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BFOR BLOG BLITZ – Interview with Cozy Mystery Author Karen Musser Nortman

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Today I’m taking part in the BFOR BLOG BLITZ and am sharing my interview with cozy mystery author Karen Nortman. Books for Older Readers (BFOR) is a group that was established in October 2017 to promote books with older protagonists and/or themes such as ‘second chances’ which tend to appeal to readers in mid-life or beyond. I will give you more information later along with the Facebook and website links, but right now I want to tell you about my special guest.

Head Shot Karen Musser NortmanKaren Musser Nortman, after 22 years as a secondary social studies teacher and 18 years as a test developer, returned to her childhood dream of writing mysteries. Her first series, The Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries, sprouted from numerous camping trips in Iowa and through at least 24 other states. These mysteries center around a group of retirees who camp together and sometimes stumble over dead bodies. Six of the books have been designated IndieBRAG medallion honorees and three have been finalists in Chanticleer CLUE and Mystery and Mayhem contests. Most of the books are based on actual campgrounds.

Karen has two other series. The Time Travel Trailer series follows the adventures of Lynne McBriar who buys a vintage camper that turns out to be a time portal. The first in the series, by the same name, was the 2015 category winner in the Chanticleer Paranormal contest. The Mystery Sisters is a new series involving two seventy-something sisters who travel the country in a 1950 Studebaker, argue, annoy their relatives, and solve mysteries.

Karen has three children and eight grandchildren. She also loves reading, gardening, and knitting, and can recite the 99 counties of Iowa in alphabetical order.

Hi, Karen! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit with me today. I’ve read most of your books and have really enjoyed them. Since your books are mostly based on places you’ve been, I feel like I know you. But I still have lots of questions, so let’s get started.

 Which came first, camping or writing?

 I’ve always loved to write but did not do so seriously until after I retired. We tent camped with our children when they were young and then, as they got busier, we got away from it. In 2006, we decided to get back into it but not sleeping on the ground, so we bought a used travel trailer and have been avid campers ever since.

As a camper myself, I know that the lifestyle can be addicting – as can writing! When did you publish your first book, and what inspired you to write it?

I received a Kindle for Christmas in 2010 and that spring was looking for a light mystery to download for a camping trip. I thought it would be fun to read a camping mystery but at that time there weren’t any.  I began to consider what a great setting campgrounds are for mysteries. You have a variety of characters—many of whom are strangers—but you go about your daily chores and recreation in close proximity. There are lots of mishaps and humorous incidents. Because many are strangers, things happen that could have a sinister explanation. For example, once some people were camped across from us and on Friday night had a big campfire. The next day their vehicle was gone and we didn’t see anyone for three days. Their trailer was still there when we left and we never found out what happened. It was likely a family medical emergency or perhaps broken water pipes at home or some other simple explanation. Or it could have been that a serial killer murdered them all and stole their truck. We never found out. Nature is also a factor that can create threatening situations.

So when I retired that summer I decided I would start a series involving a group of retired friends. I particularly wanted my characters to be typical sixty-somethings—not decrepit fussbudgets named Mabel and Gertrude. (Those names are from an older generation.)

I love how your imagination works! I have noticed that your books, at least the ones I have checked, are self-published. Have you always gone this route? If so, why?

Cover Bats and BonesWhen I finished my first book in 2012, Bats and Bones, I began looking for an agent. There was some interest and I was really excited when an agent in New York who handles several successful cozy series asked to see the full manuscript. After I sent it, I read that you need to allow an agent at least six months to look at a full manuscript; if they take you on, another year to find a publisher; and another year to actually get the book in print. I was 69 at the time—I was afraid that I might not live long enough to see my book published!

At the same time, I read quite a bit about the emerging self-publishing scene. I withdrew my manuscript from the agent and published my book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct and CreateSpace programs. That first one involved a pretty big learning curve but I have it down pretty well now.

I like the fact that I have complete control over my schedule, my covers, my pricing, and my book design. I worked for eighteen years for ACT, the testing company, where a typo or poorly worded question could result in a lawsuit, so I think I am a pretty good editor. We also formatted all of our tests for print so I had experience in that. Marketing is the big challenge but it is my understanding that, unless you are Stephen King or Louise Penny, you have to do your own marketing anyway.

So true! When you began to write, why did you settle on cozy mysteries as your genre of choice?

