337. Lots and Lots of Murder: An Interview with Karen Rose

This week I’m chatting with New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose, and this episode was almost titled, “The catharsis of killing lots of people.”

She has a new book out February 12th titled Say You’re Sorry. It is the start of a new romantic suspense series with an overarching storyline throughout.

Please note that at various times in the interview, we talk about trauma, violence, PTSD, and other elements of building murderers, serial killers, and victims in suspense and thriller novels.

We also talk about:

  • Cults, killers, and incorporating pieces of reality in suspense
  • Writing nuanced, motivated villains with vulnerabilities
  • Writing trauma as part of a story, and how to research that portrayal
  • How she got her start writing – in secret – and how many times she rewrote her first novel
  • How reverse-engineering Law & Order and suspense stories wherein she couldn’t guess the killer right away helped her learn suspense structure
  • Why knitting is a great plot development tool

So, what do you do when people around you are sometimes really crappy, mildly crappy, or full-on terrible all-around USDA Grade-A organic crappy? Kill them off, or make them killers. It seems to be, judging from this conversation, very cathartic.

Read the transcript

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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

You can find Karen Rose at her website, KarenRoseBooks.com, and on Twitter @KarenRoseBooks.

During our conversation Karen mentioned: 

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Thanks for listening!

This Episode’s Music

Blackhouse by Peatbog FairiesOur music is provided by Sassy Outwater each week. This is the Peatbog Faeries album Blackhouse.

This is “The Chatham Lassies.”

You can find The Peatbog Faeries and all their albums at Amazon, at iTunes, or wherever you like to buy your fine music.

Podcast Sponsor

The Sucre Coeur Boxed Set

Today’s podcast is sponsored by the Sucre Coeur series by Lissa Reed, available February 12th as a digital boxed set from Interlude Press. If you like bakery romances and circle-of-friends romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, you’ll love this series about a group of friends and lovers set in a Seattle bakery.

Happy-go-lucky baker Craig Oliver has a kind heart, a knack for pastry, and a weakness for damaged people. Little did he know that the cookies in his pocket would lead to a one night stand with photographer Alex Scheff that might just become the love of his life—if Craig’s family and Alex’s insecurities don’t derail them.

Craig’s friend and co-worker Sarita Sengupta is coasting through life and grad school until she wakes up one morning next to pretty ballroom dancer Marisa Quiñones, whose charm and laser focus sets Sarita on a path to making all of the choices she’s been avoiding.

Dahlia Adler at LGBTQ Reads says, “I am totally having a moment with this series,” and you can too for one low series price at your favorite eBook retailers and interludepress.com!

Find out more at LissaReed.com.


Click to view the transcript


Sarah Wendell: Hi there, and welcome to episode number 337 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and I had to yell at a dog who was off his leash and running in the street, so my voice hurts. This intro might be a little rough; I apologize. Today I am chatting with New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose, and this episode was very nearly titled “The Catharsis of Killing Lots of People.” She has a new book out on February 12th titled Say You’re Sorry. It is the start of a new romantic suspense series with an overarching storyline throughout the series. Now, I can hear you asking, Sarah, why are you talking to a thriller and suspense writer when that’s not a thing that you read at all? Let me tell you! First of all, I talk to lots of people whose books I probably can’t read without giving myself 3 a.m. anxiety brain, but in this particular case Lauren Horvath, Karen Rose’s publicist at Berkley, pitched Karen to me as a podcast guest in a truly wonderful email, and my favorite part was the last line. “While I know this book is not for you, I think it has the potential to be a very interesting conversation.” Okay, so she’s totally right, and that was hilarious, so well played, Lauren Horvath.

Now, please note, in this interview we talk about trauma and violence and PTSD and other elements of building murderers, serial killers, and victims in suspense and thriller novels, and we also talk about some of the scenes of violence in her novels, so if that’s not something for you, I think this might epis-, might be an episode that you might want to skip if that’s really going to upset you, which I totally understand! I want you to feel safe.

In addition to all of those things, we also talk about cults, killers, and incorporating pieces of reality into her suspense; writing nuanced, motivated villains with vulnerabilities; writing trauma as part of a story and how to research that portrayal; how she got her start writing in secret and how many times she rewrote her first novel; the benefits of reverse engineering Law & Order and suspense stories wherein she couldn’t guess who the killer was right away; and why knitting is a great plot development tool. So what do you do when people around you are really crappy, mildly crappy, or full-on terrible, all-around USDA Grade A organic crappy? You kill them off or you make them killers. It seems to be, judging from this conversation, very cathartic.

Now, have you reverse-engineered a book to write in that same genre? Are you a suspense writer or reader? Do you have a favorite Karen Rose novel that you’d like to recommend? I would really like to hear about it! You can email me at [email protected], or you can leave a message or a bad joke at 1-201-371-3272.

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Sucre Coeur, the series by Lissa Reed, available February 12th as a digital boxed set from Interlude Press. And if you speak French and I screwed that up badly, I did practice, and I apologize to your eardrums. If you like bakery romances and circle-of-friends romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, you will love this series about a group of friends and lovers set in a Seattle bakery. Happy-go-lucky baker Craig Oliver has a kind heart, a knack for pastry, and a weakness for damaged people. Little did he know that the cookies in his pocket might lead to a one-night stand with photographer Alex Scheff, who might become the love of his life if Craig’s family and Alex’s insecurities don’t derail them. Craig’s friend and coworker Sarita Sengupta is coasting through life and grad school until she wakes up one morning next to a pretty ballroom dancer, Maritza Quiñones, whose charm and laser focus set Sarita on a path to making all of the choices she’s been avoiding. Dahlia Adler at LGBTQ Reads says, “I am totally having a moment with this series.” And you can too for one low series price at your favorite e-book retailers and interludepress.com. And to find out more about the Sucre Coeur series, you can go to Lissa Reed, L-I-S-S-A-R-E-E-D, dot come [lissareed.com].

Today’s podcast transcript is sponsored by Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones. If you like J. R. Ward or Jeaniene Frost, you’ll love this paranormal romp that tickles not only the funny bone but other parts a little farther south as well. Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper extraordinaire, is back after a century of exile. She is hurt, she is angry, and she is out for revenge. But a century on one plane isn’t quite the same as it is on others, and she comes back to find a furious husband who can still melt the polar ice caps with a single glance, a world in chaos, and an expanding hell dimension that is taking over our plane of existence. She has three days to stop an apocalypse that she may have accidentally started and to soothe the savage beast that is her blisteringly hot soul mate. Don’t miss the last book in a series that RT Book Reviews calls wickedly funny with true chilling danger. Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones is on sale now wherever books are sold. You can find out more at daryndajones.com.

Now, I have a compliment, and these are so much fun! So much fun!

To Kelly B.: Every footprint you have left on this earth has inspired someone, whether you knew it or not, so keep going.

If you would like a compliment of your own, or you would like to help support the show that is in your eardrums right now, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Monthly pledges beginning with one dollar make you part of the group that helps keep the show going, helps me make sure that every episode receives a transcript, and that every episode is accessible to everyone. Plus, you get to help me develop questions for upcoming interviews and suggest guests for the show as well, and there’s lots of other Patreon community stuff going on this year, including the Smart Bitches Podcast Book Club, where the Patreon community is going to tell us what we should read. You can join us at patreon.com/SmartBitches, and if you are already a member of the Patreon community, thank you, thank you, thank you.

The music you are listening to right now is provided by Sassy Outwater. I will have information at the end of the show as to who this is and where you can buy it. I will also have a preview of what is coming up on Smart Bitches next week, and I will have a really dumb joke that I really, really like. [Laughs] I’m looking at it right now, and it’s making me very happy! And of course I will have links to all of the books that we discuss in this episode and links to some of the things that Karen Rose mentions in the interview as well.

It is hard to record an intro when your voice hurts, but my dogs, who are afraid of other dogs, are very happy and chill and did not have to interact with a dog who’s running at them from across the street. Seriously, check your fences! Make sure the gates are closed!

All right, enough of me blathering. On with the podcast.


Karen Rose: Hi, I’m Karen Rose, and I write romantic suspense. I’m just coming out with a new book called Say You’re Sorry, and it’s my twenty-second book, and my first book came out in July of 2003.

Sarah: Wow!

Karen: And my books tend to, they tend to center around cities and groups of people who work together and their families, and with each series there’s a connecting character to the next series. So they’re standalones, but they connect, so, and I think that’s kind of fun.

