This is one in a series of interviews with some of my and The Wife’s favorite novelists. Today we are visiting with Karen Dionne. In the title of this interview I refer to Karen, author of the highly acclaimed THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER, as the Queen. Given all the awards, accolades and achievements Karen and TMKD have garnered, “Queen” is certainly fitting. To name just a few (and I mean just a few):
* International Best Seller.
* Called “subtle, brilliant and mature . . . about as good as a thriller can be” by the New York Times Book Review.
* “Sensationally good psychological suspense” said Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels.
* Winner of the prestigious 2018 Barry Award for Best Novel of 2017.
* Currently in development as a major motion picture produced by Anonymous Content (Spotlight; The Revenant).
But I knew Karen . . . when. I might also call her . . . Cinderella, and not just Queen. So, let’s get to it.
Ron: When and why did you start writing? What brought you to TMKD?
Karen: I started writing with a view to publication in 1998. I won creative writing awards in high school, but during the intervening years I found other creative outlets–stained glass, fiber arts, and so on. Then when my son was in high school, I encouraged him to enter the same writing contests in which I had done well and thought, “Wait a minute–what about me? I used to be a pretty good writer.” I spent a year writing short stories to get the creative juices flowing again, and then wrote my first novel. That novel was never published, but it did get me my agent, and we’re still together after 19 years.
Ron: What did you publish before TMKD?
Karen: My first two novels, published in 2008 and 2011, are science-based thrillers similar to what Michael Crichton wrote. The third is a television tie-in novel based on the detective show “The Killing.”
Ron: Are you a natural? Did you achieve the same with your earlier novels? If not, what do you think accounts for the difference between your earlier efforts and TMKD?
Karen: My first two novels were published with a major publisher, so I think it’s fair to say I have a certain amount of natural writing talent. But like any craft, practice makes perfect, and I’ve definitely gotten better over time. The MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER is my fourth-published, sixth-written novel. It also represents a genre change, and in hindsight, I think psychological suspense plays to my writing strengths and is what I should have been writing all along.
Craftwise, THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER is also a huge step up from my previous work. There were many writing techniques I used in the book that I had never tried before; writing a story with a dual timeline, multiple flashbacks, tense shifts, incorporating a fairly tale element and introducing imaginary characters three-quarters of the way through the book, but these were all necessary in order to tell Helena’s story. All of this felt very risky and took me far outside my comfort zone, but in the process I found out that I am a better writer than I realized.
Ron: From Michigan to Hollywood? Will you now be partying with famous movie stars, directors, and producers?
Karen: Ha! I’d much rather crash the set than go to a fancy Hollywood party–especially if they’re filming in the wilderness. That said, if I get invited to a red carpet movie premiere, you can be sure I’ll be there!
In all seriousness, I have to add that I remain astonished that Hollywood saw something film-worthy in my novel and that the Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning creatives who have been associated with the project to date have chosen to use their talents to bring Helena’s story to the screen.
Ron: What’s next? How are you possibly going to top TMKD? And when?
Karen: Those are the million dollar questions that haunt any writer whose book has broken out: Was this a fluke? Can I do this again? What I’ve come to realize is that while others will certainly compare my next novel to THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER, my job is to make this next book the best version of itself that it can be. There are similarities; this new novel is also a stand-alone psychological suspense set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and like THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER, it features a complicated family dynamic that plays out in an isolated setting. I’m very excited about this new story and hope that fans of THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER will love this new book as much as I do!
Ron: You’ve always been known for giving back to the writing community. Co-founder of the online writers community Backspace. Organizer of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat. A former director of ITW, International Thriller Writers. Where do you find the time? Will you still be able to find the time?
Karen: I love helping other writers reach their publishing goals, and I love being involved in the writing community. I’ve been helped so much by others, I feel it’s very important to give back. I’m a fairly frequent speaker at writing groups and conferences, and am also going to be one of the “Master Class” instructors at ThrillerFest 2019, where I’m very much looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned from writing THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER with my students and helping them improve their own work. [Editor’s note: for more, check out ThrillerFest’s Master Class.]
Ron: What advice do you have for all the other Cinderellas and Cinderfellas out there who would become Queens and Kings?
Karen: My #1 piece of advice for all writers is “Don’t settle.” It takes a year or more to write a novel; make sure the story you’re investing all that time and effort into writing is one with the potential to take you where you want to go. The corollary to that is “Push yourself.” Don’t be afraid to change genres, or to write something that you didn’t think you could. In the process, you just might discover as I did that you are a better writer than you knew!
Ron: Thanks for taking the time to visit, Karen. Many and well earned and deserved congratulations on your ascendancy to the throne. The Wife and I can’t wait for your next!
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