Heart to Heart Interview with Karen Robards
Heart to Heart:
We love Vanished
. It has such an adrenaline, ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it. How do you sustain this tension as you work on a book like this? Do you have the plot figured out from the beginning, or do things evolve as you go along?
Thanks so much for the kind words about Vanished
. I really enjoyed writing it, and it's always great to know that other people like what you do. As for sustaining the tension, I think it's all character-driven. As a writer, I create a character, in this case Sarah, and then try to get inside her skin. I feel her emotions -- loss, terror, love, resolve -- and do my best to convey them to the reader. When I start, I have a basic idea of where the plot is headed, but twists and turns crop up along the way that surprise even me. The book is a work in progress -- a journey -- until the very last page.
There are some wonderful stories about your early writing days. Can you tell us how you came to write your first romance, "Sex and the Pirate Ship"?
As a law student who discovered that law school was not what I'd thought it was going to be, I took a graduate-level creative writing course to keep my sanity. The assignment for that course was to write 50 pages of something publishable. What was "publishable" at that time were historical romances -- it was the era of Sweet Savage Love. I had never read one -- I thought I was way too intellectual to read books with titles like that -- but I bought several and read them. And you know what? They were great. I loved them. And I thought, I can do that. So I did, or at least I tried. I wrote 50 pages of a historical romance that I called "The Pirate's Woman." ("Sex and the Pirate Ship" was my joking title for it.) I really wanted to do a good job and get a good grade in the class, so I put everything into those 50 pages: action, adventure, snappy dialogue -- and sex. Lots and lots of sex. Then, along about Thanksgiving, the professor, in an "oh, by the way" moment, mentioned that we were going to have to read our creations out loud. In front of the whole class. I almost died. There was no help for it, however. It was too late to write anything else. Anyway, I was sure my stuff was good. Just -- ahem! -- maybe a little sexy. What I didn't know was that everyone else had written the Great American Novel, full of meaning and symbolism and all that good stuff. By the time it was my turn to read, though, I had figured it out, to my great dismay. There was no turning back at that point. It was, as I said, too late. When the time came, I stood up in front of the class and read "The Pirate's Woman" with my best dramatic inflection. I gave it my all. When I finished and looked up at last, it was to find the entire class staring at me. Wide-eyed. Open-mouthed. (Did I mention that it was a small class, maybe 12 or so students, approximately 11 of whom were male?) And you know what I (poor naive kid) thought when I found them staring google-eyed at me? I thought, they loved it. I've really wowed them. Then they started to laugh. They laughed until they were practically falling off their chairs. The professor, too. Finally he stopped laughing long enough to say, "Karen, you're a really good writer, but we've got to do something about your choice of reading material." Just for the record, I sold that book two years later. It was published in 1981 as Island Flame,
and it is still in print today. Check out those first 50 pages. They're still the same.
Tell us about the books that have meant something to you in your early stages as a writer -- and which authors you enjoy reading now.
KR: I've always been a reader. I love books, and reading is as much a part of me as breathing. I read anything and everything. As a girl, I loved Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind. I loved A Wrinkle in Time. I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond. When I discovered historical romances, I loved those. And Regencies! I've always been a huge fan of Regencies. Mysteries. Horror. Science fiction. Now that I have children of my own, I read aloud to them. (My youngest is ten.) We're big fans of Harry Potter and Cornelia Funke's books (Inkheart plays a pivotal role in Vanished). Right now we're reading Kenneth Oppel's series, Silverwing, Sunwing, and Firewing. They are as enjoyable as any books I've read in a long time. I like nonfiction too, and biographies. As I said, anything and everything.
What are you working on now? And what's the next book we'll see in the stores?
KR: I'll have another thriller, as yet untitled, out next spring. Readers can find out the title, etc., by checking out my web site, www.karenrobards.com. I'll post details as soon as they're available.