A native of Chicago, Chris Karlsen is the best-selling author of the Knights in Time historical romance time-travel series. After college, where she earned a degree in Business, she spent the next twenty-five years in law enforcement with two agencies. A travel lover, she’s had the good fortune to travel Europe extensively, the Near East, and North Africa, in addition to most of the United States. Harboring a strong desire to write since her teens, upon retiring from police work, Chris decided to pursue her writing career. Her latest novel, Silk, is book one in her suspense/detective The Bloodstone series. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and five wild and crazy rescue dogs.
In this interview, Chris talks about Silk, police procedural in Victorian London, the mind of the killer, and her creative process, among other things.
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It’s a pleasure to have you here, Chris! Congrats on the release of Silk. Tell us, did you grow up in a creatively nurturing household? When did your fascination with books and writing begin?
My parents were lovers of art and music. They encouraged my creative streak, including the period in my “tweens” when I thought Beatniks were cool. My mom is a voracious reader and I read adult fiction early on with her blessing. I started writing in high school but didn’t pursue it in college as I feared I could never earn a living at it. After I retired from law enforcement, I thought it the perfect time to attempt my writing desire.
Having written time travel historical romances as well as romantic suspense, this new book, Silk, a suspense detective novel set in Victorian London, is a departure from you. What prompted you to start this new series in this different genre?
Between books a few years ago, I had tried to create a certain type of villain, a Phantom of the Opera tragic one. I found I couldn’t do it, not like Andrew Lloyd Webber for sure. I’d dealt with too many wicked people to accomplish that but I was intrigued with creating a villain who descends into madness. After I had a vision of my killer, it didn’t take long for Detective Inspector Rudyard Bloodstone to come to me. I can’t say how, or why, when he came everything about him was so strong in my mind from the beginning.
I thought it would be fun to put my spin on a classic British mystery/suspense. Now that I had the two main characters, I felt it was time to give this new genre a try. I had great fun with Rudyard (Ruddy) and I liked working in the Victorian period and in the London of the time. Of all the characters I’ve written, I think Ruddy was the easiest.
You were a detective for 25 years…do you think the writing of Silk was inevitable, considering your background?
I don’t know that Silk was inevitable. I never wanted to write cop stories per se. I enjoy reading some of the popular authors who do, like: Connelly, Sandford, Wambaugh etc. I just didn’t want to relive my career through my characters. What changed my mind was the historical aspect of my setting. I was writing to the period as well as the plot.
Yet, many aspects of police investigation have changed since 1888 London. What are the main differences?
No science, no DNA. Fingerprint technology hadn’t even started yet. They had autopsy results and a ballpark at time of death but everything else required good old fashioned police work: Looking for witnesses, showing photos, looking into the friends, family, and lifestyle of your victim.
But police procedural remains pretty much the same?
In many ways it does. You have a crime scene that generally contains some clues. An investigator still has to “read” the scene and work at recognizing those clues, however obscure. Once that’s done they did what we still do: look for motive, means, and opportunity. Who of your possible suspects meets that criteria.
Was the aristocracy treated differently by the police?
From my research, I’d say yes. The class structure was so entrenched in England at the time and police were not especially respected. Political and financial influence carried a lot of weight. There’s that “oh so & so is a member of my club. Don’t trouble him too much or badger him with questions. He couldn’t possibly be seriously considered a suspect.” That element came into play and generally extended to the wealthy person’s family as well.
Did you have to research about things that were particular to London at that time? Can you give us a glimpse into your research method? Any particular book or website that was especially helpful and that you would recommend to authors?
I do a tremendous amount of research for all my books as they all contain a historical aspect. I have a research page on my website where I list what I read for each book. For Silk, I used: The Victorian City by Judith Flanders, The encyclopedia of the Victorian World by Corey and Ochoa, The Book of London by Michael Leapman, How to be Victorian by Ruth Gordon, Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders.I also used the following websites: www.victorianweb.org, www.victorianlondon.org/frame-maps, and www.debretts.com/forms-address/titles.
I based him on an overall experience with some of the darker personalities I’ve dealt with but not on any one in particular. There are people I’ve met and interviewed or dealt with in some way that just made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
Take us into the mind of a remorseless killer. What are the tell signs?
I’m not a psychologist so I don’t claim to have any scientific basis for my opinions other than what I felt and/or observed when I’ve come into contact with them. It seems there are those killers who are “broken” early on, there’s some disconnect within them and they’re not fixable. They like to cause pain. It gives them pleasure. Just opinion but I don’t believe that lack of conscience and bloodlust can be overcome.
Some killers are hard to recognize because they’re also cunning. They know how to hide the twisted side of themselves when necessary. They’re the Ted Bundy types. He was said to be charming and witty. John Wayne Gacy entertained at children’s parties as a clown and was active in community affairs. Who knew? They come across as articulate and self-possessed but it’s that very benign facade that I tended to key on. Most of us, if questioned by the police about possible involvement in a murder or murders, would be pretty on edge and anxious. The fact these types aren’t was a red flag to me.
The others in the “broken” group aren’t as socially adept and I always suspect that they did send signals, either in what they obsessed over, the fact they tortured animals, hurt other children just to do it, little things they say. I’ve often wondered if the people around them chose to ignore those signs. I think that sadly, that is the case. Who wants to believe their child, spouse, neighbor etc. is such a twisted individual and capable of inflicting so much pain and sorrow?
