Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Karen Musser Nortman and I am a retired teacher and test developer. I have always loved to write and after my retirement eight years ago, I finally had time to write a book. The first series I started on was the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries. My husband and I are devout campers, and it occurred to me that a campground was a perfect place for a mystery. There are now eight Frannie books, plus a prequel, with a ninth in the works. The characters are retirees, and I wanted them to be active seniors with strong personalities. The locales are based on real parks–four in Iowa and four in other states.
A few years later I became aquainted with the Sisters on the Fly and the Midwest Glampers. Many of the women who are members of these groups have restored vintage campers. I found the campers fascinating and that they were like ‘stepping back in time.’ Why not? And the Time Travel Trailer series came into being.
My third series, The Mystery Sisters, is based on my grandmother and her sister-in-law, who was still a working phys ed teacher in her seventies. She drove a Studebaker and she and Grandma Betty would take off every summer to destinations around the country. Grandma Betty told my cousin that they argued constantly.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
Most of them have a seed somewhere in my experience. Often an incident turns into a ‘what if?’ For example, we were camping at Ledges State Park in Iowa. Many of our family were there for supper and a young girl kept riding her bike by with very noisy training wheels. It was so loud we couldn’t carry on a conversation so my husband went out in the road to ask her to give it a rest until we were done with supper. She panicked and ran to a passer-by who brought the ranger to our site. The girl’s mother accused my husband of being a ‘blue coyote’–their code word for stranger danger. This was in spite of the fact that we had our daughter and several grandchildren with us at the table. I thought ‘What if the passerby that the girl had gone to for help had been the real danger?’ My book The Blue Coyote came out of that incident.
Another time, we were traveling through southeastern New Mexico and were stopped by a police roadblock. They were looking for two escaped convicts and thought perhaps they had stowed away in someone’s camper or truck. Our trailer was locked but I remembered that sometimes we forgot to lock the storage compartments. That incident became The Space Invader.
How do you deal with creative block?
There is no sure-fire solution but there are many blogs and on-line articles about plotting etc. I find that reading some of those materials often gives me a new trick–a new way of looking at something–and that gets me going again. Sometimes it takes walking away for awhile, and if worse comes to worse, sitting down and grinding out a few words at a time!
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Not reading and rereading. It’s easy to forget a minor character’s
name and change it in the course of the book. Or putting a character
in the center of a scene when in the last chapter you said he or she
is somewhere else. Or having leaves falling when the book is set in
the spring. Inconsistency really bothers me when I read a book and I
see comments to that effect in reviews.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I find most of them very helpful. I ignore the ones who don’t like my Frannie Shoemaker books because they don’t like cozy mysteries, or those–like one review–who think the time travel ones are far-fetched. But I certainly consider comments about holes in the plot or changes in characters.
What are your plans for future books?
I have two new Frannie books in the works: Grilling the Suspect, which involves a barbecue contest, and Corpse of Discovery, which takes place in Lewis and Clark State Park during a buckskinners’ rendezvous. I am thinking about writing a prequel to the time travel series about Ben, Minnie, and their experience with the trailer. Finally, I hope to do a holiday book for the Mystery Sisters. One of my favorite books to write was A Campy Christmas in the Frannie series.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
Hmmm. I always mention in my bio that I can recite the 99 counties of Iowa in alphabetical order, something we had to learn in 6th grade. Actually, I run into trouble about “M” or “N” but no one wants to listen to that many anyway. I spent 18 years at ACT, formerly American College Testing, as a test developer on the Work Keys program. I think writing multiple choice questions is excellent training for writing mysteries. You need some tempting wrong answers in both cases or answering the question and solving the mystery are too easy.
For more information about my books, links to interviews, photos, and my blog about our camping trips, check my website at www.karenmussernortman.com. My Amazon author page is https://www.amazon.com/Karen-Musser-Nortman/e/B00A6JEBAK.