AUTHOR BIO: My first three novels were historical fiction involving pre-colonial African explorers. Since I was always either accused or praised (depending how you look at it) for writing overly steamy sex scenes, erotic romance was the natural next step. I am currently writing about the rough and tumble life of the California gold rush, and I live in Northern California with my Newfoundland dog. I just put her into my current release, Sure as Shooting. The heroine didn’t want another child after hers was murdered by Indians, so she begged the hero for a “large fluffy dog”!
GRACIE: I’m excited to have you here at The G-Spot, Karen! Please tell us a little about yourself (or a lot J) and how and when you got into writing?
KAREN: Oh gads, I had to teach myself to read and write when I was three simply in order to write. I knew I wanted to write novels, so I somehow taught myself. I guess I looked over my mother’s shoulder when she read aloud to me, and put two and two together.
I taught myself to type when I was about six using my mother’s cursive manual typewriter. Of course the “books” involved my best friend and our highly suspenseful journeys into a volcano or the sewer. Or maybe it was just the schoolyard.
I wrote dozens of novels over the next few decades, just for fun, never attempting to get published. It was just a stress reliever, I guess, something I obviously would’ve done anyway, a hobby.
GRACIE: Is there any one thing or person in your life that inspired your writing? Any one thing or person that influenced the genre you write in?
KAREN: It’s the same answer for both questions: Henry Miller, the Brooklyn writer who was banned for writing The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy starting in the late 40s.
My mother had his books on her shelf, so being hard up for reading material, I’d pull them down and read, starting with the sexy parts of course. Then I realized it was pretty good writing, so read a bit before and a bit after the sex scenes. Soon I said “Hell, let’s just read the entire book.” I’m sure that’s how I started out inserting highly explicit sex scenes into otherwise serious and staid historical fiction novels.
My theory was, why not have explicit sex in the 1800s? They did it back then. Just because it’s a highly “serious” to me about a revolution in pre-colonial Africa doesn’t mean they can’t have balls-to-the-wall sex. But a lot of people seemed confused, as though I was writing in two separate genres simultaneously. You normally don’t see much sex at all in serious hist-fic. Which is a bummer for people who like their history and their sex as well.
GRACIE: When did you get The Call and what was your first published book?
KAREN: In 2005 I finally got serious about writing a book to sell. I wrote The Hinterlands as a romance novel and sold it as a romance novel to Medallion Press, who then switched it to the hist-fic category because I was “so heavy on historical detail.” Medallion wanted to be well-known for publishing novels in unusual settings, and this one was set in 1897 Nigeria and dealt with an ancient secret kingdom with highly advanced art that practiced human sacrifice. And had wild sex. J
GRACIE: What do you know now about writing and the publishing industry that you wish you’d known before you started?
KAREN: That you’re not automatically going to make tens of thousands of dollars right out the gate! After I published my first book, everyone automatically assumed I was rich enough to stop working my day job. That became highly annoying very fast. Especially since I had assumed that, too. “Wow, a novelist? They must be jet-setting to the Caribbean every week.”
GRACIE: Please give us a little story behind the story and what inspired your Siren Publishing historical series, Going for the Gold.
KAREN: That’s kind of funny. I had three novels out, and I wanted to do something set in California instead of Africa. So, knowing me and my penchant for detail, I spent about six months researching everything about the California gold rush. I took 150,000 words of typed notes, all categorized by topic. Boy, what an anal retentive. Then I had to actually write the first three chapters, so all told it took me about eight months. Well, my old publisher rejected the proposal. I thought I was screwed.
Not necessarily. I’d always thought I was well-suited to write erotic romance, so I thought “Why not take all this research and turn it into an erotic romance series? Just leave out the Mormon part. And most of the ‘boring’ historical detail.” Voila. Going for the Gold was born, published by Siren.
GRACIE: What are the challenges you’ve faced in writing historical romance, in general, and multiple-partner, menage stories in a historical setting, in particular?
KAREN: Well, the hardest thing about historical writing is probably the lingo. I can’t use words like “dick” and “boob.” Believe it or not, this is highly frustrating for someone fascinated with slang etymology. So I’ll be typing along and have to stop to look up which year a word was first used. I’ve been doing historicals so long I don’t really have to stop and wonder if, for instance, a typewriter was invented yet.
And without a doubt, the most difficult thing about ménages is juggling three POVs, not to mention their limbs and appendages. I love MMFs, so when you have two men, you can’t just write “his arm.” Whose arm? And some of those positions can get pretty athletic, almost like there is no gravity. You have to really envision how everyone is positioned.
GRACIE: In Working the Lode, what facet of Zelnora Sparks’ personality do you think the most helps her thrive and survive in the male-dominated Wild West?
KAREN: Her husband back east abandoned her, so she’s pretty independent to start with. She had mining experience and she’s in her ideal environment, finding the gold that the men mine. I’m an amateur mineralogist so I had fun writing a heroine who knows her heavy metals. She knows how to thrive in a masculine atmosphere.
GRACIE: What is businessman Gage Lassen’s Achilles’ Heel and how do you go about stomping it?
KAREN: Gage is trying like hell to be a hard-ass toward women after his wife ran off with his brother and child. So he imagines he’s an “invert,” what we now call homosexual. It’s easy for him to admit he’s falling in love with another man, but a woman? That’s a different subject. He treats Lola like shit, worse than the housemaid she is to him, not even acknowledging she also is a journalist for the San Francisco newspaper. It takes him awhile to admit he has feelings for her.