Sarah: That is very cool! It’s an interesting way to link a series, that you can step in at any point and get a story that connects to others, but they don’t necessarily have to be read in order, right?

Karen: Right, right. Within a series it’s more fun, and it’s more fun to start at the beginning, because, you know, then you kind of get to see some of the character arcs, ‘cause there are characters who are featured early on who don’t get their books until much later.

Sarah: Right.

Karen: And, and, and that’s always, that was always kind of fun for me. I didn’t plan it that way, it just kind of started, but people seemed to like it, so I kept doing it!

Sarah: That’s very cool. And that is a lot of books! Congratulations on your latest! That’s, that’s amazing!

Karen: Thank you!

Sarah: So Say You’re Sorry comes out on the 12th of February –

Karen: Yes.

Sarah: – and I know that this is the start of a new series. Can you tell me a little bit about it, please?

Karen: Yes. It’s set in Sacramento, California, and the Mount Shasta area, which is Northern California, not too far from the Oregon border, still towards the west, towards the western side, but it’s very, very remote. And each of the books in the series will be a standalone, but there’s a storyline that arcs over the series, and that involves a cult.

Sarah: Oh my.

Karen: Yes, which, I’ve not written about a cult before, so this was kind of an interesting thing for me. Just, just a, kind of a fun sto-, fun part of this, the killer in this story – well, you know, not fun that he’s a killer, but – he is an airline pilot, which you find out pretty quickly in the plot, and I got the idea for him from a pilot I met on a flight many years ago. So I’ve been kind of holding this killer in my mind, waiting for the perfect book for him, because this airline pilot had been an electrical engineer, so we got to chatting, ‘cause I was an engineer, and he said, I really hated it, and one day I came home from, from, I was on my way home from work. I stopped by the grocery store, and I saw the lady behind the register, and I envied her because she didn’t have to take her work home, and that’s when I realized I had to redo my life. And so he said he went to pilot school and became a pilot, and he worked for this company that was kind of a mix between a charter service and a, and, like, a time share, so different companies could buy in, so he might be working for, flying for a different company every day.

Sarah: Oh, like NetJets!

Karen: Yeah, and he was from Scandinavia, and I’d met him on a flight from Tampa to New York. He had just delivered a plane to Tampa, so he was on his way home, but he said, I can be in, you know, in Barcelona in the morning, Paris at lunch time; I could be in New York City the next day! And I looked at him, and I said, oh my gosh, you would be the best serial killer ever, ‘cause there would be no pattern!

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: And he looked at me with this scary look, you know; he was very alarmed; and I told him what I did for a living; and he was like, oh, okay. So, and then he didn’t talk to me anymore –


Karen: – after that.

Sarah: No!

Karen: But, yeah, I usually find a way to incorporate that into everybody that I talk to, but I’ve been waiting to use this killer, because it, it does present, it does present a, a complication for law enforcement to put the story together because he’s everywhere.

Sarah: Right.

Karen: Yes.

Sarah: And he’s not in control of where he’s going, so there’s no visible pattern.

Karen: Right, exactly, exactly. And, and, and so they, they, so, you know, obviously he is caught at the end, because it’s one of my stories and the bad guy is always defeated, but it, it does present an interesting complication that I’ve been looking for years to put this in a story, so this was the perfect one. The, the heroine in this story is Daisy Dawson, and she’s introduced in the Baltimore books through her sister Taylor, who is one of the heroines in the Baltimore books, and Taylor and her family were basically hidden away by Daisy’s biological father, Taylor’s step-father, because everyone believed that Taylor’s real father was searching for her, which he was, but he wasn’t a bad guy like they’d been led to believe. So they’ve been in hiding for years, and as Taylor comes out of hiding, she kind of looks at everything one, you know, a certain way, and looks at her dad a certain way. Daisy looks at the entire thing completely differently, and same dad, same bringing up, same household, and I’m, I’m often fascinated by how siblings can view the same event completely different ways, you know.

Sarah: Oh, very true.

Karen: So Daisy’s point of view is very different, and she starts the book out, out, out, she starts out the book very angry. Daisy, this is part of Daisy’s journey towards a kind of re-, a reunification with her dad. The cult, which is called Eden, is loosely based on an experience that I had as a young person. I was in, I was, like, twenty, twenty-one, and my husband and I were members of a, of a church in Maryland, where we grew up. The minister was a crook, and –

Sarah: Oh no!

Karen: I know, right? And this was kind of like in the Jim and Tammy Bakker days, just, like, right before this.

Sarah: Right.

Karen: So Jim and Tammy Bakker came out; I’m like, yeah, yeah, been there, done that. But it turns out that he had basically lied about his entire portfol-, his entire resume.

Sarah: Ohhh!

Karen: Nobody had checked on him because it was a church, right? ‘Cause people don’t lie –

Sarah: Right, yeah!

Karen: – ministers don’t lie, right? And he had embezzled, I think it was tens of thousands of dollars, close to a hundred thousand dollars, over eight years from the church, and he had, he had been posing as a Ph.D. psychologist from Harvard –

Sarah: Oh dear God!

Karen: – which he wasn’t, and he had been counseling the women of the church, marriage counseling them, and often sleeping with them. And it –

Sarah: Of course!

Karen: – and it just got worse and worse, and so when we – my husband and my, my brother-in-law were actually the ones to expose him. This guy had finally gotten greedy and was looking to take full control over the church budget so he could spend money without anyone, you know, with no oversight, and –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – people were, like, okay with this! And I was like, I’m not okay with this! And one day at Sunday dinner, which I always had with my husband’s family, ‘cause we were engaged by this point, I said, I wonder what he got his Ph.D. in anyway, mind control? So –

Sarah: Oh no.

Karen: – his brother-in-law, my brother-in-law, my future brother-in-law, he said, let’s call Harvard and find out! But it was Sunday –

Sarah: Oh no!

Karen: – and there was no internet, you know, back then – this was in the ‘80s – and so we, he was going to call Harvard, but they were closed ‘cause it was Sunday, so a couple days later – and I never saw my brother-in-law during the week, never, but I worked downtown – I went to University of Maryland, I worked downtown in DC, and I took the subway – so I get on the subway platform, and there he is! And he never takes the subway ‘cause he had his own car, but his car had broken down, and he, so he was forced to take the subway that day, and so it was just like this chance meeting. I’m like, hey! How you doing? And he’s like, car’s broken down. I said, did you ever contact Harvard? And he said, no, but I’ll do it this afternoon. And that’s when they found out that this guy had com-, been completely fraudulent. He had lied about everything.

Sarah: Oh my –

Karen: He never even had been to seminary; he wasn’t ordained. When, when we exposed him, we thought everybody was going to say, oh, he’s a crook! Let’s kick him out!

Sarah: No.

Karen: But that’s not what happened. The church split into three factions, and one faction was like, he’s a crook! Kick him out! And one faction was like, but he’s still a good minister! We’re going to follow him! And then the third faction was like, you guys are both crazy; we’re leaving. So they all left, and so then it kind of left the –

Sarah: Oh no!

Karen: – the remaining two to kind of fight, fight it out, and it got really ugly, with death threats even.

Sarah: Oh no.

Karen: I mean, my husband and his brother got death threats! And this got insane. So when I was thinking about this cult, I thought, you know, that was a, that was kind of a blind faith, these guys following this person who was completely a fraud. I mean, he was completely a fraud, and he actually tried to do it again later, you know, and –

Sarah: Oh, of course!

Karen: I know, he just, it was just like a, a different place and, who had the foresight to, to actually check his resume, and we were like, no, no, no, you don’t want any part of this guy, but yeah, I mean, he, I thought, if he had taken those people and moved and started this cult, what would have happened? So that’s kind of where the cult started in my mind was this, this crazy faith that this –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – group had in following a man that was clearly a crook, and I mean, he had taken advantage of so many people. And honestly, it, it had its effects on me, because I don’t, I’m very, very slow to truly trust people –

Sarah: Oh, of course!

Karen: – you know, after that. I had to look back as to why I followed him.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: He was very charismatic, extremely charismatic. So I kind of put that into this, and so when you meet the cult leader towards the end of this series, that’s who this guy is.

Sarah: Oh, so there’s sort of a cult of personality element here.

