Author interview with Karen Musser Nortman of ‘To Cache a Killer’

| October 20, 2016

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Geocaching isn’t supposed to be about finding dead bodies. But when retiree, Frannie Shoemaker go camping, standard definitions don’t apply. A weekend in a beautiful state park in Iowa buzzes with fund-raising events, a search for Ninja turtles, a bevy of suspects, and lots of great food. But are the campers in the wrong place at the wrong time once too often?

Today I’m joined by Karen Musser Norman, author of ‘To Cache a Killer’ the fifth instalment of the The Frannie Shoemaker Campground series. Karen, thanks for joining me today. Now, what sparked the idea that drew you back to revisit this series?
In the series, a group of friends camp together, usually in state parks, and occasionally stumble over dead bodies. When we camp, we enjoy geocaching, and it seemed like an interesting twist if this kind of hunt for things other people had hidden turned up something unexpected — like a murder victim.

I’m guessing you haven’t run across your own murder victim when you were camping yourself, but have you spent time in the state park that this book is based on?
“To Cache a Killer” takes place at a state park loosely based on Backbone State Park, one of Iowa’s most beautiful areas. Yes, we have camped there several times and also geocached there. Campgrounds are rich in mishaps and challenges, which provides a lot of material for my books.

What kind of mishaps and challenges have you written about over the course of the series?
The whole series is based on camping, but each book has a different activity focus. The first, “Bats and Bones,” is a holiday weekend trip; the second, “The Blue Coyote,” features a visiting story teller and a flea market; in the third, “Peete and Repeat,” the campers are bicycling and checking out a nature center; the fourth, “The Lady of the Lake,” is about an old legend and a nearby county fair; and “To Cache a Killer” focuses on geocaching.

As this is the fifth book in the series, I’m assuming that most of the characters are returning. What has been so compelling about these characters that keeps you returning?
Yes, I have a continuing cast of characters since the book is part of a series, although not all of the characters are in every book. I wanted them to be good friends with, at the same time, enough personality differences to create occasional tension or conflicting goals.

 

 

When you are working through this character tension and conflicts, do you use any specific writing practices to keep you in the writing game?
I write early in the morning, generally in my recliner on my laptop. I shoot for a minimum of 500 words a day.

That’s a pretty solid goal and it sounds very achievable sitting in a comfy recliner. Do you get involved in the editing process?
I do a great deal of rereading and editing. My software has a feature that reads my work back to me and I find that very helpful. I also have three beta readers–a fellow writer, a friend and retired librarian, and a former boss who is also a camper. They are all very honest and give me lots of helpful advice.

Do you feel that you have also absorbed writing advice from what you have read over the years? Who are you favourite mystery authors for example?
Two of my favorites are Martha Grimes and Louise Penny. They write more serious mysteries but both have an ongoing cast of amateur detectives who are great characters. I think memorable characters are the thing I love most in books.

I agree, memorable characters are really important. For you, who is the most memorable literary character?
I think Melrose Plant from the Martha Grimes books.

That is an awesome character name, I just love how it rolls off the tongue. What’s the most unusual name you’ve ever come across?
We once bought a house that had belonged to a woman named Orpha Zaicek.

I like that one too, nice rhythm. Now talking about rhythm, do you feel that your experiences in the workplace have also helped you find your rhythm for writing mysteries?
I am retired but was a secondary teacher for 22 years and worked for a testing company for 18 years. My testing experience was very helpful in writing mysteries, because standardized test questions require several alternative solutions that are believable but demonstrably wrong, just like mysteries.

Have the readers that have responded to your work acknowledged a sense of believability in the series? Does any of the reviews stand out to you in particular, perhaps your first one?
I don’t remember the first one, but I have gotten a real boost from several. One was from a man who said he heard about my books in an Australian campground! A woman wrote that she hated anything outdoors and had no desire to go camping but loved the books anyway.

*Laughs*.
Others have said they recognized a lot of the characters from their own camping trips. On the other hand, it is annoying to get one for three stars that says “didn’t read it.” But I find reviews generally beneficial, even if they are negative.

Do you have any tips for authors looking to reduce their negative reviews?
Polish your work as much as you can.

That’s good solid advice. Have you seen any great advice from other authors that you also think might be helpful?
You can edit a pile of crap, but you can’t edit a blank page — Elaine Orr

Very very true. If there’s nothing there to work with it makes it bordering on impossible. Do you have a good quote that you think sums this up?
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race — Calvin Coolidge.

Man, that Calvin has a way with his wise words. So true. Okay, that’s too many serious questions in a row for me, so here’s an irreverent one, can you stand on your hands unassisted?
I can barely stand on my feet unassisted.

*Laughs*, I find that whole upright thing a challenge too at times!
As I child, I dreamed of becoming a figure skater or ballerina, but I have absolutely no natural grace or coordination.

That’s a shame, but it’s never too late. I know of people who have undertaken ballet as an adult and as a result have become very graceful. Both of those professions do seem to require a significant amount of grace. Did that desire for grace also extend to your reading as a child?
I read all 36 Oz books and also loved “Little Women.”

Okay, so I think that you can say that it probably did. I always think there’s a bit of grace at least in Little Women. Is there a book that you wish that you would have written?
“To Kill a Mockingbird”

That is another stand-out choice. Well, Karen that pretty much wraps it up from me today. Thanks for spending a little time with me to chat and I wish you the best of luck with your promotion of ‘To Cache a Killer’.

 

 

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