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Duck ChatThank you for stopping by Duck Chat today. Welcome!

Author Karen Whiddon has been keeping her fans happy the last ten plus years with a variety of romance genres from paranormal to contemporary to romantic suspense. Her first book, Desert Fire, was published in 1997 and now with more than twenty books to her credit, she’s celebrating her latest release, Wild Wolf, this month.

Growing up near the Catskill Mountains of New York and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Karen now lives in North Texas with her husband of twenty-two years. They have a daughter who is a kindergarten teacher. Some of her loves include animals, going on cruises and fishing trips, traveling to Las Vegas and just about anywhere else, and she just loves spending time with her husband.

Karen has graciously offered to give away two copies of the Midnight Cravings anthology in which her novella Mate of the Wolf is featured. So be sure to leave a meaningful comment or question for Karen to be in the running.  Now let’s chat!

Karen WhiddonDUCK CHAT: Karen, you’ve got a terrific backlist, but let’s start with your Silhouette Nocturne series, The Pack. First would you tell how the idea for the series came about?

KAREN WHIDDON: I was working on a proposal and rewriting and it popped into my head that the heroine was a shape-shifter. I wasn’t sure the book would even sell and certainly didn’t anticipate doing a series, but my agent submitted it to Leslie Wainger of Silhouette and she ended up offering for it and a second, blind book.

DC: There’s nine books in the series so far. Is it possible to tell how they’re related and give a little insight as to the series as a whole?

KW: The series centers on the idea that a sub-society (The Pack) of shape-shifters exists in tandem with our current human society. I usually set them either in The Catskills in New York, North Texas, or Boulder, Colorado (all places I’ve lived), though I have set one on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. Occasionally a story will have a reappearance of characters from one of the previous books, and sometimes the hero or heroine of a book will have been a secondary character in a previous book, but other than that, each book is basically stand-alone. I continually introduce new elements into the stories, such as vampires. They’re a lot of fun.
DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.

KW: A lot of people seem to think that I’m very odd, since I write paranormal stories. Believe me, I’m an ordinary person who also happens to be a writer. I’m a wife, mother, and insurance agent too. I don’t attend any weird, masked rituals except maybe in my dreams!

DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?

KW: Yes, my characters always surprise me. Though I’m required to submit a synopsis to my editor, even though they might have contracted for a “blind” book, I don’t like to write to outline. For me, the fun of writing is discovering what will happen next. It has to be new to me in order for me to write it fresh. Often I’ll be doing some minor household chore, like dusting or vacuuming, and I’ll realize something about one of the characters in whatever book I’m working on. Or a scene will occur to me and I’ll have to dash off and write it down.

DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?

KW: No, I can’t say I’ve every really argued with them. Sometimes I might try to make them do something they wouldn’t really do and when the scene isn’t working, or I become stuck, that’s their gentle way of pointing this out to me.

DC: Your latest release is a book in The Pack series, Wild Wolf, which is Simon and Raven’s story. Can you give us a look into this book and their relationship?

Wild Wolf

KW: I began wondering about the possibility of a shape-shifter gone feral when I wrote Secrets of the Wolf. Several books later, I realized I had to write Raven’s story. She’s a Feral Shifter, or one who prefers to live as a wolf. This is because of a horrible, abusive past. Then I started thinking about the Pack Society and how true Ferals could endanger them, so I created the Society of Protectors. Their job is to assess and rehabilitate Ferals. They also, like trained military assassins, exterminate Ferals when necessary. Simon, the hero, is a Protector who has been sent to assess Raven.

Here’s a special treat – an excerpt from Wild Wolf:

“Another Feral shifter.” Hanging up the phone, Simon Caldwell dragged his hand across his face and tried to smile at his fellow Protector and friend, Anton Beckham, known as Beck. “There’s been a murder—a professor up at CU, in Boulder. They think a Feral killed him, so it’s another search and destroy. The Feral’s been located—living up on a nearby mountain. Your assignment, this time.” There was more—much more, but Beck would receive that info in the case file.

Beck frowned. “Doesn’t the Council realize how burned out I am? Hellhounds, I had to eliminate my last three.”

“Let me talk to Ross.” Simon should have seen this coming. Burnout. All the telltale signs were there. “I’ll take the job. You need a break.”