Karen: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. In fact, a friend of mine and I were talking about this last summer, when I had just finished writing the book, and she said when she was a little girl, growing up in Northern California, there, a man came to visit their house, and he had been starting a church, and I think her aunt had gotten involved. And when he came in the room, she said it was clear; she said, even as a child, it was clear that this man had something. He had this magnetism.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: And she said, my dad told me to leave the room, ‘cause I don’t think her dad was, bought into the whole thing.

Sarah: Right.

Karen: It turned out it was Jim Jones!

Sarah: [Gasps] Holy cow!

Karen: I know, right?! That’s what I said! And, and there, there is this cult of personality, and when you meet –

Sarah: Absolutely.

Karen: – folks like this, your, some-, sometimes your good sense goes right out the window –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Karen: – and is –

Sarah: And, and being a religious leader for someone and someone that takes personal, private counsel like that, that’s a really intimate position.

Karen: It is; it really is.

Sarah: It’s a powerful job, especially when you have that power of charisma and you know you have that power of charisma.

Karen: Exactly. Exactly. And it, I mean, he must have been laughing at us the whole time, ‘cause the church actually paid for his education! [Laughs]

Sarah: Oh dear. [Laughs]

Karen: Nobody knows where he went when he was supposed to be going to Harvard!

Sarah: And it’s interesting that you write books that are set in communities inside specific cities, ‘cause, you know, different cities have different personalities –

Karen: They do.

Sarah: – and different culture, but you also all, seem to be exploring both the positives and the negatives of a very close-knit community.

Karen: That, to me, that’s real life –

Sarah: Oh, absolutely.

Karen: – you know?

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Karen: We’re going to meet those people who are bad, but we meet so many other people who are good, so it more than balances out.

Sarah: It really does. Now, your publicist Lauren Horvath wrote the most, first of all, she wrote the most amazing pitch email to me.

Karen: [Laughs]

Sarah: She told me that one of the reasons that you began this story was that someone had been incredibly rude to you, so you killed her off!

Karen: I did.

Sarah: And then, I think it was two years ago; I, I want to say it was RWA, it was the RWA Librarians’ Luncheon where Brenda Jackson spoke.

Karen: Yes.

Sarah: I ended up at the same table as you, and you started talk- – and I didn’t know, like, anyone’s name at that point when I’d sat down, and all I heard was you talking about killing some guy who pissed you off?

Karen: [Laughs]

Sarah: And I was like, oh, oh! In a book! Oh! Okay. So I need to know if this is one of the major benefits of writing crime thrillers, and when you meet someone who does something dastardly, do you sort of think in the back of your mind, yeah, I’m going to kill you someday?

Karen: Absolutely. And I have, and, and –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – and actually, I take requests from friends that they’re like, could you kill someone named Blank, because they did this, and I’m like, sure! And they’re like, you’re the best friend ever! [Laughs]

Sarah: Really, really truly, that’s amazing, and I am so excited that that is your job! [Laughs]

Karen: Yes. Well, well, what happened – sometimes I’ve killed off old bosses, and that’s particularly gratifying, especially if they were bad bosses.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely it’s gratifying.

Karen: And one time I actually got to the end of the book before I realized I’d used the boss’s real name, and then I had to go back and it was, I had gotten to page proofs.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: I’m like, oh, crap! So, you know, these were the days when it was still hard copy, you know –

Sarah: Oh dear!

Karen: – and I was, like, going back and making sure I changed it everywhere. I changed, I think I changed the, the last name and I left the first name, but –

Sarah: Oops.

Karen: One time, my optometrist, I went to him, I was forty, and I’d just started writing at the time, you know. I, I think I got, I guess my first book came out when I was thirty-nine, I think?

Sarah: Wow.

Karen: And so I was, you know, I was, like, forty, forty-one. I go to the optometrist, and I said, you gave me the wrong contact lens prescription this time, because everything’s blurry, and he said to me, well, you are forty.

Sarah: [Gasps]

Karen: And I was like, ohhh! So I was in my fourth book; I killed off the optometrist and his entire staff, and my editor was like, you can’t kill off his entire office staff! That’s just – you went overboard. So I, I gave – for some reason, it was a holiday, and he ends up giving his office staff, like, the day off, and it’s just him and, like, one other person, so I pared it back. And I told him; he started laughing, so I said, and he said, you know, now I’m forty, and I really wish I hadn’t said that to so many people. [Laughs]

Sarah: Oh no!

Karen: So he thought it was funny. The, you know, I had a, I’ve had doctors that have been not nice –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – and they, one of them died very badly, or well, depending on your point of view. In, in the first Baltimore book, he was a plastic surgeon, and when they find him, he’s, you know, he’s basically, you, he’s beaten beyond recognition. He’s – but he has one finger left, and there’s a ring on it, and when they pull off the ring and look at the inscription, it says, Thanks for the Mammaries, and realize he’s a plastic surgeon, and I, my family doctor had read the book, and she goes, I know exactly who that was.

Sarah: [Gasps, laughs]

Karen: And I said, any resemblance to any living person, living or dead, is purely coincidental, and she laughed! So yeah. So every now and again I do, I do use people that have made me mad. I mean, I’m kind of catching up to the present day, but, ‘cause I’ve killed a lot of people in my books – hundreds, hundreds! – but so, yeah, I kind of – but I do take requests, and I’m often the most popular friend because I – and then my friends can read it, and it’s not the same person, obviously, but it’s got the same name. But I do have to be careful when I talk about this in public, because I often forget –

Sarah: Oh, right.

Karen: – and there was, my, my editor does try to curb my, my killer instinct –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – and there was, it was the first Cincinnati book, Closer Than You Think, and you know, I’m looking at the, all the edits, and she uses all the comments, you know, the, in the margins, and the, the comment is, I had, there was one individual who gets killed off in that book, in the first edit of that book, first revision, and the, the killer is looking to steal her car, so he waits until she comes out of the, an all-night grocery store. He’s particularly picked a place that does not have good security, and he’s, you know, he waits until she comes out, and then he kills her, puts her underneath the car he’s driving, he steals her car, and he drives away. And my, my editor in the margin says, this is an example of gratuitous violence. You cannot kill this person. Find, can he just hit her in the head? Why does he have to shoot her in the head? And I’m like, he can’t just hit her in the head! He shoots everybody in the head! He’s not stupid! You know, he’s not going to –

Sarah: He’s not going to leave witnesses.

Karen: He’s not going to leave a witness! It’s just stupid! He’s not going to do that! She goes, I don’t care. Find a way to make her live or change it, ‘cause you’ve killed off too many people in this book, and I’m thinking, I know that Nalini Singh killed off the entire population of Beijing, and you’re mad at me about this? But –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: – they’re like, it’s different! So –

Sarah: Nalini Singh can do it! How come I can’t?!

Karen: I know, exactly! Like, you, she probably didn’t get a blink when she killed off all of Beijing, I mean, left it a crater! But anyway, so I, I said, okay, fine. So two days! I spent two days reading every account I could find of people who got shot in the head and lived, and nothing was right! So my, my oldest friend’s husband is an ER doctor, and we’ve known each other, I mean, I was the maid of honor in their wedding, blah blah blah, and so we’ve known each other forever, and I finally called him. I call him when I get desperate, ‘cause I don’t like to bother him, ‘cause he’s, like, you know, got this really important job, but he always likes to help me; he’s really good about it. And I said, I’ve been looking for two days; tell me what to do. So he says, okay, I’ve seen this six times in twenty-five years, and you can’t plan it, it just happens, but if someone’s getting shot execution style and they turn their head at the last moment a specific way, the bullet will enter the skin, and it does not penetrate the skull. It actually creates a channel between the skin and the skull, travels around the curvature of the skull until tangential forces push it out the other end, so there’s an entry wound, an exit wound, a lot of blood, but it –

Sarah: I was going to say, that’s a lot of blood right there.

Karen: Exactly, but it never penetrates the skull, and he says, that would work, and I’m like, ooh, that really would work! So it satisfied –

Sarah: Ooh!

Karen: – Claire, my editor, satisfied me, everything, so. He tosses this woman under a car, but she’s found, and she’s still alive. And she’s alive, then, to appear in all of the next books in the series, and one of the reasons I think Claire didn’t want her to die was that she had all these bags of dog food, so she’s clearly got dogs, and she –

Sarah: Had dogs!

