediately had a lot in common. We had even more in common when she sold her first book and we wound up at the same publisher and editor.

Her first book was Sacred Cows, which won the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award. Now, the fourth in the Annie Seymour series, SHOT GIRL, is in bookstores, and the first in her brand new tattoo shop mystery, THE MISSING INK, will be out in July.

It seems to me that there are a lot of former reporters who become mystery writers. The first thing I wanted to know was about Karen was her particular transition from newspapers to murder: what it was that prompted her to write her first mystery.

KAREN: I only spent six years as a reporter, and then 16 as an editor. I was a nighttime copy editor for 10 of those years, and I would get home from work at 2 a.m. all wired up with nothing to do. So I started seriously writing fiction (I’d been writing for years but never finished anything). I loved mysteries and figured I’d try my hand at one.

JAN: Personally, I think a lot of the lessons you learn in news reporting come in handy when you write a mystery. Are there any special skills you found that translated well or were especially helpful?

KAREN: Meeting deadlines and being able to write on command. I don’t have to wait for a muse to come and tap me on the shoulder. I grab an hour to write and I just sit down and write. I know that comes from the discipline of working for a newspaper. I’m also a pretty good self-editor, although I prefer the creating rather than the editing when it comes to my own work.

JAN: In Shot Girl, Annie’s ex husband, turns up dead at a bachelorette party. How did you come up with the idea for this scenario – and the question everyone wants to ask --any former boyfriends or exes who inspired you?

KAREN: I do have an ex-husband, but he’s nothing like Annie’s ex. I like to put Annie in uncomfortable situations, and what could be more uncomfortable than having your ex-husband dead on the sidewalk and a gun that matches the bullets in your car?

JAN: Tell us about New Haven and why it makes a great setting for a mystery series?

KAREN: New Haven is more than Yale, but I don’t know that many people realize that. It’s got a very rich history, interesting neighborhoods, great restaurants. It’s also got crime, which is key for a mystery series! I’ve shown a different neighborhood in each book, to show the city’s diversity and history. It truly is another main character in the books.

JAN: Is there anything you learned about Annie Seymour that you didn’t know before?

KAREN: I didn’t know why she’d left her ex-husband until I started writing SHOT GIRL. And once I did, it explained so much!

JAN: Tell us what you are working on now?

KAREN: I’ve got a new series starting next summer. The first book, THE MISSING INK, will be out in July. The protagonist is Brett Kavanaugh, a tattoo shop owner in Las Vegas. It’s been great fun, and while at first it was out of my comfort zone, it was incredibly liberating and my first readers think it’s the best thing I’ve done! The second book will be PRETTY IN INK.

JAN: Besides her mystery series, Karen also edits a medical journal for Yale part time. She lives outside New Haven with her husband, daughter and two cats.

And now finally, the Jungle Red Quiz!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?

Neither. I’m not an Agatha Christie fan (yes, everyone can gasp now…and no, I don’t like The Maltese Falcon, either)

Sex or violence?

Pizza or chocolate?
Oh, yes, certainly.

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
Daniel Craig, hands down. Although I loved Pierce Brosnan best in “Matador.”

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Katherine, of course.

First person or Third Person?
I don’t discriminate.

Prologue or no prologue?
Absolutely no prologue.

Your favorite non-mystery book?
Non-fiction: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived (about Henry VIII’s wives)
Fiction: Wuthering Heights

Making dinner or making reservations?
Definitely reservations.

And now, tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

I partied with bikers at a Hell’s Angels pig roast.

I danced with George Michael at a club in London.

I dated a UPS delivery guy and we had sex in the UPS truck.

My cat was held hostage for ransom.
Make your guesses on the comments page and come back tomorrow when we reveal just what's true about Karen Olson, and what's complete fiction!


  1. Whoa! Well, as I've mentioned elsewhere Karen and I were in the notorious SINCNE calendar, draped over a bar in New Haven at 10am in black cocktail dresses (blackmail pic on my website) I'm thinking, the Hell's Angels, George Michael and UPS guy stories are true. You don't even have a cat do you?

  2. Oh, Ro, I agree. The UPS story sounds so made up, it might be true...although uncomfortable.

    Karen, as another reoprter turned author, I'm with you on the deadline thing. People ask--do I have writers' block? So far so great..and it's because of thirty years working for the 6 oclock news.

    I can't say to my news director--oh, can I go on at ten after 6 today, insted of six? I'm feeling a little...blocked.

    That would be the end of my job. Same with writing. Deadlines--bring them on.

    In fact--I'm better WITH them.

    Are you?

  3. Wow, Karen-I think I learned a lot today! ;-) Anyway, I enjoyed the questions and answers and love the insight that both you and Hank bring to your stories. (I knew I should have stuck with Journalism! I'm lazy without deadlines. Which is kind of a problem...) Absolutely no prologue, huh? Hmm...

  4. Hi Karen, welcome to Jungle Red! I am envious of that reporter "no writers block" thing! Funnily enough, my stepdaughter now lives in the same neighborhood as Karen's protagonist, Annie. It's an adorable part of New Haven called Wooster Square--its most unusual feature is the smell of pizza baking, morning, noon, and night. Looking forward to delving into Annie's further adventures in Shot Girl. Also, Karen sent me a jpg of the cover of her July release--really very cute!

    And by the way, Karen definitely has a cat...

  5. I've actually got two cats :)

    You're right, Hank about deadlines. I love them. They keep me honest. I think being journalists definitely is a plus in that area.

    Cool, Roberta, that your stepdaughter lives in Wooster Square now. I love that neighborhood. My daughter rehearses with the Elm City Girls Choir at the middle school there.

  6. Fun post! This series is on my list. It was mentioned by everyone when I asked about series featuring reporters as prep for a B-con panel. I also have a journalism background, so I'm stumped when people ask me about writer's block. Never had it.