I have always loved mysteries, including police procedurals and thrillers, but my favorites early on were Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Later Martha Grimes and numerous cozy writers attracted me. Cozy mysteries are very character driven and I love good characters. In a series that’s especially important so that each book is like spending time with old friends. Sometimes I think I should put my efforts into more serious writing, but then I get a message from a reader, like the one who said my books were just the escape she needed during her mother’s Hospice care. That’s very gratifying.

Yes, knowing that your stories have touched someone is one of the best parts of being a writer. I began my writing with memoirs, so I wrote about my experiences. Have you ever experienced any of the mysteries you have written?

We have experienced some incidents that became the catalyst for a book. For example, The space Invaderwe were pulling our camper through New Mexico a couple of years ago when we were stopped in a roadblock. They were looking for two escaped convicts who they thought may have stowed away in a camper, car trunk, or pickup bed because there is nowhere in that part of New Mexico for anyone to hide along the road. Our camper had been locked since morning and they let us go on. But later I realized that sometimes we forget to lock the outside storage compartments and two of them were big enough for a person. Fortunately, we had no stowaways but the incident became the germ for The Space Invader.

I’ll bet you were more careful about locking those compartments after that! When you begin a project, what does your writing process look like?

to cache a killerMost of my books have centered around an event, location, and/or activity. The Frannie Shoemaker books include ones about biking, storytellers, county fairs, geocaching, snowstorms, New Mexico and the Michigan UP. Once I decide what the ‘theme’ is, I think about how a crime might be connected to that activity. Geocachers wander around in remote areas looking for hidden caches, so it stands to reason that they might also find a body. (To Cache a Killer) When we toured the Michigan UP, I was intrigued by the glass-bottom boat tours to view shipwrecks, but what if a dead body appeared in the viewing window (Real Actors, Not People)? In Foliage and Fatality, the second Mystery Sisters book, the sisters volunteer to help at a haunted house fund-raiser. What better place to hide a dead body?

Then when I know what the crime is, if I’m smart, I figure out a time line. How was the murder committed? What was the killer doing before and after? How can he/she be caught? If I don’t take the time to outline that and just start writing, I paint myself into a corner and have to rewrite.

And rewrites are not a writer’s favorite thing to do. Speaking of favorites, which has been your favorite series or character to write?

That’s like asking if I have a favorite child. Each series has been enjoyable for different reasons. Frannie and her friends are, I think, typical retirees. They have strong friendships, but not without some irritations. They have pet peeves and limitations. They have solid marriages and respect for each other. They also have long standing jokes and insults that just confirm their membership in the group.

The Time Travel Trailer series is special to me because I love history. The original book was intended as a stand alone and started because I have always wished I could have known my grandparents as two-year-olds or pre-teens or newlyweds. I enjoy researching the historical periods that the trailer travels to. The next one may be connected to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa in 1959—the night the music died. I grew up near there and the Surf was the hot spot in our lives.

The Mystery Sisters series is patterned after my grandmother and her sister-in-law who did travel the country in an old Studebaker and argued all of the time. So this way I get to travel with them.

The Mystery Sisters is your latest series of books. Have we seen the last of Frannie Shoemaker?

Double Dutch DeathAbsolutely not. I wanted to get three Mystery Sisters books out to establish the series, and I just finished the third, Double Dutch Death. I have already started the next Frannie, Corpse of Discovery. The location is based on Lewis and Clark State Park on the Missouri River in western Iowa. There is an annual celebration there of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (the Corps of Discovery) and it includes a fur trader reenactment. An event with hatchet throwing contests and knife makers sounds like it has lots of possibilities for a murder.

Wow! I can’t wait. Thanks so much for stopping by and giving us an inside look at Karen Nortman.

You can find Karen and her books at the links below:

Double Dutch Death 

Amazon Author Page

Website 

Facebook 

Twitter 

Books for Older Readers has a website where you can find lists of books and authors that will appeal to all ages but have a special attraction to those of us in middle age and beyond because of the age of the characters and/or the subject matter. The book lists feature short descriptions, book covers, and buy links. BFOR also has a Facebook Group where you can interact with other authors and readers who share your interests and concerns.