“You’ve killed your last seven,” Beck pointed out. “If anyone should have burnout, it’s you.”

“I don’t get burnout.”

“Right,” Beck said, grimacing. “You’re the Terminator.”

Grinning, Simon shrugged and poured himself another cup of coffee. Returning to his seat at the polished steel table, he took a long drink. “Unlike you, I don’t let emotions get in the way of what I have to do.”

“Emotions have nothing to do with it. One of those last three Ferals could have been rehabilitated. I know it.”

“You knew it, huh? When did you realize you might be wrong? When he attacked you and you nearly lost your arm?”

“The Council wouldn’t give me enough time,” Beck insisted. “Come on, man. Show a little compassion.”

Simon said nothing, knowing any further argument would be pointless. Beck knew The Protector’s Creed as well as he did. Drumming his fingers on the metal table that had always seemed more appropriate in a laboratory than a kitchen, he sipped his coffee and stared at nothing.

“You really don’t give a wolf’s ass, do you?” Beck sounded faintly accusatory.

“Of course I do. But let’s look at the stats.” Simon took a long drink from his chipped mug. “Out of the last forty-seven Ferals encountered in the past year, only six were able to be saved.”

“Grim statistics, true. But you know as well as I do that some of the Protectors are trigger-happy, particularly the European and Middle Eastern contingent.”

“First threatening move, you shoot.” Simon hated pointing out the obvious. As soon as his friend left the room, he was going to call in a recommendation that Beck be sent on enforced medical leave. An uncertain Protector was a dead Protector. He didn’t want that to happen to Beck.

“You have to give them more of a chance.”

When Simon didn’t comment, Beck pushed himself away from the table.

“You know what your problem is, Caldwell?”

“I’m sure you’re going to tell me.” Simon couldn’t keep the weariness from his voice. “Let me take a wild guess. I’m too hard. Unfeeling. Too old.”

“Nope,” Beck said, surprising him. “You’re not too old. You’re only thirty-four, a year older than me. I can tell you think I shouldn’t take this assignment, because you’re worried I’ll fail. But you’ve got a worse problem than I do. I think you identify too closely with the Ferals. ‘Grass is greener’ type of thing. That’s why you terminate them so quickly. Because they scare you.”

Simon snorted. “You’re wrong.”

“Maybe I am.” Beck sounded tired. “But honestly, Simon. Sometimes you seem dangerously close to Feral yourself.”

“The end result is all that matters.” Eyes narrowed, Simon slammed his mug on the drainboard. “I’ll ignore your insult. This time. Remember, I’m the one the Council always calls to clean up the mess guys like you make.”

Beck sighed, head in hands. “Sorry.”

“I’m going to take this case,” Simon told him. “Not only because you need a break, but because this seems particularly intriguing. The murdered professor is rumored to have been keeping two shifters captive for years. One of them is the Feral.”

“How’d we locate this one?”

Simon knew his grin looked savage. “How do we always? Rumors of a werewolf, sightings. Thefts, appearances. Humans talk. Then finally, a shifter reports to their local council.”

“What about the other Feral, the second one?”

“The Society hasn’t located her yet. She’s either very careful, or very lucky.”

“Her?” Beck looked even more troubled now.

Simon nodded. “Two females. One—or both of them—is likely the killer.”

“Kept captive? Hounds know, they had reason.”

“There you go again.” Shaking his head, Simon didn’t bother to hide his disgust. “I’m taking this case.”

“Go ahead.” Beck didn’t argue. Not about that. “But you know what? You’re cold. Hard. I think it’s time the Council should reconsider their training methods. Like taking us from our parents before we even start school.” He didn’t bother to hide the bitterness in his voice. “Most of us can’t even remember our birth family. There’s no reason.”

“First off, they don’t take us. We’re given. You know that. When we exhibit skills beyond those of others our age. Our parents are honored to send us. You know that.”

“Maybe.” Beck dropped his head. “But I still think we go to training too young.”

“Do you? Years of training hones our skills, inspires loyalty. In the end, none of that matters.” Simon crossed his arms, weary of the same old argument. “We’re born to be what we’re born to be. Forgetting that is what gets you in trouble.”