Karen: – she had a dog shelter, and so all the characters in future books get their dogs from her, and so they all get dogs, but the, the, when that book hit, when it was a day for the New York Times to come out, and norm-, normally, you know, we just stare at the phone waiting for it to ring, but on this day –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – I’m like, I’m not sitting at home staring at the phone, I’m going to Disney World, so I told Claire to call me on my cell phone. So we go to Magic Kingdom, we have a good time, we’re on the shuttle to the, the Pleasure Island, or whatever they used to call that place, Downtown Disney, with all the restaurants –

Sarah: Right, right.

Karen: – and I forgot where I was, ‘cause I get the call, she goes, it’s number seven! And we’re like, yay! And then she said, I just read your proposal for the next book, and I’m so glad that Delores didn’t die, the woman –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: And I said, well, you know, that’s all for you, because if it had been left up to me, I would have left her dead under the van. And –

Sarah: [Gasps]

Karen: – conversation on the shuttle goes silent, and everyone looks at me, and I remembered I was on a shuttle with children at Disney World, and my daughter’s like, Mooom! And she actually goes, it’s a book, it’s a book; she’s writing a book. She didn’t really kill a body and leave it under a van.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: So I have to be, I have to be careful when I say things like that. But in a, in an RWA luncheon, everybody knows I’m going to be a writer, so most people know I didn’t actually kill anyone.

Sarah: That is hilarious.

Karen: Yeah, so I, it’s one of my fun, it’s one of my fun stories where people, then they kind of, kind of laugh, you know, a little bit. The people on the shuttle, they were all like, kind of like, ha-ha-ha-ha. [Laughs]

Sarah: Oh my God.

Karen: They weren’t really sure what to think at that point, and I felt terrible, ‘cause there were babies on the shuttle!


Sarah: But it must be very gratifying to get to what I call the, the well, Earl has to die movement, moment.

Karen: Yes.

Sarah: – my husband’s so terrible, you’re like, well, I could kill you, but that’s a mess.

Karen: I know.

Sarah: You get to actually go through with it and be like, you know, I’ll just write this into existence privately. [Laughs]

Karen: Yes. Well, in that one book where the, the, the plastic surgeon is found with a Sawzall, I called my friend Mark –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – and I’m like, I know you can’t just use a knife, because the sternum is a very strong bone. What do you recommend? And he goes, well, I’ve had to do emergency field surgery, you know, and you carry a small, battery-operated Sawzall.

Sarah: Oh!

Karen: He says, go to the Home Depot and ask to see them, ask to handle it. He goes, but don’t tell them what you’re using it for, and I’m like, do you think I’m stupid? [Laughs]

Sarah: Right, of course! No. I’m plotting a murder.

Karen: It’s like, I’m not going to tell people –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – that this is a potential murder weapon, thank you very much!

Sarah: And even then you have to constantly frame what you’re saying. Like, you say, listen, I’m plotting a murder on paper, like, not real!

Karen: That’s right.

Sarah: But, like, you have to keep, you have to keep qualifying – [laughs] – what you’re saying, ‘cause if you say to a writer, listen, I’m plotting murder, they’d be like, yes, go on.

Karen: Well, I met another guy on a plane who was, he was coming back from North Dakota where he had just installed windmills, and apparent-, I said, in North Dakota? I didn’t know it was that windy. He said, well, if they’re over a certain height it doesn’t matter where they are, and it’s a great place for it because there’s a lot of unusable land that farmers –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – are paid not to farm, but they’ll, they’ll lease it to us, and now he starts to explain it. You know, I, I was an engineer, so I’m interested in this, and then I said, well, what if somebody got strapped to one of those big blades and just got spun around? Would it kill them? And he just looked. I said, I’m a, I’m a thriller writer; it’s what I do.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: And he was, then he actually participated in the game, but, you know, only on, on, that I could never use his name, which I don’t remember now anyway, but – so yeah, I had to be careful.

Sarah: Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Karen: Got to be careful. [Laughs]

Sarah: You do. You have to be a little bit aware. But also, one of the, one of the things that I think is so interesting about your writing is that your villains are almost always complex. I mean, they’re killing people –

Karen: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – which is terrible, but you give them a lot of motivations and reasons or give them nuanced behavior that makes it really difficult for a reader to be like, well, that guy’s evil, because, you know, you have a killer in Say You’re Sorry who’s killing off rude people.

Karen: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: So what are, what are some of your strategies to keep the villains terrifying but also nuanced enough that they are complex?

Karen: Well, first of all, every killer’s going to be different, ‘cause every killer, even though we want, even though we think of them as monsters, they really are people, and they’re, they, they are human on, you know, on some level. If they’re not all different, they’re going to be cookie-cutter, they’re going to be cardboard characters, and that does not make for a scary villain. They have to have a vulnerability, and that vulnerability could be a person, it could be a personal ego, it could be something that they really care about that is enough to throw off their concentration. They have to be smart, and they have to be motivated, because that’s what carries the book, and if you don’t believe their motivation, there’s no way a reader’s going to kind of stick with you through, through the story, and to me, the killer is the most important character in a, in a suspense.

Sarah: Oh, of course!

Karen: And that, and that’s, I spend a lot of time on the, the hero, the heroine, and the, and the, and the villain as I’m setting up a book, and I spend a, a lot of time on the villain, because he’s, he’s the reason everybody else is there. If he wasn’t doing his villainous things, nobody else is going to, you know, be, show up in the book. There, there’s no reason to have a book if, you know, if, or a story at all, if, if he’s not there doing bad things, so his bad things, his agenda has to be strong enough to carry the whole book, and he has to be very smart. The intelligence can be nuanced, you know? It can be a specific kind of intelligence, and their behavior will sometimes have roots in trauma, you know, and that we can look at on a, you know, on a, on a purely, on a purely objective level and say, yeah, I can understand how that experience could have turned them into this, but their actions are still not ones we can condone, because they’re still killing people, they’re still hurting people, and sometimes all that comes together for me at a point later in the book. Even though I think I know who this person is, it, it does change, because they are a person, and sometimes they’ll do something; like in this particular book that I just wrote, I mean, I thought I knew this guy top to bottom –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – and something happens in the middle of the book that stuns him, and it involves a child, and every, when I teach classes on how to create scary villains, you know, one of the important points is, every person and every villain has a line that they will or will not cross.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: Somebody, some villains have no lines, but, like, some won’t hurt a kid. Some won’t hurt pets, you know, and when you find what that line is, that kind of defines the killer, and so this particular killer in Say You’re Sorry, for him it’s, you know, he, he, he fi-, it’s a child, and so, you know, the – and I say that because anybody reading this book, if there’s a child in danger people get all upset, but in my books the pets live; children under, you know, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, they’re okay; and the hero and the heroine will live. Everybody else is fair game, but the kids and the pets live.

Sarah: [Laughs] I appreciate that; thank you.

Karen: You’re welcome! I mean, that’s kind of my, my personal guar- – I was a middle school teacher, so that’s why I’m the thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. The pets especially? Pets are something we all, that most of us can say, yes, we love our pets. We understand a love for pets.

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: So I did, I had a villain, and this was my sixth book, Count to Ten, and he, he, he had an agenda. He had been, he had been hurt. He’d been a foster kid and hurt in the foster system, and he felt betrayed by the foster system in general and by some specific people who had looked the other way, he believed, or hurt him and led to, led to some, some really terrible events that shaped his life, but in the first scene I was writing, and I’m, I’m writing, writing, writing, and this young woman is in the wrong place, wrong time – which is often how the books will start – and she’s pet sitting; she’s cat sitting for this family. She’s not even supposed to be in the house –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – she’s just cat sitting, and then when he kills her and he sets the house on fire – this is all in the prologue, so I’m not giving anything away – there’s this cat, and I’m like, oh, crap! He can’t kill the cat! Because –

Sarah: No, of course not!

Karen: – (a) it’s wrong to kill animals, and (b) I’ll get email!


Karen: So he puts the cat out before he starts the fire, and that actually became a pattern, and I didn’t know why until towards the end, but I, I didn’t know why he kept saving the pets, but when it finally came together for me, the pets were his vulnerability, and ultimately, that’s what led to his capture and defeat, and that was his vulnerability was, were the pets; he had no others. And sometimes a villain is going to be “a sympathetic villain,” where, again, you understand their, you understand why they are the way they are. I had one that was a vigilante villain, and I had set out to write a, to see if I could write a villain people would feel sorry for, and that was my third book, and – called I’m Watching You – and he, he had lost someone in, in the, in the prologue, he loses someone close to him, because that person has been a victim of crime multiple times because the system did not keep the criminals in the, in prison.

