Monday, May 24, 2010

Karen Witemeyer is a deacon's wife who believes the world needs more happily-ever-afters. To that end, she combines her love of bygone eras with her passion for helping women mature in Christ to craft historical romance novels that lift the spirit and nurture the soul.

Karen holds a master's degree in Psychology from Abilene Christian University and is a member of ACFW, RWA, and her local writers' guild. She's an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. Karen makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children.

When did you decide to be a writer?

I had always been an avid reader, and as I grew to adulthood, I toyed with the idea of putting my own stories to paper. I'd daydream romantic plot lines and jot down my ideas in a journal, but I never committed myself to writing. First, college kept me busy. Then kids entered the picture. But in 2003 when my husband learned his job was being cut, the urge to turn someday into this day became too strong to ignore. The busyness didn't disappear, of course. I started working full-time outside the home, and the kids were still young and in need of my attention. However, the Lord had sent me a wake-up call, and I knew I had to answer.

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

I started writing with intention to publish in 2003. I sold a couple of short pieces along the way, but my first contract for full-length novels came in January of 2009.

Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Now that you’ve walked that road, what tips can you give to authors still hoping for that first contract?

The key to enjoying your journey to publication, as with most things, is a positive attitude. This is especially important for a road that is fraught with so much rejection and disappointment. Learn from the past, but don't dwell there. Constantly look forward. Give yourself the tools to be successful – hone your craft, go to conferences, network with other writers and industry professionals – but above all, reminder to smile. The Lord set us on this path, and we are to glorify him just as much when mired in mud pits or sucking wind on steep grades as when we dance in meadows and savor mountaintop views.

Was there something about the experience of getting published that was a surprise to you?

I'm constantly surprised by how much there still is to learn. There is always more technique and craft to master. There are relationships to foster with your publishing team. There are marketing strategies to embrace and somehow find the courage to put into action. But I think the thing that amazes me most is how much joy I derive from working with a team of people who believe in me. I have editors who are becoming dear friends and marketing liaisons who go out of their way to make things easy for a newbie who doesn't know the first thing about selling books. I had a chance to visit my publishing house in person at the first of the year, and I was overwhelmed with warmth and enthusiasm from people who were eager to welcome me into their family.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

If I only wrote when I felt like it, I'd still be stuck in the middle of my first book instead of nearly finished with my third. There are just those days where I would rather have a tooth pulled than try to figure out what needs to happen next with my characters. I pray a lot on those days.

I don't set daily word count goals because I need flexibility in my writing schedule to accommodate my day job and the demands of being mom for three kids. So, instead of a word count goal, I set chapter goals. My normal pace is one polished chapter a week. When I need to step it up for a deadline, I increase to 3 polished chapters every 2 weeks. My chapters are generally 7-8 pages long, so this averages out to about two pages a day. Some days I write 3 pages, some days I struggle to get 2 good paragraphs. That's why I like the flexibility of the chapter goal instead of the specific word count.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I enjoy cross-stitching. It is a great way to unwind at the end of the day. Reading is always fun, too—escaping with someone else's characters for a change. I also sing with a community chorus and stay busy keeping up with my kids and all their activities.

What is your favorite novel (not written by you) and what made it special?

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is my favorite. The emotions that story evoked have stayed with me to this day. Not only did it create a well of compassion in me for people who struggle to believe in the goodness of God, but it compelled me to become more like the hero who willingly surrendered himself to God's plan in order to mend the heart of another. And the tenderness of the love story was exquisite.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

I draw on other writers a great deal. Something in their stories might inspire a plot idea or a character trait that I can twist and tweak and then incorporate into a manuscript of my own. I absorb their mastery of craft by reading well-turned phrases and powerful scenes. I learn what readers in my market enjoy by reading the works of authors successful in my genre. I don't think I could be a writer if I wasn't a reader as well.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

A Tailor-Made Bride is a fun-filled romp in which a feisty seamstress tangles with a set-in-his-ways livery owner in 1880s Texas.

Here's the scoop:

Jericho "J.T." Tucker wants nothing to do with Coventry, Texas's new dressmaker. He's all too familiar with her kind--shallow women more devoted to fashion than true beauty. Yet, except for her well-tailored clothing, this seamstress is not at all what he expected.

Hannah Richards is confounded by the man who runs the livery. The unsmiling fellow riles her with his arrogant assumptions and gruff manner while at the same time stirring her heart with unexpected acts of kindness. Which side of Jericho Tucker reflects the real man?

When Hannah decides to help Jericho's sister catch a beau--leading to uproarious consequences for the whole town--will Jericho and Hannah find a way to bridge the gap between them?

