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. Her debut novel, A Tailor-Made Bride, recently claimed honorable mention in the 2010 Best Western Romance contest. Karen makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children.
Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being?
I was an avid reader as a child and a well-practiced daydreamer, but the world of books seemed so magical, I really never considered that I could write one. I thought I'd grow up to be a math teacher.
How long did you write before you sold your first book?
2003 was the year I first picked up a pen with the intent to write for publication. And it really was a pen. My children were all still preschool age, and I didn't have a laptop, so I wrote in a spiral notebook while I tried to keep an eye on my three little munchkins. Later that year, due to financial challenges, I ended up going back to work and turning the daytime child care over to my mother-in-law. I mourned the time with my kids, but I flourished under the scheduled life that gave me time to hone my writing craft. I started with shorter pieces and worked my way up to novel-length fiction. I signed my first contract in January 2009 with Bethany House for a 3-book deal. Thankfully, the kids are all in school now and busy with their own activities so when mom is facing a deadline, they know how to entertain themselves.
Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?
RUE - Resist the urge to explain. I constantly remind myself of this one. So many times I want to make sure the reader understands my intent, and I'm tempted to explain the meaning of what just happened in the story. However, the rule of RUE has helped me edit out those unnecessary words. Trust your reader to understand. We have smart, savvy readers. They don't need the message spoon fed to them. And if a few don't get your subtle imagery, don't worry about it. Others will. A heavy hand will just come off as preachy. A joke explained is no longer funny. And dialog rehashed is boring. RUE as you write so you don't rue your wordiness later.
Now for the readers…many times, it’s easy for them to connect with the characters in a book, but not so much the authors themselves. Share something about your day-to-day life that might help a reader to feel as though they know you a little better.
I work full-time outside the home at Abilene Christian University where I give tests for a living (ACT, CLEP, etc.) It helps balance out all the right-brain creativity of the writer side of me to have a day job that is so left-brained in details and logic. Although, to be truthful, my natural inclination is for left-brain activities. Remember the math teacher I wanted to be? Weird that I became a writer, too, huh? It might explain why I prefer editing to plotting. It amazes me how God can work through weaknesses as well as strengths. Without his creative influence, I'm certain I never would have become a fiction writer.
Now that you are published, do you still experience rejections? If so, how are these rejections different or similar to the ones you received before becoming published?
Oh, the rejections are definitely still there. A bad review, being overlooked for an award, not achieving the sales numbers you and your publisher desire, having synopses for future book ideas turned down. Just because you have a contract doesn't mean it's an automatic happily ever after. You are still vulnerable to disappointment. The feeling is much the same as it was when you got that form rejection letter as an unpublished author. You still need a tough skin and a positive outlook. You can't let a bad review steal your confidence as you're writing the next book. Learn what you can from it, discard the rest, and move forward. If you don't final in that contest this year, try again next year. Have a sales slump on one book? Try something new as you market the next one. If your ideas for future books don't fly with your editor, set them aside and dig deeper for something else. I've personally experienced all of these rejections since I joined the ranks of published authors last year. But part of being a professional author is dealing with these setbacks in a healthy way. Don't let them defeat you. Learn from them then use them as stepping stones to reach for the next star.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
To Win Her Heart pairs a blacksmith with a criminal past with an uppity librarian who holds lofty ideals. But attraction definitely sparks between these two opposites.
This story plays on 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 To Win Her Heart, 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 prodigal past comes to light, old hurts are exposed, and Eden must decide if she can give her heart to a knight with tarnished armor.
If you could only share one line from To Win Her Heart, which one would you choose and why?
Oh, now that's just not playing fair. Well, I could opt for a funny line to demonstrate the humor woven into the story, or a romantic line to elicit a sigh. But as I searched through my memory and my manuscript, I ended up selecting a line that encompasses the theme and spiritual challenge of the book.
