I came from Finland as a child with my parents and older sister. I feel really lucky that I was old enough to have learned to read and write Finnish before entering the Canadian school system in grade 3.
My sister and I have always been making up stories together. We started with fairies, trolls, princes and princesses and even had our own publishing company with a logo and several “hard-cover” books: scribblers with cardboard glued on the covers. They had lovely cover pictures! We even produced a five-scribbler serial about a little boy and his sister. Also I did a coloring book, which I then colored in myself. Together we wrote a couple of anthologies with stories and poems, plus several editions that were published in soft cover because we got lazy and didn’t feel like gluing on the cardboard. Luckily there was no market for our output, because now I can pull them out of a filing cabinet drawer and marvel at our great imagination. The earliest stories, by the way, were written in Finnish. After about a year and a bit in Canada we began to write in English.
As we entered our teens, we moved on to write about the usual boy-girl angst.
We still write together, only now we tackle romance novels. The way it generally goes is this: we think of a plot; we discuss it, and I start to write. When I get stuck we have a brainstorming session and always manage to get the story back on track. After the “first vomit” she edits it and points out where I’ve messed up. We brainstorm some more. I revise. She edits. I revise. She edits. And then I swear I’ll throw the whole thing in the garbage. We talk. I calm down. At last, when the story is finished, she does the final edits before it’s submitted.
I’ve really grown as a writer under this system, because my sister is really nasty! Just kidding! She’s just very critical and doesn’t let me get away with anything. “Are you sure a man like that would, say such a thing? I don’t think so!”
Are you one of those writers born with a pen in your hand and ideas flitting through your mind, or did your interest develop later?
I actually started with a pencil in hand, drawing. But even then my drawings were the prototypes for modern graphic novels. I didn’t draw pictures of “things”, but rather comics, or stories. Actually they were just the beginnings of stories, because I never finished. Not one of them. After a half dozen pictures I’d pen a quick note to explain how the story would have continued, had I completed it, and then… The end.
When did you become serious about seeing your name in print and begin writing your first romance novel?
I began to write seriously about 35 years ago. I submitted the manuscript to Harlequin. It was rejected. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing…for about 20 years!
How long did it take you to complete your first manuscript? Did it fly from your fingertips, or did the story emerge slowly?
After this silence of about 20 years, my sister and I started to chat about this first manuscript and decided to make some changes. So I rewrote it. And then we decided to make more changes. And so I rewrote it again. And then we thought it needed more changes, and so I rewrote it all over again. And then I submitted it and it was published by a small publisher. The cover was lousy and it didn’t sell more than a handful of books. I took my rights back and gave it a new name. It’s still not published, but there are a few “nibbles”.
Tell us about your writing process. Soft lights and music? White noise? Child-and-pet confusion? Locked in a room alone? What sets your writing mood and pushes you forward?
Forget soft music! Forget about being in a room alone. I write whenever I get a few minutes. I’m like Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh: I never wait for things to come to me, I go and fetch them. Thus I never wait for my Muse, but just sit down and start to write. My Muse knows enough to appear, even if it’s just for ten minutes between putting the potatoes to boil and setting the dinner table. And if my husband is watching Jeopardy right near me, it makes no difference. I can just tune it out. I guess I’m lucky that way.
What are some life experiences that have infiltrated your stories?
Goodness, when I think of all I went through in life before I arrived in this calm harbor of my second marriage…! I have used some of my sadder life experiences in one novel which is now an e-book with another publisher. Also I am writing a middle grade novel based on some of the ups and downs I went through, getting used to life in Canada as a nine-year-old. And I am using my life in Northern Ontario to help me with my Work in Progress, where the hero is the chief on a First Nations reserve. His name is Hazard! I got the name from a naval hero Hazard Perry, who won one naval battle in the War of 1812. His statue is in Erie, Pennsylvania. Perry’s, not the chief’s.
Literary Inspiration: throughout your life, what novels have lifted you, made you think, “Someday I want to create something like that . . .”
I read a lot as a kid: fairy tales, Winnie the Pooh, and all those books written for good little children: Little Women, Secret Garden, Heidi, etc. Later in my teens I read a lot of historical fiction: Desiree, War and Peace, and even Forever Amber. When I wrote a book report on this particular novel, I shocked my grade 10 English teacher. She told me, “Young ladies don’t read books like this.” I didn’t know why not, since what I’d found most interesting was the part that told about the Bubonic Plague. I don’t know what she could have been referring to…! ;0)
Today one of my favorite romance authors is Suzanne Brockman because she uses great deep POV. I read her work and try to learn.
Let’s talk about romance. How do you set the mood for your characters, what do you draw from that helps your H/H achieve oneness with each other? And how much conflict do you give them, along the way?
I write relationship stories. I never (so far at least) have villains, spies or bad guys in my novels, nor do I have convoluted plots. Of course there has to be conflict between the hero and heroine, but I don’t think too much about actually setting anything up between them. I just think about the story and how I want it to progress, how much the hero and heroine are ready to give to each other, and at what point in the story this happens. I find it naturally comes into the plot without me having to go to any great lengths to try to create it, probably because of my firm grounding in fairy tales, where the plot is always very straightforward, and conflict is a natural element in every story.
