Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Interrogation of Karen Dionne

Good afternoon, Karen –  I hope you’re comfortable. Once the Sodium Pentothal takes effect, you’ll find everything much easier. Just relax. :)

What’s your favorite type of takeaway? (Take-out in American.)
I love Thai food – my favorite is Pad Thai with shrimp, hot. I really could eat that every day. Man, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
Describe your current mental status.
Excited, exhausted, and eager. Excited, because Boiling Point is out. Exhausted, because I’ve been doing a lot of promotion for the novel that’s taken me outside my comfort zone: radio interviews, writing articles about the book industry for Daily Finance, organizing and hosting my book launch party which was filmed and broadcast by the local cable channel (why, oh why didn’t I start that diet earlier?). And finally, “eager,” because I can’t wait to get back to what I love best: writing fiction!
Does Boiling Point bring back any of the characters from Freezing Point?
Boiling Point brings back two of the secondary characters from Freezing Point and gives them a more major role. It was a lot of fun to do this because these are characters I didn’t know as well as the main characters in Freezing Point, so I had a chance to dig deeper – find out what they want, what motivates them. And because they experienced the disastrous events in the first book, that affects how they think and act in the second.
The two books don’t have to be read in order, but they are linked, so anyone who’s already read Freezing Point will find a few extra layers of meaning in Boiling Point.
Do you have a favorite coffee?
Jamaican Blue Mountain brewed really, really strong. Good stuff!
Where did the concept for your latest book, Boiling Point, come from?
In December 2009, I read an article, “10 Wacky Ways to Save the Planet,” about using geoengineering to reduce the effects of global warming. One of the solutions advocated was mimicking the natural cooling effects of volcanoes by seeding the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide particles in order to block the amount of sunlight reaching the earth.
The idea of deliberately and permanently altering earth’s atmosphere struck me as an act of hubris worthy of the most megalomaniacal thriller villain. I’d recently seen an incredible photo of the Chaitén volcano eruption: billowing red and purple clouds shot through with lightning against a black sky that was so amazing, the photograph won National Geographic’s “Photo of the Year” award.
What if someone took it upon themselves to solve the problem of global warming by seeding the atmosphere under the guise of a volcanic eruption? I wondered. Who could stop him? What if his idea was correct and his solution was the right one? What if he shouldn’t be stopped?  These were the questions that became the foundation of my novel.
Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, or perhaps you prefer commando?)
Oh gosh, I’m not sure any day is “typical.” I usually get up around 5:30 – 6:00, make coffee, let the cat in, check email, answer correspondence, check in at the Backspace discussion forums, check to see if there are any new Amazon reviews, do any necessary admin stuff for both Backspace and ITW (the “International Thriller Writers” – I’m on the board of directors, and oversee their newsletter and websites, so there’s always something going on), and work on the Backspace conference, either lining up speakers, working on advertising, sending sponsorship letters, etc.
By then, it’s around 10:00 – 11:00 a.m., at which point I suddenly realize I’m hungry and I’m still in my pajamas. So I grab something for breakfast/lunch, go back to the computer to take care of the additional correspondence that has come in and other pressing matters that have developed.  If I’m lucky, I can plow through pressing in another hour or two, at which point, I’m ready for a short nap.
When I wake up, I answer more correspondence (have I mentioned I get a LOT of email?), and then if I’m REALLY lucky, I get to write for a few hours before going to bed around 11:30 or midnight.
Do you ever see yourself writing a vampire story? (Team Edward or Team Jacob… or are you more likely to join me by stuffing your head into a gas oven than ever going to the Edward or Jacob place?)
No vampires for me. I’m completely grounded in the real world. Frequently, when I tell people I write science thrillers, they immediately think “science fiction,” but there’s a big difference between the two. My books are thrillers set in the current day, about some sort of scientific topic. Of course, like Michael’s Crichton’s work, from there, anything can happen . . . .
Who are your favorite writers?
Doug Preston & Lincoln Child, Lee Child, Joseph Finder, Tana French, Ken Follett and Jeffery Deaver are just a few. As you can tell, I enjoy reading thrillers, but I certainly don’t limit myself to that genre. Susan Henderson’s UP FROM THE BLUE was a recent read, and I loved OLIVE KITTERIDGE. 
Who inspires you to do better?
Without a doubt, it’s my agent, Jeff Kleinman, who inspires me to do better. His standards are incredibly high, and by striving to exceed them and impress him, I’ve definitely become a stronger writer. Plus, he’s a really nice guy!
Do you ever put pants on your dog?
I once made a fake fur lion ruff for my cat. Does that count?
Describe your ultimate day?
Writing from morning till night and having the words just flow. Man, what I wouldn’t give for a day like that!
Your first novel, Freezing Point, came out in Sept 2008, could you tell us about your journey to publication? (I have an advantage here, of having known you through Backspace for quite a number of years, and I think your story is inspirational- I know you gave me reason to never give up.)
I wrote my first (unsold) novel back in 1998, and naively began looking for an agent as soon as I finished the first draft. By sheer luck, I did sign with an agent who loved the premise and felt my writing was strong, but who also showed me where the book’s plotting was a mess. I agreed with everything he said, and so he signed me with the idea that I’d rewrite the novel.
