Saturday, March 23, 2019

Karen Odden

Karen Odden's interest in the Victorian era goes back to her New York University doctoral dissertation, which explored how the medical, parliamentary, and literary representations of nineteenth-century railway disasters helped to create a discourse out of which Freud and others fashioned their ideas of “trauma.”

Her first book, A Lady in the Smoke, was a USA Today Bestseller and won the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona award for eBook Fiction.

Odden's new novel is A Dangerous Duet.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished reading several books, all of which I’d recommend, for each has fed my writing spirit. I am currently writing my third book, A Trace of Deceit, and with roughly 80% written, I feel like the Kraken with that giant maw, gulping inspiration and energy from all sorts of directions.

One book is Miss Burma, an historical novel by Charmaine Craig, who came to Phoenix to speak. She shared that she drew upon her own family’s story for this book: her mother was “Miss Burma” (as in the tiara-and-sash variety) and a highly public and political figure. I knew very little about the country itself—I had to pull out a map to follow parts of the plot—and (much like Pachinko) this novel takes us across generations, beginning in pre-WWII. My novel A Dangerous Duet takes place in 1875 London, and I know how hard it is to build a convincing world on the page; Craig does a lovely job with Rangoon, particularly with respect to architecture, tastes, and smells.

A second book: The Lost Art of Listening. I sometimes find parenting books tedious or too “pop”; but this one challenged me in productive ways. It positions listening as an intentional act, offering both some astute psychological insights about what sort of emotional baggage (anxieties, mistaken beliefs) prevents us from being good listeners, as well as practical suggestions for cultivating our abilities. (The section on listening to teens was particularly useful!) This book fed several of the characters I’m writing now, particularly my next heroine, Annabel Rowe, who must both challenge her unconscious assumptions and listen beyond the words to find the truth about her brother’s past.

Third book: Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England. This is one of those books on my research shelf that I reread periodically because it has all kinds of juicy tidbits about London houses and objects. It theorizes the relationships between physical spaces and Victorian social norms, such as the separation of work and home and of parents and children. It discusses mundane objects such as counterpanes, towel rails, bed pockets made of Japanese fans, wardrobes with shelves (there were no hangers until the 1900s), and bed curtains, including whether the latter protected one from nighttime miasmas or trapped them inside with the hapless sleeper!

Fourth book: I’m rereading (for the third or fourth time) Geraldine Brooks’s first novel, Year of Wonders, which is probably one of my favorite historical novels. It is set in 1666 in England and told from the perspective of a young woman who lives in a town that sequesters itself from the rest of the world to keep the plague from spreading. (This novel has some elements in common with the WWI version of this plot, about the Spanish Flu epidemic, in Thomas Mullen’s The Last Town on Earth, which was also very good.) Brooks won the 2005 Pulitzer for March, which represents the story of Mr. March (from Little Women), but Year is still my favorite of her books.
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Odden and Rosy.

My Book, The Movie: A Dangerous Duet.

The Page 69 Test: A Dangerous Duet.

--Marshal Zeringue