Sarah: Right.

Karen: And so he sets about, you know, identifying everybody who’s gotten away because they’ve slipped through the cracks, they had a sleazy lawyer, the judge was bad. He puts all the names in a fishbowl and he starts pulling out the names, and he starts killing them. But again, when he comes to the, to the line he will not cross, and again in that case it’s a child –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – and that’s when he realized he’s become the monster that he’s been trying to, to fight against, and I really, honestly, I thought everybody was going to know who the villain was from the first page, but I, people were really surprised, so that made me feel happy. To me, that villain was very human. He was the most human of my villains, and I understood why he was doing what he was doing, and people in this – it was in one of the Chicago books – the Chicago people were applauding him, you know, because he was taking out bad people –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – but then he started taking, you know, he’d make a mistake, and somebody would be, you know, like, a bodyguard gets killed because he steps in front of this guy’s bullet, and he’s like, yeah, well, if he wasn’t guarding a sleazebag, he wouldn’t have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he would, he would still be alive. So he starts to make these excuses to himself –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – and, and, and tried to justify what he’s done –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – and that’s when he starts becoming the monster, but he doesn’t realize it yet. He doesn’t realize it until he hits that line he won’t cross. So all of the villains have lines that they won’t cross –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – that are different, and they have to be different or they become the same character.

Sarah: Right. And everyone grapples with their vulnerabilities differently.

Karen: Exactly.

Sarah: Some people are productive with their vulnerabilities; some people are regressive, have trouble getting past them; some people, like, fight with them all the time.

Karen: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: So the way you process the things that make you vulnerable influence who you are as a person and therefore influence who you are as a character. That makes a lot of sense!

Karen: It really does. It’s the study of people!

Sarah: Absolutely. Now, in this book, in Say You’re Sorry, you talk a lot about trauma and imprisonment, either physical or emotional or psychological, ‘cause a lot of the power of, of a cult is psychological –

Karen: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – imprisonment. How do you research violence and trauma and things like this and explore it in your writing? What are your techniques?

Karen: I did some research on this particular book by watching a lot of documentaries about cults, ‘cause I wanted to truly understand how someone gets sucked into what we would look at as a cult. They’re actually called new religious movements now.

Sarah: [Laughs] Oh no.

Karen: But, yeah, I know, so, but, but you know, we, we call it a cult. In my –

Sarah: Speaking of vulnerability, right?

Karen: Exactly! And my daughter just got, finished getting her degree from, from University of Pennsylvania in Religious Studies, which included cults, so I’m like, yes! I’m finally going to get my money’s worth out of her education! And so we had this conversation about why people joined cult and, and what is the profile of people who join cults, and usually they’re very intelligent people. We usually think that they’re sheep, but what they’re really looking for is something bigger than themselves. They’re looking to be a part of something. They’re look-, they’re, they’re looking for something, and they end up getting sucked in, maybe by a very charismatic leader that does not show his true self for a long time and maybe never. And maybe by that point they’re, they’re too deep into it. Maybe it’s something that they grew up in, you know, that you don’t realize that the whole world isn’t like that until you’re out of it, and you look, if you’re an outsider looking in you’re like, whoa! How did I ever believe that for so long? One of the, the identifications of a cult is being an insular organization, and you know, it’s like we are special –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – and, you know, the, the, the rest of the world will try to tell you that we’re wrong, but you can’t believe them. So a lot of people, you know, Scientology, for example; you know, I’ve, I did watch some of, quite a few of the – and I never pronounce this woman’s name, like, Leah REH-mi-knee or Ruh-MEE-knee?

Sarah: It’s REH-mi-knee.

Karen: Remini, Leah Remini – she’s done this wonderful documentary series on, on Scientology, and, you know, talking about how, yeah, people get, you know, they could go on the internet and know that other people think their, their, you know, faith is a cult, but they’re told from childhood, when you go to talk to people, they’re going to tell you that we’re bad. Don’t listen to them!

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: And I think to, to a certain extent, many churches do that, and you know, it is a, it’s kind of a, a tenet of, of remaining insular, remaining true to the cause, and so –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – why people are, are drawn to a cult is one thing I was studying. Why they stay is something completely different, and then once they’ve grown up in a cult, how does that impact them? And so I did some research on that. My daughter actually helped me put the cult together. We had our first conversation in a coffee shop in an airport, and we got some interesting looks –

Sarah: Of course.

Karen: – but just in terms of, you know, trauma, dealing with people with trauma, I, I, I love to talk to people; I love to listen to their stories. I did a panel at RWA in San Diego with a, a fascinate-, a fabulous group, and I love these people, and we’re hoping to do it again in New York City this summer. The, it was on the criminal mind and sociopathy. One of the other persons on, on this panel was Margaret Taylor, who is part of the, the Southern California chapter of RWA, and she is a retired police officer who had to retire because she got hurt in the line of duty, and she was everything from, she was a, an undercover DEA officer, she worked the equivalent of SVU, Special Victims, and she talked about some of her run-ins with, with true sociopaths, and another person on the panel was Sara DeWylde, who is a retired corrections officer. She was a corrections officer in Leavenworth, and one of her people on her cell block was this, a very famous serial killer, and she had so many stories to tell, and as I, you know –

Sarah: Wow.

Karen: – you’re listening to these stories, I think all of my victims are part of them, you know?

Sarah: Right.

Karen: So they all kind of amalgamate, and, and, and come out in my characters, and like you said, everyone, everyone deals with trauma in a different way.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: You know, some people hide behind it; some people become a, a comedian; some people are open, and they talk about it. Everyone deals with it differently, and, and deciding how a character’s going to deal with it is really the, the definition of who that person’s going to be in the book, is how they deal with the trauma that they’ve gone to.

Sarah: I know you didn’t start writing suspense. What got you started writing thrillers if that’s not the genre you started out in?

Karen: Well, my first book, first published books, they were all, all my published books have been suspenses, but when I first started writing it wasn’t to get published. It was because I was bored, and I was traveling internationally for, ‘cause I was working for P&G, at Proctor & Gamble at the time, and I was in a lot of international locations where I couldn’t take enough books with me –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – because I’d read them all on the plane, and by the time –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – I got to the hotel room, the only thing on TV was in another language that I couldn’t understand, except for CNN International, and it was –

Sarah: You don’t want that!

Karen: No, ‘cause it was all –

Sarah: That’s terrible!

Karen: – it was all plane crashes and death, and it was like, no, no, no, no. So I started writing my own books because I was bored. And I told this story later to a library crowd, and a lady on the front row, she goes, I would have just gone to the bar, and I’m like, I didn’t even think about that!


Karen: Now, if there had been, you know, e-books at the time or if I’d gone to the bar, I never would have started writing, but I did it by myself in private for, like, five years, and my husband, he was the only one who really knew. I think I had a, I told a couple friends, but I didn’t tell anyone at work because, you know, I thought they’d laugh at me, and they probably would have, ‘cause they were, it was a, it was a heavily male-dominated –

Sarah: Industry.

Karen: – environment, yes, and I knew that if they knew, especially if they knew I was writing anything that was romance-y, that I would totally be written off as a lightweight, and I would never get any good assignments anymore, which could very well have been true.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: Anyway, so it was, my husband was the one who kind of pushed me into getting published, and when I finally got an agent, at the time I was, it was kind of a combination between romance and women’s fiction, but my, my, I was, I was kind of pushed, what became my first book, Don’t Tell, and the, and I actually wrote that book five times, five separate times, and –

Sarah: Oh!

Karen: Well, for me it was a learning experience, ‘cause when I first started writing it, I still wasn’t interested in getting published. It was still more of a, a, it was a hobby for me, and as I got the idea, I remember I was standing in line to see The English Patient with my husband, and out of the blue I say, if a woman wanted to fake her own death and escape her husband, what would she do? And he turns around and he looks at me. He goes, is there something you need me to know? And I realize everybody in the line has gone quiet around us. I’m like, no, no!

Sarah: No!

Karen: It’s for a book!


Karen: But that’s when it started, and so I wrote the book. The first time I wrote it, the woman has escaped a, a, you know, abusive spouse and started a new life, and the first time I wrote it, she, she falls in love with someone else, she starts a new life, and then she finds out that her, her hus-, the man that’s still her husband, who she hasn’t told anyone about, ‘cause the guy she’s fallen in love with and married actually doesn’t know she’s still married, but he ends up getting arrested for her murder, and he’s, like, on trial for his life.

