Please welcome Karen Treanor, one of our all time favorite staff reviewers, as she talks about her new book and the world of e-publishing!
New Mystery Reader Magazine is happy to welcome talented author Karen Treanor. Karen resides in Western Australia, a state bigger than many entire countries, with her three cats, four hens, visiting wildlife and a very tolerant husband. Her newest book, ‘Bitter Bones’, has an exciting beginning that will grab your interest and keep you reading.
NMR: It’s wonderful to talk to you, Karen.
Karen: Great to be here, Mary, even if only ‘virtually’!
NMR: Since you are a mystery writer, perhaps you would like to tell us how you got into that particular genre.
Karen: I’ve always liked reading mysteries, since I first discovered Nancy Drew when I was 11 and then read my first Ngaio Marsh book a few years later. It was “Death at the Bar”, and it was missing the last two pages. There was a decade of frustration before I found the book in paperback and learned ‘whodunit’. I wrote that vignette into Bitter Bones, in fact!
NMR: When did you begin writing mysteries?
Karen: When I had the luxury of spare time some years ago, it happened to coincide with an idea for a story and I wrote the first draft of the book in about six weeks.
NMR: Would you like to discuss your books, particularly tell your readers about Bitter Bones? It is a great read.
Karen: The old saw “write what you know about” combined with a bit of homesickness resulted in the creation of the little New England town of Byford in imaginary Wessex County. Byford bears more than a passing resemblance to several small towns in the real Essex County. The grapevine mentioned in the story was a very real and live communication network. I once arrived home to be greeted by an angry mother who already knew that my best friend and I had been down in the swamp in the woods, near the rumoured quicksand-we’d been spotted by an adult, who told another adult, who phoned Mom.
All the books in the “Bones” series deal with long-dead bodies; I wasn’t interested in lots of gore and murderous detail-often that can detract from the plot and the characters.
NMR: How strong is e-book publishing versus print books?
Karen: I read some statistics just recently which said that e-book publishing was doubling every year. That’s off a fairly low base, but it’s an impressive rate of growth.
NMR: Are there publishers who prefer one over the other?
Karen: Yes, there are many new publishers of only e-books. The problem is that some of them go into business with an inadequate preparation, and will accept just about anything that is submitted. This results in some very shoddy work, which tarnishes the image of the whole industry. Setting up a good e-book publishing house is a lot of hard work-many beginners have no concept of how much time and effort they’ll have to expend to make a go of the business. Some promising publishers have fallen by the wayside from exhaustion, but continue to leave their websites up and appearing to be active. Not a good idea.
An e-book needs to be as well-written and well-edited as a hard print book; just because it is cheaper to bring to market is no excuse for putting rubbish out there. For a long time, hard print publishers looked down on e-books and saw them as inferior; now many mainline publishers are bringing out books in both ink and electronic formats.
NMR: What about the readers’ preferences? Does the e-book reader have a strong market?
Karen: After a slow start, e-books are really gaining popularity. The original drawback was the cost of the device on which to do the reading. Now with smart phones, BlackBerries, Palm Pilots, and several dedicated e-book reading devices, not to mention lap-top computers and PCs, you can download and read an e-book in many electronic formats. E-books are particularly popular with people who have to travel a lot and can’t or don’t want to lug around print books, and people with limited space to keep books, such as students and people who’ve downsized their houses in retirement.
I would hate to give up my 2000 hard print books, but I’d be quite comfortable with the idea of buying my light reading and popular fiction in e-book format, now that they’ve developed a reading device you can take to bed! To learn more about this whole topic, visit the “Read an E-book Week” website http://www.ebookweek.com; it’s organised by noted author, Rita Toews who does this as a labour of love.
NMR: Where are your books available?
Karen: I have just signed up with a new e-publisher, Fido. I am impressed with the founder’s energy and determination to bring good reading to people at reasonable prices-most books can be downloaded for less than $7.00, and some for as little as $3.00. A lot of work goes into making covers that catch the eye, and editing and proofreading, just like with ‘real’ books. The website is www.fidopublishing.com .
NMR: Do you have a website readers can visit to learn more about Karen Treanor, the author? Would you like to tell us about your publishing business, Quenda Books?
