Sunday, November 02, 2008

'Shot Girl' by Karen E. Olson (AND, interview with the author)

Shot Girl
By Karen E. Olson
(Author's Website)
Publisher: Obsidian
Published: November 2008
ISBN-13: 9780451225498
320 pages

Page 133: I shone the light across the room and felt like I was in the middle of a CSI episode. I could never understand why, when they could, they didn't turn the lights on. But the longer I moved the light around, the more I could see the allure in using a flashlight, the mystery of it. It certainly gave the room an eerie glow. But those CSI folks didn't need to hide.

In this latest instalment of the Annie Seymour Mystery Series, the protagonist, a New Haven police reporter Annie Seymour gets into trouble when she is linked to her ex-husband’s death. It all started when she attends a bachelorette party at the bar where her ex-husband happens to be the manager. When Annie hears shots outside the bar, she runs outside to find him dead. She is in deeper trouble when it is discovered by the police that the bullet shells match the gun she has in her car. Not only that, she is also seen with him prior to the crime scene.

Back at Herald the newspaper where Annie works, she is informed that she has been temporarily taken off her beat to cover crimes and is to cover community news instead. She is, of course, devastated with the decision but what choice has she got?

As in all the previous instalments (Sacred Cows, Secondhand Smoke, and Dead of the Day), Annie has a knack for attracting trouble. She finds out that she was being stalked by her ex-husband—her photos are found by the police in his apartment. She receives anonymous calls. She finds herself plunged in a world of drugs, booze and gun selling. A whole lot of people are involved: a stripper, an old friend, a reverend, a college kid, shot girls—she can’t tell who is what anymore.

Karen E. Olson writes with a great sense of humour, and the plot is as exciting as it can be. You cannot tell the good guys from the bad. If you have read the earlier stories, you would know that Annie is a lady with an attitude and her English is ‘colourful’. I also like how her relationship is developing with Vinny the Italian hunk of a private detective. This is certainly an engaging novel; Annie is a character that you will like and remember. A fast-paced, fun read.

I am a little sad that Karen will not be writing anymore of the Annie Seymour Mystery series, but I am looking forward to her new book Missing Ink which is scheduled to be released in July 2009. Can’t wait! NOTE: Coming up next on Nov 4—Guest appearance by Karen (psst... there will be food photos by the author). Don't miss it!

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And now, let's welcome Karen as she spills the beans on her writing habits, how she gets ideas for her books, the influences that shape her writing, and her advice for potential writers. I crafted the interview in a slightly different format. Enjoy!

GETTING IDEAS: I've always "ripped from the headlines" for my plots. I keep an eye out for stories that I can twist and change up enough so they're slightly familiar but perhaps a bit more exciting for a novel. In SACRED COWS, the dead girl in the first chapter is a Yale student who was an escort by night. In the "real" story, the dead girl was a prostitute. I kept thinking: But what if it were a Yalie? It wouldn't get ignored like this story did. SHOT GIRL, my fourth and most recent book, is the first one that I plotted without the crutch of a newspaper story, although I have a preacher character who some might feel is familiar in some ways. I delve more into social issues, such as New Haven's black community and teenagers. I also take a close look at journalism and reporters who, as I like to put it, make stuff up.

ROUTINE: I write when I have time, which is not often. I do have an hour between working (I work part time editing a medical journal at Yale) and when my daughter gets home from school. I also have a little time while my daughter's at her choir rehearsal twice a week. I don't have time, either, to wait for any muses to come so I just sit down at my computer and start writing. I write for an hour or hour and a half at a time, sometimes as little as half an hour. I do set a page count for the day: lately I've upped it to five pages, which works great.

INFLUENCES: There are so many! My first influences were Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Lillian O'Donnell, Laura Lippman, Marisa Piesman, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell. You might notice they're all women who write about strong women. I decided to stop being sexist and began reading Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos. All of these authors helped shape the type of books I wanted to write.

SETTING: I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, in the US. It's home to Yale University and the best pizza you'll find anywhere. We also have Louie's Lunch, which claims to have created the very first hamburger. New Haven has amazingly diverse and historic neighborhoods, and in each of my books I delve into a different area of the city to show readers that New Haven isn't just about Yale. The city is another character in my books.

REVISION: I write a first draft and then give the manuscript to my first readers. I revise based on their critiques and then I do a second revision after reading through the hard copy manuscript. That's usually as many drafts as I have before I send it off to my agent. He might suggest some changes, but if he doesn't then he just sends it to my editor. She always has notes for me! So there's another revision to be made before it's done and goes to copy editing. I like the revision process, since I'm a copy editor. It's easier than the creating part when I'm faced with a blank page!

ADVICE: Persevere. It took me 15 years to get published, but not for want of trying. I wrote three books before SACRED COWS and while none of them will ever see the light of day, I just kept trying. And practice does make perfect. So any writer out there who's struggling, if you stick with it, it can pay off. I'm proof of that.

Thank you, Karen, for doing this interview! I hope all of you will be here on Nov 4 to see Karen guestblog. Have a good weekend!