New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper is the winner of the prestigious and highly coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award (2005) for her outstanding novel, Dark Angel.
Karen is the author of fifty-six books spanning three genres: romantic suspense, historical based fiction, historical mysteries. Karen and her husband, who divide their time between Columbus, Ohio, and Naples, Florida, love to travel both in the U.S. and abroad.
You have 56 books to your credit. How has your publishing path gone?
I was first published in 1982 with historical romances before I switched to writing contemporary suspense. Now I write both, which I love. It “only” took me 20 years to make the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists—not exactly an overnight success but, with all the twists and turns in the publishing industry, I’m a survivor. Just by freak scheduling from three different publishers, I have both a contemporary novella and a historical novel, the latter under two different titles, out in 2012.
You juggle three publishers and both contemporary and historical writing. How does that scheduling work for you?
My US publishers are MIRA Books, for which I write romantic suspense, and NAL (Penguin USA) for which I write historical novels about real women, books set in Tudor England. In July, MIRA published an anthology of Amish romantic suspense novellas by me, Marta Perry and Patricia Davids under the title Dark Crossings. It is unusual to have both a contemporary book and a historical one out the same month.
NAL is publishing Mistress of Mourning that month, a historical murder mystery with a strong romance set in 1501 at the very beginning of the Tudor dynasty. And my British publisher, which has been doing a great job getting my historicals on bestseller lists in the UK, will bring out Mistress of Mourning under the title The Queen's Confidante. All my British releases have different covers and many have been retitled. Take a look at how different the US/UK covers are on my website.
Is it difficult to switch back and forth between writing contemporary and historical settings?
It is a challenge. I never write in both genres at once and give myself a bit of a break between. Of course, the “voices” that narrate the stories are very different. Also, I’ve done eight books with Amish heroines who find forbidden love and solve a mystery, and an Amish voice and world view is quite unique. So yes, from sentence structure to vocabulary to different world views, these books take varied storytelling skills. Yet passions and secrets and power struggles are universal.
What fascinates you about the Amish?
I think most Americans are intrigued by the so-called Plain People. Their lives seem so different from ours—and they are. The more stress and technology we have in our busy, modern lives, the better their laid-back, horse-and-buggy world looks. Marriages last lifelong, children (mostly) are very respectful, and their religious faith is very strong.
Also Amish settings are great for both romance and suspense. If an Amish man or woman falls in love with an outsider, they can be banned from their people, so the romances in these stories are forbidden love. Also, they can’t just call the cops if there’s a crime. No phones, no electricity. Both intrigue and romance are more compelling when set in a dark place with few people around to help. This has worked well for me with two romantic suspense trilogies set in Amish country, the latest of which is The Home Valley Amish Trilogy. Book #1 is Fall From Pride and book #2 Return To Grace are both available, and book #3, Finding Mercy, will be out November 2012.
The stories focus on three Amish best friends who each find love and danger. I think this sentence from a recent starred review best summarizes what I try to do in this trilogy: “Harper, a master of suspense, keep readers guessing about crime and love until the very end, while detailed descriptions of the Amish community and the Ohio countryside add to the enjoyment of this thrilling tale.”
Since your historical novels focus on real women, is it harder to find a heroine than for a historical with fictional main characters?
Yes, it is a challenge to find such central characters who really lived. I need a dynamic woman whose life was on the rise, who has a good love story and a happy ending. It takes a lot of research, but I’ve been a “Tudormaniac” for years and enjoy the background work. The royal heroine for Mistress Of Mourning is Queen Elizabeth of York, the wife of King Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. Her desperate need to solve the murders of her firstborn son, Arthur, and her two brothers (the princes in the Tower) drive the plot. The other heroine in that book, who has a great love story, is a fictional carver of wax death masks. She is based on several merchant class woman of that day.
I’ve done other books on Mary Boleyn (The Last Boleyn), written 20 years before Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Our takes on Mary are quite different. My other historical novels are The First Princess of Wales about Joan of Kent, wife of the Black Prince, The Irish Princess about Elizabeth Fitzgerald and The Queen's Governess about Katherine Ashley, foster mother to Elizabeth I. Mistress Shakespeare was about the real love of the Bard’s life—not his wife. I also wrote a nine-book mystery series called The Queen Elizabeth 1 Mysteries with the young Queen Bess as amateur sleuth. Just call me a crazy Anglophile. By the way, that series is suitable for good teen and YA readers.
Is there something in your background that drew you to the Tudors and the Amish—such different subjects?
I was an English major at both the undergrad and grad levels, then taught British Lit to senior high English students for 15 years. I love to travel in England and do a lot of research on site. And, what drew me to the Amish is that we live a little over two hours from the largest community of Plain People in the US. It’s not Lancaster County, PA anymore, but Holmes County, Ohio. My husband and I love to visit there, mingle with the Amish, buy their furniture, quilts—and, of course, eat their great food. I include Amish recipes on my website and feature one particular bakery product in each novel.
What’s next for Karen Harper books?
I’m currently writing an Amish Christmas romantic suspense, but, of course, it won’t be out this year. I have plans for other romantic suspense novels and a great idea for a new British-set historical.
Thanks to Vickie and the RTR readers for this opportunity to talk about my work.