Category: Writing

A Tale of Two Covers

A Tale of Two Covers

I seem to be having trouble with novel covers these days. I’ve struggled over a romance series that will be getting a rebranding this Spring (after going through the same thing last Spring—I’m still not happy.) Now I’m working on the cover for the first in a new alternate history mystery series. The first novel, After Yekaterina, is in for copy editing and I’m about 45% of the way through the first draft of the second novel, so I thought I’d get started with planning covers.

The books are noir police procedurals that take place in an alternate world where the Ottoman Empire defeated Catherine the Great of Russia. As a result the Ottomans kept their hold on central Asia—until they bumped up against the Chinese Empire of the Sun. In this world, the rag-tag remains of Russian Moscow have built a new motherland, Fergana, with New Moscow as their capital. Caught like the gristle in a joint between the two superpowers, Fergana provides fertile ground for a new Asian Great Game of spies and subterfuge. It takes lone wolf Detektiv Alexander Kazakov to deal with the bodies left behind.

I have two cover options below. One represents the loner working alone, while the other focuses on place and tone. What do you think? Which one best represents the concept I’ve laid out?

Latest Release: The Nests of Old Women

Latest Release: The Nests of Old Women

The Nests of Old Women

My latest short story is a modern fairy tale and will be taking part in a Bundlerabbit bundle of fairy tales. The story is now live on all the usual channels.

When Clare Pine’s husband, Todd, leaves her for another woman, Clare’s life takes a nose dive. First she loses her man, then her apartment and finally her job. After a year watching every dream she has pass her by while Todd’s life soars, she finally becomes angry enough to do something about it. She just doesn’t know what.

Then she meets a tall, dark stranger who tells her a story about an old woman who can help her—a woman in the woods. When she meets the woman, Clare will have to decide just how far she’ll go to gain her revenge.

For more information click HERE.

A Bundle of Christmas Reads

A Bundle of Christmas Reads

A new bundle of holiday reading, The Santa Clause Files, has released today and includes a medley of books from romance to humor by such wonderful writers as Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, M.L. Buchman, Russ Crossley, Rebecca Senese, Robert Jeschonek, Annie Reed, Rita Schultz, Jamie Ferguson and myself (writing as Karen L. McKee).

A good way to get yourself in the mood for the holidays!


Santa Claus Files

What makes a book memorable? Is it the ending?

What makes a book memorable? Is it the ending?

I’ve recently been through a number of personal ‘endings’: the death of a loved one and the sale of the family home to name two. Both have left me feeling tired and emotionally drained. Even though I recognize that, though painful, these are normal events in life, they are also events that will linger in my mind.

They put me in mind of how some stories stay with us far longer than others. What is it, I wondered, that allows me to forget some books almost immediately after reading, while others stay with me for years. Some people say it is a powerful ending, something that ends with resonance. Others talk about it being a combination of interesting character and setting coupled with a powerful plot. But is it all of these things together, or does one dominate the others?

For example, The Da Vinci Code could be said to have an interesting character in Professor Langdon, an interesting setting (Paris) and an interesting plot (that the descendants of Mary Magdalene and Jesus are alive today). When I think of the book (not my favorite, but I remember it), what is it that makes it memorable? For me, it’s the plot. Paris is there, but not really memorable and Langdon doesn’t really interest me at all. For other readers their experience might be different.

Here are a few of the books that haunt me far more than The Da Vinci Code:
• I will always remember Lord of the Rings and still find it a balm on days when I’m feeling low. I loved the world J.R.R. Tolkien built… and the elves, of course.
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova blew me away with its haunting prose descriptions and suspense, though the ending, to me, was flawed.
• I loved Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance for the evocative location and the tragedy of the story.
Fatherland, an alternate history where the Germans won the Second World War, was a chilling detective story filled with haunting gray and darkness.
• Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series is a guilty pleasure that I have to ration like the best 80% chocolate. I love the town of Three Pines and the complex and quirky characters that populate the place.