What shining moment in your journey stands out the most as a real turning point for you as a writer?
I hadn’t really been writing much for years—after that Harlequin rejection. One day a friend invited me to join a critique group where the leader’s mantra was, “Submit, submit, submit!” At first I wrote poems and even gave a well-attended recital in our town. Then I began to write children’s stories. By the time the group disbanded because the leader moved away, the writing bug was firmly imbedded under my skin. (Ugh! Makes me think of a tick.) I had started to write for real and have never stopped.
Five vital things surround you as you create. What are they? What makes them special to you?
I don’t surround myself with anything special. I sit down at my computer whenever I have time and start to write. 15 min., 5 min.—I just write. Of course I prefer longer blocks of time, but if I don’t have them, then I do short spurts.
But an after-dinner glass of red wine on my desk is always nice…
Writers face many time-constraint challenges. What are some of yours? What do you do to overcome them?
I’m retired, so I haven’t any constraints on my time other than self-imposed ones. Of course I have responsibilities as a grandmother, and I volunteer as a Vision Mate for CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) and I love to paint with water colors, and take weekly lessons, and I do some judging for my local romance chapter, and attend meetings for children’s writers, and…
But, as I said, those are all self-imposed “constraints”, except for the grandmother part, and the weekly Finnish lessons I give my granddaughter—I wouldn’t stop those! But I could stop doing any and all of the other things and just concentrate on my writing.
What is the most thrilling aspect of the writing process for you?
Getting an acceptance email!!! That is second only to having finally completed a manuscript. Which is almost as good as having finished the submission process, which can be SOOOO arduous! Although in this age of electronic submissions it’s definitely easier than the paper submissions of ye bygone days.
Although, did you know that children’s’ publishers still seem to prefer paper submissions!? Go figger!
What aspects of the writing process do you find most difficult?
I always start each book really well, and then…I don’t know what happens. Maybe the plot gets too complicated for me? Like what, exactly, was the name of her best friend—after I’ve changed it four times? Or I lose track of when he said “I love you” to her for the first time. Or when did they kiss for the third time? And how did that compare on the passion-scale to the second kiss? Or how old is the son now, if he was five when she divorced. And how many years ago did that happen? How many weeks have gone by, and could all that have happened in such a short time?
Keeping track of stuff like that is difficult for me. I tear my hair out and then ask my sister to check it out and make a time-line.
How do you begin a story? Do you just sit down with an idea in mind and start writing, or are you a person who wouldn’t dream of starting without a detailed outline, character sketches, and pages of research data?
When we decide on an idea, I start to run with it. It always seems to evolve into a logical story eventually. I do admit that if I first laid out a plan, it would eliminate a lot of the in-between brainstorming sessions we have to do, but actually those are very nice times and we both enjoy them. A weekend in a hotel room together… wine, a few walks…why not?
Tell us a little about what you’re currently working on.
I’m working on a romance story about a chief on a northern Ontario First Nations reserve and a rich woman from the big city who comes there to teach in the two-room school. She has a six-year-old son from a relationship. She thinks she’s not prejudiced, but some of her remarks about the reserve raise his hackles. She has a lot to learn. But so does he, because he needs to think of how he can help his reserve become self-sustaining, instead of just going fishing and hunting.
And there’s a young girl who has been raped by the teacher in the other classroom and is now pregnant… Okay, so there is a bad guy.
How about some faves of yours?
Of course, like all real writers, I love chocolate and red wine. But I also like a bit of brandy now and then. And being a Finn, I love coffee. My grandmother gave me coffee with lots of cream and sugar when I was just three or four. Lemon meringue pie with a very tender, flaky crust is on the top of my list of favorite foods. I know that even with the lemons, it’s not really a health food, so I never have it in the house, except on my birthday.
I have four grandchildren: three fun-loving grown-up boys, and one beautiful pre-teen granddaughter, whom I’m teaching to speak Finnish. She already understands a lot but speaking it is another kettle of fish. I find that really bizarre…
I like ethnic music and male choirs, and not just because my dad belonged to a male choir. On car trips my family sang together in harmony. I miss that a lot. Now it’s just my sister and I left singing duets. I’m willing to bet not many people sing in harmony with their sisters. Am I right? Or am I right?
Here is a cure a common cold that works for me every time: Echinacea, vitamin C, oil of oregano and a shot of brandy. Works like magic if I take it at the first sign of a cold. It’s strictly my own idea and not recommended by my doctor. My sister says the only reason it works is because I believe it does. But I don’t care why it works as long as it works!
And I love silence. Here’s a poem I wrote. It’s called, “Complete Silence”
One day I was surrounded by silence.
Furnace fan didn’t blow,
the fridge didn’t hum,
no car went by
on the snow-covered country road.
For a second I thought:
have I gone deaf?
And if I have,
is that so bad?
All this glorious silence!
Karen’s debut with Soul Mate is short story Hot Romp at the Beach, included in HOT ENCOUNTERS Anthology:
BUY LINK: AMAZON:
Karen, thanks so much for visiting with us today!