Karen E. Olson is the author of Betrayed (available April 1, 2017)—the 3rd book in her critically acclaimed Black Hat Thriller series.
Recently, Ms. Olson generously agreed to answer some questions about creative inspiration and process.
What was the impetus for Betrayed, and how do you see this book as an evolution of the series’ overall story arc?
Betrayed is the 3rd in the Black Hat Thriller series. I envisioned a three-book story arc when I started the series. Betrayed does continue the storyline, but I do believe it can stand on its own if readers have missed the others.
There’s an underlying theme of identity that runs through these books. How does Tina Adler struggle with this, and in what ways do the events of Betrayed threaten to disrupt her notion of self?
Tina spends years staying off the grid—and offline—in order to conceal her identity because of the crime she committed. Even before her years in hiding, she hid behind a screen name online. Despite adopting new identities, Tina ultimately realizes that she can't change who she really is no matter how much she tries. Betrayed takes this realization even further as she goes back to where she grew up and confronts her past.
What are the challenges of sustaining a believable sense of suspense when working with an isolated character (especially considering the 1st book, Hidden, was envisioned as a standalone), and how do genre conventions both create a framework for this and allow for ingenuity?
Writing a thriller or suspense is very different from writing a traditional mystery in that there is no whodunit, rather there has to be a sense of danger around every corner that keeps the plot moving forward. When my editor asked me to turn Tina Adler into a series character after Hidden, I was at a loss as I'd felt I left her in a safe place that she would never have to leave. In Shadowed, I had to give her a reason to. It was much easier in Betrayed to continue the threat against her, and thus, yet another escape and an attempt at redemption. Her situation and her past—as well as the fact that she's a hacker—lend themselves to myriad possibilities thriller-wise.
Internet technology/computer hacking is an integral element to the books. Given how quickly such things can change, how do you endeavor to balance timeliness with a sense of timelessness in your books?
Technology is moving so quickly, and what's in my books didn't even exist 20 years ago. So 20 years from now, someone might pick up one of my books and feel nostalgic for the days of bitcoins and hotspot wireless routers.
But the Deep Web—the dark side of the Internet—is always going to exist in some form, as well as the threat against privacy, that the very idea of technology means that we have no privacy at all, and that all of our information is out there somewhere in a “cloud” that's just asking to be hacked.
Since I'm not a computer hacker, I want to rely more on how these things affect the emotions of my characters and my readers. I also have taken a little bit of license in making up technology—because if it doesn't exist now, it very well might exist in the future.
In addition to being a novelist, you have a background in both journalism and editing, which are distinct disciplines. In what ways do you find that these experiences inform one another, and what advice would you offer to those who desire to write creatively but are struggling with first steps?
Being a journalist really helped shape my creative writing. I learned how to write to a specific length on a deadline. I never had the luxury of writer's block. I had a notebook full of notes; the story was there, I just needed to write it.
When I turned to writing my novels, I approached it the same way I approached writing a newspaper story—but my stories are now quite a bit longer. When I finish my first draft, I put on my editor hat and look at my story through a very critical eye as though reading someone else's work. While I like creating, I am actually much more relaxed during my revision process because it's easier to rework a story after it's already written.
As for advice to anyone who wants to write but perhaps be a little more disciplined about it, I can offer what my friend Thomas Fleming, an amazing writer and historian, told me when I started out: 4 pages a day, and you've got a book in 3 months. They don't have to be great pages, but as long as you're writing something, the final book will eventually emerge.
Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?
I am now working on Vanished, the 4th in the series, which should be out sometime in early 2018. When you read it, you'll never want to use an ATM again.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Karen E. Olson is the author of the Black Hat Thriller series: Hidden, Shadowed, and Betrayed. A Shamus Award nominee, finalist for the Gumshoe Award, and winner of the Sara Anne Freed Award, she previously wrote the Annie Seymour and Tattoo Shop mystery series. Olson was a longtime journalist and editor. She makes her home in Connecticut.
John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.