GRACIE: What about adventurer Harrison Bancroft’s character traits do you think makes him a perfect match for Lola and Gage in Either Ore?
KAREN: Harrison is a fairly laid-back fellow so he’s perfectly suited to be smack in the middle of this love triangle. Sort of a mediator. He spent years on the plains living with “red Indians” painting their portraits. So he has patience and is open-minded to new things.
GRACIE: What do you find the most enjoyable about researching your stories? What do you find the most demanding?
KAREN: I’m constantly amazed at the stories I stumble upon in history. Things I never knew actually occurred, things that sound incredible now. But folks, this really happened! That’s the fun part. I love driving around to historical sites and hearing the stories the crazed docents tell. Guys posing like 19th century medicine show men, for instance. Guys re-enacting battles, getting all anal about the details of their uniforms.
Then, by the same token, it’s the most demanding aspect. You’re never sure how much historical detail to throw in, especially in an erotic romance when that’s not necessarily what readers are seeking. So you’re kind of stuck maybe just calling it a horse, when you just researched for days about appaloosas.
GRACIE: Of all the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite and why?
KAREN: Of course I’ve got to say my recent release, Sure as Shooting. I think I like this because I based one of the heroes on the first black physician in America, James McCune Smith. For his body I borrowed Shemar Moore, lately of Criminal Minds. How can you go wrong with Shemar Moore?
This character, Dr. Whitman Whitney, is absolutely unashamed of his heritage or his sexuality—he’s half-black and half-Cherokee.
This brings a lot of natural conflict because his California battalion is battling some Indians who have moved into the Yosemite Valley. Naturally, back then the sentiment was almost universally anti-Indian. It wasn’t illegal to murder an Indian, for example. And it occurred to me—why not have Dr. Whitney be the hero who gets married in the end to the heroine? Why should the heroine always choose the white guy? They’re a menage so of course they “marry” each other, but legally she can only choose one.
And let’s face it. Who wouldn’t marry Shemar Moore?
GRACIE: What about your characters makes them unique?
KAREN: I tend to write very offbeat characters. That’s why I write about frontiers, places that haven’t been very settled yet. The most off-the-wall people were drawn to frontiers—bold people with nothing to lose, who have been shunned from “normal” societies and want a new life.
GRACIE: Are you a pantser or do you outline?
KAREN: I was always a diehard outliner until my current WIP. I can’t believe I’m actually somewhat pantsing it! I think it’s because for the first time in years, I’m actually not following actual historical events. If you follow an actual chain of events, of course you have to outline, to an extreme degree sometimes. “Well on Thursday the 19th of November, they blew up the armory…”
GRACIE: If you weren’t a writer, what other profession would you have chosen to pursue?
KAREN: I wanted to be a journalist in Africa until I realized I’m not terribly confrontational or aggressive. You really need that, especially in Africa, to be a journalist. My dream job is to be a Philly Soul backup singer. “Get on board, and join hands, on the Love Train, Love Train!”
But I’m really an awful singer, so I’d have to say a location scout for a film company. Can you imagine? Flying about the globe seeking out obscure spots to film?
GRACIE: Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
KAREN: It’s embarrassing that I don’t have time to read for pleasure. So all of my favorites are people like Dostoevsky, Knut Hamsun, D. H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, and of course Henry Miller—authors I enjoyed in my teens. Fellow Siren authors I have enjoyed recently, though, are Reece Butler, Sophie Oak, J. Rose Allister, Missy Martine, and Natalie Acres.
I like historicals because it’s so much easier for me to believe that back then, men were men. They’d cross a mountain range for the love of a woman. Nowadays? It’s pretty difficult to get a fellow to go to the corner Starbucks for you. I can more easily suspend disbelief in a historical. I tend to think things were much more romantic and dramatic back then. There was so much more at stake.
GRACIE: What are you working on now and what should readers be looking forward to from you in the future?
KAREN: I’m working on #5 in the Going for the Gold series about the California gold rush. This one involves paddlewheel steamers and how they used to race them up and down the Sacramento River. Unbelievable how many explosions were caused by men stoking the boilers just so they could win a race. Bodies flying everywhere. One guy sailed out of his stateroom on a mattress and landed on the bank unharmed, “like a flying carpet.” I mean, you can’t make this shit up.
Next, I have a plan for a new historical paranormal series, but I guess I shouldn’t talk too much about that!
GRACIE: Do you have a website and/or how can readers contact you?
GRACIE: Where and how can readers purchase and/or read samples of your work?
GRACIE: What advice do you have for beginning writers?
KAREN: This is going to sound weird, but I’d say do not listen to other writers, and especially wannabe writers. Don’t get a crit partner. You’re going to get so much conflicting information it’s going to saturate your brain and confuse you even more. As if writers need more confusion.
I suppose that’s another way of saying to write your heart’s desire. If you do, the passion will show through, and eventually some editor will notice that. Hey. I sold my first book, the editor later told me at dinner, thanks to this masturbation scene I wrote. I didn’t know that was even remotely popular at the time, and it was supposed to be a “serious” historical romance, but she said she ran screaming into the next hotel room to tell the President “we have to buy this book!” Some adventurer was jacking off in a river while the heroine sneakily watched from behind a tree.
So, you really never know.
GRACIE: Karen, thanks so much for taking time from your busy schedule to share yourself and your work with us at The G-Spot and giving us a little insight into your writing and the writing process! We’ll let you get back to writing those wonderful books you write! All the best!
KAREN: Thanks so much for having me, Gracie!