Karen: I was fascinated by one of our Western Australian marsupials, the Southern Brown Bandicoot, which the Nyungar aboriginal people called the quenda. There wasn’t much information available, and nobody was writing stories about them. One thing led to another and I wrote some children’s stories about two little quendas I met in my back yard. Unable to stir up interest in the books with local publishers, I thought “I’ve spent most of my life in the media business and allied fields, how hard could it be to learn to be a publisher?” (I’ll wait here while you all have a good laugh…)
So I set up my own publishing company, Quenda Books. It was, as they say, a very steep learning curve and I made some avoidable mistakes, but learned as I went along. Who knew there was so much to do? Business numbers, business name registration, copyright, trade mark registration, ISBNs, finding out you really do need to have a designer, getting the right illustrator, choosing paper, deciding about binding styles-there was a lot of stuff to learn. And that doesn’t begin to touch the complex and difficult area of marketing the finished product.
We have a website, www.bandicoot-books.com, which has stories, photographs, and soon, I hope, will have working PayPal buttons for easy purchasing. I am the entire staff of the company at present, but have great support from my sub-contractors who design, illustrate and print the books, and maintain my website. My husband Gene is my most important supporter, and has done everything from building cages to house sick bandicoots to taking photographs of the little beasts to bringing coffee to my office and even, bless him, noticing the laundry hamper needs attention and doing it. He can also cook, which is a very useful talent for the husband of a writer.
NMR: Do you have any advice for new writers?
Karen: You can’t go past the motto from Dr Samuel Johnson, father of the dictionary and himself a prodigious writer : “A man may write at any time if he will set himself doggedly to it.” If you think you can write-write! If that means having to get up early and put in 45 minutes before you go to work, do it! If you have to wait until the kids are asleep and give up watching NCIS or Desperate Housewives-do it! Make your writing time sacred and don’t let anything less important than a severed artery keep you from it. Do it every day: it’s like going to the gym; it’s all too easy to skip a day, and then two, and then…no book.
NMR: How did you become an author? What is your working schedule? Do you write for any specific number of hours a day? Where do you write—in an office or other special place?
Karen: I wrote my name backwards down the banister rail of our front stairs when I was four. This attracted a mixture of praise and censure from my mother, and I’ve been writing ever since. It was her encouragement, not to mention grubstake, that led to Quenda Books moving from idea to reality.
When I have a major project, I try to treat it like a job for someone else-that is, I go to my office by 7 or 8 a.m. and I work all day, maybe with a small break at lunch time and to top up the coffee mug. When my son left home, I converted his room into a dedicated office. There’s a sign on the door: “Quenda Books - Global Headquarters”. In there are a huge desk, a computer, printer, file cabinets, bookshelves, office supplies-but no comfy chairs and no casual reading material, just a good lumbar support office chair and a lot of reference books. If you don’t take your work seriously, why would anyone else?
NMR: How do you develop plots and characters for your books? How do you select the settings for your stories? What do you like most about being an author?
Karen: I know this will sound strange to non-writers, but often plots and characters just pop into my head out of thin air. The kernel of “Death in the Sea of Grass” was a one-page article in a magazine about the death of the Rain Queen in Southern Africa. From that one story, Queen Malaila came into being, the country of Tshaniland formed in my mind, and we galloped off into an 80,000 word story. The whole thing was complete in the first draft in 30 days. Tshaniland has a lot in common with two African countries where I spent many years in the Peace Corps. The lavender diamond at the heart of the plot was inspired by the fabulous coloured diamonds from the Argyle mine here in Western Australia.
As far as the characters, once they have appeared I just sit back and watch what they do. They go their own way, like children; you can’t always make them do what you want. In ‘Bitter Bones’, the whole episode from Geneva Bradford’s past, where she was seduced and abandoned, pregnant, came out of the blue totally-I had no idea this respectable New England Widow had that sort of thing in her past.
NMR: Would you like to talk about future projects? Are you working on a new project now?
