Karen Musser Nortman is the author of Bats and Bones, the first book in the Frannie Shoemaker Campground cozy mystery series.
Karen was a secondary social studies teacher in the West Liberty, Iowa, Community Schools for 22 years and a test developer and senior test associate with the ACT WorkKeys testing program for 18 years.
In retirement, she has combined an early love, fiction writing, with the Nortmans’ avocation, RV camping. The Nortman’s camp regularly through the spring, summer, and fall in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri with friends and enjoy exploring the local attractions as well as hiking, cooking, and biking. The Frannie Shoemaker series tweaks their real life adventures with a touch of murder thrown in.
Karen’s website is www.karenmussernortman.com.
Stephanie: Karen, congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion. Please tell me about your story, Bats and Bones.
Karen: Frannie Shoemaker and her husband Larry, both retirees, camp in Midwest state parks and campgrounds with a group of friends. But one hot Fourth of July weekend, their planned activities are interrupted by their discovery of the body of the campground hostess while on a hike. Authorities close the campground and a severe storm adds to their confinement. Frannie’s natural curiosity combined with Larry’s experience as a small town cop draw them in to the investigation and eventually put Frannie’s life at risk.
Stephanie: What an interesting title. How did you come up with it?
Karen: The setting is based on Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa, whose caves house a large population of bats. I named my fictitious park ‘Bat Cave State Park,’ and was originally just going to call the book ‘Bat Cave.’ However, as the plot developed, Bats and Bones became appropriate and is a lot catchier.
Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story and who designed your book cover?
Karen: It took about six months to write the first draft and probably a couple of months more for editing.
My sister Gretchen did the art work and my youngest sister Libby designed the layout for the cover. I had been talking to a couple of artists about doing the cover artwork, but things were moving pretty slowly. When I told Gretchen about the delays, she asked me what I wanted. I told her that I envisioned a campfire made with bones instead of wood and bats coming out of the flames. Forty-five minutes later she emailed a sketch, exactly what I had in mind. She then refined it and added the trees and the vintage camper, and I love it. In real life, she is a landscape architect and arborist. Libby has a graphics business, so she did the titles and added the crosshatching around the art work. I was thrilled with the result.
Stephanie: What was the inspiration for your story?
Karen: We tent camped when our children were young and then got too busy as they grew older. Six or seven years ago, we decided we wanted to get back into camping but didn’t want to sleep on the ground anymore, so we purchased a used travel trailer. I was surprised a few years ago when I realized there were very few adult mysteries that take place in campgrounds.
The nature of campgrounds is that most of the other campers are strangers and you never even learn their names. Yet you see them in pajamas on their way to the shower house, or coping with the many mishaps that befall RVers, or taking part in activities that may seem a little odd. It’s like getting a glimpse of someone on a passing train and trying to figure out what they are doing. It just seems like a natural setting for a mystery.
Some of the humor and some of suspense is provided by those same mishaps. There is nothing in my books that we haven’t experienced, observed, or heard around a campfire—except finding a body.
I also wanted my characters to be realistic senior citizens—neither decrepit and helpless nor trying too hard to be teenagers.
Stephanie: How long have you been a writer and what do you find most challenging about writing?
Karen: I have always loved to write. My first career was teaching social studies for 22 years, and then for 18 years, I worked for a large testing company in test development. Actually, writing a test item is excellent training for writing a mystery. Both require a right answer that can be logically explained, but also several wrong answers that are plausible and attractive. I didn’t write my first book until after I retired, two years ago.
Most challenging to me is building the plot and keeping all of the threads straight.
Stephanie: What is your next book project?
Karen: I have written and published two more Frannie Shoemaker mysteries since Bats and Bones: The Blue Coyote and Peete and Repeat. I think the next one will be Grilling the Suspect, concerning a barbecue contest that Frannie and her friends are involved in.
Stephanie: Will you self-publish again?
Karen: I have self-published all of my books and will continue to do so. I like the control that I have over the finished product. I will say that I have a couple of excellent beta readers who help me with the editing. I also do my own formatting and struggled with that on the first one but each one since has been easier.
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Karen: A fellow writer had reviewed my book and we began corresponding about the writing process. Her book was chosen as a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree, so I decided to submit mine.
Stephanie: Where can readers find your book?
Karen: It is available on Amazon both for Kindle and in paperback.
Stephanie: What is your favorite quote?
Karen: It’s quite long and by Calvin Coolige. I have never been impressed with Coolige in general but I think it expresses and important quality for writers:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Karen Notman, who is the author of, Bats and Bones one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Bates and Bones merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.