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Karen Rose ... Knows the Formula for Romantic Suspense

e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (March, 2006)

Since her debut in 2003, Karen Rose's novels (Don't Tell, Have You Seen Her?, I'm Watching You, Nothing to Fear, and her story in the recent anthology Hot Pursuit) have consistently soared to the top of the bestseller lists. Her name has become synonymous with intricate, tightly plotted, nail-biting suspense. And the romance she incorporates so effortlessly into the mix is pretty darn satisfying too. In 2005 two of her novels (I'm Watching You and Have You Seen Her?) were up against each other for the Rita Award - I'm Watching You came in as the big winner in the Romantic Suspense category.

Karen graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and spent many years working for a large consumer goods company. She says that during those years of working and raising her family 'scenes were rolling in my head and I couldn't concentrate on my job so I started writing them down. I started out writing for fun, and then I was hooked. One little life thing led to another'. Her April release, You Can't Hide, is another multi-layered and chilling story that finds psychiatrist Tess Ciccotelli, and her patients, being terrorized by an unseen enemy who's determined to ruin Tess, her career and those close to her.

Karen: Hello! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk with your readers.

Q: How do you go about creating your stories? Do you start with character or plot?

A: Both, depending on the story. Don't Tell started with a concept – what would happen if a woman escaped an abusive spouse and started a new life, only to have him years later find out she's alive and intelligently go about finding her? Have You Seen Her? started with the character of Steven Thatcher – what was the worst thing that could happen to him? (And then I made it worse than that.) I'm Watching You was a concept – what would happen if someone just got tired of watching criminals go free? And Nothing to Fear started with the character of Dana Dupinski, again asking the question – what's the worst thing that could happen to her? (And once again making it worse than that.)

My new book, You Can't Hide, started with a concept – what would happen if a psychiatrist's patients started to mysteriously commit suicide? So it's a mix, really. But once I get started, the characters and plot become intertwined.

Q: How do you go about fine-tuning not only the plot, its complications and myriad twists, but also your large cast of characters?

A: I'm a former engineer and was once lovingly (sometimes) called by my staff "The Flowchart Queen." I think in flowcharts: this, then this and what happens if that? My husband teases that I would have flowcharted our honeymoon if he'd given me paper and pen, but this is not true . That order in my brain helps me keep everything straight and moving – and when I get stuck, I make a spreadsheet. You can take a girl from engineering ...

Q: Why are you so tough on your characters, particularly your female leads?

A: I guess I am pretty tough on them ... Poor girls. I really do love them after all. Well, I think that women have a great capacity for strength. I love a story where a woman steps to the forefront and leads to victory, not because she's the woman in the story, but because she's a strong character and would step to the forefront regardless of her gender.

Q: Balancing plot and action is already a tricky business - how do you incorporate a satisfying romance as well?

A: Ahhh. I love romance. I started reading romance shortly after I returned to work after my first maternity leave, which as fate had it, coincided with my husband's bout with cancer and his chemotherapy. I needed the happy ending. Really needed it then. Then as time passed, I just wanted it. Giving my characters love is really important to me. I'm not sure how to answer your question except to say the romance is a priority – it never leaves my mind as I'm writing.

Q: Which of your novel(s) has been the most challenging?

A: No question – it was Nothing to Fear. The villain was this chilling, soulless woman who kidnaps a child. All my mothering instincts were up in arms over this kid – can't let her hurt him, what is she thinking??? Normally I can find some tie to the villain – his passion, his logic, but with Sue Conway, there was nothing. Finally I had to write her that way. I think it worked, but it was a draining experience.

Q: Most of your stories involve the Reagan family. What attracted you to them? Did you model the Reagan men after anyone you know? Why do you think readers identify with them? Will they return in future books?

A: I do love those Reagans! I think they're the people I wish lived next door to me. They attract me because they're boisterous and loving and very real. Becca feeds people and watches QVC. Kyle is a crusty old cop who watches ESPN from his barcolounger, but loves his family so deeply. Rachel is a normal teenager who hates algebra.

As for modeling the Reagan men ... There is an element of my own husband in all my heroes – because he's my hero in real life. (I know, it's sappy, but it's so true.) The decency, compassion and respect my heroes show their women are modeled daily by my very own husband of twenty years this June.

As for the Reagan's returning – yes! Aidan Reagan is the hero in You Can't Hide – my April release. And they pop up from time to time in my current work in progress – Count to Ten.

Q: You spend a lot of time fleshing out your villains and their particular motivations? How important is that for the story?

A: Critical – Critical – Critical! (Did I remember to say critical ?) The suspense IS the villain. If he weren't bad and actively creating mayhem for someone, there would be no need for the story. Everything hangs on his motivation – why is he doing this? What will he gain? What is he willing to sacrifice to get there?

Now, the hero and the heroine are also critical because it is their skill and character that will give them the perseverance to stop him. What do they know? What do they have the capacity to learn? And what are they willing to sacrifice to stop him? But at the end of the day, were it not for the villain, there'd be no suspense.

Q: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? The least?

A: I love the plotting at the beginning, I love getting to know my characters. I love the middle and the exciting end (and the love scenes). The part I enjoy the least is the editing. I write long, then have to cut. All the great side conversations have to go. It's like cutting your hair, shorter and shorter, until it's a buzz cut. It'll grow back for the next book, but it's a painful experience.

Q: You’ve tapped into your chemical engineering background in your recent novella, Dirty Secrets. Will chemistry professor, Chris Walker (or a similar character) show up in a full-length novel?

A: Hard to say about Christopher specifically. Christopher Walker was actually based on one of my old high school friends – a guy who wrote a message and slipped it in my yearbook. I never saw the love letter until two years ago. As for similar science-type characters, yes, I'll bring science back into their professional backgrounds. It never slips too far to the back of my mind. Like I said, you can take a girl from the engineering ...

Q: Do you ever see yourself writing in another genre, like science fiction or fantasy?

A: I **love** sci-fi. I'm a Stargate SG-1 **addict**. Gotta love that Daniel - he's a geek's dreamboat J. And wouldn't it be great to have Jack's one-liners in real life? I love Star Trek – Captain Picard will always be on my list of favorite actors and Mr. Spock? What's not to love there? I don't know if I'd write sci-fi in the future but I certainly wouldn't rule it out!

Q: There's a page on your website called Life Links. Can you tell us a bit more about that and why you feel so strongly about social issues like abuse, grief and rape?

A: Social issues really come down to people. Every person has a story. Some people get dealt harder decks than others. I've been fortunate beyond words that the man I fell in love with is a good, decent, compassionate soul. If I hadn't had him, I'm not sure I could have made it through some of the hard times we've had together – he had cancer, we lost two pregnancies, etc, etc. I'm lucky. So I guess I want to give something back.

I feel my stories need to entertain. But if they can bring awareness to social issues, if I can provide encouragement to someone who is sad or afraid, then that's satisfying. And that's important to me.

Q: Are there other issues not included at Life Links that you’d like to put into the spotlight or that you might include in a future book?

A: As long as there are people, there will be new issues. I don't normally plan the issues I touch on in advance – usually they just happen as the character becomes real in my mind. So I'll answer yes, there will continue to be issues, but I'm not sure what they are right now.

Once again, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with your readers! Best wishes to all and have a wonderful spring!
Find out more about Karen Rose and her works at
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