We recently interviewed Karen Dodd, author of two novels in her Stone Suspense series, Deadly Switch and Scare Away the Dark.
As a child, Karen immigrated from the United Kingdom to Toronto, Ontario. Eventually, her family migrated to the West Coast and she grew up on the Vancouver’s North Shore, where she still makes her home.
Karen had several business ventures. During that time, she had numerous articles published about entrepreneurism. In 2011, she retired from her businesses to focus on writing her first novel, Deadly Switch, which was published in 2013. The genesis for Deadly Switch was ripped straight from the headlines of a local newspaper. Although the real-life story was terrifying, Karen fictionalized the rest of the story, which became her best-selling debut suspense novel.
Karen’s thrillers allow her to indulge her love of travel as well as highlight life on the west coast. When she’s not working on the next book in the Stone Suspense series, she can be found gardening and enjoying living by the sea with her husband, Glen, and cats, Bello and Missy.
SinC-CW: What was the inspiration for your Stone Suspense series?
Back in the 1980s, a well-known businessman was found dead in his West Vancouver waterfront mansion with a needle in his arm. My husband was acquainted with him through business. Though this man’s death was ultimately ruled a suicide, the initial investigation also looked at homicide. In Deadly Switch, the first book in the Stone Suspense series, I took that real-life premise and fictionalized it into a world of international crime, murder and embezzlement.
What was it about the Fraser Valley and Calabria areas that made you want to set your latest book there?
Well, the Fraser Valley didn’t become a setting until Scare Away the Dark, book two in the series. Quite honestly, it was simply a convenient location close to Vancouver where my protagonist Jordan Stone would be abducted and held in an underground bunker.
Calabria: Ah, now that’s another story! Several years ago, a little-known town named Tropea, in Calabria, Italy, caught my attention and, long before I ever went there in person, it came alive in my mind’s eye. I was determined to set my first book there. I didn’t actually go to Tropea until a year after the book came out. Now, I don’t think my readers will ever let me leave!
Did the characters of Scare Away the Dark (and Deadly Switch) come first, or did the story (i.e., were the characters looking for a story or vice versa?)
Absolutely the real-life premise and story came first in Deadly Switch. Then, the characters found me. In Scare Away the Dark, as well as book three, which I’m currently writing, my characters have grown and new ones have been added.
Tell us a little about your most recent story.
Scare Away the Dark, book two in the Stone Suspense series, is a continuation of crime investigative reporter Jordan Stone trying to adjust to a normal life after returning to West Vancouver from Calabria. She has said goodbye to her father and the woman she discovers is her biological mother, both of whom were forced into international witness protection. However, very little in Jordan’s world remains “ordinary” and she’s abducted and subsequently rescued by police. After two attempts on her life and the menacing presence of a mysterious stalker, she flees to the safety of Tropea, Italy. Once there, things spiral out of control and she’s once again on the lam and fighting for her life.
Describe your current writing workspace(s).
I am not one of those writers who can write anywhere. Perhaps it’s that I am an only child, but I need peace and absolute quiet to read, or to create. I wish I could write in a busy coffee shop or in 20- to 30-minute bursts snatched from a hectic day. I have a cozy, Zen-like studio in our waterview home on Howe Sound. I prefer to work at my desktop computer where I’m surrounded by wall-to-wall bookcases, art and objects that have become my touchstones and inspiration.
Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?
I am a past-president and still a long-time member of the North Shore Writers’ Association. I participate in the Surrey International Writers’ Conference as well as other writing forums and groups. And of course, I’m a member of Sisters in Crime! As writing is such a solitary endeavour, I do think it’s important to be with other writers whether they’re published or not. I firmly believe I would never have published my first book without the mentorship and support from other writers. My small critique group (of three) is going into our sixth year together, with five books collectively.
Have you written any series characters? What’s their appeal for you?
I have only written series characters to date—my main characters, anyway. When I’m writing, I live with my characters every day, sometimes more than I want to! If I’m not thinking about them constantly, I know I’m disconnected from my story.
What I love is watching them grow and evolve just like people do in real life. Before I started writing fiction I always thought it funny when writers said they were constantly surprised by their characters and what they did. I remember thinking: that’s ridiculous, you are the one making them up, how could you not know what they were going to do? Now, of course, I totally get it!
Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?
This is such a timely question for me right now as I write book three in the series! In the case of my first book, Deadly Switch, it was as if it was “channeled” and I was just the instrument. Not that I didn’t go through the same issues and angst that many debut novelists experience, but I knew the beginning of the story and I knew the ending. I didn’t outline at all. Somehow, I just sat at the computer every day and my characters took me where I needed to go. It was amazing how organically it happened.
So of course, I thought the same thing would happen with the next book. NOT! Oh, my goodness, it was the most painful process. I can’t tell you how many times I re-started, re-wrote, threw out, changed POV… at one point, I even decided to abandon the series and write it as a stand-alone. It was awful! That’s partly why I had almost four years between my first and second books.
After that experience, I vowed never to be a “pantster” again. Now, although I don’t do elaborate or long outlines, I do write a brief paragraph for each scene and chapter. Although I stick to that and make adjustments as necessary, I still allow myself to be open to my settings or characters taking me in a different direction. Because I write complexly-layered suspense, having a clear but flexible plan frees me from the panic of writing myself into a corner. I’ll let you know that how that goes at the end of this book!
What’s the most challenging thing about being a writer in 2018? What’s the best thing?
I can only speak to this as someone who didn’t start writing novels until later in life. Although I’ve always been a writer, my published work was comprised of articles in entrepreneurial magazines and in the small business world. So, the most challenging thing for me was whether to go traditional or indie in publishing my novels. Although I ultimately decided to go indie, there was always that conflict going on in my head: should I query agents and perhaps be rejected for two, three or five-plus years? Or should I get five or more books out in that time?
The best thing? There are so many opportunities out there today for writers; in some ways I don’t think it’s ever been better! Starting later in life, I’ve managed to build a group of loyal and enthusiastic readers who are always clamouring for the next book. I’ve learned to embrace the technology that has allowed me to target market effectively, and to increase my reader engagement exponentially.
Many writers also put their creativity to use in ways other than writing. Do you consider yourself a “creative person?” What other creative outlets do you have?
I love making beautiful spaces, often out of nothing. That extends to my love of gardening, interior decorating, knitting, and art. I can’t take credit for creating original ideas but I’m observant and endlessly curious—good traits for a writer to have, I think—and I enjoy copying an idea, then putting my unique spin on it. Often quirky in the extreme!
Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next. This is the shameless self-promotion portion of the interview.
I plan to continue writing as many books in my Stone Suspense series as my readers ask for, and my characters have stories to tell. I’ve been told by virtually every reader of Deadly Switch that it should be made into a movie. So, as much as that feels like a long shot, I’d like to pursue that in some regard. As well, I’d like to explore audio books. I follow a couple of successful indie authors who have done that successfully, and I’m taking a look at that as well.
What question do you wish you’d be asked in an interview, but it never seems to come up? Ask it and tell us your answer.
Is it ever too late in life to start writing with the goal to publish and get your book out into the world? As I alluded to previously, I absolutely questioned that myself. So much so, in fact, that it almost choked my ability to move forward and seriously affected my creativity. Now, as I encourage “older” writers, I suggest asking oneself: Would you have had the story to tell when you were younger? And would it be as rich and multi-layered when you were in your thirties as it might be now? In my case, the answer is most definitely “no.” ◊