So what is it about these books that keeps drawing me back to reread them, or that stick so clearly in my mind? As I look back at my list I realized that it was a very powerful sense of place. Tolkien’s world building went so far as to create a whole elvish culture and a history of Middle Earth right down to the poetry and songs of the place—some of which I learned by heart. Kostova took

me thought Eastern Europe and again evoked a magical and sometimes dread-filled sense of place. Rohinton Mistry brought me to the darkness and the light of Indian culture, including the underbelly of the Indian State. Fatherland evoked serious dread and horror at the final discoveries.

Louise Penny? Well what is there to say? I want to eat the food in the restaurant and stay at the B and B in Three Pines. I want to talk to her characters and walk the road around the village admiring the gardens, the antiques and the artwork, regardless of the fact that I’m likely to end up as a murder victim. (There are a lot of murders in Three Pines.)

So even if there are interesting events in these books, most of all it’s the place and the characters that grab hold of my head and my heart and won’t let go. Sometimes it makes it hard to say goodbye—to a book or a part of life.

What about you? Is it the character-full book, the evocative setting, or the unusual plot that haunts you or keeps you going back to a book again and again? What are your favorite reads?


Heart’s Return Bundle

Heart’s Return Bundle

I’m pleased to report that my Romantic Suspense novel, Shadow Play, is part of the Heart’s Desire bundle from Bundlerabbit. The novel is set in Cambodia and involves a reporter, an old flame, missing orphans and stolen rubies. Think Romancing the Stone with a wee bit more danger.

Heart's Return

Winter is Coming

Winter is Coming

Okay, I know that line has been taken, but it seems that winter is a theme running through my writing these days. I recently finished a new alternative history mystery novel, (as yet unpublished—still at first reader stage) that arose out of a writing workshop I attended on the Oregon Coast. It is set in what is Kyrgyzstan in our world. Okay, okay. I can hear you now. KYRGYZSTAN? Where the heck is Kyrgyzstan?

Think north of Afghanistan in and around the Tian Shan and Allay mountains.

It’s a small, ex-Soviet Union country—one of the ‘stans’.

My story grew out of an exercise at a Historical, Time Travel, and Alternate History workshop presided over by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, author of such wonderful time travel novels as Snipers. She asked us to take an event out of the wonderful non-fiction book The Great Upheaval, and use that as a jumping off point for an alternate history story. The short story that arose presumes that history diverged way back in the late-1700s at the time of Catherine the Great, or Yekaterina as I call her. It was around the same time as the American and French revolutions when Catherine was the great Tsarina of the Russian people. She was an interesting lady who wasn’t even Russian by birth, but she married the Tsar and then usurped his throne. Like I said, interesting lady.

In her younger years Catherine was tempted by the influence of the great statesmen and philosophers of her day to consider democracy for her people, but eventually decided that it wouldn’t work—for Russian peasants. Instead she went to war against the Ottoman Empire. In our world she won her battles because the Ottoman Empire was waning.

But what if Catherine’s depredations (and they were vicious) woke the Ottomans up? What if the Ottomans found their strength again and took the battle to Catherine and the Russians? The Russians were stretched by conflicts on their northern and southern borders and with Poland.

Because the Ottomans won (in my version of history), it led to a world very unlike this one. It led much sooner to the end of the French Revolution so that Napoleon never became emperor and never ruled. As a result, the French government never supported the fledgling United States in their great democratic experiment, and that led to Great Britain taking over most of North America.

At least in my made-up world.

In the novel that grew out of the short story, a rag-tag group of Russian refugees escaped the Ottoman juggernaut and now live in a small country called Fergana. Fergana lies caught like the gristle in a joint between the two behemoths of the Chinese and Ottoman Empires. In the late fall of a modern day New Moscow a young girl is found dead in a city park. Thus begins my new novel, After Yekaterina. It’s late October and the first snow is threatening as Detektiv Alexander Kazakov stands over her body.

That is how I came up with my latest mystery series. And now, as I start the second novel in the series, the autumn ocean storms are settling in over my home, but in Fergana it is deepest January and the long winter has arrived.

My goodness I like this writing thing.

There be Dragons…

There be Dragons…

A new bundle including the illustrious Kevin J. Anderson and myself and others is available at your favorite online retailer.

My novel, Ice Dragon, is a post-apocalyptic YA with zombies, romance and, yes, dragons!

Check it out!