Pushing himself up, Beck flipped him the bird before dropping his cup in the sink. “I’m going upstairs. Do you want to make the call, or shall I?”

“I’ll do it.”

As soon as the other man left the room, Simon picked up the phone and dialed Ross, their unit commander. No way was he letting Beck go on this assignment. Until he got his head together, Beck was a disaster waiting to happen.

Blowing snow and biting wind made Raven shiver, despite the thick pelt gifted to her by the Old One when she died. Raven had cried when the old wolf went still, lifting her human face to howl into the night, exactly like her wolf-family did. The Old One had passed last winter, a season marked by death amid swirls of snow, ice and bitter, bitter cold.

She couldn’t stay wolf always, and in her human shape Raven hated the cold. The bone-numbing chill was the one thing that tempted her to rejoin the human world. When she became wolf, she felt warm enough. Human was another story. No matter how many layers of stolen clothes she wore, she couldn’t banish the cold from her skin.

After last winter, she’d nearly packed it in and given up. Only her pack of wild wolves had kept her in the cave, shivering when she was human, gritting her teeth and counting the hours until she could become wolf once more.

When spring had finally arrived, the pack had rejoiced. In summer and fall, every day had been a celebration of life, of living.

Until now. This day, winter started again. Early.

Shivering, she cursed her human form, hating the weakness of her olfactory senses, so sharp when she was wolf. Yet even as human, she sensed something was wrong, something more than the icy wind blowing over the mountains, more than the promise of snow in the air.

Beside her, Shadow whimpered.

“You sense it, too.” Absently, she stroked the thick pelt of the wolf at her side. Her pack knew her scent, whether human or like them, and one or two stayed with her always. As protection and for company.

Two more heavy-coated wolves glided closer. The animals had started growing their winter coats weeks ago, their internal clock telling them the time had come. As human, Raven had noted the change and stepped up her gathering and storing, remembering the long winter the prior year. This year she’d vowed none of her pack would starve.

Despite her preparations, she still felt unsettled. Something was definitely not right.

Later, she’d change to her wolf-self and scout out the area, but now she needed to gather more wood. She thought she’d beefed up her food rations—nuts, berries, whatever she could find—enough. Years ago, in her human time, she’d learned to cure meat, but now she had no way to obtain the salt to make the brine. Yet her pack, always generous with their kills, had not protested when she’d taken choice cuts of meat to try and freeze them, burying them in the crevice areas where her cave dipped deep into the earth.

She wanted to be ready. Yet she worried that despite her hurried preparations, winter had arrived too quickly. She needed human supplies—salt and matches, blankets and a newer thermal sleeping bag to replace the tattered one she’d stolen. A fire would be essential if she wanted to survive the subzero temperatures this high in the mountains. Even her pack liked the warmth, though she needed it. Unlike her furry pack, she couldn’t keep her wolf-form with its thick pelt indefinitely. Eventually, she went back to the form she’d been born in, which pained her.

In the summer, when the hikers and campers flooded the mountain, she’d taken what she could, trying her best not to inconvenience anyone. But now, with the icy north wind howling over the mountains, humans no longer came to the mountain. There’d be no choice for it—she’d have to make a quick trip down into civilization to steal what she needed, fast. As soon as the storm passed, she’d do so.

A movement on the horizon caught her attention. The animal beside her growled low in her throat. The other wolves moved up to flank her, circling her with their silent protection.

Raven stared—uncertain whether what she saw was real. If not a vision, she had a problem. Despite the blizzard, a human climbed the mountain, heading directly toward them. The furious wind and blowing snow had carried away his scent and he’d gotten way too close to her pack’s sanctuary.

Of course, he might be lost. A lost human and a blizzard usually equaled death, unless she led him to safety. She preferred to do the latter. Two winters ago another man had died on her mountain. The search teams had nearly found her cave and her pack before locating his body.

With the human here, she’d be better off as wolf.

She dropped low to the ground and stripped off her clothes. Then, muttering her usual prayer, began the change from human to wolf. Over time, she’d learned to shape-shift in seconds. Now she’d track the stranger…

DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?

KW: Oh my gosh, the internet. That, and Spider Solitare! Recently I’ve taken to handwriting in a lined notebook with a nice pen, then transferring to computer. That seems to help remove the distractions and free up my creativity.

