Hm, I guess I am a very curious person, interested in people, places, history, all that stuff. I think curiosity helps when you are a writer, because you must get at the heart of things to tell good stories. Sometimes it bothers people, though. They think I’m staring at them or asking too many questions. (She smiles).
Tell us something about your background, studies, childhood.
I always loved stories. When I was little, my grandmother used to read to me, and later, when I could read myself I read my favourite books again and again. I started to make up my first stories when I was only eight. And I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen. It was never published, though. At university I studied literature und translation. And I wrote my PhD dissertation on the Scottish crime writer Val McDermid.
What prompted you to become a writer? What made you decide to start writing fiction?
As I said I’ve loved reading from early age on, and I started writing stories almost as soon as I could read. So it wasn’t a decision but rather a logical consequence.
Muori con me (Schwesterlein komm stirb mit mir, 2013) is your debut novel. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It is my debut as Karen Sander, but I’ve already published a couple of more traditional detective novels. This is my first thriller, and it’s about a serial killer who murders very special women – no more details, I don’t want to spoil the reading experience.
What inspired you to write it? What was the starting point in the writing process?
My starting point was the idea of a story about a young woman with a very dark backstory, with a dysfunctional family. A background that makes her a good profiler, because she knows more about the murderers she is after than most other people.
We are in Düsseldorf, a city of North Rhine valley, rather unusual as the setting (in the Germans thriller or detective story we are more used to seeing – even on TV – stories set in Monaco or Berlin). Why this choice?
Well, I grew up in Düsseldorf, so I know the city very well with all its extraordinary, interesting and also dark places, and I think it is important for a story to feel real you have a profound knowledge of its setting.
The Chief Commissioner of Police Georg Stadler is preparing to visit the scene of a crime. So starts the novel. What happens? A starting point a bit ‘splatter’, typical of horror novels, right?
Yes, he arrives at a crime scene with a lot of red blood in a very white room. I liked the image of the blood destroying the symbolic purity of the colour white.
Usually it is the male commissioner of the story with more dark sides (it isn’t said that Georg does not have them, and maybe the readers will find out in the next novels in the series) but in this is novel is the lovely Liz Montario, the female profiler, with a cascade of red curls and green eyes (beautiful also if a little neglected), that has a past that oppresses and conditions her. Why this choice?
I wanted the story to be different from all those crime novels with male protagonists in a crisis of some sort, and I wanted to create an interesting, challenging female figure. But of course, Georg has his dark sides too …
The psychological aspect of the story is important in the novel. A history of serial killers, unresolved family ties, personality clashes. The psycho thriller is a very popular genre in Germany. Dorn, Fitzeck, to name just a few. Are your novels psycho thriller?
Yes, I think it psychology plays an important role in my books. The protagonist is a psychologist, after all. Apart from that I think that psychological suspense can be more intense than suspense created merely by danger or threat.
Do you read other contemporary writers? Who are some of your favourite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
I read all kinds of novels, but I particularly like crime fiction. I love Val McDermid, Michael Robotham, Ian Rankin, Tami Hoag, Elizabeth George, Tana French, to name just a few.
What are you reading at the moment?
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, a very extraordinary psychological thriller.
Do you enjoy touring for literary promotion? Tell to our Italian readers something amusing about these meetings.
Yes, it’s always fun to meet readers and talk to them about my books. I’m sometimes asked, if I have experienced all the things that happen in my stories. That would be a really amazing life …
What is your relationship like with your readers? How can readers get in touch with you?
Many readers talk to me at an event when I present my book, but I also receive a lot of emails by people telling me that they like my books or asking particular questions about them (usually when the next one is coming J).
Will you come to Italy again to introduce your novels?
I’d love to. I’ve only been to Italy twice, there are many places I’d like to see, and I’d like to meet my Italian readers, of course.
Wer nicht hören will, muss sterben is your new story. When will be released it in Italy?
I don’t know. This is a question for my Italian publisher.
Finally, the inevitable question: what are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the third novel in the series. It’s about a killer who uses famous movie murders as an inspiration …
Karen Sander worked for many years as a translator and taught at university level before she decided to focus on writing.
She lives with her husband in the Rhineland region of Germany and is currently working on her doctoral dissertation on the writer Val McDermid.