Sarah: Oh.

Karen: And she knows he didn’t kill her, but at the same time, he, she knows if she’d stayed, he would have ended up killing her, so she’s kind of like, what do I do? So it was almost a morality story, you know: what do I do?

Sarah: Ohhh.

Karen: So that’s where it started, but then, the more times I wrote it and, like, you know, I kind of learned, and I ended up joining RWA and then learning and, and et cetera, it became a very different story, but it was still not a suspense story, and when I, I showed it, I got my, I got my first agent, and she said – the only thing that stayed the same was the prologue, and that, that carried to the published book, and the, the heroine is in a hospital room. She can’t open her eyes ‘cause they’re swollen shut, she hurts everywhere, she can’t move ‘cause she’s temporarily paralyzed, actually, because her husband has, has pushed her down the stairs, and what, you know, but you don’t actually know that. You know she’s afraid of him, and he comes close to her, but she still can’t open her eyes. He’s talking to the doctor, he sounds like this very concerned spouse, and then he leans over her and whispers in her, her ear, if you tell anyone, I’ll finish the job.

Sarah: Ohhh my God!

Karen: And that’s how it starts, and she says, you have a suspenseful voice; have you ever considered writing suspense? And I was like, no –

Sarah: Huh!

Karen: – but I’ll try! And I really –

Sarah: Sure, why not?

Karen: It’s like, why not, you know? I’ll give it a shot! So I, I, I thought, because I’m an engineer, I kind of reverse engineer things, and I thought, if I’m going to write – and I’d just discovered Law & Order, which is still a, a fabulous show, but at the very, the very first, you know, eight or nine seasons are amazing, and I remember thinking, when you get to the bottom of the, the ding-ding at the bottom of the, you know, the, the, the half hour, I was like, how did they squeeze so much story into a half an hour? ‘Cause your heart’s kind of racing, and so I, I thought about that, and then I thought, what suspenses have I read where I was surprised at the end? And how did they do it?

Sarah: Good question!

Karen: Well, I’m always the person who’s like, I can name that killer in five pages or five minutes –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Karen: – or you know, whatever, and it’s a game for me.

Sarah: So when it works on you, it’s like, whoa! Okay, how did you do that?

Karen: And what I realized, ‘cause I took a book that had surprised me, it was a Tami Hoag book, and I told her once, this once, when I met her many years later, and she laughed, and she said, when you figure it out, tell me, ‘cause I still don’t know? But –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: – I, I read it backwards. Not, like, word-for-word backwards, but chapter-for-chapter backwards, ‘caused I’d already read it frontwards, and I knew I was shocked at the end. How could that guy be the killer? You know, because – it’s kind of like that, that, that moment you have the end of, the first time you see The Sixth Sense, where you know, I know Bruce Willis is talking to that woman?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: But it turns out he really wasn’t? And how did that happen? And, you know, what did she, how did she drop the clues so that I was shocked, and what I found out was the clues were there in plain sight.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: I was just so caught up in the characters that I forgot to look.

Sarah: Yep.

Karen: So it’s like a magician’s sleight of hand. You know, watch me over here while I do the magic over there, and so I wrote Don’t Tell again, and she said, it’s almost there, and so I was on a, there was, there was something missing. So I was on a ski lift. I actually got stranded on a ski lift in –

Sarah: Oh boy.

Karen: – Copper Mountain, Colorado. I remember where I was, and I mean, I, it was very quiet. It was, like, almost, like, surreally quiet way up there on the ski lift, kind of just, you know, so it was like, what do you do? So I’m just swinging my legs, and I’m thinking, and once my mind stopped being busy with other things –

Sarah: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Karen: – it came to me. Oh, this is what needs to happen!

Sarah: Yep!

Karen: And I rewrote the book a fourth time, and that was when it, it actually sold, but then the, the editor was like, this character is kind of, doesn’t need to be there. Can you get rid of her? And I’m like, sure, I can get rid of her; no problem. And so I did – not, I didn’t kill her; I just, like –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – I just wrote her out of the story.

Sarah: Right.

Karen: ‘Cause sometimes I do get rid of them by killing them, but this time I just, it, it, I just eliminated her from the big, from the get-go, and that’s, that’s the book that sold, so that’s kind of how I got into suspense. So –

Sarah: Hell, yeah!

Karen: – I was alarmed at how many people died in that book – I think there were eight – so my next book, my, it was my, ‘cause it was a two-book deal, so I send my edit-, my – my editor at the time was Karen Kosztolnyik, who, at Grand Central, and it was Warner, it was Warner Books at the time – so I sent her my first, the, the next one, and it’s a, it’s a white-collar crime that’s very cerebral, and she’s like, eh, I don’t think so. I’m like, she goes, I want a serial killer. I said, you think people will read that? She goes, trust me.


Karen: And so, like, my monster was born, but that’s how, that’s how I got started!

Sarah: I also know that you are an avid knitter, and you’re part of the Smart Bitches Ravelry group. Does knitting also put you into the place where you’re sort of, your legs are swinging and you’re not doing anything and you can have additional ideas? I cross-stitch, and I often find that when I’m focused on the pattern and I’m focused on stabbing a piece of fabric several thousand times, my brain will come up with really interesting things. Is that, is that true for you as well?

Karen: Yes, yes. And some of times it’s that quiet space?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: I, I started knitting when I was a kid, ‘cause I learned in, like, junior high school Home Ec, way back in the day, like in the ‘70s, and I knitted until I was in college, and I made my dad a sweater, and I’d measured everything, the, the sleeves, and it was a beautiful sweater. It was circular needles, not a stitch, and it’s not, no seams, it was wonderful, and the only thing I didn’t measure was the circumference of his head, which he apparently had a very large head, and he couldn’t get it over his head at Christmas morning –

Sarah: Huh!

Karen: – and I was like, nooo! And I put so much time into it, and he goes, can’t you just, like, loosen it? And it was a top-down sweater, which means no, you can’t loosen it. And I was like, as God is my witness, I’ll never knit again! So, and I didn’t for years, for almost thirty years, and then I got hurt. I was on a horse that threw me. It was my stupid horse, and he threw me over a fence, and I landed six feet away, and I was hurt pretty badly.

Sarah: Oh no.

Karen: I could, it could have been a lot worse, you know? But it was the whole ambulance to the hospital on a backboard with a neck brace, and it was scary, and actually, the paramedic in the, the, who was in the hospital, in the, in the ambulance with me, and I’m like, so, do you ever transport felons? And what is this – he’s looking at me –


Karen: Like, all I could see was, like, you know, six, a six-inch circle of the ceiling, ‘cause your head is, like, completely immobilized, but it was –

Sarah: Right, right, right.

Karen: – it was how I got through the terror of the moment. Turns out he was a writer too, so we had a nice chat.

Sarah: So he understood!

Karen: Yeah, yeah, and he was this cute guy, so he was a cute guy who was writing, and he’d just been published, and so we had a nice chat on my way to the, the hospital, but after that, my husband’s like, you’ve got to find a hobby that’s not going to kill you.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: And so I had been reading, reading some books, and I really love LGBT romances, and I’d been reading some books by an author named Amy Lane, and I love her books, and she includes knitting – and she’s a knitter as well – and so she includes knitting in many of her books, and so I started to knit, and in one of her books, it’s a, a soldier comes back from Iraq, and his hand has been badly burned, and knitting is part of his physical therapy –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – and I found it really helped with my hands, ‘cause my hands, I have arthritis in my hands, and I also found that it really helped with my ADHD. It helped quiet my mind, you know, and it does take me to that place where I can think. And sometimes I just listen, I love to listen to audiobooks and knit. That’s kind of my way to be still.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s what I do!

Karen: Yeah. So you, do, do you, do you cross-stitch, or do you knit too?

Sarah: I cross-stitch with audiobooks –

Karen: Yes.

Sarah: – all the time.

Karen: To me, it’s like, people are like, oh, I can’t even, I can’t pay attention to an audiobook, my mind wanders, but my mind doesn’t wander when I’ve got knitting needles in my hands.

Sarah: Yep!

Karen: And when I –

Sarah: It’s a way of focusing what I call the Jack Russell Terrier part of my brain.

