We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen Odden and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
I think many people imagine an author to be spending hours alone, maybe in a coffeeshop, bent over a computer, engrossed in the creative process. That is true, but only in part. Yes, I probably write 3-4 hours per day, with only my beagle Rosy for company. But what people don’t know is that we writers have an enormous community of practice! I didn’t realize this myself until I attended the Bouchercon mystery conference in October 2019. Hundreds of editors, agents, writers, and fans attended, and I began to recognize how large my community is. Then, not long after my third book, A TRACE OF DECEIT, was published, Covid hit. All of my book events were canceled, yet I still needed to find my readers. It’s been a challenging time, but the more I reached out, the more people I found reaching back. I rebooted my newsletter, started offering free online writing workshops and zoom book clubs, and reached out to bookbloggers, librarians, and bookstores; I applied for (and won) a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. And I came to realize that my community of practice includes readers, writers (both emerging and published), book bloggers, book clubs, artists, book sellers, educators, agents (other than my own), editors, and community leaders. It’s a heart-warming and enriching experience to find my place in this community and to discover ways to support and engage with it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
First off, it’s a commonplace that writing a book is not easy; finding the right agent isn’t easy; finding the right publisher isn’t easy; and, once you’ve published, balancing writing and marketing is a whole other level of challenge. It took me years to find an agent; I was orphaned at Harper Collins after my second book; and I published my third just as Covid was beginning. Many of us writers found that difficult! But when I began my journey years ago, I was in love with writing, and that never left me. I wanted to create stories that appealed to both minds and hearts. My books are all set in 1870s London because I wrote my PhD dissertation on Victorian history and literature, and I’m familiar with that world, with all its socio-economic and legal complexity, its divisions among classes and genders, and the smelly Thames running through it. My books are heavily researched, although (as some critics note) they wear their erudition lightly because I don’t ever want to write a book that is crammed with historical details to the detriment of the story. Yet I want to write a book that holds true to the social mores and real situations of people in Victorian London. In each of my first three books, a young woman (a different protagonist each time) is unwillingly drawn into a mystery because someone she loves is injured or murdered. Society places limits on what my heroine can do, but in each case, she finds some latitude for agency; she depends upon her skills and insight and must excavate some aspect of her past in order to solve the problem in front of her. For my fourth book, I switched gears and created a former thief and bare-knuckles boxer from seedy Whitechapel, Inspector Michael Corravan, as my main character. It is different writing in a male voice, but it was necessary for this story about Scotland Yard, a serial murderer, injustice, revenge, and empathy. I never want to write a book that “preaches,” but I hope this novel suggests how vitally important it is that we try to listen with empathy and to validate other people’s stories.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’d take my friend hiking first, probably to Gateway because Inspiration Point is one of my favorite lookouts. There is a stone bench there, where we could rest in the shade and have a snack while gazing at the gray shining rocks and the green desert plants and Tom’s Thumb in the distance. Another day I might take her to Sunrise Trail for a late-afternoon hike because the light is breathtakingly golden. I’d treat her to a day at the Montelucia Spa, at the Omni, because I love the Moroccan feel of it. I’d take her to the Desert Botanical Garden for a day, especially now that the new Chihuly exhibit is coming and Gertrude’s restaurant is serving in person again. (I love their salads!) We’d spend at least one day wandering around Old Town Scottsdale, visiting the Poisoned Pen and the art galleries, including my personal favorite, Anticus, because it is a fabulous, open space, with gorgeous paintings and sculpture, a huge range of books, and cases of jewelry displayed tastefully together. We’d probably eat lunch at Arcadia Farms or maybe the Mission, if we’re in the mood for table-side guacomole. For a special evening, we might go to FnB for dinner, and I’d take her to one of the Arizona Speaker Series events, now that they’re back in person. I’ve been a subscriber to AZSS for three years, which has included amazing speakers–everyone from Joe Biden and Barack Obama to Annie Griffiths and Jay Leno. It’s one of the best entertainment deals in town.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Ever since the launch of my second book, A DANGEROUS DUET, the Poisoned Pen, an independent bookshop in Old Town Scottsdale, has provided tremendous support. The owner Barbara Peters has been a hub of the mystery community for decades, and she generously takes many emerging authors under her wing. The Poisoned Pen has not only hosted my launches for my third book, A TRACE OF DECEIT, and most recently for DOWN A DARK RIVER, but over the past few years, Barbara has also introduced me to other mystery writers and provided opportunities for me to host and co-host events with authors including Susan Elia MacNeal, Charles Finch, Laura Joh Rowland, and Rosemary Simpson. Barbara also writes enthusiastic reviews in her newsletter, which is so encouraging. She called DOWN A DARK RIVER, “A terrific Victorian mystery, absolute catnip for those missing the William Monk mysteries of Anne Perry.” Her staff including Patrick Millikin have assisted with book signings and promotions. In return, I feature the Pen’s logo and webstore links on my own website and in my newsletters; but it’s only a small return for what they have done for me.
Headshot: Tina Celle