Website 

Facebook 

Blessings,

Linda

Book Review: Peete and Repeat (A Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery) by Karen Musser Nortman

Cover Peete and Repeat

About the book:

A biking and camping trip to southeastern Minnesota turns into double trouble for Frannie Shoemaker and her friends as she deals with a canoeing mishap and a couple of bodies. Strange happenings in the campground, the nearby nature learning center, and an old power plant complicate the suspect pool and Frannie tries to stay out of it–really–but what can she do? After all, she is only curious, but sometimes it isn’t just cats who have trouble with that!

My review:

This may be my favorite Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery so far. It’s hard to decide because they are all entertaining while being very different. In Peete and Repeat, the Shoemakers and friends meet identical twins and unintentionally, as usual, become involved in a love/hate triangle and a double homicide. To complicate matters, Frannie injures herself and somehow manages to become the target of a rather inept ring of drug traffickers.

As usual, Karen Musser Nortman manages to create the relaxed atmosphere of a camping vacation while still building the tension of whatever crime in progress Frannie has stumbled into. Each book introduces new characters, whether it’s grandchildren or more of the Shoemakers’ camping friends – and all of them, even the annoying ones, are multi-faceted and likeable.

Peete and Repeat is the last in the Camping Can Be Murder Boxed Set. I need to check and see what predicaments Frannie gets herself into next.

About the author:

Head Shot Karen Musser NortmanKaren Musser Nortman, after previous incarnations as a secondary social studies teacher (22 years) and a test developer (18 years), returned to her childhood dream of writing a novel. Bats and Bones, a cozy mystery, came out of numerous ’round the campfire’ discussions, making up answers to questions raised by the peephole glimpses one gets into the lives of fellow campers. Where did those people disappear to for the last two days? What kinds of bones are in this fire pit? Why is that woman wearing heels to the shower house?

Karen and her husband Butch originally tent camped when their children were young and switched to a travel trailer when sleeping on the ground lost its romantic adventure. They take frequent weekend jaunts with friends to parks in Iowa and surrounding states, plus occasional longer trips. Entertainment on these trips has ranged from geocaching and hiking/biking to barbecue contests, balloon fests, and buck skinners’ rendezvous. Frannie and Larry will no doubt check out some of these options on their future adventures.

Karen has three children and eight grandchildren. She also loves reading, gardening, and knitting, and can recite the 99 counties of Iowa in alphabetical order.

Visit her website at www.karenmussernortman.com
Buy the book on Amazon 

Or buy it with two other Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries in the Camping Can Be Murder Boxed Set HERE 

Blessings,

Linda

Book Review: The Blue Coyote (A Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery) by Karen Musser Nortman

Cover The Blue Coyote

About the book:

Frannie and Larry Shoemaker love taking their grandchildren, Sabet and Joe, camping with them. But at Bluffs State Park, Frannie finds herself worrying more than usual about their safety, and when another young girl disappears from the campground in broad daylight, her fears increase. The fun of a bike ride, a flea market, marshmallow guns, and a storyteller are quickly overshadowed. Accusations against Larry and her add to the cloud over their heads. Frannie begins to puzzle out the mystery: Are the itinerant road workers as much of a threat as Frannie thinks? What about the lone woman camper who also disappears? Or is the girl’s deadbeat dad behind it all?

My review:

After reading The Blue Coyote, another Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery and the second in the Camping Can Be Murder Boxed Set, I feel like I know the Shoemakers, their grandchildren, and their friends personally. That’s why I was so incensed when Larry became the prime suspect in a campground kidnapping. Frannie was even more infuriated, though, as the authorities seemed to focus on her husband while the missing child and her own grandchildren remained in danger and the real culprit remained at large. In spite of many warnings to stay out of it, she put on her amateur sleuth hat and went to work.

Even for the reader who is not a regular cozy mystery fan, Frannie’s adventures are lively and exciting enough for an enjoyable weekend in the recliner or maybe even in a camp chair around the fire pit. Karen Nortman’s descriptions of the camping experience and the surrounding countryside are realistic enough to make the reader want to pack the RV and hit the open road – as long as there are no villains waiting at the campground. An added bonus is the vivid description of the sumptuous meals she and her friends share around the campfire and the recipes and camping tips at the end of each book. As for me, two Frannie Shoemaker stories were enough to make me a fan, and I can’t wait to begin reading the next one.

About the author:

Head Shot Karen Musser NortmanKaren Musser Nortman, after previous incarnations as a secondary social studies teacher (22 years) and a test developer (18 years), returned to her childhood dream of writing a novel. Bats and Bones, a cozy mystery, came out of numerous ’round the campfire’ discussions, making up answers to questions raised by the peephole glimpses one gets into the lives of fellow campers. Where did those people disappear to for the last two days? What kinds of bones are in this fire pit? Why is that woman wearing heels to the shower house?

