Interview with Award-Winning Author Karen E. Olson

OlsonGet to know Karen…

Karen E. Olson is the author of the Annie Seymour and Tattoo Shop mystery series. She won the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for her first novel SACRED COWS, and her book SHOT GIRL was nominated for a Shamus Award. She lives in the suburbs of New Haven, Connecticut with her husband, teenage daughter, and two fat cats. To learn more about Karen, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

What’s one rule you’re dying to break?

I already broke it. They always say “Write what you know.” My tattoo shop series is all about writing what I don’t know. I have no tattoos, I’ve only been to Las Vegas three times for a total of 10 days over a period of 12 years.

Was it easier to write before or after you were published?

I thrive on deadlines, so even before I was published, I would give myself deadlines so I wouldn’t slack off. I think that helped tremendously when I finally did have real deadlines imposed by my editors and I had to produce something in a set time period. Being a journalist was a huge advantage to writing both before and after I became published, too, because I couldn’t sit down in front of my computer and just stare at it and not produce anything. I don’t need a muse to inspire me. I just write. Whether I know a book is going to be published or not.

Are your characters completely fictional?

Completely fictional. Next question?

Where do you get your ideas?

Most of my plots were ripped from the headlines, so to speak, and then I twisted them around so I couldn’t get sued by anyone.

What advice would you give young writers?

Keep writing. Perseverance pays off.  It took me 15 years to get published, but I finally did.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write every day and write four pages a day, because I’d have a book in three months. My friend Tom Fleming, who is a historian and novelist, gave me that advice, and he was spot on.  

OlsonKOutliner or seat-of-the-pants writer?

Definitely a seat of the pants writer. I find writing outlines and proposals are akin to sticking needles in my eyes. I usually start out knowing the crime, although I don’t always know whodunnit. Sometimes whodunnit changes halfway through the book. 

When are you the most productive?

I don’t have a particular time of day when I’m most productive. I have to snag periods of time to write in between my part time day job and my daughter’s activities. Although I do find that I get the most done between 4 and 6 in the afternoon. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I used to say before I died, I wanted to have a book published and see both Elton John and Bruce Springsteen in concert. Well, INK FLAMINGOS, coming out June 7, is my eighth book to be published. I saw Elton John in 1988. I have never seen Springsteen in concert. I guess I need to do that before he stops touring. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The Missing Ink was the easiest to write. It was the first in the tattoo shop series, and while I went into it knowing next to nothing about tattoos or Las Vegas, I finished the manuscript in two months. Maybe it was the not knowing that gave me the most confidence, and also getting to know a whole new cast of characters. I loved discovering that world.

The hardest book to write was SHOT GIRL, the fourth in the Annie Seymour series. After three books, I turned Annie into an unreliable narrator, which was incredibly challenging. But it paid off, since SHOT GIRL was nominated for a Shamus Award in 2009.

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress?

I don’t let anyone read what I’m writing until I’m done. Then I have a couple of people who are my usual first readers who help me see what I’ve done wrong.

Do you write with music?

I know a lot of writers who actually release their playlists after they publish a book. I don’t listen to music while I write because I don’t hear it. Working in a newsroom, where everything’s out in the open and there are people talking, phones ringing, constant interruptions, I’ve learned how to tune it all out and go into my own little zone. 

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