Karen: Exactly, exactly, ‘cause I have that too. I don’t even know I was ADHD until a few years ago. My, my kids were diagnosed, and I said to my doctor – the same one who laughed about, you know, the, the guy being killed in one of my books – and I said, do you think I could be ADHD too, and she looked at me and she goes, oh my God, you don’t know that you are?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: And I was like, no. She goes, I’m surprised you, you’ve ever finished a book! And then I couldn’t finish the book –

Sarah: Oh my God.

Karen: – I was working on, so I’m like, thanks, Doc. But I, I have –

Sarah: Thanks a lot!

Karen: – I haven’t yet killed her in a book, ‘cause I like her. But anyway, yeah, to me that’s, to me, the, that part of my brain that doesn’t stop is manageable, and I wrote that into, it was Edge of Darkness. The heroine is, she’s got, she’s got ADHD, but she also has some severe PTSD happening as well –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – and her ADHD was so bad it nearly ruined her career, but so she knits to kind of help keep her mind focused. The static in her head gets too loud, ‘cause that’s what it is. It’s kind of like this, the thoughts are bouncing around so fast –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – it’s like static, and I found that it does help me an awful lot, so I, I kept writing, and I kept knitting, and I, I’ve been, started emailing with this lady Amy that I’ve been talking to, and we were able to meet in person, and we’ve become really good friends, and we knit! So we, and so at, at the Book Lovers Con that’s coming up in New Orleans –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – in May, we actually have proposed and has been accepted, and I think we’re calling it Getaway Grotto, which is like this little corner of quiet –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – where crafters can go to knit and crochet with other –

Sarah: Oh, I love this idea!

Karen: Yeah.

Sarah: That’s brilliant!

Karen: Yes, and so I made some tote bags to give away, and this ends up being, it was in another book where this knitter has gotten other people to knit, and the guy who’s the hero in the book I’m writing now is a knitter. He’s got these huge hands, but he manages to do this ti-, this really fine lace knitting, and –

Sarah: Oh wow.

Karen: – they made him a bag that says, I’ve got two – you’ve got two eyes; I’ve got two needles. Don’t expletive with me. And so –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: – I repla-, I wasn’t comfortable putting that on a bag with my name on it, so we –

Sarah: Right.

Karen: – replaced expletive with mess, don’t mess with me, but I’ve got these bags to give away at Book Lovers Con, and I, because I think a lot of us writers are very, we’re situationally extroverted. Though most of the time we’re introverted and we just need this quiet break –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – from all of the madness that’s in the, you know, in the controlled chaos that’s a con, and we just go to a quiet place and knit, you know? I meet –

Sarah: That is brilliant.

Karen: – I meet nice people that way.

Sarah: Oh yeah, absolutely. And knitting is in, is, is both – and cross-stitching too, a lot of crafting – it can be a solitary activity, or it can be a group activity. It’s really your choice.

Karen: Exactly! And you’re creating something that is useful.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: So I, I live in Florida, so I can’t really use a lot of the stuff I knit, but I knit for people who live in cold places, and I, I, I give away everything I knit. I mean, like, I, I knit for, I knit with love and yarn, you know? And, and I give it to people that are important to me, and, and that’s just something that I can do, something I can give them that is part of me, and it’s, so it’s a productive way to work off a, work off all the, the jackrabbit – jackrabbit – the Jack Russell part of your brain, as you say. Jackrabbit works too.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: But yeah –

Sarah: Yep.

Karen: – it’s a, it, and it, and it’s productive. I feel like I’m doing something with that time, and it’s not just me listening to an audiobook and being selfish with my time, which I think is an issue a lot of women have with being selfish with their downtime?

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: You know, they, they, they feel like it’s selfish when you really do need that downtime, so knitting is a way that I, I, I’m productive with my downtime.

Sarah: Yeah, I, I understand that very well. It took me a while to get to a point where I didn’t care as much that I was doing something that was purely for myself –

Karen: Yes.

Sarah: – but for a while I, I really struggled with, I could be doing many other things, but I’m choosing to do this right now, and this is for me? That’s –

Karen: Yes.

Sarah: – that’s kind of a big hurdle for a lot of people.

Karen: It is a very big hurdle, a very big hurdle. So yeah, but I got, I got to that point, and, and I used to cross-stitch – I wish I could now, but my eyes aren’t good enough to, to cross-stitch anymore, and, and my hands can’t hold that tiny needle anymore.

Sarah: Yeah, it is a small needle.

Karen: Yeah, so, but I, so knitting really did help me, and the only danger to it is if I actually do stab myself in the eye, which I probably won’t do, but you know –

Sarah: No.

Karen: – there’s a first time for everything. My, I, my daughter is deaf, so we sign, and –

Sarah: Mm-hmm?

Karen: – there have been a few times, ‘specially when she was young and not, not the best-behaved child at times, and I would, I would sign really fast, ‘cause I was mad, and I would actually poke myself in the eye with my finger –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Karen: – which, you know –

Sarah: I’m so mad at you, I poked myself in the face!

Karen: Well, at that point you’ve kind of lost the whole, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: You’ve lost that, you’ve lost all of your ire because you can’t be, you cannot be intimidating when you’ve poked yourself in the eye, ‘cause –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – that kid is laughing, and it’s, just like – [laughs]

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: So I’m kind of clumsy. The whole knitting needle thing is a little bit dicey, but – well, and, and –

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: – I’ve been shocked because people are like, doesn’t TSA take your needles? And they, they don’t, which I’m glad! ‘Cause I also, I’m a, a, a nervous flyer.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: Even after all these years, I’ve probably flown millions of miles, I’m still a nervous flyer, so I also knit to knit off that nervous energy when I’m on a plane.

Sarah: Course.

Karen: Yeah.

Sarah: I always ask this question: what are you reading right now that you would like to tell people about?

Karen: Well, I’m not reading anything right-right now, because I’m writing.

Sarah: Yep.

Karen: However, the book I just finished, it was a very beautiful, it was a gay romance, and it, it’s by Rosalind Abel.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: And she writes this series – I think she’s really a he, but for this particular line of stories, I think he uses a, a pen name – and it’s a, it’s a series called Lavender Shores, and Lavender Shores is a fictional town in Northern California, which I started reading because I love Northern California area, and I, I actually live there part of the time now, and the, it’s, you know, this foggy, right on the bluffs kind of place that’s just north of San Francisco, and it’s a very inclusive town. It was, it was, it was developed to be very inclusive, kind of this little enclave of inclusivity when most, most places in the country weren’t.

Sarah: Right.

Karen: And this particular story, there’s, so there’s been this whole series – I think this is, like, nine or ten in the series – and the two characters in this book have been featured in a lot of other books, and I really love that, because you’ve watched the character arcs, but in this one it’s kind of, they, they’ve been friends, so it’s kind of a friends-to-lovers story, and it was so beautiful, and it made me cry, and that’s kind of my gold standard.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: If a story can make me cry, you know, it’s like, yes, this can go on my keeper shelf. And it was, it was really beautiful because it dealt with the whole friends-to-lovers thing in the – ‘cause it wasn’t an instantaneous realization. One of the, one of the, the men realized it before the other did, and so there was a lot of hurt that they had to get over, but one of the guys is a widow, widower, and his –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – he doesn’t think he’s ever going to find anyone ever again, and the other man is dealing with the expectations of his parents that are really wrong expectations. They want –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – they want him to be someone he’s not, and he spent his whole life trying to please his parents and, and realized that it’s never going to happen, and I think a lot of us come to that point where we have to say, who are we going to be? You know, are we going to be us?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: Are we going to be the people that our family wants us to be? And, and, and that’s one of the reasons I, I really do, I really loved this story. It was, it was a really beautiful story, and it, it just kind of, it just kind of hit, just kind of hit all the right chords in my heart. So that’s the one that I just finished before I kind of launched myself back in this book. Yeah, but if they make me cry – and anything that Joel Leslie, most of the stuff that he, he narrates can make me cry. That man can, he can do a character that just shreds me. So that’s one of the reasons that I picked him, but yeah, anything that can make me cry, I’m like, okay, that’s a good one.

Sarah: Yeah, I find that if I, like, if I don’t know who did it, or if I’m crying, or if I have no idea how the circumstances are going to work out in the rules of the world so that everyone is happy and satisfied at the end, I cannot figure out how that’s going to happen, I’m going to be very satisfied by the end of the book.

Karen: Exactly, exactly. I got asked recently what I don’t like in books, and one of the things –

Sarah: Mm-hmm?

