Traveling the World with Karen Rose
How Her Worldview Impacts Her Writing
By Karen Rose
I’ve been to 46 of the 50 United States and three dozen other countries. I enjoy travel. I enjoy being in faraway places, even though the getting there is less fun these days. Traveling on airplanes and taxis and buses is hard work! But being there is a delight. My favorite part is always meeting new people all over the world. I love to listen to their stories and the way they speak. Accents are a bit like music. I can hear them in my mind later when I sit down to write.
After writing 30 books, finding unique names that I haven’t used before can be difficult. I collect both first names and surnames as I travel, asking those I meet for permission to use their names. Usually, they’re thrilled to be included in a book and a surprisingly large number of people want to be the villain! Sometimes a name takes on much more importance than I expect. I met a reader in South Africa named Firoza. She wanted to be a character in a story after her friend—my South African publisher’s sales rep—was included in a previous book. I said, ‘Sure! What do you want to be? Villain, victim, suspect, or witness?’ She wanted to be a victim and to have a dramatic demise, which made me laugh.
And then I sat down to write and realized that I couldn’t grant her wish. A young girl in the story grabbed Firoza’s name and claimed it, and I was too attached to the character to give her any kind of demise, dramatic or not. Then I googled the name and found that it means “turquoise” which ended up becoming a major clue. Spoiler alert: Firoza survives her book. I hoped the real-life Firoza wouldn’t be disappointed that she didn’t get bumped off, but she was thrilled, so yay! I never would have considered the name had I not met this woman in person on my travels.
I still have a long list of German names submitted by readers who wanted to be victims in a book. I’ve been including names from that list here and there for more than 10 years, so discovering interesting names is a definite benefit to travel.
Another way that travel has impacted my writing is discovering which of my life experiences are shared universally and which are quintessentially American. Many of my readers reside outside of the USA, so I’m careful when including those American customs, pastimes, and language. I want to be sure that readers get the context clues needed to understand why certain customs are important and how they incorporate into the plot. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue as American television has paved my way. For example, readers understand “prom” dances even if their own graduation festivities are a bit different.
Homecoming seemed to be different, though. And the importance of high school football in the southern US has raised many a question over the years. I try to work explanations of these customs into the narrative as the books will be translated into other languages, and I want to be sure the translators don’t get confused.
Travel has also taught me that some words which are commonplace and innocuous in the US are not socially acceptable elsewhere. I’ve unfortunately learned many of these lessons the hard way. I avoid the term ‘fanny pack’ in a book, for example, because that ‘f” word is a vulgar term in the UK. I still wince at the memory of asking my friend where my fanny pack was in front of her then-eight-year-old son. She clapped her hands over her son’s ears, and I immediately knew I’d made a blunder. We had a good laugh about it later, but ouch! I think he survived the experience though, LOL. He’s pushing 40 and probably has no recollection of that day, but I sure do.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from travel, however, is that being a tourist in another country doesn’t necessarily provide the depth of experience to write from their point of view. Despite my wanderings, I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time in any one country to truly know the culture well enough to set a story there—unless it’s from the POV of an American on holiday. If I ever set a book in another country, I want to be very knowledgeable about that place and their customs and language. For me, that would require more than a week stay here or there.
Which is, most definitely, an enticing idea! Excuse me, please, while I go away and dream of spending months in the mountains of Patagonia or the hills of Tuscany…
Internationally bestselling author Karen Rose was born and raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. She met her husband, Martin, on a blind date when they were seventeen and after they both graduated from the University of Maryland, (Karen with a degree in Chemical Engineering) they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Karen worked as an engineer for a large consumer goods company, earning two patents, but as Karen says, “scenes were roiling in my head and I couldn’t concentrate on my job so I started writing them down. I started out writing for fun, and soon found I was hooked.”
Her debut suspense novel, DON’T TELL, was released in July, 2003. Since then, she has published more than fifteen novels and two novellas. Her twenty-eighth novel, BENEATH DARK WATERS, released in 2023.
Karen’s books have appeared on the bestseller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, London’s Sunday Times, and Germany’s der Spiegel (#1), and the Irish Times, as well as lists in South Africa (#1) and Australia! To date, her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.
A former high school teacher of chemistry and physics, Karen lives in Florida with her husband of more than thirty years. Check out her website to learn more.
Traveling the World with Karen Rose