Friday, December 31, 2010

Dishing it up with Karen Dionne.

Happy New Years Eve! I’m jazzed to have Karen Dionne on my blog today.

Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. A second environmental thriller, Boiling Point, is forthcoming December 28, 2010. Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace (, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the Board of Directors as Vice President, Technology, and as Managing Editor of ITW's monthly publication, The Big Thrill.

JET: Thanks for hanging with us for a bit. Your second novel, Boiling Point came out this week, can you tell us a little about the book?

Karen: Boiling Point is an environmental thriller in which two microbiologists on field assignment in Northern Patagonia, Chile discover what appears to be a simple case of illegal dumping. But deliberately ruining the earth is never simple, and before they know it, they’re caught up in a race to save not only the planet, but their own lives.

I got the idea for Boiling Point when I read an article, “10 Wacky Ways to Save the Planet,” about using geoengineering to counteract the effects of global warming. One of the suggestions the article put forth involves seeding the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide particles to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption.

The idea that someone would take it upon themselves to deliberately and permanently alter 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 absolutely amazing, so that became the setting for the book.

Then I traveled to Chaitén volcano for research. I stayed in the town at the base of the volcano, even though Chaitén town was evacuated and without electricity or running water, since it was ruined by a lahar during the initial eruption – a fast-moving flow of mud and ash that choked the river and buried the town. I also hiked to within one mile of the new lava dome, where I saw steam vents, heard explosions coming from the caldera, and felt a small earthquake. It was an amazing and awe-inspiring trip which definitely informs the novel.

JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?

Karen: I think the most challenging aspect of publishing has been learning to accept that the whole process takes so long. When you’re with a major publisher as I am, each step, from getting feedback from your editor, to seeing the cover art, to getting copyedits, then page proofs, ARCs, and finally your author’s copies and seeing the book in the bookstores, takes months. For both books, from the day the novel sold to the day the novel hit the shelves was nearly two years. I’m not naturally a patient person!

JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?

Karen: Oh, without a doubt, it was getting the news that we had an offer from Berkley for my first novel, Freezing Point. I happened to be in a bookstore when my agent called – how perfect is that? My editor’s purchasing Boiling Point was also exciting, there’s nothing like that first time.

JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?

Karen: The craziest thing I’ve done for research was definitely traveling 7,000 miles to check out an active volcano. At the time I got the idea for the book, I didn’t know anything about volcanoes or Chile, and I don’t speak ten words of Spanish. I had only a few weeks to clear my desk and set up the trip, and I remember thinking the night before I left, “Am I nuts? Who do I think I am, a character in a novel?” But it all worked out fine.

As for the most interesting fact – before I researched the book, I didn’t realize that in the Southern Hemisphere, the moon is upside down. How cool is that?

JET: Any advice for the novices out there?

Karen: I have two. First, it’s important that writers who are still struggling to break in understand that writers are not in competition with one another. The more books that are sold, the stronger the industry becomes, and we all reap the benefits. Every time a reader buys a book by a bestselling thriller author, they’re also helping me, because they’re helping to create a market for the kind of books I write. So don’t ever be jealous of another author’s success. There’s room at the table for both of you.

The second is: Write the right book. It takes a year or more to write a novel. Don’t settle for a good story idea, or an excellent story idea, or even a great one. Write an AMAZING novel – the kind that generates multiple agent offers, and has publishers falling all over themselves in their rush to purchase. It’s not as impossible as it sounds; at the Backspace forums, I see first-time authors hit this sweet spot over and over again. If none of your novel ideas have that blow-’em-out-of-the-water wow factor, don’t write one until it does. Stretch. Reach. Don’t settle.

JET: Great advice! 

All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten. . . starting with:

JET: Paper or Plastic?

Karen: Paper! My next novel, Breaking Point, is set in an area of slack winds and currents between California and Hawaii called the North Pacific Garbage Dump where literally tons of plastic debris have been accumulating for decades. Once you begin to understand the scope of the problem, you can’t ever look at a piece of plastic the same way.

JET: Steak or Tofu?

Karen: Steak! Medium rare. Yum! Tofu, not so much.

JET: Beach or Mountains?

Karen: Beach, then mountains, then desert, then anywhere. If I could live forever, eventually, I’d live every place on earth.

JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?

Karen: Rock. I’m a child of the 60s.

JET: Leather or Lace?

Karen: Leather.

JET: Angels or Demons?

Karen: I always root for the good guys.

JET: Paper or Digital?

Karen: Paper. I have an e-reader, but still find myself reaching first for a print book.

JET: Silent Film Classics or Cheesy B Rated Horror?

Karen: Silent Film Classics.

JET: Spring or Fall?

Karen: Fall.

JET: Coffee or Tea?

Karen: Coffee!

JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?

Karen: While I’m waiting to hear from my editor about that third Point book (and waiting, and waiting – see my answer to publishing’s greatest challenges), I’m working on the first book in a science thriller trilogy for young adults. My adult novels all feature scientists as the main characters, and the protagonists in the young adult series are the children of scientists, so it’s a natural progression for me. I’m really enjoying the new story. Writing in a teenager’s voice is fun!

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on my blog. Folks, you can find out more about Karen Dionne and her work at her website:

 Next week, I'll be highlighting the January releases for my Backspace brethren. 

Until then, have a safe and happy New Year's Eve! 


1 comment:

Austin Carr said...

Why K. and not Karen? Are thriller supposed to be written my men?