Karen and her husband Butch originally tent camped when their children were young and switched to a travel trailer when sleeping on the ground lost its romantic adventure. They take frequent weekend jaunts with friends to parks in Iowa and surrounding states, plus occasional longer trips. Entertainment on these trips has ranged from geocaching and hiking/biking to barbecue contests, balloon fests, and buck skinners’ rendezvous. Frannie and Larry will no doubt check out some of these options on their future adventures.

Karen has three children and eight grandchildren. She also loves reading, gardening, and knitting, and can recite the 99 counties of Iowa in alphabetical order.

Visit her website at www.karenmussernortman.com
Buy the book on Amazon 

Or buy it with two other Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries in the Camping Can Be Murder Boxed Set HERE 

Blessings,

Linda

Book Review: Bats and Bones (A Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery) by Karen Musser Nortman

Cover Bats and Bones

About the book:

Camping can be murder. Oh, sure, on the one hand there’s the stunning scenery, socializing with old friends and new acquaintances, amazing food cooked outside, and so on. But what if a dead body turns up on one of your hikes-for-fun-and fitness?

Frannie and Larry Shoemaker, retired baby boomers, are looking forward to a relaxing Fourth of July weekend with friends in beautiful Bat Cave State Park. They begin the weekend with a wonderful meal and some laughs over the antics of nearby novice campers. But when someone kills the campground host and Frannie’s group discovers the body, their favorite getaway becomes a quasi-prison, and the eccentricities often seen in a campground are viewed as suspicious behavior. A severe weather threat and the possibility that the murderer could be either a campground resident or an intruder from the outside compounds the danger. Frannie, while naturally curious, is warned off by her retired-cop husband, but still stumbles on information making her a target of the killer. At the same time, Frannie is working through the recent loss of her mother and an uncomfortable relationship with one of her own camping group.

My review:

I have been a mystery lover since I first discovered Agatha Christie in the Weekly Reader Book Club at school. After finishing the exploits of Mrs. Marple and Hercule Poirot, I moved on to tougher detectives like Parker’s Jesse Stone, Patterson’s Alex Cross, or Baldacci’s team of King and Maxwell. But after reading Bats and Bones by Karen Musser Nortman, I may become a cozy mystery fan all over again.

The first book in the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries Series immediately drew me in. My husband and I fell in love with the RV lifestyle shortly after we retired, and we have met many campers like the Shoemakers and their friends who are easy-going, fun-loving, gregarious, and all around nice people. The scenarios in Bats and Bones were reminiscent of many of our camping trips – minus the dead bodies, of course.

Karen Nortman’s writing style captures the laid back atmosphere of the campground while still building the tension as the plot thickens and Frannie becomes involved in spite of her best efforts to heed the warnings of her husband Larry and local law enforcement. Nortman’s characters are well developed and likeable – except for the bad guys. She offers a reading experience that’s fun, engaging, and flinch free, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

About the author:

Head Shot Karen Musser NortmanKaren Musser Nortman, after previous incarnations as a secondary social studies teacher (22 years) and a test developer (18 years), returned to her childhood dream of writing a novel. Bats and Bones, a cozy mystery, came out of numerous ’round the campfire’ discussions, making up answers to questions raised by the peephole glimpses one gets into the lives of fellow campers. Where did those people disappear to for the last two days? What kinds of bones are in this fire pit? Why is that woman wearing heels to the shower house?

Karen and her husband Butch originally tent camped when their children were young and switched to a travel trailer when sleeping on the ground lost its romantic adventure. They take frequent weekend jaunts with friends to parks in Iowa and surrounding states, plus occasional longer trips. Entertainment on these trips has ranged from geocaching and hiking/biking to barbecue contests, balloon fests, and buck skinners’ rendezvous. Frannie and Larry will no doubt check out some of these options on their future adventures.

Karen has three children and eight grandchildren. She also loves reading, gardening, and knitting, and can recite the 99 counties of Iowa in alphabetical order.

Visit her website at www.karenmussernortman.com
Buy the Bats and Bones HERE 

Or buy it with two other Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries in the Camping Can Be Murder Boxed Set HERE 

Blessings,

Linda

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