Portrait of Karen E. Osborne, author of Reckonings

Interview with Karen E. Osborne

Karen E. Osborne is an author I’ve known for a while. She interviewed me in June 2021 for her YouTube series, What Are You Reading? What Are You Writing? The roles are now reversed as I talk to Karen about writing, interviewing, and her latest novel Reckonings, which is coming out June 16 from Black Rose Writing.

What have you learned from your interviews with other authors and publishing professionals?

Creatives are such generous people. I’ve interviewed visual artists, a musician, illustrator, voice actor, and authors of every genre. They share ideas, tips, leads. It’s been such a wonderful journey. Plus, exposure to books I might never have heard about. The downside is my “to read pile” is a mile high.

Is there something someone said in an interview that stood out for you? 

When I interviewed Mike Titlebaum, professor of jazz at Ithaca College in upstate NY, he brought his sax and keyboard, and the backdrop was an amazing mural of some of the greatest jazz musicians and singers. He wrote a textbook for teaching jazz. Could have been dull, but it was super fun!

Let’s talk about your background. You said you started writing when you were twelve and started making up stories long before that. Is there a story you made up in your childhood you would love to go back and write today?

Noooo. LOL. They were not memorable. But I’d like to take another stab at some of the bad poetry I wrote as a teenager. I’ve kept them all and I think some have promise. Novels are what I love writing the most, but plays, short stories, screenplays, and poems all interest me.

You’ve worked as an academic administrator and a consultant and trainer. How have these experiences shaped your writing career?

I believe in the power of philanthropy and nonprofits to improve the lives of the people they serve. My career, centered around philanthropy, allowed me to travel the US and the world, meet extraordinary individuals, learn about other cultures, have unique experiences. But the biggest impact from a writing perspective is the confidence my career gave me. I spoke to audiences as large as nine hundred people from fifty-two different countries. Surely, I could send out a manuscript in search of an agent and publisher.

You started your first novel, Getting It Right, when your protagonist Kara “started speaking to you.” What was that experience like? And how did you turn it into a novel?

I didn’t have a plot, just two characters—half sisters, six-months apart in age, two different mothers and unaware of each other. Kara was mixed-race and grew up in abusive foster care settings and Alex was white and grew up in dysfunctional privilege. The plot and other characters evolved as I wrote, and Kara and Alex talked to me. I read a lot of suspense and mysteries, so I wanted a fast-paced story. It takes place during two weeks at the end of March at the cusp of spring. Their father, after a life-threatening heart-attack, asks Alex to find the Black child he abandoned so he can make things right before he dies. By the time I hit 30,000 words, I’d run out of ideas. What should happen next? I met a SEC guy on an airplane and I was off and running again with a new twist to the plot.

Your second novel, Tangled Lies, is a murder mystery that was a finalist in the Best Thriller Book Awards and Maxy Awards. What are the things you’re proudest of in writing this novel?

Writing a murder mystery demands more in terms of planning and thinking through the plot. You don’t want your reader to figure everything out too soon. Nor do you want them to get to the end and think, “What?” So, planting clues that aren’t obvious but are all there for the reader to find was a new challenge. I love writing character-driven rather than plot-driven stories, so that added another layer of complexity. While the protagonists in my first novel were two thirty-year-olds, Tangled Lies’ protagonist is seventy and her partner in solving the mystery is twenty-five. All my books include a multi-racial cast of characters. It was incredibly fun writing it. I believe we have more in common as people that differences. I hope my stories demonstrate that.

Reckonings cover

Your new novel Reckonings is coming out June 16. Tell us about the book.

Roxy, a harried mom and writer, is juggling four children—one of whom is seventeen and pregnant, two rescue dogs, an unhappy husband, a job they both hate, and a play debuting in the local community theater in nine days when a dangerous man from her past reappears. It’s a page-turning suspense yarn about toxic secrets, bad decisions, forgiveness, retribution, and redemption.

What was your inspiration for the book?

It also has a #MeToo theme, something that matters to me. The numbers of people who have been sexually assaulted is staggering. We must raise our children, so they understand what consent looks and sounds like, what no means. Our law enforcement and medical professionals need more training, empathy, and understanding. The perpetrator in Reckonings doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.

Reckonings is the first of your novels to be released as an audiobook. Tell us about the experience.

This was super cool. Our wonderful publisher, Reagan Rothe of Black Rose Writing, told me I could find my own narrator if she was willing to work under the terms of the company’s contract. I reached out to writer friends asking for recommendations. Five actors sent me 10-minute audition tapes reading the first chapter. I gathered my beta readers on Zoom—they live in Australia, California, New York, and Florida. We listened to each tape and discussed them. It was a lot of fun. We chose Debi Tinsley. Loved working with her.

Your books center around family conflict and trauma. What do you want readers to learn from your stories?

First, I want them to enjoy the read. Care about the women and their families. Feel like they know them. I want to give my readers new insight into the impact of trauma and the toxicity of secrets. And finally, encouragement. If Kara and Alex (Getting It Right), Vera and Dani (Tangled Lies), and Roxy (Reckonings) can heal, maybe “I can too.”

You also write about PTSD. What should people know about PTSD, and how can they help those are healing from it?

Healing takes commitment and arduous work. There’s no easy fix. When I was in the throes of PTSD, I had a big job—42 people reporting to me and a 100-million-dollar fundraising goal. My therapist, the women who were members of my group therapy, dear friends, my husband—it took a village, courage, persistence, and belief that I could heal. Try not to offer glib advice. Listen. Ask “What can I do?” Be there. Keep them in prayer.

You’re active in author events and have spoken at book clubs and panel discussions. How has the transition been for you returning to in-person events after the pandemic?

Very cool to be back with readers and fellow writers. Connecting. Laughing. Asking questions and listening. But I’m careful. COVID is still with us. And I’ve learned to enjoy Zoom events. You can connect with people from all over the world that wouldn’t happen easily with an in-person event. The mix is good and here to stay.

You’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a child, but you got active with novel writing after you retired. What advice would you give to those who have been holding off on a writing career until they have more free time? 

Writing does take time. Learning and honing your craft take time. So, it must be a burning desire—something you’re willing to say yes to which often requires saying no to other things in your life. There’s no perfect time. And it’s never too late.

And if you could go back and talk to your younger self when you first wanted to be a writer, what advice would you give her?

I’d give her a lot of advice about healing, growing, being brave. I’d tell her she’s lovable and enough. But I wouldn’t give her advice about writing. My writing emerged just when it should, when I was ready to devote the time it requires, when it burned inside of me with a fierce and wonderful fire.

How can people find out more about you? Where can they find you online and on social media?

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