Three and a half years and three rewrites later, we sent the novel on submission, but didn’t get a sale. At that point, I went back and finished the novel I’d started during my agent search, and that’s the one that ultimately found a home. Freezing Point went on submission to editors in July 2006, but was rejected by all the editors who saw it - not because they didn’t like the novel, but because it was an environmental thriller, and eco-thrillers weren’t particularly popular at the time.
However, one editor didn’t read the manuscript until the following January, which was a lucky thing for me, because that fall, Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” came out and the climate for ecothrillers completely changed.
I happened to be in a bookstore when my agent called with the news. He wouldn’t tell me what was up until I sat down, but by that time, since it was 6 months after we’d sent Freezing Point on submission, I was so deeply immersed in writing the next novel, that I couldn’t imagine why he was making me play such a stupid game. But when he told me the news, my knees actually did get weak, so it’s a good thing I was sitting down! 
Do you have any quirks?
Like a lot of writers, I listen to music while I write, but it’s always just one song per book. I know that probably sounds weird, and I’m sure it drives my family crazy hearing the same music coming from my office for months on end, but there’s something about the repetition that’s both comforting and energizing. The music fills up the silence without distracting me. Since I write action stories on a big canvas, for me, dramatic movie soundtracks work best.
All time favorite movie and why.
Jurassic Park. I love the way Crichton took a science-based premise and spun it into the realm of “what if?” Everyone knows dinosaurs can’t be cloned from fossilized DNA, but if they could . . . . And Spielberg’s interpretation was pure magic!
What’s your preferred medium when it comes to writing – pen and paper, computer, typewriter.
Definitely computer - however, when I get stuck, I find there’s nothing like a change of scenery to good old pencil and paper.
How did you enjoy the editing process?
I’m a compulsive perfectionist, so for me, editing is just part of the initial writing process. I wish I were one of those authors who just spew their first draft onto the page, but I have a really difficult time turning off my internal editor long enough to do that.
Can you tell us about Backspace and ITW?
Backspace is an online writers group that my business partner, Christopher Graham, and I started back in April of 2004. Backspace has now grown to over 1,400 members in a dozen countries.  A third of our members are agented and/or published, and around two dozen are New York Times bestselling authors. 
Backspace’s mission statement is “writers helping writers,” which is why, in addition to the online forums, we began sponsoring real-world writers conferences.  Now we hold two events in New York City every year: the Backspace Writers Conference at the end of May with literary agents, editors, bestselling authors, and other publishing professionals on the program, and an Agent-Author Seminar in November for aspiring authors with only literary agents on the faculty.  
Backspace has made Writer’s Digest Magazine’s “101 Best Websites for Writers” list all 7 years of our existence. We were also interviewed by the magazine a couple of years ago:  http://www.writersdigest.com/article/spotlight-on-backspace/
The International Thriller Writers, or ITW, is an honorary society of authors, both fiction and nonfiction, who write books broadly classified as “thrillers,” that works to promote and elevate the thriller genre. I’m very pleased to serve as Managing Editor of ITW’s online webzine and newsletter, The Big Thrill. I also serve on the Board of Directors.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
The whole earth is so fascinating and beautiful , I’d like to live everywhere! Maybe do a rotation: beach, desert, mountains, rainforest, etc. etc.
What is one thing you know about New Zealand?  (Do not mention LOTR. I was seriously over it before they’d finished filming!)
New Zealand has the most incredible landscape in the entire world. I guess that’s where I’d like to live first!
How many novels have you written, both published and unpublished?
Three - one unpublished, two published.
What were you before you became a writer?
Hippie, back-to-the-lander, wife, mother, gardener, N-scale model train enthusiast, weaver, stained glass maker, to name a few. I won creative writing awards when I was in high school, but it wasn’t until my son was in high school and I was encouraging him to enter some of the same contests I had that I thought, “What about me? I used to be a pretty good writer.” A classic midlife crisis, but here I am!
What can we expect from you next?
My editor has a proposal for a third Point book on her desk. I’m also finishing up the first book in a science thriller trilogy for young adults that I’m very excited about, and that will be looking for a home shortly.
Do you carry a notebook or keep one by the bed for those sudden brilliant ideas?
I use the “notes” feature on my cell phone for those sudden moments of inspiration. Works MUCH better.
What is the most random thing you have ever written with and on?
Before I hit on the cell phone idea, I once got an idea while driving to the grocery store, only to realize when I got there that I had no pen. I hurried to the office supply section, ripped open a package, and wrote down the idea on whatever scrap of paper I had. Of course I paid for the pens later - mangled packaging and all!                       
I’d like to wish you all the very best with Boiling Point!
You can find out more about Karen in the following places:

And a little volcano info for you all:
Being a Kiwi – volcanoes are of great interest to me. We have a large number of volcanoes spread throughout New Zealand. Three main trouble makers are Ruapehu, Tongariro-Ngauruhoe, and White Island. I remember very clearly the eruption of Ruapehu in Sept 2007. The possibility of eruption goes through my mind every time the Boy Wonder goes Snowboarding!

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