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Author of Organizing Elizabeth (mystery/romance)
Read an Interview

Interview with Iris Karas by Jan Sadler, writer and poet

When did you begin to write, and why?

In 1998, I unexpectedly found myself with a huge amount of time and a strong need to express what I was experiencing. My father had been diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer and I took a leave of absence from law school and my part-time job so that I could go back and forth to see him following his initial surgery—which did not go well. In becoming a support for him, I went from not having a free moment in my busy life to the exact opposite. I began writing an article about my father’s diagnosis, which was so maudlin that even I didn’t want to read it. In frustration, I just gave myself permission to write anything. The first thing I wrote was the grocery store scene in Organizing Elizabeth. I didn’t expect this would take me on the fascinating journey of writing a novel.

How did you wind up developing this novel?

Again, I absolutely didn’t know where I was going or that it would ever be a fully developed novel. I continued to give myself permission to just let the story unfold and be creative…just let my imaginative juices flow. My kids followed the story to some extent.
They’d ask things like: “Is Elizabeth going to go to the party?”  I honestly didn’t know what anyone was going to do next until I sat down at the keyboard. It didn’t take long though before the characters were very real. Elizabeth and Joe, Louis and others were definitely taking hold as actual people. We spoke of them at the dinner table as if they were family members.

How long did it take you to write the novel? Did it go smoothly, or were there challenges?

I wrote on and off for at least five years. The challenges were that life got in the way, and writing was not always my top priority. Our family moved several times, and both of my parents became ill and passed away. When I believed the manuscript was finished, I found my editor, who helped me during the next phase of revisions.

Where did you get the inspiration to create your two protagonists, Elizabeth and Joe? Are they based on anyone in your own life?

Elizabeth is completely a product of my imagination. I literally felt as if I had channeled her or given birth to her, or both. With my fingers at the keyboard, she just sort of popped out. I seemed to know so much about all my characters, which was a bit disconcerting… uncanny, really. How did I know, for example, really know, Elizabeth’s color preferences or precisely what she would say or prefer to eat. I knew those kinds of details, on top of her personality and outlook on life, with absolute certainty. There were some aspects of Joe that were similar to my father. Joe was a woodworker, like my dad, and he was a “big-picture” kind of guy. He was a thinker, but that’s about where the similarities begin and end.

What are your thoughts about Elizabeth—how her personality and outlook on life changed when she started to get to know Joe?

Elizabeth’s transformation isn’t anything I knew about or planned. I’m very proud of how far she has come. It’s as if she were telling me, or rather whispering to me, that she was ready to begin to open up a bit, but she was scared because she was so wounded by men who have deserted her and women who have taken advantage of her. It had been much safer for her to live her life with so much control…safer until she met Joe, that is.

Do you think that Joe was changed at all by Elizabeth? Did he undergo any kind of personal transformation, the way she did?

No, not a transformation in the way Elizabeth experienced, but in the way we go through a transformation when we’re in love. Then we’re open, hopeful, so capable of anything/everything. All of our senses are heightened, and we’re willing to overlook any foibles in our heart’s desire. Joe was absolutely captivated and completely smitten by Elizabeth. He knew he had to take it slow, otherwise he’d lose her.

How did the murders figure in to the romantic development between Elizabeth and Joe? Do you think that these two “polar opposites” would have stayed in each other’s worlds if it were not for the murders?

I think that Joe felt responsible for ensuring Elizabeth’s safety. He relied on his wits, his connections, his intuition and his street smarts to do everything he could to make sure she was not the next murder victim. Again, he knew he had to be careful because if his concerns were seen as too paternalistic or bossy, Elizabeth would cut him loose. He intuitively knew they had to work together. I believe Joe would have made it his business to stay in touch with Elizabeth in any case. She was a tough sell in the romance department, so the murders ironically made it easier for him to stay close to her, become closely involved in her life.

Where did you get the inspiration for the character Louis and for his enterprise, “Chez Louis”?

The store was a complete product of my imagination. Although I admit I would love to shop in a place like that, I never have seen anything quite like it. Some of Louis’ “shtick”…his mannerisms and his style…are a composite of  “some of the best” from my many gay friends.

How would you like your readers to see the story in this novel? Aside from the romance and intrigue, are there any “life lessons” here?

From the volume of feedback, I’m delighted that readers enjoy the story. I like to think there are life lessons here as well, but if readers simply enjoy the story without attention to the lessons, that is perfectly okay, too. I do think there are lessons about the power of a personal journey or transformation, and of being open to that experience. It’s also about balance—finding balance in one’s life. And I think it’s about stereotypes and how limiting those labels are to the labeled and the labeler. Joe, for example, is not a stereotypical male. He’s nurturing, compassionate, spontaneous and intuitive. He’s also comfortable with expressing that side, which many women find especially endearing. 

What about any overall metaphors in the story? 

The “closet” as a metaphor shows up throughout the novel. We all have our “secrets” in our closets. Often the energy required to keep those closets locked or tidy is enormous, and this prevents us from living as fully or as balanced and authentically as we might.

After the happily-ever-after ending, do you see Elizabeth and Joe in a lifelong, enduring relationship?

I don’t know that until I sit down at the keyboard.

Do you have any plans for them now?

I am working as we speak.


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