Once again we’re gifted with the insight of another writer of mysteries who not only features RVers as main characters, but is an RVer herself! (Yep, you’d be surprised how often us RVers spot boo-boos in books about RVing, sure signs the writers aren’t RVers themselves.)
We’re pleased to welcome Karen Musser Nortman, author of at least six Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries and two more novels in her Time Traveler Trailer series.
On your Website, you mention having started RVing when tent camping — especially sleeping on the ground — lost a measure of comfort. Tell us a little more about your RVing — how often do you take to the road? How do you choose where to go? Do you venture out to new places or re-visit familiar haunts?
We are retired and take many 3-4 day trips in the summer, especially with groups of friends. In the spring and fall, we have been taking 4-6 week trips–some through different areas of the Midwest and some through the Southeast and Southwest. We have some favorite spots in Iowa that we go back to, but we love to find new places, too. We had an used 30-ft trailer for ten years and it was fine for summer weekend trips. When we started taking the longer trips, we bought a trailer the same size but with a floor plan that allowed for two comfortable chairs, much more counter space, larger tanks, and a larger bathroom.
Have you ever traveled to a specific place because you knew you wanted to base a story there? If so, did you go in your RV? If not, is it something you’ve thought of doing?
While I was writing my third book, Peete and Repeat, we took a car trip to the Lanesboro, Minnesota, area for research. We had already camped there several times, but I wanted to spend more time exploring several localities and researching at the local history museum. I gained a lot of information about the old power plant and the Environmental Learning Center. Most of my books are based on parks that we have stayed in several times.
Congratulations on your Chanticleer Award and the IndieBRAG nomination! What inspired Time Travel Trailer? Did you know right away you would be writing a series? Have you planned them out or will you be following Lynn McBriar around to see what happens next?
I never intended it to be a series. A few years ago, I connected with a couple of groups who love vintage trailers–the Midwest Glampers and the Sisters on the Fly–and had just read Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I thought what a great time portal one of those campers would make. I also, as an adult and a grandmother, have often thought how neat it would be to be able to see my own grandparents as kids or young adults. That inspired the first one. After it was published, one of my readers, who is also a Sister on the Fly, wrote to me demanding a sequel and even sent a suggested plot! At the end of that one, she sent me several suggestions for a third. One of those ideas became the germ for the third book, tentatively titled Trailer, Get your Kicks.
Using one of your books as an example, would you take us through your process — how did the mystery idea come to you? How did the setting figure in (or maybe it came first)? Or did the characters come first, mystery later?
The most recent Frannie Shoemaker book, The Space Invader, came from an actual incident when we were driving through New Mexico a couple of years ago. We were stopped in a roadblock south of Roswell. The state patrol was looking for two convicts who had escaped when they were being transported from Santa Fe to Los Cruces and they were checking to see if the felons had stowed away in someone’s vehicle or camper. Ours had been locked since we left Texas that morning, so they said they didn’t need to search it. But, as we moved on, I thought about how we always lock our trailer door but sometimes forget to lock the outside compartments, and on that trailer there were two that were big enough for a person. This became the plot for The Space Invader, a play on Roswell’s reputation as a UFO site. So the setting was important, too.
Do you draft chapters or scenes while you’re on the road to capture the immediacy of the setting? Or do you take notes and/or photos so you can recall details for later?
I take lots of photos and I also write a blog about our travels that has provided me an useful reference when my elderly memory fails me. But I write whenever I can when we’re camping.
Do you ever cheat on the details of a setting or RV-related detail to make a story work better? (I’m thinking of how I changed some vault toilets at a real-life rest area into a standard rest area bathroom to make a scene work… I’m still feeling guilty about that…!)
I cheat a lot and don’t feel guilty at all. I guess that’s what happens when you consort with criminals in your brain. But my books are loosely based on actual campgrounds, so I do confess my misdeeds in the acknowledgements. For example, Peete and Repeat is based on the Root River Valley and the town of Lanesboro in Southeastern Minnesota and involves a real campground, an abandoned power plant, an environmental learning center, the town of Lanesboro, and the Whalen Pie Shoppe. But I needed those places closer together for the story so I did a little map-fudging. I also added a country bar that, to my knowledge doesn’t exist, but those kinds of establishments are all over the Midwest. And I confessed my fraud in the acknowledgements.
I’m so glad I’m not the only cheater! So who’s your favorite secondary character, in all of your books? Why? Will that character come back in another book someday?
I would have to say Mickey Ferraro. The main character of the series, Frannie Shoemaker, and her husband Larry camp with Larry’s sister Jane Ann Ferraro and her husband, Mickey. Mickey is the group’s comedian and also an excellent cook and musician. He and Larry keep up a continuous line of banter and insults of the kind that seems to be a major part of our own group trips. He is rarely serious, but when he is, everyone else gets worried. He is in all of the books so far and will play a major role in Grilling the Suspect, a book that has been on the back burner for a while and involves a barbecue contest.
What have I not asked that you’d like to add?
Why did I write this series and what have I gained from writing them? I have always enjoyed a good cozy mystery. I like strong characters and some humor without being ridiculously silly. A campground seemed like the perfect setting for such a mystery. You have a lot of strangers thrown together, some odd occurrences, and weather incidents that are all factors. I will admit that we have seen very few nefarious doings on our camping trips but it’s fun to imagine. Besides the satisfaction of writing the books themselves, which I find tremendously relaxing, I have made many connections with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I usually give a couple of books out in each campground, and often the recipients tell me stories! A few of my readers have arranged to meet when we are traveling in their area. A group of vintage trailer owners are coming to Maquoketa Caves State Park, the basis for Bats and Bones, because one of their members read the book. I’ve made new friends all over the country.
Where can we find you online?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Karen-Musser-Nortman/e/B00A6JEBAK/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
IndieBRAG page: https://www.bragmedallion.com/award-winning-books/#!/author/karen-nortman/
Thanks, Karen! We’re looking forward to hearing about your next books!