Author of the century-spanning Cartographer fantasy Series, Karen L. Abrahamson writes fantasy, romance and mystery. Her short fiction was short listed for the Canadian Crime Writer’s 2016 Best Short Story. Her novella, Death by Effigy, published by Guardbridge Books, was released in April 2017. The first four books in her alternate history mystery series, the Detective Kazakov Mysteries were released in 2018 and 2019. Writing as K.L. Abrahamson, Karen draws on her background in the criminal justice system to craft short stories and novels about amateur and women sleuths as well as police procedurals. She lives in British Columbia, Canada with bears, bald eagles and the ocean for neighbours.
We recently tossed some questions Karen’s way. Here are her responses.
What is the inspiration for your most recent series, the Inspektor Kazakov Mysteries?
The Inspektor Kazakov novels are a four-part mystery series set in an alternate world where the Ottoman Empire overthrew Catherine the Great. The series is a gritty police procedural set in Kyrgyzstan, a tiny Russian country caught between the Ottoman Empire and the Chinese Empire of the Sun. It begins when a dead girl is found in a park and involves politics, betrayal and the conundrum of what is right, versus what might save your country. The inspiration came from reading The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik, about the tremendous changes that happened in the world at the time of the American Revolution. I took one of the great changes—the diminishing of the Ottomans and turned the story on its head to provide a very different world for my mystery story.
Are there certain locales that make you want to set your novels there?
I love the west coast of Canada. My current work in progress is set in BC, as is Through Dark Water, the first in my Phoebe Clay Mysteries. I love the diversity of the landscape and the moodiness of the weather. I’m also drawn to how a landscape can both draw you in and pose a danger.
Do your characters come first, or do the stories (i.e., were the characters looking for a story or vice versa?)
The answer varies depending on the book. This current work in progress was ignited more by an idea. The same happened with my American Geological Survey Urban Fantasy series, where I ran with the concept of secret agents able to rewrite the landscape with their maps.
On the other hand, the Phoebe Clay mysteries and the Detektiv Kazakov mysteries were more driven by the creation of the characters and throwing them into a situation. I find that often my romantic suspense novels are also driven by creating a character and then placing them in a situation to create a plot.
Tell us a little about what you are currently working on.
Currently I’m working on a mystery novel that is all about memory and draws on my current situation dealing with a mother with dementia. The novel involves a female detective dealing with a mother with dementia while investigating a murder where a key witness who was injured during the event wakes from a coma and admits to abducting two children—when the facts suggest that he couldn’t possibly have done it.
Memory is one of the most important aspects of investigations, both from the perspective of the investigator who has to remember things to put a case together and from the witnesses who provide the evidence on which to base a case. But memory is a slippery thing… That’s what the story is about.
Imagine you’ve been kidnapped or trapped by a natural disaster. Which of your own characters (from any work) would you want to rescue you? Why?
Alexander Kazakov. He might not be particularly upbeat, but he’s survived a lot and he knows how to get by on very little. He’s also pretty good in a fight.
Describe your current writing workspace(s).
I have a lovely, usually too-cluttered office with a large window overlooking forest and wetland. I can see all kinds of birds, deer and bear. Even cougars come by occasionally. I often take my computer out onto my patio and write overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I am very blessed.
Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?
At present, other than Sisters in Crime, I’m no longer a part of a writer’s community. At present I have a couple of trusted readers who I met through these communities and are dear, dear friends.
Which one of your characters is the most like you? The least?
I think Phoebe Clay might be most like me: single, resilient and determined, but ultimately alone in the world. Actually, when I think about it, pretty much all of my characters are loners. As for least like me, I wrote a thriller involving an Afghani woman. I would say she is least like me.
Have you written any series characters? What’s their appeal for you?
I’ve mentioned a couple of series. I like them for the ability to have characters grow and change over multiple books and also for the chance to revisit characters that I really like and to see how their lives develop and change. Writing a series allows you to have your novel plots, but also have your series plots that carry over across two or three or more books.
Have you had to deal with bad reviews? How do you manage them?
Of course. I try very hard to just breathe, and ignore them. Clearly the review writer wasn’t the right reader for my work.
Are there certain themes that keep coming up in your work? If so, is it intentional, or something that just happens?
I tend to write about the other, the stranger, the sojourner who never quite belongs. I’ve also been described as a cross-cultural writer, though that could be a problem in these days of political correctness and concerns about cultural appropriation. Many of my books include themes of animal/environmental degradation because it makes me so angry and I feel so helpless to impact the problem.
Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?
I’ve been and done both. When I started out, I prepared a worksheet for each scene/chapter in a novel I was working on and then followed it until the novel took off on its own. Now I seem to be more of a pantser and I have faith that the ‘boys in the basement’ will somehow pull it all together for me. (Thankfully, in most instances they do.) I’ve had a few books—and this one I’m currently writing may be one of them—that have demanded a number of exploratory drafts. They are the most painful to write, but often they feel like they have the most soul when I finally have something I’m happy with.
Do you think the place where you live (or somewhere you have lived) influences what you write? In what way?
I think everywhere I’ve been impacts my writing. I often set novels and stories in other countries and cultures. I do that because it gives an opportunity to compare/contrast cultures. For instance, my novel involving the Afghani heroine was written after 9/11 specifically because there is so much more to Islam than the horrible things that were being spouted in the press at that time.
Do you prefer music, silence, or some other noise in the background when you write? If music, what kind?
I like silence or soft spa music or movie scores. (Big fan of The Mission, The Last Samurai, Gladiator, etc.)
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?
In addition to writing, I’m quite involved in photography. I belong to a local camera club and compete nationally with my images. Another photographer and I recently won a silver medal for a series of four images we entered into a competition through the Canadian Association of the Photographic Arts. I still have lots to learn, but I like the challenge.
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.
Please look at my website to see the broad swath of novels I have out. A few things I’ll promote are my Unlocking romantic suspense series (Unlocking her Heart is first in the series) involving a magic bracelet and set in BC’s very own Okanagan Valley; the Detektiv Kazakov mysteries (After Yekaterina is first in the series); and my thriller urban fantasy series, the American Geological Series featuring secret agents who are defending America from terrorists who threaten to transform the world with their maps (Afterburn is first in the series). I also have a story, ‘News on the Buckhorn,’ coming out in Crime Wave, the Sisters in Crime – Canada West anthology this year.