Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Interview with Author K.M. Pohlkamp

23 December 2017

Special Guest Interview with Author K.M. Pohlkamp

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia Maud finds her instincts as an assassin tested by love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron. With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder
—but the betrayals are just beginning.

Today I would like to welcome author Kara Pohlkamp:

Tell us about your latest book.

Last fall, I read an article about forgotten females from history that profiled Locusta, a Roman poison assassin, who is considered to be the first serial killer. The fact the first serial killer was a woman struck me and the more I read about her, a story began to weave in my mind.

During this time, my priest gave a sermon warning about the ease of falling into a cycle of sin and penance. How often we realize our actions are incorrect, feel guilt, and then performance penance. But after guilt wears away, it becomes easy to commit the sin again. Of course he was talking about minor offenses, but as a matter of reductio ad absurdum, I applied the concept to a murderer. The essence of my novel was born in the church pew, though I’d guess that’s not what my priest had in mind.

Inspired by the notion confession could provide a source of false permission for murder, I lifted Locusta’s inspiration out of Rome and placed my novel in Tudor England, before the turn against the Catholic Church, and my favorite period of history.

Apricots and Wolfsbane is an adult, historical fiction thriller following the career of a female poison assassin. Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies—to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Believing confession erases the sin of murder, her morbid desires are in unity with faith, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I am an engineer by trade and a fan of spreadsheets. This manifests in detailed plans, outlines, categorized research, and character notes that rival the word count of the novel. Let’s just say I am a big planner. Comprehensive outlines allow me to analyze the structure of the novel and make gross corrections before investing in word count.

Regardless of how much I plan, there is always a character or plot point which surprises me during writing. That is what makes the writing fun. Planning and outlines can be great tools, but they should never tie a writer’s hands or limit where a character wants to go.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Writers should understand their strengths and weaknesses, and the genre best suited to match. My own writing can sometimes be a little prosy and a few years ago an editor suggested my style would be best suited for historical fiction. She was right and I have never looked back. My style which was a weakness in one genre, is a strength in another.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Personal connections with readers and authors is slowly getting the word out about my novel. It is difficult for new authors to heard amongst the thousands of books published each year but I firmly believe the support of even one reader can make a difference. 

I’m asking anyone who has read and enjoyed Apricots and Wolfsbane to please tell a friend. (That includes the awesome readers of this interview!) Hopefully that person will also tell a friend, and so on. It is not an easy road, but neither was getting published. The best attributes of a writer are patience and persistence. And in the end, the best thing I can do to promote this book is to write another.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

While writing Apricots and Wolfsbane I ironically suffered my own bout of a severe poison ivy rash. The ordeal was awful, and gave me sympathy for Lavinia’s victims. (Seriously, natural childbirth was more pleasant.) Inspired by my own experience, I sought to add poison ivy to the plot but I uncovered that poison ivy/oak/sumac is not native to England.

Along with poisons, I ended up doing significant research into the history of glasshouses to verify a plot point. The product of that research is summarized in my guest post for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog: Plants vs. Winter: The Origins of English Conservatories. Even though the concept was first used in 30 A.D., the technology did not arrive in England until the early 16th century!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The first few pages are always the hardest for me. There is so much at stake: the need to pull in the reader, to start in the middle of action, but provide enough background to set the tone and the scene. The first chapter was re-written more than any other scene and eventually it sounded overworked so I had to throw it out and start again. I knew what I wanted to accomplish and the feeling I wished to evoke, but getting it all right quickly took numerous iterations and I appreciate the feedback from my beta readers and editors!

What are you planning to write next?

Inspired by my own experience as a female engineer, I took a break from poison assassins to write a short story about a female physics assistant at Harvard at the turn of the 20th century. The piece will be published as part of a short-story anthology in the spring.  But right now, I’m deep into the sequel to Apricots and Wolfsbane. I love hearing readers’ thoughts on where they think the story is heading, and if all goes well, they should not have to wait long!

K.M. Pohlkamp

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About the Author

K.M. Pohlkamp is a blessed wife, proud mother of two young children, and an aerospace engineer who works in Mission Control. She operated guidance, navigation and control systems on the Space Shuttle and is currently involved in development of upcoming manned-space vehicles. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain her sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. Pohlkamp’s historical fiction thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane, was published by Filles Vertes Publishing in October.

Find out more at the author's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KMPohlkamp.

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