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Interview with Karen Rees

Tell us about your book, A Tale of Souls. What’s it about?
The subtitle – The Church in Turmoil, Henry VIII to Bloody Mary – is a good summary of the historical aspects of the story. The fictional characters are caught up in the turmoil created by the ever-changing religious policy during this period. They each must decide whether to obey whatever the current government has dictated or risk death by staying true to their religious convictions.

FYI – the cover picture, taken from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, is of Archbishop Cranmer being burned at the stake under Queen Mary I.

Why did you write this book? Explain the significance of the story.
I wrote A Tale of Souls, which is book #2 in The Reformation – A Family Divided series, for two reasons. The secondary reason was so I could get some sleep. At the end of book #1, The Ruby Ring, my main characters, both historical and fictional, were still alive, doing things in my head and keeping me awake. I got them out of my head by putting them on paper. I followed them and their families to the final months of Bloody Mary’s reign to see the impact those years would have on their lives.

My primary reason for writing both The Ruby Ring and A Tale of Souls and the significance of both stories, was to present English Reformation History in an interesting and personal way so that readers would better understand and appreciate the sacrifices that our ancestors in the Faith made. The stories are also a challenge to us to be equally faithful to our religious convictions.

What lesson are you trying to impart through this book?
A Tale of Souls is a story about conflicting loyalties. Who or what gets our first loyalty? What price are we willing to pay to remain true to our beliefs? These are questions that Reformation people faced. Whether we realize it or not, we face similar questions today. We need to become aware of that and give careful thought to our answers.

A Tale of Souls is the sequel to your original book The Ruby Ring. What was your first book about and how do your characters’ lives continue in your newest release A Tale of Souls?
The Ruby Ring, which won a National Indie Excellence Finalist award, deals with the battle to have an English Bible.

In early Tudor England, it was illegal to translate the scriptures into English without Church authorization, something the Church had no intention of giving. English priest and scholar William Tyndale, my main historical character, risks his life to produce an English New Testament in Martin Luther’s Germany. The Testaments then must be smuggled into England. When my main fictional characters become involved in the smuggling efforts, it disrupts their plans to marry, puts their lives in danger and changes them forever.

A Tale of Souls follows the main characters from The Ruby Ring, along with their children, as they face England’s continually changing religious policies after Henry VIII breaks with the Pope.

While A Tale of Souls deals with the issue of loyalty, The Ruby Ring deals with our attitude toward the Bible. What will we sacrifice to have the Scriptures? How has God’s word changed our lives?

Who were the main characters in your book A Tale of Souls? Describe their looks, personality, dreams, and motivation in this story.
The key character in both books is Jane, a tall, dark-eyed, dark-haired, quiet young woman who, on the early death of her mother, becomes the owner of Wynnfield Manor. At the beginning of The Ruby Ring, she has little interest in the heretical ideas slipping into England from Germany. She is much more concerned with her stepfather’s slowness in finding her a suitable husband. The sudden arrival of Owen, her childhood friend, gives a face to her wish for a husband. At the same time, Owen brings conflict which, over the course of the story, sends her life and aspirations off in an unexpected and increasingly complicated direction. Adding further problems, Jane discovers the shocking secret behind her mother’s ruby ring.

Owen is of medium height with gray eyes and sacking brown hair. From childhood, he’s felt called to serve God. When his brother dies, his dream of becoming a priest is shattered. His parents insist that he join his father in the family’s London grocers business. Even before this, his friendship with William Tyndale has raised doubts as to the best way to carry out his burning desire to serve God. Through Tyndale, he finds a new way to accomplish his calling. He is determined to follow this new path regardless of the cost to himself or to others.

You’re a missionary who writes books on the side. What are the unique challenges and rewards of your dual career?
Since I promised God years ago that I’d always put the mission work first, the biggest challenge is finding the time to write. Now that I’m a published author, an additional challenge is finding ways to do book promotion in the U.S. from Hong Kong and the time to do it. On the other hand, as a missionary, I’m reasonably well known in certain Christian circles. That has given me a few promotional opportunities that other authors may not have. I also have experience dealing with other cultures. This has helped me to better portray the more family-oriented, arranged-marriage culture of the Tudor era in my novels.

My biggest reward, both as a missionary and the author of these books, is when some reader says that she was “deeply touched”, “wowed by the spiritual message”, “challenged by the sacrifices” or “learned so much history I’d not known”. To me, it’s “Mission Accomplished”.

Who or what is your inspiration behind each of your books?
That’s easy to answer. William Tyndale. I’d never heard of him until a Bible college professor made a passing comment about him. Loving history as I do, I read up on Tyndale. What I learned captivated me. Here was a humble, unassuming priest who, knowing that God’s word had the power to change lives, gave his life so that the common man could have the Scriptures. Although his New Testament and translated portions of the Old Testament were never made legal, so much of his translations ended up in the King James Version that today he is known as the Father of the English Bible.

What do you want readers to remember the most about your stories?
I want them to remember the sacrifices that real people made to have the Bible and how they remained loyal to God and his Word even at the cost of their lives. I would hope that these witnesses from history would challenge and inspire Christians today to take their relationship with God just as seriously.

If you could work with someone who you admire on the mission field, who would it be and why? What would you do together and how would that help humanity?
In the 40+ years my husband and I have served in Hong Kong, I’ve already worked with or known Christian workers from several denominations that I’ve admired. Instead of giving their names, I’d rather list the qualities that earned my admiration.

Top of the list are a deep love for God’s word, a humble spirit and the willingness to sacrifice for others. Having these qualities allowed the people in question to truly show God’s love to those around them. Some I admire have pastored a church, taught in a Bible seminary, ministered to sex-trafficked victims, worked as a Bible translator, managed an orphanage or worked with illegal house churches in China All of these ministries are important because they all bring hope and help make the world a better and more loving place.

What’s next for you, book-wise?
I’m currently writing the final book in my series, The Reformation – A Family Divided, set in 1572 during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The main characters are the children and grandchildren of characters in book #1.

Two of my characters have made a side trip to France and are in Paris waiting to get caught in the St. Bartholomew Day massacre I’ve told them to do something worth writing about while they wait. So far, they don’t seem to be listening From past experience with other characters, I know they’ll eventually give me a good story. While I wait, I’m getting on with the mission work.


Alexis A. Goring is a passionate writer with a degree in Print Journalism and an MFA in Creative Writing. She loves the art of storytelling and hopes that her stories will connect readers with the enduring, forever love of Jesus Christ.

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