By Rick Reed
A regular on the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY bestseller lists; Karen Robards is the author of forty-three books and one novella. The mother of three boys, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Her newest book, SHIVER, will be available on December 4th, and just in time for Christmas.
Samantha “Sam” Jones is a twenty-three year-old single mother who makes ends meet by repossessing cars at night while taking classes to be an EMT during the day. Her life goes terribly wrong when she discovers a beaten, bloody man in the trunk of the BMW she is getting ready to tow away. That man is Danny Panterro, an undercover FBI agent trying to stay one step ahead of the drug cartel he is investigating. Forced to go on the run with Danny, Sam puts everything she has in to trying to stay alive – and keep the cartel away from her four-year old son.
“…. spellbinding romantic suspense….” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY starred review.
“…fast-paced action, nail-biting suspense and blazing sexual tension….” KIRKUS REVIEWS
“It’s non-stop action in the newest romantic thriller by the always awesome Robards… Classic romantic suspense by a genuine master!” RT BOOKREVIEWS
What was your first experience with being published? How did that experience influence your future writing?
When I was an eighteen-year-old freshman in college, my rent was one hundred dollars per month. Back then, that was quite a sum to come up with. One day, as I was working my part-time job in an orthodontist’s office, I picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest and, thumbing through it, saw that they wanted to buy what they called humorous anecdotes. The pay? Oh, yeah – one hundred dollars. At the time, my thinking ran along the lines of, is this fate, or what?
I was so new to the writing world that I had no idea that selling an anecdote was actually difficult. The possibility of rejection never even entered my head. I sat down at the typewriter in the office and pecked out a short, funny anecdote. It’s been a few years, so I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I believe I called it Go, Big Mama!
I sent it in. And, just as I had been in no doubt that they would, Reader’s Digest bought it. Sent a check for one hundred dollars to me in the mail about three weeks later. I was thrilled. I also had a brainstorm: now I knew how to pay for college. I would just churn out anecdote after anecdote for one hundred dollars each, and I’d have it made.
So I wrote another half-a-dozen. And sent them in. And guess what? I got half-a-dozen very nice rejection letters instead of checks. I tried it a second time: same result.
In fact, I never sold them another anecdote. But that first one was published, in 1973. I believe it was the December issue. I was proud – and hooked.
It was the first time I ever had the slightest inkling that I might become a writer.
Have you always written romance/suspense novels?
My first book, ISLAND FLAME, was historical romance. My second (well, it was the second book I wrote, although it was actually the fourth one I had published, because the publisher wanted to follow that first successful historical with more) was TO LOVE A MAN, which was romantic suspense. Both of those are still in print, by the way. At the time, historical romance was much more popular, so I went back and forth for a number of years until the market changed. Now I write romantic thrillers, but I still have a soft spot for historical romance.
Why did you make the switch from historical romance to contemporary romance?
When I wrote ISLAND FLAME, I didn’t mean to typecast myself. I began that book as a class assignment. The professor asked us to write something publishable, and a historical romance just happened to be what I came up with. I read everything, always have, and it was natural for me to write something different the next time. I write what I love, but I also try to follow the market, and right now the market is more robust for contemporary romantic thrillers.
Do any of the characters in SHIVER resemble real people you have known? If not, how do you create your characters?
None of the characters in SHIVER is based on a real person. No, I take that back: Tyler, Samantha’s four-year-old son, is based loosely on my own sons. Just loosely, though, in that I am familiar with little boys. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, I simply make my characters up. I get to live in their skin for a little while as I tell their stories. Sam, for example, is a twenty-three, single and hot. She was fun to write.
As the author of forty-three books, how difficult/easy do you find it to keep coming up with plots, characters, and endings? Where do your ideas come from?
It all stems from character, and each character is different. I think that’s why I don’t have any trouble coming up with different stories for each one. My biggest problem is names. After so many books, I catch myself repeating favorites. I was recently given a baby name book, which helps.
As to where my ideas come from, there is one concrete example I can give you: When I was in my late twenties, I was walking in Central Park in NYC with my younger sister. She was in what I call her Dolly Parton phase, with big, teased up hair and – well, suffice it to say big hair. I was in my my-hair-hangs-straight phase, which I’ve pretty much been in my whole life, because that’s all it does. Anyway, we’re walking, and she looks at me, clearly embarrassed because I am not cutting the fashion mustard, and says, “Your hair needs more puff.” I looked back and said, “Your hair has enough puff for the both of us.” She said, “No, really.” I then said something along the lines of she had so much puff in her hair that I was going to dedicate my next book to it. That made her mad. So with true sisterly forbearance, I started singing “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” to her. That made her madder.
That’s when I had my epiphany. What if I dedicated my next book to my sister, only I wrote something like “This book is dedicated to the real Puff the Magic Dragon” without specifying her name (because I really didn’t want to embarrass her) and it just so happened that there was a secret agent out there whose code name was Puff the Magic Dragon? And what if he was missing? And the CIA and the KGB and all kinds of other bad guys were looking for him? And they saw the dedication in my book and thought I knew where he was and they came looking for me? Yikes!
So there you have it. That turned out to be the plot of my romantic thriller NIGHT MAGIC. It’s still in print, too (actually, all my books are). If you check it out, you’ll see that it’s dedicated to the real Puff, my sister Lee Ann.
What kind of research do you need to write suspenseful romance?
I do exactly as much research as I need to do. Each book has different requirements. As I write through the prism of each character’s knowledge, I try to know what they would know. For an FBI agent, for example, I might need to know about guns, for a psychiatrist, diagnostic techniques.
Do you have a writing routine? Without giving your ‘special’ place away, is there a special type of place that you like to work?
The third floor of my house is my office. My routine consists of getting up at around seven, making sure my youngest son gets off to school, and going to work. I usually work until he gets home around 3:30. Unless I’m on a deadline, or, worse, behind on a deadline, which I usually am. Then I work all the time, seven days a week around the clock, as close to twenty-four hours a day as I can manage without dying.
And somehow the books keep getting done.
As a married mother of three boys, what is a typical day like in the Robard’s home?
My older two boys are out of the house now, although I see them frequently. Only my youngest is still at home. I get up, get him off to school, and go to work. When my son gets home, he and my husband and I, and either of the other two if they happen to stop in, have dinner. Then I work, read, or watch TV, depending on the state of the book I’m writing and my deadline.
What advice would you have for upcoming authors?
Read. Write what you love. Always keep the market – what is selling and being bought – in mind. And write your best book every single time.