DC: The Pack started out as Silhouette Intimate Moments and now they’re being published as Nocturnes. Has this made a difference in the way you write the stories?

KW: The only real difference might be that I am able to focus more on the impact the paranormal aspect has on the relationship. But writing for IM, I also had no real restrictions, as long as the love relationship was center stage. Everything else revolves around that.

DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?

KW: Probably. I think my characters now are much more multi-faceted than they were when I wrote my first book back in 1997 for Kensington Precious Gems.

Shadow Magic

DC: You have several books with Magic in the title, Shadow Magic, Soul Magic, and Missing Magic, just to name a few. Do these books make up a series or are they all unrelated? Where did the idea come from for the books?

KW: The Magic books were all Fae Paranormals published by Dorchester for their Lovespell line. Most of them, with the exception of Lone Star Magic and Missing Magic, were historical paranormals and like my Pack stories, revolved around a loose premise of a society. In those stories it’s the Fae.

Soul Magic

As far as the idea for those, I’d written five short contemporary romances for Kensington and wanted to do something different. So in 2001 I wrote a book for myself with a time traveling heroine and a half Fae, half human, Prince. I sent it to Chris Keeslar at Dorchester, who bought it. The book did very well and was reprinted in 2007. All of those Magic books feature a Fae character, usually the hero (except Shadow Magic, where it was the heroine).

DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?

KW: Hmmm. I’ve done contemporary, historical, paranormal, and suspense. I don’t know – maybe erotica?

DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?

KW: Patience is a much underrated virtue. I wanted to be a writer so badly that I’d often send material off without proofing it or re-editing it.

DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?

KW: Wow, interesting question. As I grow older, I get more comfortable in my own skin. Yet I love to explore new areas (as in my recent foray into the world of physical fitness). Since more story isn’t yet completely written, I’d have to put a big question mark.

DC: What would be your “voice’s” tagline?

KW: I’ve been told I have a “strong” voice, but am not quite sure what that means. I don’t like to write overly florid description or meandering prose, but like to cut to the chase.

DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?

KW: LOL, my other job is running a commercial insurance agency. But, when I was young, I had some talent at art and my high school art teacher recommended me for a scholarship at an art school. I also love working with animals and showed horses and obedience dogs in the past. No matter what, I’d have to have some form of artistic outlet.

DC: What’s on the horizon for Karen Whiddon?

KW: I just turned in another Pack story and am working on the next book in The Cordasic Legacy for Silhouette Romantic Suspense. I’m contracted for two more Pack books after that and another SRS. Beyond that, time will tell. I’d like to do another single title, like my Magic books, but more of a contemporary romance.

Lightning Round:

– dark or milk chocolate?    – Definitely dark.
– smooth or chunky peanut butter?    –  Smooth
– heels or flats?    –  Both. I love me some high heels, but spend most of my time in flats.
– coffee or tea?    – Again both. I drink coffee every morning and tea every afternoon.
– summer or winter?    – Winter. I love snow and Christmas and bundling up with a nice fire in the fireplace and some hot cocoa. Hmmmm.
– mountains or beach?    – Mountains. I grew up in the Catskills and the Rockies and two of my other favorite places on earth are Alaska and British Columbia.
– mustard or mayonnaise?    –  Both. Depends on what kind of meat.
– flowers or candy?    – Flowers.
– pockets or purse?    – Oh, purse. I have quite a collection of purses.
– Pepsi or Coke?    – Diet Coke.
– ebook or print?    –  Print. I love the feel of paper and have a huge library. Not to say that I won’t even break down and get a Kindle/

Just for some extra fun:

1. What is your favorite word?    – Sleep.
2. What is your least favorite word?    – Deadline
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?    – Beautiful nature. Forest, lake, mountains, beach.
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?     – Loud noises – TV or voices.
5. What sound or noise do you love?    – Cranes over the lake. Eagles over the ocean. Crows.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?    – Loud TV is the worst for me.
7. What is your favorite curse word?    – I can’t say it here
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?    –  Artist
9. What profession would you not like to do?    –  Accountant
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  -“Welcome. Let me show you the Hall of Records.”

DC: Karen, thank you so much for spending the day chatting with us!