Chris Karlsen is a Chicago native. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was in her late teens where she later studied at UCLA. She graduated with a Business Degree. Her father was a history professor and her mother a voracious reader. She grew up with a love of history and books.
Her parents were also passionate about traveling and passed their passion onto Chris. Once bitten with the travel bug, Chris spent most of her adult life visiting the places she’d read about and that fascinated her. Her travels have taken her Europe, the Near East, and North Africa, in addition to most of the United States. She most frequently visited England and France, where several of her books are set.
After college, Chris spent the next twenty-five years in law enforcement with two agencies. Harboring a strong desire to write since her teens, upon retiring from police work, Chris decided to pursue her writing career. She writes three different series. Her historical romance series is called, Knights in Time and is set in England but with a medieval time travel element. Her Bloodstone series, which is set in Victorian London, features the life and work of Detective Inspector Rudyard Bloodstone. Her romantic thriller series is Dangerous Waters and is set in Turkey.
Her latest book, In Time For You, is book four in the Knights in Time series.
She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four wild and crazy rescue dogs.
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background?
After I retired from law enforcement, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My husband reminded me that I always talked of writing a book and suggested I sit down and write the book. I had this story in my head so I did just that. While I began, I also started buying writer’s magazines as I had no idea about where to go for workshops on the craft. I saw a conference advertised and went. I heard about different instructors and from there began to take courses on learning the craft. I went to several week long seminars with Donald Maass who is a fabulous teacher and took many one day workshops from other well-known instructors. I read books on the subject and the entire time I worked on my story and the sequel.
After we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I saw a flyer in the local Barnes and Noble for a critique group and joined them. Having other writers to talk to and show your work has been great. I am a big believer in having another set of eyes see your work. If you’re Stephen King or Mike Connelly, you don’t need the help, but for most of us, I think other eyes is a huge help, if those in your group are constructive in their criticism.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I do an outline but I’m not married to it. I keep it handy just to give me ideas when I get stuck. I find I let my imagination go, relax, as I write. I have preconceived ideas of where the characters are going and I kind of stick to that but by relax I mean, I let my imagination switch up how they get where I want them to be. I surprise myself at times. The characters surprise me. For instance, when I started In Time For You I hadn’t planned on spending so much page time on Emily and Simon but as the story went on their relationship grew in page time and the details of each scene changed. The same with Electra after she changed locations and I found as I moved her a number of different scenarios to complicate her world that I hadn’t considered when I began the outline.
That strength comes in many forms, especially for women. I have a writer friend who has kick-ass heroines. Her women work with black ops groups etc. The heroines in my stories rely strongly on their intellect and are very resourceful. They understand the need to adjust in places and how much. They never give up and handle every difficult obstacle presented them. There’s tremendous fortitude on their part. The recognize they have certain skillsets and utilize them.
What types of scenes give you the most trouble to write?
Love scene/sex scenes. I really struggle with them. I have a couple favorite authors that write beautiful ones and I admire their ability, Julie Anne Long is great at it. It takes me forever to get through one. I don’t like to use terrible graphic language but want to describe the scene through the senses. So, I have to go through each motion with that in mind and what is happening in the environment around the characters in addition to the actual action between the lovers. I just want to beat my head on my desk when I reach the point in the story when I have to have them “get together.” I have a writer friend who whizzes through them. She laughs at me. All of my historical romances have a battle scene. Now, those I can write no problem. I laugh at her when she has to do a sword fight or battle. Hah!
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I edit like crazy as I go along. I am a slow writer to begin with and because I am an anal editor I am even made slower. I do several drafts as well.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I wouldn’t say my ego is fragile. If it were, I’d have stopped writing ages ago. That said, I’d be lying if I said bad reviews didn’t hurt. They do. There’s been a couple of comments on the occasional site that hurt as well and it does stick with you for part of the day. I try to let it go. The fact of matter is not everyone is going to like my book and I can’t let that ruin my day. It’s not always easy though.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Yes. I think you have to be. If you can’t commit to spending a certain amount of time in a chair in front of the computer writing when all around you folks are having fun or there are a million distractions, then writing is not for you. It requires a major amount of your time, not just butt in chair time, but a willingness to do the research needed for your book. I do a tremendous amount of research for my stories and one of the things that I sometimes hear from (usually from new writers) is a resistance to do research and a hope that whatever they put down on the page is right and a hope it will “fly” with the reader. I just cringe hearing that. Readers are not going to let them get away with not doing the work. You must be willing to put the time in on all levels. Commit to reading other books, especially books in the genre you want to write in. This is a tremendous help. It gives an author an idea of what the reader expects from the genre. When I read a scene that I find wonderful in my genre, I will read and reread it and try to analyze what I love about it and try to apply those factors in my own writing.
Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
No, I don’t have an agent. For me, I don’t think I need an agent. I haven’t had the most positive experiences with agents either. Early on, a NY agent signed me. She wasn’t interested in my historical/paranormal romance, which I’d finished and had started a sequel. She only wanted me to write a cop story because of my law enforcement background. I never wanted to write cop stories. I enjoy reading them, love Connelly, Wambaugh et.al, but not writing them. I wrote one though. I just finished it and she left the agency. The agency owner dumped all her unpubbed authors and I spent a year trying to get a story I never wanted to write published. I had kept writing my romance sequel and finally put away the cop story and never looked at it since.
I still tried for a long time, pitching agents at conferences. Many said they were interested in my stories and asked for partials and then half never responded. The last time I pitched agents (over 6 years ago) two listened and then asked for different stories entirely. One listened and then asked if I could write a mermaid story and another asked for a pandemic. There’s nothing wrong with mermaid stories or global disease stories but I don’t want to write them. It was at that point that I decided to stop pitching agents.
At that time, I also got approached by a friend who had started a small indie publishing company and she asked if I’d be willing to give her company the opportunity to publish my books. I said yes and haven’t looked back.
I have a writer friend who has a very well-known NY agent and she’s happy with her. Personally, I don’t want the hassle of having someone looking over my shoulder pressuring me to write proposals and to commit to deadlines. I had a pressure filled job in law enforcement. I don’t need that anymore. I’m happy without an agent. I am not suggesting that is the answer for anyone else, I am speaking only for myself. For all I know, I may have lost out on some major deal because I don’t have an agent. That’s the chance I’m taking.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
This is an interesting issue. I always recommend to new writers to get into a critique group. I belong to one and have for years. They are a God send for my work. We are a good fit and that is the key and not especially easy to find. The hugely successful authors don’t need critique groups but most of us lesser folks need to have other eyes see our work so we know what is coming across the way we want and what isn’t.
That said, it’s difficult to hear your work isn’t perfect so listen with an open mind but if you’re in a group that has a person or persons whose comments are not constructive but just mean spirited and hurtful then that’s not the group for you and there are people like that you will find. The group I am in had someone who never brought pages of her own and just denigrated everyone else’s pages. They finally asked her to leave. The other ladies were strong enough to stand their ground and not let the one “crush” them. It can happen.
Not every area of the country has writers groups available and I know some magazines offer online critique groups. I have mixed feelings on joining them. I can see where they can be a great resource but I’m a bit gun shy myself about sending my work to strangers I can’t see face to face. Tough call whether to trust or not, I’m not sure how you can truly “protect” you work.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
I do hit days when it seems hard to get ten lines on the page let alone ten pages done. I refuse to let myself get too deep into thinking it’s writer’s block. I do, of course, let that dance across my head but if I let it linger too long then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for me. The longer I think it, the worse it is for me. I just force myself to type stuff. I might not keep it but I just start adding to the scene I wrote last. I can fix a bad scene. I can’t fix a blank page. Nora Roberts said something similar and I thinks she’s right.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
There are many ways to publish. A big NY house may or may not be the best one for everyone. I tried that path. I finally got tired of beating my head against the NY wall and went with a small indie publisher. I’m very happy with the publisher I have. I have a lot of input on my covers, my release date. My editor lets me write stories I want to write and never pressures me on deadlines.
I have a writer friend who has a major NY house behind her and she’s happy with them. She doesn’t mind the pressure of deadlines and putting out proposals and a certain number of stories. Having a big house behind her, she also has a fair amount of promotion done for her, while I do all of my own. That is one of the trade-offs. Another thing is the prestige attached to having a NY house behind you and a NY and/or well-known agent. If that is important to you, then that is the path you should follow.
Another friend is self-published and loves it. She’s very cyber savvy and is a techie whiz who has no problem uploading on all the different platforms. I am a dunderhead when it comes to techie stuff and could never do that. For her, self-publishing is perfect.
My main advice to novice authors is do not pay anyone publish your book/story. Look into one of the other ways to publish I mentioned but if a company wants money to publish, avoid them.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
I also have a quarterly newsletter that I share with 4 other authors. You can see it announced on my FB page.: https://www.facebook.com/chriskarlsenwriter
My Pinterest Page has book boards with my dream cast for each book which is fun to do: https://www.pinterest.com/chriskarlsen/
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I will be starting a sequel to Silk and hope to have it out by late spring. Silk is part of my Bloodstone series. It is my Victorian detective Rudyard Bloodstone. I don’t want to write a contemporary cop book but loved writing Rudyard and loved writing him into the setting of Victorian London. After that, I may do a fifth book in the Knights in Time series. I’ll see how I feel.