Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Meet Spunky Fargo Mystery Author and Environmental Engineer, Karen E. Hall

Karen E. Hall
Karen Hall, environmental engineer and writer, lives with her husband Jeff Nelsen (and their orange tabby, Junior, who really owns the house) in the Black Hills outside Rapid CitySD.  Her first Hannah Morrison mystery, Unreasonable Risk, a thriller about sabotage in an oil refinery, was published in 2006 and the second in the series, Through Dark Spaces, set in South Dakota’s mining industry, followed in 2012.  Karen is currently finishing a novel about infertility and working on the third Hannah Morrison mystery.  She is also a member of the Pennington County Planning Commission and is currently president of the Black Hills Writers Group. Website:   
And now, here's Karen to share her unusual occupation, as well as her books:

Karen E. Hall
Hi, everybody, 
I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota (pronounced “Nortdakota” if you’re looking for authenticity), and spent almost every Saturday of my youth at the public library.  Fargo was, in those days, a pretty big city, especially by North Dakota standards, but it still felt like the middle of nowhere.  Fargo’s old Carnegie library helped me to compensate for that isolation, and contributed greatly to my lifelong love of books.  I’ve since lived on both coasts and in Texas, but my heart really belongs to those “ota” states:  North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota.  I graduated from both the University of Minnesota (English lit) and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (chemistry and chemical engineering), and worked for many years in Minnesota’s oil industry as an environmental engineer, trying to make sure that the refinery met its environmental obligations under the law. 

Through all of that experience, I learned a lot about working as a woman in a male-dominated field – both in engineering school and, of course, in the refinery, where women were outnumbered by 20 to 1.  I learned to dish it out, suck it up, and swear like a…well, like a refinery worker.  I wore smurf-blue fire-retardant overalls, steel-toed boots and a hardhat, and carried a clipboard much more often than a purse. 

I loved the oil industry.  We refined a lot more than just gasoline; we produced butane, home heating oil, kerosene, asphalt and more, even carbon dioxide that, once a year, was blessed by a rabbi so it could be used in the manufacture of kosher Coke!  It was a fascinating business, and I was dismayed at how little people knew about it.  After all, the oil industry touches everybody’s life in many ways every day.  So about a dozen years ago I turned to writing as a way to introduce people to that business.  And in that process, I found the true love of my life:  writing fiction. 

My first mystery, Unreasonable Risk, is set in a mythical Minnesota refinery where a saboteur causes no end of trouble for my able young protagonist, Hannah Morrison.  
More About Unreasonable Risk
First in the series, Unreasonable Risk introduces Hannah Morrison, a young environmental engineer ensnared in a series of violent events which threaten the refinery. She knows it’s sabotage. Who’s behind the spate of near-catastrophes that plague the plant? Who can she trust? And what will the saboteur try next?  Unreasonable Risk tells the story of a resourceful young woman fighting to save the refinery, the city surrounding it and, ultimately, her life.
Amazon: Unreasonable Risk (e-book) --

The second, Through Dark Spaces, is set in the mining industry of western South Dakota, where I live now.  In this book, Hannah, my environmental engineer, must figure out why her only employee, Dooley Arnold, was clubbed over the head and left to die in an old mine tunnel.  And, she wonders, what does it have to do with water?  A lot.  I hope you’ll read it and see.

 More About Through Dark Spaces
When Hannah Morrison takes an environmental consulting job at a South Dakota surface mine, she doesn’t expect to have to confront her darkest, most personal fears. In the course of her work, as she discovers secret after secret, Hannah realizes that somebody is poisoning the water in the beautiful Black Hills. Who—and why? Driven to solve the problem and find the people responsible, Hannah finds herself deep underground, trapped in the darkest of spaces—with a murderer.
Amazon: Through Dark Spaces (e-book) -- 
Amazon: Through Dark Spaces (paperback) --
Createspace: Through Dark Spaces (paperback)--

Water is really important here in western South Dakota because there isn’t very much around.  The Black Hills are like a pine-capped oasis in a high desert.  Part of my life in recent years has been dedicated to keeping our groundwater clean.  I used my environmental background by serving on a county-wide ad hoc committee to draft and implement an ordinance to inspect and repair septic systems. 
Karen E. Hall & Husband, Jeff Nelson
It’s not very glamorous (my husband occasionally calls me “the princess of poop”) but in my opinion is absolutely necessary to protect the integrity of the aquifers that allow us to live in this beautiful place.
So now I’m a member of the county’s planning commission, too.  
Roughlock Burr
I also hike, downhill ski like a crazy woman, and take tons of photographs.
I’ve included a couple from recent hikes in the woods with this post.  

Whitetail buck
Although I used to do a lot of art stuff, including pottery, painting and several crafts, I’ve determined that my media are these:  words, photographs and yarn.  Although I don’t have any photos of my yarn projects, I have five wonderful grandchildren who wear and/or wrap themselves in those projects.  I know I have a lot more books in me, and I’ll never stop doing yarn projects or taking photographs, either.  If I’m still skiing at 80 (I’m nearly 63 now), I’ll be a happy woman. 

Thanks so much, Morgan, for hosting me.  I’d love to hear about your readers’ media of expression – what arts, crafts and activities float your boat?  What keeps all of you other spunky seniors going?

Thanks very much, Morgan, for hosting me!

Warm regards,
Karen Hall
Please welcome Karen Hall to Spunky Senior Authors and Talents by Leaving a Comment.


  1. Welcome to Spunky Senior Authors and Talents, Karen. You have two fascinating occupations: author and environmental engineer. Love your pics - you look perky and spunky!

    Morgan Mandel

  2. This books sound totally fascinating. I like how you're giving the reader a look into what one might say is a less than glamorous industry. I'm adding these to my wish list.

  3. What an interesting life!

  4. I'll be adding your book to my list too! Have to support a neighbor. I grew up in Minneapolis, but left when I was 20. I don't do snow.

    Good luck with the book.

  5. I'm in Rapid City, SD, now, and it took me quite a while to get back to skiing -- nearly 10 years. But now I can't imagine a winter without it. I know I'll get to the point where snow loses its magic, but I'm hoping it'll be a while yet. :-)

    Thanks, everybody, for your thoughts on my books! I hope you like them.


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