Karen: – I really don’t like is when, when it doesn’t make sense. You know, when things are just kind of thrown together and they don’t fit. So, you know, it’s got, yeah, okay, so you’ve set this thing up, and you want, you know they want to have a Happily Ever After, and they finally, like, magically get there, and it doesn’t make sense. I don’t like that, but when they can take me to the point where I’m absolutely, I, I have no idea how they’re going to get to their Happily Ever After, but they get there in a way that makes sense and is natural with the world – or whatever world it’s in. I mean, if it’s a paranormal world, what fits the rules of that world, ‘cause I love paranormal too.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: Yeah, I love those books.

Sarah: Yeah, me too.

Karen: There’s a Nalini Singh book that I read that still, every time I read it over again, I just sob, because, and it’s, she said she cried when she wrote it too, but, you know, it’s like, that’s my favorite of all of her books!

Sarah: Which one is it?

Karen: Oh, I shouldn’t have said this, ‘cause I can’t remember the title, but it’s about, it’s got, oh, Katya and – his name isn’t Dex. What is his name? Starts with a D – and she is, she ends up almost dying at the end. She’s a good –

Sarah: Is that Blaze of Memory?

Karen: I think it is, yes, yes. And I can’t remember what the, the hero’s name is, but I know it starts with a D, and he was part of that, not the human resistance, but he’s the, oh, the, the, the descendants of the Psy –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Karen: – that have mixed with humans?

Sarah: Dev! Dev Santos.

Karen: Dev, Dev! That’s it.

Sarah: Dev and Katya.

Karen: Dev, Dev and, and Katya, and when he has to hold her and watch her begin to die, I just like, I had to put the book down. And my husband’s like, what’s wrong? And like, it’s so sad! And every time I would read that, ‘cause I’ve read it many times, I cry every time, so if I, you know, if I have to pick a favorite of hers, there are some that I like better because they’re sexier –

Sarah: Mm-hmm?

Karen: – but that’s my favorite of her books because it, it always just takes my heart and squeezes it, and I’m always in awe of authors who can take me out of my own mind, where I’m not thinking, I would do that differently.

Sarah: Yeah.

Karen: If they can take me to a place where I’m, I’m in their world and I’m not even thinking about my own, that’s true escape, and for me, that’s the true escape, and I love those books.


Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this episode. I want to thank Karen Rose for hanging out with me, I want to thank Lauren Horvath for emailing me, and if you would like to find Karen Rose, you can find her online at karenrosebooks.com, and that is also her Twitter handle: @KarenRoseBooks.

If you would like to get in touch with me, you can email me at [email protected]. You can leave a message at 1-201-371-3272. If you have thoughts on suspense or writing suspense or reading suspense, I would love to hear them. And if you want to get in touch about writing a guest review or asking me questions about things, please feel free to email! [email protected], or if that’s not going to stick in your memory, Sarah, with an H, at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books dot com [[email protected]]. It goes to the same place! I love hearing from you, so please feel free to do so.

Today’s podcast is sponsored by the Sucre Coeur series by Lissa Reed, available February 12th as a digital boxed set from Interlude Press. If you like bakery romances and circle-of-friends romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, you will love this series about a group of friends and lovers set in a Seattle bakery. Happy-go-lucky baker Craig Oliver has a kind heart, a knack for pastry, and a weakness for damaged people. Little did he know that the cookies in his pocket would lead to a one-night stand with photographer Alex Scheff, who might just become the love of his life if Craig’s family and Alex’s insecurities don’t derail them. Craig’s friend and coworker Sarita Sengupta is coasting through life and grad school until she wakes up one morning next to pretty ballroom dancer Maritza Quiñones, whose charm and laser focus set Sarita on a path to making all of the choices she has been avoiding. Dahlia Adler at LGBTQ Reads says, “I am totally having a moment with this series.” And you can too for one low series price at your favorite e-book retailers and at interludepress.com. You can find out more about the Sucre Coeur series at lissareed.com.

Every episode gets a transcript, and every transcript is hand-compiled by garlicknitter. Thank you, garlicknitter! [You’re welcome! – gk] This week’s podcast transcript is sponsored by Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones. If you like J. R. Ward or Jeaniene Frost, you will love this paranormal romp that tickles not only the funny bone but other parts a little farther down as well. Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper extraordinaire, is back after a century of exile. She is hurt, she is angry, and she is out for revenge. But a century on one plane isn’t quite the same as it is on others, and she comes back to find a furious husband who can still melt the polar ice caps with a single glance, a world in chaos, and an expanding hell dimension that is taking over our own plane of existence. She has three days to stop an apocalypse that she may have accidentally started and to soothe the savage beast that is her blisteringly hot soul mate. Don’t miss the latest book in a series that RT Book Reviews calls wickedly funny with true chilling danger. Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones is on sale now wherever books are sold. Find out more at daryndajones.com.

If you have supported the show with a monthly pledge of any amount, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are helping me ensure that each episode is released and is transcribed and is accessible to everyone. If you would like to join the Patreon community, it would be awesome if you did. You can have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Monthly pledges start at one dollar a month, and the Patreon community gets up to some really nifty stuff, so have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.

The music you’re listening to is provided by Sassy Outwater. You can find her on Twitter @SassyOutwater. This is the Peatbog Faeries. This is their album Blackhouse, and this track is called “The Chatham Lassies.” I really like this one, especially because, even though I cut it out, it starts with running water, and I, I had to take it out because I (a) it sounds really strange if you start a podcast and it starts with running water, and (2) I didn’t want to have to make any of you who might be on the treadmill or on the elliptical have to jump up and run to the bathroom – [laughs] – but I really like how this track starts out. It’s very relaxing and mellow, and I hope you’re enjoying too. If you would like to find Blackhouse or any of the Peatbog Faeries’ albums, you can find them on Amazon or iTunes or wherever you buy your funky music.

Coming up on Smart Bitches this week, we have things! First, thank you for celebrating our fourteenth anniversary with us! It is an absolute jaw-dropping thrill to me that we are still around after fourteen years and that you’re hanging out with us, so thank you for that. Coming up this week, we would like to know what your most favorite romance fanfics are, and we want to hear all about them and why you like them. We also have Cover Snark, a Bachelor recap from Elyse, a whole set of reviews for new titles, a new edition of Soggy Bottoms, and, of course, Books on Sale and Help a Bitch Out.

If you have an idea or you want to write a guest review for us or you want to tell us about a book that rocked your world in a good or not-so-good way, email me at Sarah, S-A-R-A-H, at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books dot com [[email protected]].

I will have links to the things we talked about, including Book Lovers Con and the television show Scientology and the Aftermath from Leah Remini and all of the books that Karen Rose mentioned as well, in the podcast show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast. It is actually pretty astonishing how quickly I can type that URL now. I mean, it’s been fourteen years, but I’m really impressed that I can do it really quickly and usually without a typo, but I consistently typo my own name; it’s great. I assume that might be true for you too.

Okay, it’s time for the bad joke. I really like this joke! I’m really excited about it, and also my voice is, like, really, Sarah, you have to stop talking, so I’m going to get on with it. [Clears throat] Are you ready? Here we go.

Why is leather armor the best kind for sneaking into somewhere?

Why is leather armor the best kind of armor for sneaking into somewhere?

It’s literally made of hide!

[Laughs] It’s so dumb, I love – [laughs more] – made of hide! Okay. Yeah, I’m really happy about this joke. Thank you to diverlife on Reddit for this one. Made of hide!

So on behalf of Karen Rose and everyone here, including my dogs, who have managed not to bark – thank you, guys! – we wish you the very best of reading in every genre, and we hope you have a wonderful weekend. We’ll see you back here next week.

[flowing music]

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Transcript Sponsor

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave

Today’s podcast transcript is sponsored by Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones. If you like JR Ward or Jeaniene Frost, you’ll love this paranormal romp that tickles not only the funny bone but other parts a little farther down as well.

Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper Extraordinaire, is back after a century of exile. She is hurt. She is angry. And she is out for revenge.

But a century on one plane isn’t quite the same as it is on others, and she comes back to find a furious husband (who can still melt the polar ice caps with a single glance), a world in chaos, and an expanding hell dimension that is taking over our own plane of existence. She has three days to stop an apocalypse (that she may have accidentally started) and to soothe the savage beast that is her blisteringly hot soulmate.

Don’t miss the last book in the series that RT Book Reviews calls “…wickedly funny with true chilling danger…”

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones is on sale now wherever books are sold. Find out more at daryndajones.com.


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