Monday, July 13, 2009

My friend Karen Olson

Patty here...

I've met many great people in the writing business. Among them is my friend Karen Olson. Karen and I were members of the freshman class at Mysterious Press. Our first books came out around the same time, followed by the second, third, and fourth. We also shared the same editor. Karen has just released a new book in a brand new series, so I decided to ask her to explain how that came about.

Q: You have four books in the award-winning Annie Seymour series. Now you are off in a new direction in a new setting with a new series featuring Vegas tattoo artist Brett Kavanaugh. How do you feel about leaving Annie behind (at least for now)? Do Brett Kavanaugh and Annie have anything in common?

While I missed writing about Annie at first, considering what’s happened in newspapers in the last year, I’m not sorry about putting her on hiatus. I would’ve had to lay her off or give her a buyout, and I’m not sure how she’d react to that, what she’d end up doing. And newspapers just aren’t funny anymore, so the humor would be more difficult to achieve.

I made a real effort to make Brett very different than Annie. I didn’t want readers to pick up the new series and think I was just rehashing the same character.

Q: On television and in magazines, it seems as if its all tattoos all the time. However, as far as I know, you are the first crime fiction writer to pen a novel about this inky art form. Do you feel like you’re ahead of the wave or just prophetic?

I’m certainly not prophetic, because this wasn’t my idea! My editor asked me to write a new series, and she suggested a tattoo shop mystery. I hesitated at first, because I don’t have a tattoo or intend to get one, but I started watching those TV tattoo shows and thought, why not? It’s trendy and hip and uncharted territory in the cozy mystery world. I think I’m just riding the wave.

Q: Tell me about your main character. Who is she? What do you love the most about her? What was her background before she turned to crime investigation?

Brett is edgy, I don’t think a tattooist couldn’t be, but she bucks the stereotype. I didn’t want to give readers Kat von D or any of those other TV tattooists. She doesn’t cuss, drink to excess, or even have a man in her life (except her police detective brother, Tim, whom she lives with). She owns her own business. She’s very together, is pretty happy with her life. She isn’t a loner and has a circle of friends and colleagues that complement her. She’s got a healthy curiosity and comes from a family of cops, which helps her investigative skills. She was an artist before turning to tattoo, studying painting at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Q: Who are some of the people who inhabit Brett’s world?

Brett’s got an interesting staff at The Painted Lady, her shop: Bitsy, who is a little person with a big personality; Joel, who is always on Weight Watchers and his sexual orientation is questionable; and Ace, who is a pretty boy and a frustrated artist. During the course of the book, Brett meets up with Jeff Coleman, a rival tattooist, and his mother, Sylvia, who was a pioneer for women in the tattoo field. I liked them so much, they came back in the second book.

Q: Brett is not a professional investigator so what’s the set-up in THE MISSING INK? How do you draw her into the investigation and make it seem organic?

In THE MISSING INK, Brett finds out that a potential client has gone missing after coming to the shop for a devotion tattoo with the name of her fiancĂ©. Brett discovers that the girl’s finance’s name is not the one she wanted on the tattoo. Because her shop is the last place the girl was seen, the police and the media start coming around, and so does the fiancĂ©, drawing Brett and her staff into the investigation. There’s more, but I can’t give it away!

Q: I hope I’m not blowing your cover when I tell everybody that you aren’t a tattoo artist in Vegas. So, what research did you have to do to write this book and was it painful?

You’re right. I’m not a tattooist, I don’t live in Vegas, and I don’t even have a tattoo. The research was fairly easy: went to a tattoo shop, talked to a couple tattooists, talked to friends with tattoos, watched those TV tattoo shows, watched some YouTube videos, and read a great book called Women of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. I also went to Vegas and my husband won some money at blackjack. Like I said, painless!

Q: The book has a kick-ass cover. Tell us how the art evolved and what if any input you had in the design.

Love the cover. It was designed by an Australian illustrator named Craig Phillips. My editor asked if I had any ideas for the cover, and I said no. I just didn’t want it to be pink. So you tell me how much input I had!

Q: I’ve heard things about you, so tell the truth. What’s your quirkiest writing ritual?

Quirky? Me? Honestly, I don’t have any writing ritual. Being a journalist pretty much beats that out of you. I sit down and write. And then I stop. Sometimes I’ve got a cat in my lap, sometimes I’ve got a bowl of popcorn. Sometimes I write at the pool club under the gazebo and tell everyone to leave me alone.

Q: What’s next for you?

