Monday, September 08, 2008

Guest Appearance: Karen E. Olson, Author

Karen E. Olson was the first author I "met" through my blog. The excitement of receiving a comment by her on my blog has yet to diminish. Her Annie Seymour, crime reporter series is one of my favorites and I look forward to reading her new series when it comes out next year.

Please welcome Karen E. Olson!

Do Not Try This At Home

I turned a manuscript in to my editor only about three months after I started the book. This is not normal behavior for writers, who like to do quite a bit of navel gazing (i.e., procrastinating) during the actual creation process. I mean, we’re writers. We are supposed to be angst-ridden as we form perfect sentences once, twice, maybe even five times over until we get it right. We are supposed to imbibe a lot of alcohol, maybe drugs (i.e., caffeine) while we work. I mean, we’ve all heard the stories about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Faulkner and Joyce and countless other writers whose angst is clearly evident on each page.

I had no angst. I had maybe a glass of wine here and there, but not while I was writing. Caffeine in the form of iced tea was my drug of choice. I ate popcorn out of a big, red plastic bowl left over from our Christmas party. Except on the days when I took my laptop to the pool club, barely noticing where my daughter was as I tried to tune out splashes and laughter and people just plainly having fun while I sweated in the heat, not allowing myself to jump in the pool until I wrote my obligatory five pages.

That was my routine, my goal: five pages a day. I had a writer friend (a writer who is amazingly prolific, even now that he’s in his 80s) tell me once that if I wrote four pages a day I’d have a book in three months. I did the math and, by golly, he was right! So when, on May 1st, my editor asked me when she might see the manuscript for the book I had yet to write, had yet to have a formal contract for, I did the math in my head, added an extra page to my friend’s formula and figured I could have a first draft by July 1. Because I figured I’d need time to have someone else read it and I’d have to make some changes, I stretched my deadline to Sept. 1.

I got sick. Really sick. The first week in June. But I was halfway there, halfway to my destination. I forced myself to get out of my sickbed and write those five pages. Not all at once, but a little at a time. Then we went to Las Vegas. Because the book is set there, and since I’d only been to Vegas once about 12 years ago for two days I figured I should go. I lost four days of actual writing, but the research was invaluable. I came home and wrote six or seven pages a day until I caught up.

When I wrote the last sentence, I knew I was done. I sent it to four friends, other writers who would tell me if it truly sucked. I still had two months to rewrite it if I had to. But shockingly, all came back and said it was good. Really good. Better than the other books I’d already had published. I began to wonder if being angst-ridden is all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, just writing, not taking breaks, not going over what I’d read before but just forging ahead every day seemed to have paid off. I had dreams about this book, about those characters while writing. I was immersed in that world. I can’t even tell now when reading it where I’d gotten sick. I thought for sure I would, but I was on auto-pilot.

I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to write a book this way. But I have to say I’m tempted to do it again. To see if it was a fluke. Granted, I was a print journalist for 20 years. I never waited for a muse to tap me on the shoulder and tell me when or what to write. I just wrote. And I write better with a deadline. I’ve got to write a second book by May 1, so I’ll have time in case it doesn’t work this time. But what if it does? That’s the question that’s teasing me. It’s worth a shot.

(The book discussed here is THE MISSING INK, the first in my two-book contract with NAL/Obsidian, and it will be released in July 2009. The protagonist/amateur sleuth is a tattoo shop owner in Las Vegas.)

Karen E. Olson Author of the Annie Seymour Mystery Series
SHOT GIRL, NAL/Obsidian, November 2008


  1. Hi Wendy! Hi Karen!

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Karen. I will definitely not try this at home. LOL.

    I'm waiting eagerly for Shot Girl to be released. Initially I thought I hadn't read Dead of the Day but it turned out that I've done it aons ago. So... I'll have to be patient and wait for the next one. :)

  2. Hi Karen! That was an ambitious undertaking. I'm glad it worked! Are you excited about Shot Girl?

  3. I love hearing how other writers do their writing. Fascinating! I can't wait to read the book!

  4. Hi Karen, This just sounds so great. It sounds like this was the book you were meant to write at this point - so I'm glad you didn't fight it. Yes, those years of newspaper training do help, but you had the discipline and it worked. I'm looking forward to the new Annie Seymour but am very excited to see "Missing Ink" when it comes out!!

    A question: Do you outline? And, then, do you follow your outline?

  5. Hi guys, happy to be over here today!

    Clea, I don't outline. I did have to write a short proposal for my editor, to show her I had an idea. But the book doesn't look much like my original plan. It just sort of took off on its own.

    I really enjoyed writing this book, and from my first readers' reactions, I think it definitely shows! I hope everyone else likes it, too!

    Although, full disclosure: I don't have a tattoo. But I did find a fascinating book about the history of women and tattoos. Gave me a whole different perspective.

  6. I've read a few blogs about her books. Sacred Cows seem to be a favorite for many people!

  7. Hi Karen! So good to see you here at Wendy's place. I will definitely have The Missing Ink on my radar!

    And, guess what I'm reading right now? Secondhand Smoke - it's so good!

  8. Hi Karen,

    Nice to see you here.

    I can't wait to read Missing Ink. Is it July yet? I hope it turns out to be more than a 2-book contract.


  9. Hi Karen!
    I really enjoyed reading Sacred Cows and I've all your books in my pile. I'll definitely look out for The Missing Ink as well as your future releases. :)

  10. Thanks, everyone, and thanks especially to Wendy for inviting me here!

    Heidi, I also hope this is more than two books! I'm having so much fun with them.

    The Missing Ink is out in July, but in the meantime, my fourth Annie Seymour book, SHOT GIRL, will be out in November. Check it out!

  11. Very psyched to read SHOT GIRL - and for those who've been wondering which Annie Seymour book to read, I say "read 'em all." They're available in paperback and just a lot of fun. Janet Evanovich meets, oh, I don't know, Theda Krakow.

    Karen - I'm really impressed that you had that kind of output without outlining. I'm spending today tearing up most of what I wrote yesterday and I'm only trying to do 1,000 words a day! Necessary tearing up, but still...

  12. Great post! I loved it. Shot Girl looks and sounds awesome!!! I can't wait to check it out further!

  13. Many thanks, Karen, for your great post and to all those who stopped in and commented!

    I admit that I'm really impressed that you write without an outline too, Karen. I think I would be all over the place if I tried to write something novel length without an outline. Of course, having never tried it either way, I really don't know what would work best for me. :-)

    Although I don't have the newspaper writing experience that you have, I do know about writing under a deadline. You don't have that luxury of waiting for the mood to strike. My most successful technique in those instances has always been just to sit down and start writing, even if I'm only brainstorming ideas. Eventually, whole sentences come out and, before I know it, I'm all done.


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