Detail image for February 2023 Backstage Pass story.

“What all my female protagonists share in common is that they can pretty much take care of themselves. And pretty much save themselves if necessary.” — New York Times best-selling author, Karen Robards

Author Karen Robards was writing historical romance before it became cool.

Written by Gioia Patton/Arts Insider

While the popularity of historical romance fiction novels has grown significantly due to a certain streaming platform’s adaptation of a series of books, true aficionados of the genre know that one of the best to ever do it is Louisville’s-own, Karen Robards.

After gaining recognition in the early 1980s for her historical romances, Karen became one of the first historical romance novelists to successfully make the switch to contemporary romantic suspense. The New York Times best-selling author’s latest novel, The Girl from Guernica (MIRA Books), is a historical fiction piece that takes place before World War II was declared, and is centered around the Nazis’ actual 1937 (practice run) bombing of the Basque town of Guernica.

Karen says the idea for the book came to her after coming across Pablo Picasso’s powerful and anti-war painting ‘Guernica;’ along with reading some eyewitness accounts about that genocide. “It took almost a year to write this book, as it was research intensive,” she says.

As the author of more than 50 novels, Karen has never found herself without inspiration or ideas for books that readers ultimately will not want to put down. She takes pride in coming up with her own stories but adds that it can take a while before her concepts are fully developed. “I think of it like a block of stone,” she says. “The statue is in there. I just have to remove the parts that aren’t part of it. I just have to find it and get to it.”

The journey to the story typically ends with a masterpiece that’s loved by book reviewers, fans as well as other authors. Madeline Martin, a fellow New York Times best-selling author called The Girl from Guernica “riveting,” and added how she couldn’t recommend the book more. BookBub also raved listing the novel as “one of the best books of Fall 2022.”

Detail image for February 2023 Backstage Pass story.

The Girl From Guernica by Karen Robards | 464 pages | MIRA BOOKS

Karen’s reputation as a great storyteller developed early on in her career. Her prowess with the written word and dependability in crafting novels that become fan favorites, is why publishers want to work with her. “I’m always contracted up [to write a book],” she says. “I have been since I was 24.”

That book, which captured the literary world’s attention in 1981 was Island Flame, her debut novel and first historical romance. As the story goes, the beginning stages of the book were developed while Karen was taking a graduate-level creative writing class at the University of Kentucky. The pages she wrote for a class assignment became the basis of Island Flame.

Having her first novel published when she was barely out of college is a serious accomplishment, but her first paid writing gig actually happened eight years prior. In 1973, while working part-time for her orthodontist father, Karen saw a Reader’s Digest ad for funny anecdotes. She quickly penned a two-paragraph story that she submitted. Several weeks later she received a check for $100 and her entry was published in the December 1973 issue of the magazine.

With a professional writing career that spans more than 40 years, Karen says the key to success for aspiring authors is believing in yourself. “You’ll have negative reviews…negative editors…. Ne…ga…ti…vity,” she repeats dramatically. “It’s tough out there. The people whose book sells the best are not always the most successful writers, if quality and pride in your craft is the standard,” Karen says cryptically.

Ultimately, one can consider themselves “a successful writer,” she adds, “If you’re pleased with what you’re doing, and are not writing for the money — not anything other than telling the very best story that you can … every time.

“You know what my favorite part of writing is? The part where I write ‘The End,’ ” she says with a chuckle.