Karen: I have a project that’s been too long deferred and which I need to ‘get stuck into’ as they say in Australia. I inherited my parents’ World War II letters, hundreds of them, and the story contained therein is a fascinating one. I want to tell their story to a wider audience, and for the benefit of their descendants. I also want to bring out a limited edition of my mother’s poems. I have a substantial outline for the second book in the Tshaniland series; and I have a good chunk of the fourth Geneva Bradford book written. I have about half a book of stories about our misadventures in the Peace Corps that I’d like to complete. I’ve got a couple of Young Adult novels I wrote years ago and put way and have just rediscovered and want to polish. And then there’s book 6 in the “Scoot, Scoot, Bandicoot” series. Probably enough to keep me going for a few years.
NMR: What is your biggest inspiration to write?
Karen: I think it literally came with my mother’s milk. Both my parents were omnivorous readers and both could write very well; Mother was a particularly entertaining letter writer in the Grand Tradition of the 19th century. When I was in college and later overseas in the Peace Corps, I used to share Mom’s letters with people whose parents rarely wrote; they were much appreciated.
NMR Do you like to travel or have other hobbies that help you relax between writing projects?
Karen: I love travelling and would, if I could, spend a month every year in London, my favourite city, and another month hopping around in other places such as Boston, Edinburgh, Prague, and New Zealand, where my son and his family live. I don’t have hobbies as such, but like to cook and have to do a certain amount of rough gardening. We live in a high fire danger area, so I do a fair bit of raking, pruning, bagging, and hauling off to the green waste recycling place in order to clean up our half-acre during the spring and summer. Gum trees shed all year round, so it’s a never-ending job.
NMR: In what other genres do you write? Aren’t you the author of a children’s book? What is that about? Where is it available?
Karen: When I give talks to groups like Rotary, I often start off by saying “I write children’s stories and murder mysteries, which is not as odd a combination as might first appear-think about it”. I also recently published a collection of short stories about local wildlife and our life in the Perth Hills, called ‘A Tree in Mundaring’. There are details on the website. There’s also ‘The Angelus Ghost’, a historical mystery-romance set in the west of Ireland in 1905. My books are available in many shops around where I live, and soon will be purchasable on-line through the Quenda Books website.
NMR: What do you think of the books being published today?
Karen: One trend that I find depressing is the way popular writers are treated like puppy farms, and churn out far too many books far too fast. Some writers I once read with pleasure have diluted their work, probably under pressure from publishers, agents, managers or other outside influences---or (I hope this isn’t true) from sheer greed. I can think of three major writers right now whom I used to read with pleasure, but no longer. Some of them have co-writers; I think this may mean that a new writer who can’t get published is co-opted by a publisher to do the hard work, and the “name’ writer, who may have run out of steam, puts his own touches in and grafts in his own main character.
Another thing I find unpleasant is the proliferation of heavily-detailed murders and torture and sadism, not to mention almost clinically-detailed sex scenes. Big amounts of gore and bare bums do not replace good writing and strong characters. “Less is more” isn’t an empty phrase; leaving something to the reader’s own creative imagination can be very effective, because the reader becomes a participant, not just a voyeur. Read the wedding night scene from Dorothy L Sayers’ “A Busman’s Honeymoon” and see what I mean.
NMR: Do you have any favorite authors?
Karen: Lots. Given what I just said above, you might be amazed to learn I really enjoy J D Robb’s future crime fiction ‘In Death’ series. Lots of gore and sex, but somehow kept within reasonable bounds. I enjoy the classic English crime books of Ngaio Marsh, P D James, Ruth Rendell, Dorothy Sayers and others of that ilk. I read a lot of non-fiction when I can, including biographies and history. As a reviewer for NewMysteryReader.com for 7 or 8 years, I’ve read huge amounts of modern crime fiction. I enjoy the work of Margaret Maron , Diane Mott Davidson and Susan Wittig Albert, and have an abiding fondness for Robert B Parker’s tough guy, Spenser.
NMR: It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you, Karen.
Karen: Thank you also, Mary.
Other books by Karen Treanor include A Tree in Mundaring, an engaging look at life in the Perth Hills, and her Bandicoot children series, both available at: http://www.bandicoot-books.com/
Information on Death of the Sea of Grass coming soon!