Where did you get your inspiration for A Tailor-Made Bride?

It all started with a question: What happens when believers disagree about what the Christian life should look like?

Hannah Richards believes she is being a good steward of the talents the Lord has blessed her with by turning her needle to creating dresses that are pleasing to look upon. She is imitating the Creator God who designed wildflowers, rainbows, and sunsets.

Jericho Tucker, on the other hand, believes that fancy dress goods encourage women to focus their attention on vain, superficial beauty instead of the inner attributes of a gentle and quiet spirit that Scripture promotes as true loveliness.

Both are right. Yet both see the other as wrong. By throwing Jericho's sister Cordelia into the mix, I forced these two characters to face their differences and learn from each other, to mend those tears of condemnation with threads of grace.

Which character is most like you?

Like most authors, I write a bit of myself into all of my characters. I relate strongly to Hannah, my heroine. However, to be honest with myself, I'm probably more like Cordelia. A little too addicted to sweets, shy in new situations but a dedicated friend once bonds are formed, and head-over-heels in love with a man who leads the singing in worship. (Did I mention my husband is a song leader for our local congregation?)

Who is your favorite character and why?

Jericho—by far. As a reader I enjoy relating to the heroine, but it's the hero who makes me fall in love with a book. So, too, with writing. Jericho is a man wounded and hardened by his past, yet his gruff exterior shelters a tender heart. I couldn't wait to match him up with a woman who would help tear down those walls of his.

Did you know how A Tailor-Made Bride would turn out? Were you surprised by any of the plot twists or characters?

Before I start a manuscript, I have to know what the major plot points of the book will be. So in that sense, yes, I knew how the story would turn out. But aside from that, the rest of the journey was an adventure. I met secondary characters I didn't know existed at the outset and uncovered motivations that I hadn't realized were lurking under the surface. One of my pre-ordained plot points even changed. I originally planned to have my heroine make a daring rescue to save a child, and instead, it played out that she had to save herself.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?

Being right is less important than living right. Love for one's neighbor and grace in the face of disagreement unifies God's kingdom where dogmatic condemnation and quarrelsome arguments tear it apart.

So many times as Christians, we see things as black and white—right and wrong. We can be quick to condemn other believers because they don't follow a doctrine identical to ours. A Tailor-Made Bride demonstrates how submissive hearts open to the Lord's leading can bridge such gaps with grace, fostering relationships and nurturing increased spiritual maturity.

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

The Marketing Department at Bethany House has been tremendous. We share ideas and they help me implement them. For example, they asked me to come up with unique ideas for promotional items to give away at book signings and such. Since my heroine is a seamstress, I thought it would be fun to make up little sewing kits like the ones you sometimes find in hotels. They jumped right on the idea and put them together for me.

I'm hosting a launch party complete with activities and giveaways, doing book signings, distributing bookmarks to libraries and book stores, and sponsoring a contest on my Wes site. Everyone who signs up for my newsletter receives a free download of a biblical fiction short story accompanied by a Bible study based on the life of Rahab. But in addition to that, they are also entered into a contest. Every month, someone wins a set of Christian historical fiction titles. And once you are in my database, you are automatically signed up for all future drawings.

I guess you could say that bribery is my marketing strategy of choice. :-)

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

My second release, Head in the Clouds, will be hitting the shelves in October. Since I enjoy Regency romances as well as those set in the American West, I thought it would be fun to blend the two by bringing an English nobleman to Texas. In Head in the Clouds, a recovering romantic takes a job as governess for the mute daughter of a sheep rancher and soon learns her heart is not the only thing in danger.

My current work in progress is a story set in the late 1880s that asks the question – what happens after the prodigal son returns? So many times, we focus on the wonderful homecoming the lost son received from his father, but have you ever asked what life was like for him after the celebration was over? How did he relate to his bitter older brother or the servants and townspeople who were only too aware of his past arrogance and wild living?

In my third book, I play on those very questions. My hero is a man recently released from prison who has returned to his faith roots and rededicated his life to the Lord. The heroine is a woman who has been disappointed by men in the past and has little tolerance of those who don't meet her high standards. In an effort to make a clean start, Levi hides his past and Eden believes she has finally found a man of honor and integrity. But when his secret is revealed will both their futures be shattered?

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don't be in a rush. The publishing world moves slowly and a new writer would be wise to invest their time in honing their craft instead of pushing ahead with an unready manuscript. I tend to be task-oriented, and when I finish something, I want to immediately send it in. I still need to learn patience in this business.

And don't forget to enjoy the ride.
Karen is giving away a copy of her book, A Tailor Made Bride. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win.


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