Bestselling Author Karen Docter writes contemporary romance with a kick of humor and heat. When she feels the need to feed the dark side, she writes romantic suspense as K.L. Docter. She's an award-winning author, a four-time Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® finalist and won the coveted Kiss of Death Romance Writers Daphne du Maurier Award Category (Series) Romantic Mystery Unpublished division.
I can pinpoint the exact moment my writing career began—cough, cough—years ago. I was reading a romance novel that wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad enough to put down. At the time, I forced myself to read through those marginal books, always hoping it would get better or I’d grow to like the characters a little bit more, at least enough to care what happens to them. Sometimes, I was rewarded. More often than not, I wasn’t. This was one of the latter. In fact, when I closed the book I was so irritated with the ending, I tossed down the book and said to my husband, “I can write a better story.”
My husband’s reply? “So, why don’t you?”
The idea took hold not only because I was confident I could write a quality romance novel—I have a Technical Journalism degree and editing experience, after all—and my brain was getting cobwebs from lack of use. Well, it felt that way to me. ☺ I’d left my challenging job in business management to stay home with the kids. We lived in the Rocky Mountains more than half an hour from civilization and I was babysitting from 6-12 kids (some after school) every day. As the only mountain mom in daycare, I was in high demand. It didn’t take me long to realize, though, that munchkins under the age of six are not great conversationalists. I needed a grown-up outlet.
I spent the next two years letting two “perfect” books drip off my fingertips in my spare time. Loving the creative process, I began to consider publication as a career. When we moved to California I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America) and that’s when I learned the single, most valuable lesson I’ve carried with me for years. Write what you know.
Everyone who’s been in the business for any length of time has heard this pat advice at least once. Thankfully, when I joined RWA, I had the good fortune of becoming critique partners with bestselling authors, Barbara Freethy (New York Times) and Melissa McClone (USA Today). The first time I brought one of my “perfect” romance novels to critique, they gently told me the premise of my book wouldn’t work based on the demands of a will that wouldn’t fly in a community property state.
Wait! My baby isn’t perfect? “But it’s fiction! Everyone knows fiction is ‘made up’!” I wailed. Maybe I didn’t sound quite that childish but their memory might be different than mine ☺.
Their response? “Our stories have to be based in facts because our readers are smart.” I’m paraphrasing but essentially it means we have to respect our readers. If we break their trust, they’ll never read us again. It’s a career killer…not to be confused with a serial killer. Lie to a reader and there won’t be a second chance or a third, the definition of a serial killer.
Ultimately, I learned that write what you know doesn’t mean you should write only from personal experience—yes, I was that naïve—because, let’s face it, most of us can’t experience everything we may want to write. I do not want to meet a serial killer like those I write in my romantic suspense! If we want to be successful authors, we need to know more than our experiences. That takes research. Lots and lots of research.
I learned my lesson at that first critique session and spent the intervening years bolstering my knowledge. My RWA chapter at the time had a library with hundreds of workshops on cassette. Yep, aging myself further! I checked out 2-4 a month and learned craft, writing techniques, publication requirements, etc.
With every book I’ve written, I’ve researched something new to add authenticity to the story. When I wrote my romantic comedy, Satin Pleasures, I researched canaries and orchids. The heroine had two canoodling canaries named Anthony and Cleopatra. Her landscaping father raised exotic orchids. Before writing my contemporary romance, Cop On Her Doorstep, I attended my city’s Citizen’s Police Academy. For the next book in the True Love In Uniform series, I talked to police officers about their professional lives and researched the heroine’s business designing stained glass. I’m learning how to make maps for the town I’ve created. For the sequel (Dead Ringer—Coming Soon) to my romantic suspense Thorne’s Thorns series, Killing Secrets, I’ve researched how the FBI works and toured a working cattle ranch.
I credit my success as a writer to that first lesson, of writing what I know. My books aren’t laden with all of my research. Sometimes it simply gives me insight into my characters or their situation. My stories have a depth I didn’t have then. It is gratifying when my readers tell me my characters are as real to them as their neighbors or family members.
My reading and writing habits have changed a lot since those early days. I haven’t the patience anymore to wind my way through stories I can’t enjoy. Life’s too short. I certainly don’t want to be one of those authors a reader tosses my book onto the table. I write what I know because they deserve the very best stories I can give them.
Cop on Her Doorstep, True Love in a Uniform
Carrie Padilla knows there’s only one thing she can do to save what is left of her family, her husband’s memory, and her heart…avoid her new neighbor at all costs.
S.W.A.T. officer Jake Stefani doesn’t count on his intriguing neighbor distracting him from his job, the passion that flares between them, or the way his heart is captured by Carrie’s fatherless son.
Jake is ready to risk everything for Carrie, body and soul. If their new love is to survive, Carrie will need to be strong enough to see Jake’s heart behind the badge, to look beyond the pain of her past, and decided that loving again is worth the risk.
Where to Buy Cop on Her Doorstep
11/6/2018 10:32:13 am
I love this story of Karen's journey as an author. Write what you know makes so much more sense as I see posts on Facebook from authors looking for knowledge from the readers and friends. And....I am with you, Karen, hard to read books that just don't grab you.... Your books are amazing and well done.
11/6/2018 10:46:10 am
Thanks so much for commenting, Samantha, and thanks for your kind words about my books. You can look for Book 2 in the True love In Uniform series, COP UNDER THE MISTLETOE, soon! Who doesn't love Christmas?!
11/6/2018 11:35:13 am
What a great interview and truer words....so cool to have Barbara Freethy and Melissa McClone as mentors, too...
11/6/2018 11:50:57 am
I loved working with Barbara and Melissa. Barbara and I had kids in the same grade at the same elementary school. I valued both the friendship with both ladies.
2/27/2021 12:21:57 pm
Good readiing this post
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I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.