Saturday, December 15, 2007

Karen Harper Chats About History, Mystery, and the Lonely Act of Writing

Karen Harper is a bestselling author in a variety of genres, including historical mysteries. She consented to a quick Q and A during this busy holiday season.

Thanks for chatting with me, Karen, and Merry Christmas. You write all sorts of things: mysteries, romances, historical novels. Do you have a favorite genre?
I have written mysteries, suspense, romance and historical novels. I love the variety of writing in all those genres. I've been having great fun with romantic suspense the last ten years; my first love, which I have returned to recently, is historical novels. Two of my very early historicals have recently been rereleased: THE LAST BOLEYN and THE FIRST PRINCESS OF WALES, some of my "emotional favorites." Settings are very important to me and Tudor or Medieval are my favorite eras. I also have favorite contemporary settings: SW Florida, where I live part of the year; Amish Ohio; and Appalachia. I have written more than one book set in these places.

You have taught both high school and college English. Do you write full time now? If so, do you ever miss teaching?
I do miss some aspects of teaching, since I've been writing full-time for almost twenty-two years. I miss high school and college age kids--knowing "what's happening." I miss the act of teaching, and having colleagues, since writing can be lonely and I don't see my author friends daily. However, there is so much more freedom in what I do now. I don't miss a daily commute, lesson plans, etc.

I must say that does sound attractive. You’ve written more than twenty books; that’s a lot! Do you write quickly? How long does it take you to write a novel?
I have written forty-four novels since 1982. I can usually write a book in 4-5 months, if I have all the research and planning done before I begin. However, getting ready to write a book can take years of thinking and planning and reading.

Your biography says that you love the British Isles, where your “Scottish and English roots run deep.” How far have you traced your ancestry?
My husband and I have traced our Scottish ancestry through the usual hard work, but also by going to Scotland and visiting places to do the research. That is more fun than fun. My Scottish family are Bentons (clan Forbes) from near Aberdeen; the Harpers are Buchanens from near Stirling. My husband plays the bagpipes, and I did Scottish Highland dancing for years, so we really got into the culture.

That is wonderful! You taught at Ohio State University. Are you a native Ohioan?

I am a native Ohioan, born in Toledo, did undergrad work in English at Ohio University in Athens; grad work at Ohio State in Columbus. I met my husband in Columbus and have lived there for thirty-five years. We spend some time in Florida each year, so I consider that a second home.

Do you ever find time to read? If so, what are you reading now?
I binge read between my own research books and writing. I am just about to begin JANE BOLEYN: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford. This is the woman who married George Boleyn, brother to Anne. I do read a great variety of things.

Newsday said of your book The Tidal Poole, “Elizabethan history has never been this appealing.” How do you make history so appealing?
I strive to make history appealing by pulling the reader into the lives of the characters. One of my favorite compliments goes something like this: "I used to hate history, but when I read your books, I find it really intriguing."

You’re a bestselling writer. What was your reaction the first time one of your books hit the bestseller list? How did you find out?
I have been fortunate to make both the USA TODAY and the NY Times lists. When I made the Times list I was on a book tour in Seattle and came in to the hotel room to find a message from my agent. I must have replayed that about 10 times before I could believe it. I had no one to celebrate with, so I started calling people, my husband, my mother. The next day, my author friend Susan Wiggs, who lives out there, took the ferry over to the mainland and we celebrated with lunch and a lot of laughter.

Do you have any favorite hobbies, aside from writing?
Hobbies aside from writing: I grow African violets and help to "grow" and babysit my 8-year-old grandson, who--thank heavens--loves to read and has a great imagination. He has advised me to write a book about dinosaurs and make the T-Rex the star. I used to do a lot of needlepoint, but that has gone by the way in a time crunch.

You and I were chatting about some of the great mystery and suspense writers from the 50s and 60s. Who were some of your favorites, and how did they influence you?
My favorite and most influential writers from the 60s were Jan Wescott, Jan Cox Speas, and Anya Seton. These brilliant women are long dead, but their books still hold the test of time--beautiful blends of romance and history. Of course, the Jean Plaidy books are in this category also. (My first passion, as with many American girls, was Nancy Drew.)

Will you be attending any writers’ conferences this year?

I love to attend writers conferences to see friends and editors, to teach, and to learn. In 2008, I'm going to the Romance Writers national conference in San Francisco and to SleuthFest in South Florida, a Mystery Writers of American gathering. Last year I attended ThrillerFest in NYC and Malice Domestic in Washington D.C.

Are you working on a book now?

I am currently between books. Actually, I just handed in (which in this day and age means e-mailed) a romantic suspense to my editor at Mira Books, THE HIDING PLACE, which will be out in Nov. '08, 9 months after BELOW THE SURFACE, which is out Feb. '08. Beginning in January, I will begin another suspense for Mira. Meanwhile, I am hatching an idea for another Tudor-era historical novel. I recently sold MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE to Penguin/Putnam, the story of the true love of William Shakespeare's life. It won't be out until Jan. of 2009, however.

What are your plans for the holidays?
My plans for the holidays are to be with our two daughters and their families on Christmas Eve, then with our son and his wife who live in St. Augustine, FL shortly after. We have already celebrated with my 86 years old mother, who lives about 3 hours from here; she will be with my brother and his family on Christmas. It's a busy, but blessed season of the year.

How can readers find out more about you and your books?
Readers can find out more about me and my books at my website or by visiting or Crown books. There are links to these publishers' sites on my website.

Happy reading to everyone.

Thanks, Karen!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this interview, Julia. I love Karen's book, especially her Elizabeth I series. However, I have read several of her contemporary ones as well. I enjoyed hearing about her life. Keep up the good work, Karen! We'll keep reading!

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Kay! I think I'll try one of Karen's over Christmas break.

Marcia James said...

I just had the opportunity to read Karen's interview and enjoyed it very much! I look forward to her 2008 Mira romantic suspense novels!
-- Marcia James

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Marcia!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Julia .
For Karen's interview , i enjoyed it.Awaiting for new one........ :)

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Canada! Me, too!

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