Introducing Karmen Špiljak: Unraveling the Threads of Mystery and Storytelling

Exploring Genre Blends, Complex Characters, and the Art of Storytelling

Karmen Špiljak discusses her transition from academia to writing, genre blending, crafting complex characters, and her culinary mystery collections.

In the enchanting world of literature, Karmen Špiljak stands as a luminary, blending genres with finesse and crafting narratives that linger in the mind long after the final page is turned. In this exclusive interview with Reader’s House Magazine, delve into the creative mind of Špiljak, an award-winning author whose journey from academia to full-time writing is as captivating as her stories. From the allure of mysteries and dystopian landscapes to the tantalizing fusion of crime and cuisine, each word she shares unveils the depth of her storytelling prowess and offers a glimpse into the artistry behind her literary masterpieces.

Your background spans political science and anthropology, yet your career is centred around writing. How did you transition from academia to full-time writing, and what inspired you to pursue storytelling?

You got me there  My eclectic background is the result of my curiosity and desire to keep things interesting. I changed many jobs and landed in online marketing and communications because it allowed me to work with words and storytelling. I’ve been writing since a very early age, but needed decades before I considered it a career and not just something on the side. 

Academia never interested me as such, but I loved my topic, so I signed up for a PhD. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was messing up my other writing. All my sentences became formal and convoluted, so after finishing the PhD, I had to unlearn academic writing in order to be able to write stories again.

Somewhere in my thirties, I examined my life and found out that writing is the only red thread that ties it together and that I’d never be happy doing anything else. With the help of my supportive husband, I switched to writing full-time.

Your stories often blend genres, incorporating elements of mystery, crime, and dystopia. What draws you to these particular themes, and how do you approach weaving them into your narratives?

I’m drawn to mysteries with a touch of the supernatural, and have been ever since that first episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ I’ve seen as a child. When writing, though, I want to serve the story. Some stories call for certain structures or genres.

One of my stories could only work as climate fiction dystopia, so I embraced that. Generally, I follow my instincts and think about genre blends after the story has been written. As an author, I need that freedom of choice, of not being cemented into a specific genre or expected to write only a certain kind of stories.

No Such Thing as Goodbye explores themes of espionage and familial ties against the backdrop of Mexico City. What inspired this story, and how did you navigate crafting a complex protagonist like Toni?

Toni was like fireworks in my mind. I wanted to write a spy novel, but I didn’t know where to start. All I knew was that I’d have a female spy and that the story wouldn’t involve wars or countries spying against each other. Then, one day, I read an interview with a member of a criminal family who had come clean and had to go in hiding. Sparks lit up, Toni Morretti emerged and started sharing her story.

She came with some heavy baggage, too. Not only was she a mobster’s sister with many dark secrets but also young and in dire need of a fresh start.

Following a complex character like Toni can be tricky. After publishing the first book, I plotted the second one, only to find out that Toni had made other plans. She left me no choice but to let her do her thing  and write it all down. As it turns out, her version of the story was much better than mine.

Your culinary mystery collections, “Add Cyanide to Taste” and “Pass the Cyanide,” offer readers a unique blend of crime and cuisine. What sparked your interest in combining food with suspense, and do you have a favorite recipe from either collection?

I’m a massive foodie who loves crime fiction, so it was a matter of time. The pandemic had made me anxious and uncertain about everything, so I wrote a book for myself, even though ‘culinary noir’ barely existed and I’d been told short stories don’t sell.

But ‘Add Cyanide to Taste’ won an award and people started asking for a sequel. I dropped other work and wrote the second book. It won’t be the last one, either.

In terms of recipes, I’m addicted to ’The forbidden pasta’, which my husband lovingly calls ‘abomination pasta’ because it breaks almost every rule of Italian cuisine. The ‘Leek scramble’ from book two remains one of my favourite breakfast dishes.

Your short stories have received recognition from various literary competitions and have been featured in prestigious publications. Can you share a bit about your experience navigating the world of literary contests, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers looking to enter their work?

My biggest takeaway was not to adapt my stories to the contests, so they’d fit in with their previous publications, but to write the stories I want and find appropriate contests for them.

In addition to your published works, you offer readers the opportunity to subscribe to your newsletter, which includes exclusive content and discounts on your ebooks. How do you approach building and maintaining a connection with your audience through platforms like newsletters and social media?

Time is the most valuable resource we have, because once spent, you can never get it back. I enjoy spending time with my subscribers and see my monthly emails as story capsules: a mix of personal and writing life. To thank them for their time and trust, I often share exclusive goodies and early/exclusive access to my work.

As far as social media go, I’m an introvert, so I mostly use them to connect with people, explore visual storytelling and share my passion for words, cats and food.

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