Karen Musser Nortman, after previous incarnations as a secondary social studies teacher (22 years) and a test developer (18 years), returned to her childhood dream of writing a novel. Karen and her husband Butch originally tent camped when their children were young and switched to a travel trailer when sleeping on the ground lost its romantic adventure. They take frequent weekend jaunts with friends to parks in Iowa and surrounding states, plus occasional longer trips. Entertainment on these trips has ranged from geocaching and hiking/biking to barbecue contests, balloon fests, and buck skinners’ rendezvous. Karen has three children and eight grandchildren. She also loves reading, gardening, and knitting, and can recite the 99 counties of Iowa in alphabetical order.
What inspires you to write?
This is the hardest question to answer, because I have enjoyed writing and making up stories since grade school. I love the puzzles of mysteries. As a former teacher and program manager, there is something especially satisfying about being able to control all of the characters. I like the challenge of trying to make a reader feel a part of a situation and friends with the characters.
Tell us about your writing process.
I do both but have more success with a basic outline. In mysteries, without an outline, it is difficult to remember who knew what when. I find that I have to have backstory that doesn’t make it into the book. What was the antagonist doing before he/she came on the scene? What are the other characters doing when they aren’t in a scene? When I outline, I have used a spreadsheet with all of the characters, chapters and settings, and clues, both legitimate and red herrings. I have also used Scapple. I write with Scrivener and have complete character sketches and setting descriptions. As a program manager for a testing company, we had to make sure that all of our test items had one defensible correct answer plus four incorrect but attractive wrong answers. A mystery is the same. The solution must make sense and be believable; the other suspects should be viable and supported by clues that don’t depend on coincidence.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I think I feel like another character in the story, one who is observing and perhaps offering suggestions. I believe I know my characters well enough that I almost expect to run into them when we are camping. I have a small flag that says “Camping can be Murder! So camp with Frannie.”
What advice would you give other writers?
The most important part of the writing process is to simply sit down and do it every day, whether one feels inspired or not. Something will happen. An old neighbor used to say, “I’d better go do something, even if it’s wrong.” As a writer friend says, you can’t edit a blank page. If you write something–anything–you have somewhere to start.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I wrote my first book after I retired at age 69. I began looking for an agent and had some promising possibilities, but began reading more about how long the traditional route takes and at the same time, the advantages of the new self-publishing process: control, royalties, and especially speed. I decided I was too old to go the slow route. I enjoy the formatting process and had experience in that in a previous job. The only part I don’t especially like is marketing. Every writer should explore both and decide what suits them best.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think we will see more services for screening independently published books that will give the reader some assurance that they are paying for a quality product. I believe self-publishing is here to stay if only to serve as a proving ground for new writers who otherwise might be lost in a slush pile.
What do you use?
Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print
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