Karen Robards: Thrilling, Chilling, Filling Romantic Suspense

Karen RobardsI met Karen Robards at a Romantic Times conference in 1983. We had a delightful conversation in a deserted meeting room, and I’m sure Karen has no idea who I am, but I remember her vividly. I bought her book at the conference, and I’ve been reading her wonderful stories ever since.

One of the aspects of Karen’s biography that I love is she puts her family first. She never hesitates to talk about her three boys and her love for her husband. The family lives in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where Karen’s best friend is the same one she’s had since childhood. Just like your best friend next door.

She has an amusing story about her first writing effort. She was in a graduate-level creative writing class when she got an assignment to write fifty pages of something publishable. Karen went to her local bookstore and bought several popular fiction books. With that assignment, she began her first historical romance story, and it included pirates, sex, and all the other elements for a great historical novel. It was called The Pirate’s Woman, and when the assignments were done, the professor announced they would be read aloud in class. Karen was mortified.

Most of the other offerings were attempts at the great American novel that would win a Pulitzer for fiction. Embarrassed but not outdone, Karen stood and read her piece, keeping her eyes on the paper. She said the class laughed when she finished, but she took that brave beginning and turned it into her first novel, Island Flame. I wonder how many of her fellow students have seen the success as a writer that Karen has.

Though she had to keep her day job in an orthodontist’s office, Karen was diligent about her writing. She locked herself in a bathroom stall every day at lunch and wrote on a legal pad. When that book was finished, she typed it up for submission and mailed it off to an agent with great hope. The agent accepted it, and To Love a Man won many awards and is still named among fan favorites. According to fictiondb.com, you can still buy it.

Among her earlier books, I think Amanda Rose is my favorite, and I’ve read it over and over. I still have my original copy.

With her career launched, Karen successfully moved to contemporary romance and her devoted readers followed her. She has been on the New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and USA Today best seller lists. She still writes successfully in multiple genres, and her books are always highly anticipated.

She is very skilled at creating and maintaining suspense. Her books keep you wondering what will happen next. This example is from Bait, one of her wonderful romantic suspense books:

Maddie startled awake. For a moment, she lay blinking up into the darkness, her heart pounding, her breathing coming in shuddering gasps. The dream—of course it was the dream. Would she never be rid of it?

Then it hit her. Darkness . . . her room was dark. She wasn’t dreaming, and her room was dark. The apartment was dark, too, and quiet. Too quiet. The TV . . . it was off, dark, soundless.

Her ears picked up a sound, a movement. Her breathing stopped as her eyes swung blindly in the direction from which it came.

This time it was for real.

There was someone in her room.

That last sentence ended a chapter, so you know the reader didn’t put the book down at that point.

In Obsession, Karen takes on the familiar story of a woman waking up with lost memories. It’s a tried-and-true plotline, but Karen didn’t make it simple, and that’s what makes her books exceptional. The storylines are executed beautifully and everything in the story unwinds slowly like a yarn ball in a knitter’s lap. It’s bad enough when you can’t trust your own memories, but when you can’t trust the man who claims to be your protector, what do you do? You steal someone else’s clothes and run, of course:

Slipping through the door, she tried to look nonchalant. Which wasn’t easy when her heart was beating a mile a minute and her pants felt like they might take a dive with each and every step and her cramped toes were already killing her. To say nothing of the fact that her legs felt about as solid as limp spaghetti and her head was swimming and the only way she was getting any air was through her mouth. The elevator was, she thought, her best bet, because the stairwell was too obvious and too easy to monitor. What she wanted to do was blend, blend, blend.

You can feel Katherine’s tension as she tries to escape a place where people were looking for her and wanting to keep her there. There’s a lot of excitement in that paragraph.

Imagine being in a car with the First Lady of the United States. There’s a horrible wreck and you’re the only survivor. Again, Karen uses the memory loss of a traumatic event, but her survivor has to overcome impossible odds and has only one person—a strong, dramatic Secret Service agent—who can help her.

Picture me giving a heavy sigh. I love stories like this.

The other part of Karen’s masterful writing skill is the romantic elements in her books. Watching her characters fall in love is not easy. They don’t just slip into each other’s arms and live happily ever after, they learn about each other, the good and the bad. By the time they come to terms with their endearment, the reader is hanging on every word they say and longing for their embrace as much as they are.

Her latest book, Shiver, just came out in December, and it will definitely give you some chills and you’ll want all the lights on while you’re reading. Samantha Jones is a strong and dedicated single mother, so dedicated her job is driving a tow truck around the seedier parts of town doing repossessions. Her best friend has two names—Smith and Wesson—and they do whatever is necessary to get the job done. When she becomes the unwitting accomplice for a man who’s running from his kidnappers . . . well, enough said. There’s a lot of romantic suspense there.

Karen has written more than forty books, and she continues to deliver compelling, entertaining stories. Admittedly she needs to update her website, but if that would take away from her writing time, then we’ll forgive her. Just remember this, when you read a book by Karen Robards, you won’t be disappointed.

Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, recently had a short story published in the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, and is a contributor to the blog WomenofMystery.net. She and her collaborator, Jan Powell, have a book, Second Nature by Neely Powell, coming out next spring.

Read all posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.

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