With William, my killer in Silk, he didn’t see himself as slipping into madness. When he did have to face the consequences of his actions, he blamed other people and factors. I see this a lot in trials these days. The killer never accepts what he is and that is an excuse for all the wrong he/she have done. I don’t know that they present signs or signals until it’s too late and they’re caught. I didn’t want to write a crazed slasher, torturer type. I wanted William to present a normal appearance to the world. He wasn’t always a murderer but he always had the capacity to be one.
Any books or websites that you would recommend to writers who are crafting stories with this type of villain?
I can’t honestly say many come to mind. I didn’t read a ton on killers because of my detective background. One I plan to read is London’s Shadows by Drew Gray. They’re true stories of murderers in Victorian England. If I had to suggest books, I’d start with some on Jack the Ripper. He makes a fascinating character study because of the many theories and the fact he was never caught. I’ve had a passing interest in him for many years. The last book I read was Jack the Ripper by Jakubowski and Braund. We have a British friend who is a Ripperologist. He and I have had many talks over drinks discussing theories on the man.
I’m fascinated by Victorian London, the fog, the dark alleys, etc., so I can understand why you chose this setting and era. Yet I have to ask, considering your background, why didn’t you set your story in the US in the present time?
Setting my book here and in this time is too close to writing the cop story I never wanted to write. I love England, love history, and as I mentioned was intrigued by the classic British suspense and wanted to put my spin on it. I also really wanted Rudyard to be a man of that time. I felt I could give him more interesting friends and colorful associates.
I can’t recall any by name. It’s been too many years since I’ve seen them. They were predictable but fun. There was always this broke young Englishman with a title but no money who had a gambling problem. He takes a bet that he can stay in a haunted house and if he can, he’ll win lots of money. Sooner or later those characters wander into the crypt and watching I’d think WHY are you going there, you silly sod? Or, they’d doze off and wake up to a beautiful woman who just happens to be one from a painting of a woman who’s been dead for 200 years. Yet, the young man is smitten by the beauty. I’d think, seriously? Run, you fool!
I don’t think they influenced my writing in any significant way.
Let’s talk a bit about your creative process during the writing of Silk. How did you first get the idea and how did you develop the plot? Did you use programs such a Scrivener, WriteWay, etc? How long did it take you to complete Silk? Take us step by step into your creative psyche.
I was between books and sat down one night to watch Phantom of the Opera for the 50th time. I love the movie with Gerard Butler. I admired how Andrew Webber managed to create this tragic figure from a killer. I wondered if I could do that. I fiddled around trying to write that character and could not do it. I couldn’t in good conscience write this sympathetic killer. But, I liked what I had done with him but I got stumped where to go with him and put the manuscript away, frustrated. A few years later, I took it out again. For some reason, while I was writing Knight Blindness, the character of Rudyard Bloodstone came to me. I knew in an instant he was the perfect adversary for my killer.
I don’t use Scrivener or Write Way. I’m not cyber savvy and actually don’t have any idea what those programs entail. I start all my stories knowing the beginning and the end. Then I write an outline. I rarely stick to the outline but it gives me parameters and some ideas for scenes.
I knew I wanted William, my killer, to grow worse and worse. I thought it more interesting to show a man slip into madness. I didn’t want a one dimensional killer with no personality. William has moments where I tried to make the reader forget what he was and what he was capable of. I built in random acts that show a different side of him and meant to surprise the reader.
With Rudyard, much of what he was and who he was as a man and a detective had occurred when the idea of him came to me. I wanted to build a detailed world for him to function in. As I wrote, I aimed to let the reader see his friends, know a bit about his family, give a strong impression of the London he knew. I tried to create a snapshot of the social, political, and economic culture of the period. Those setting factors contribute to the type of men he and William are. The setting did double duty as it also provided the dangerous atmosphere where the killer operated.
I am a terribly slow writer. Silk took me six months to write but that includes multiple drafts. I write a chapter and then go back and edit. I do this all through the first draft. Then, I let the manuscript sit for a few weeks and do another edit. By the third or fourth time, I am usually comfortable with sending it off to my publisher. I’m often still reading research during this period and that will change some scenes from the first draft.
What do you love about being an author?
I love bringing a time, a place, the people in my head to life. I love it when a reader says they felt like they were walking next to the character, that they felt everything the character was going through and experiencing. When I hear readers tell me that, I am thrilled and can’t imagine not writing.
Yet it has its challenges, doesn’t it? Be that isolation, self-doubt, or possible family and friends not “getting you,” or understanding all those hours spent at the computer. Can you relate to this?
A little. My parents and husband have been very supportive. The time on the computer does bother my husband sometimes. I will be deep in a scene and have turned off all distractions, including casual conversation. As to the self-doubt, I suffer it like everyone else. I will waffle and worry over some detail or some quality to give or not give the character. I worry over the pacing, the word count, you name it!
What can readers expect from your future books in the series and when is the next installment coming out?
I’m currently working on book four in my Knights in Time series, which is historical romances. There’s no title yet and I hope to release it by the holidays this year. Then, I’ll start the next book in the Bloodstone series. I am already bouncing some ideas for the murderer around in my head. Many of Rudyard’s friends and associates will be returning for that book.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
Yes. If you dream of writing a story, of breathing life into an idea, then do write it. You may only have 15 minutes a day but just keep at it. My biggest regret in regards to writing is not starting sooner. I could’ve been writing while working at my profession. I didn’t take the time and I wish now I had.
Thank you so much for this interview, Chris. It was a pleasure to have you on my site.
Thank you for inviting me. I’ve enjoyed our chat.
a copy (print or kindle) of Silk
a swag bag
a $10 Amazon gift card