The Care and Feeding of Birds… and Novels

The Care and Feeding of Birds… and Novels

I put up a new birdfeeder the other day. It’s not the feeder oriented toward small birds like rosy and gold finches or chickadees. This one is solid wood, with a solid tray and a wooden roof that I inherited from my parents’ house. I decided to throw it up on my back deck as a way to get rid of some bird feed that I had had left at my house.

The first day a few little birds fluttered over from my other feeder to try it out. This carried on for a few days, but they clearly preferred my tube feeder with the chopped sunflower seed. I waited anxiously to see whether anyone would like the plain bird seed, peanuts and sunflower seeds in their shells. About three days in suddenly I had a vivid blue visitor—a cocky Stellar Jay. Not long afterwards there was a second—a youngster who kept bugging his mother to feed him even though he was perfectly capable of feeding himself. These two kept the feeder busy, taking turns feeding and teasing my Bengal cats in the process.

Two weeks later the population of Stellar Jays has doubled with four of the forward little fellows coming in to feed. They also take great pleasure in teasing the cats by hopping right up to my sliding screen doors. There are also two or three flickers that come in to feed as well as the usual mix of smaller birds. It’s kitty T.V.

The process of building a population of bird neighbors got me thinking about the care and feeding of novels—mainly because this spring and summer life has kept me from being able to write as much as I would like to. It got me thinking about how the kernel of an idea for a novel is a lot like putting out a birdfeeder.

Writing a novel requires the same faith as putting up that bird feeder, but instead of waiting for the birds, as a writer I’m waiting for the visitations of ideas. When I first put fingers to keyboards to start a new novel, it’s like hanging out the birdfeeder. There are tempting ideas there, there may even be ideas about the characters you intend to include, but the reality is something else. The core of the idea is there, but finding the other ideas that make a novel a novel is another matter altogether. After all, a bird feeder without birds isn’t much of anything at all and a novel without layers of ideas is at most a short story.

In the best of cases, new ideas come as you write. They really do seem to flutter down of their own accord, attracted by your initial idea—some even strut onstage cockily much like a Stellar Jay. The best of them you never see coming, leading to a veritable Eureka moment. The ideas that surprise the writer are my favorite kind and are usually the situations or reversals of fortunes that please readers the most, too. They are the ideas I strive to find in my stories, but in truth I think the ideas find me.

This year my creative process seems to have been dampened by dealing with too many family issues. It feels like my bird feeder is empty. And yet…

I wrote a short story the other day (good or bad, who knows) and I saw a pileated woodpecker for the first time since I moved into this home 18 months ago. My plan for this challenging time is to gradually get back into writing and to blog about the process.

And I will remember my bird feeder metaphor. If I start the novel, the big ideas will come.

Wish me luck.

Back to Burma (Myanmar)

Back to Burma (Myanmar)

I traveled to Myanmar (Burma) in 1997 while I was living and working in Thailand. At the time, the country was still mostly closed to foreigners. Only select parts of the country were open. During my month ‘in-country’ (the maximum the visa allowed) I conducted research on the Burmese puppet troupes and stayed at small guesthouses for a better chance of meeting local people. Unfailingly, everyone I met was giving of their time, knowledge and their kindness.

That began my love affair with Burma. (You can read more about my travels here.)

Since then I’ve written a number of novels set in Burma, including the modern, paranormal romance Shades of Moonlight.

In April 2017 Guardbridge Books published Death By Effigy, the first in my historical Aung and Yamin Fantasy Mystery series, in which an aging puppet singer and a mischievous puppet, must solve the murder of the king of the puppets or risk the destruction of the entire troupe.

I’m pleased to announce that the second in the series, A Death In Passing, has just been released, continuing the trials and tribulations of Aung, the puppet singer, with his troublesome assistant, Yamin, as they try to solve the murder of Burma’s most powerful spirit dancer.

In all of these books I’ve attempted to be true to the country’s culture and to accurately present the wonderful nature-magic systems (with a few embellishments). Burma seems to be in my blood and I envision more novels set in this wonderful and varied country. Whether historical or modern novels, I hope to capture the country’s magic for readers.

If you’ve traveled in Burma, I’d love to hear how I did.

Recent Fantasy

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Recent Mystery

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Recent Romance

Available HERE, $2.99