The next tattoo shop mystery, PRETTY IN INK, will be out March 2010. In that one, an incident at a drag queen show escalates into a hunt for Brett’s newest employee.

As a side note, Paul, Ridley, and James O have all started new series. I'd be interested in hearing from writers and readers alike. How do you feel when your favorite author switches gears? When that author is you?

Happy Monday and Best Wishes for the New Book, Karen!


  1. I'd like to know who started the recent tattoo trend. Do you suppose Miss Marple was inked and never told anybody?

  2. James O. Born7/13/2009 9:46 AM

    Anything Karen writes is good so I follow any of her books.

    Jim B

  3. I think the tattoo trend started with all those shows on TV. And all those celebrities getting inked. Suddenly it's not something mysterious, but it's more acceptable in society.

    Thanks so much for such a great interview!

    And Jim, you know I love you too!

  4. I can't help wondering what's going to happen when all of those inky people are octogenarians with migrating ink under their skin.

  5. to read a good series is always great because you don't have to familiarize yourself with too many new characters and surroundings. you get right down to the story, say hello to the old familiar faces and let them tell you their latest adventures.

    on the other hand, it is just as intresting to read something diffrent or a complete new series by the same author. surely
    you all come up with storylines and plots that just don't fit into the series you are working on - so you create a new one. why not!

    i sure am looking forward to read karens new series. as they say: a change is as good s a rest. and i like the tattoo idea.

    tattoos are very big in my country as well, and, like patty, i wonder what they will look like when the skin goes old and wrinkled. not a pretty sight, i should imagine.


  6. Oh, Sybille, the wrinkled tats! What an image. EEUU. I imagine it would be exciting to start something new, even though you're leaving behind some old friends.

    Doyle got awfully tired of Sherlock Holmes, however. Does anybody remember how many books/short stories he wrote about that character?

  7. Go-Lo:I heard a commedian joke that the only tattoo you should get is one which says: "I'm an Idiot." That way, twenty, thirty years later when you ask yourself, "Hey why did I ever get a tattoo?" you can look down at it and say,"Oh that's right, I'm an IDIOT."


  8. Ha, Jon! Tats for senior moments. I think I might need one.

  9. I like tattoos. I have 2 myself (first one was at age 40 when I finally got my college degree,) and yes, I was very careful about where they are (just above my ankle.) No sagging ink for me, thank you very much. ;-) I'll also say tattoos are addictive and I'd love to have a couple more.

    When I saw a post on DL by Karen mentioning her new book and when it would be available, I kept the email as a reminder to buy the book.

    I went to my local Hastings last week as soon as THE MISSING INK was available and bought a copy. In fact, it was new enough that the clerk had to go in the back and get a copy for me as they weren't on the shelf yet. I made sure to tell him it was a great book and going to be very popular, so he put out several copies when he brought mine up!

    Love the idea, the setting, all of it and will be buying the next book as well. Hope it is a very long-running series.

  10. Wow, Kay, that's really great that you did that at the bookstore. We authors lovingly call people like you "big mouth readers." Yay!

  11. Patty, with the economy the way it is I just think that when we readers find authors deserving of praise, we should give it.

    Readers also need to buy books when they can as it lets the retailers and publishers know what we readers like and will hopefully encourage the publishers to print more books by those authors, not to mention get bookstores to stock more titles from a larger variety of authors.

    I absolutely *hate* when I find a series I love and then the publisher decides not to continue the series. UGH

    It is very frustrating to make a trip to the bookstore with my "want" list and find that they do not have some of those titles in stock. It is bad enough that Borders chose to close my local Waldenbooks (and it had a *wonderful* manager and staff). I called corporate and encouraged many other customers to do likewise but it did no good. So now I have even less choices in where I spend my small book allowance. GRRR

    And yeah, I *do* have a "big mouth" and am more than happy to use it to promote authors! :-)

  12. patty, i have THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES SHORT STORIES right here. there are 56 of them. there are only 4 long stories listed in there but there must be more than that.


  13. Kay, I feel your pain. I recently went into a big chain store to buy two books, neither of which were in stock. The clerk told me they were from a small press and he could order them but he didn't seem too excited about that. Frustrating.

  14. Sybille, thanks for the intell. I assume complete means complete, but what do I know?

  15. Kay, thanks so much for being pushy in the bookstore! It means a lot!

    And in some breaking news: I have just signed on to write No. 3 and No. 4 in the tattoo shop mystery series. Very excited to keep this going.