Have you ever had your words come back to haunt you? Ever taught your kids a spiritual lesson only to have them turn it back on you when you needed the reminder? That double-edged sword cuts, doesn't it? I've experienced the sharpness of that blade more times than I'd like to admit. It's easy to preach forgiveness until you’re the one hurt.
So here's the line I chose, spoken by Chloe, a young girl whom Eden has taken into her home and under her wing:
"You told me God was more interested in offering second chances than pointing fingers at past mistakes. What about you, Miss Eden?"
Writers often put things in their books that are very personal—like a funny story that happened to them, a spiritual truth they learned through difficulty, or even just a character trait that is uniquely theirs. Is there something in To Win Her Heart that only people close to you know is about you or someone you know?
There are no specific situations in this novel that anyone would be able to recognize as being from my life or the life of someone I know. However, as I hinted in the previous section, I drew much from my own spiritual struggles as I delved into the flaws of my heroine's character. Eden has high standards for herself and for others. She takes pride in her dutiful faith and acts of service. Yet when something deeper is required of her, her first instinct is to balk and justify herself with juicy rationalizations. I confess to having intimate knowledge of such a flaw. It is my prayer that God will continue to put people in my life who challenge me to set that pride and justification aside, just as he brought Levi and Chloe to challenge Eden.
Readers often talk a lot about the hero and heroine of a story, but today I’d like to know something about your villain. Does he or she have a redeeming quality? Why or why not?
Sheriff Conrad Pratt is our villain. He's self-serving and greedy and determined to get what he wants even at others' expense. However, he does have some redeeming qualities. He takes his job as sheriff seriously. His first priority is to protect the town of Spencer, Texas, even if his idea of how best to do this ends up a bit warped. Most of his motivation for doing the things he does stems from his desire to be re-elected to his post—an admirable desire until things get out of hand.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book? Can you share some articles or website links you found particularly helpful?
Any historical novel takes a great deal of research. I studied prison life and convict labor camps. I studied the craft of blacksmithing and limestone quarrying. For my heroine, I researched the Victorian art of flower pressing and 19th century literature.
I can't imagine anyone being too interested in any of these areas unless they are researching something similar, but perhaps I'll include a couple links about flower pressing. This art form was very popular in Victorian times, and my heroine not only pressed flowers but turned those flowers into framed works of art. The first link describes the art of flower pressing and how to make your own press. The second one shows gorgeous examples of pressed flower artwork that inspired the idea for Eden's hobby.
Tell us what new projects you’re working on.
I'm currently working on my fourth historical romance for Bethany House. The working title is Short-Straw Bride. Four brothers draw straws to see who will marry the heroine in this twist on a marriage of convenience story.
One fun tidbit about the brothers in this story – they are all named for heroes from the Alamo. Travis is the main character, the next oldest is Crockett, the kid brother is Neill (for the Alamo's commander who missed being at the fight because of a family illness that called him away), and the third brother's given name is Bowie, but he refuses to answer to anything except Jim. I don't blame him. Poor guy. What we authors do to torture our characters.
The most common thing I hear when people learned I’ve published a book is, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Faced with this statement, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in this business?
Invest time and energy into learning the craft. Read books, attend workshops, join a writers group, find a capable critique partner, enter writing contests, solicit editorial feedback. Read extensively in your genre of choice. Get to know and understand the market. Network with other writers. Attend the conferences that draw respected publishing professionals. But above all, have a teachable spirit. In this journey that is writing, no matter what stage you are at, there is always more to learn and room to grow. Have a humble heart, and allow God to take the lead.
What is the one question you were afraid I would ask…and how would you answer?
Question: What is the single best thing an author can do to market her book so that it becomes an instant best seller?
Answer: Write under the name, Karen Kingsbury. I tried doing this halfway. I've got the Karen part, but it doesn't seem to have the same effect. Therefore I would recommend stealing the whole name.
Karen is giving away a copy of her book, To Win Her Heart. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!