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Interview with Betty Thomason Owens

Betty Thomason Owens is an award-winning writer of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and fantasy-adventure. The second book in her Kinsman Redeemer series, Sutter’s Landing, was released this summer. Her desire is to tell the story of a “…world of lives well-lived, and characters who learn to overcome their difficulties through faith and love.”

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I recently asked author Betty Thomason Owens why Annabelle’s Ruth, the first book in her Kinsman Redeemer series, was created as a modern-day telling of the book of Ruth.

"It's the book of my heart,” she said.

Annabelle’s Ruth introduced two women who lose their husbands and are compelled by love to work together and forge new lives for themselves. Their stories are continued in book two, Sutter’s Landing, which was released this summer. The third book will be released by early 2019.

The lives of the two widows, Annabelle and her daughter-in-law Connie, parallel Naomi and Ruth in the Bible. Although anyone who has read the story in the Old Testament can guess where the story is heading, Owen’s books make her readers sit on the edge of their seats to see what happens next.

What inspired the Kinsman Redeemer series? Have you always been a fan of Ruth?
My favorite book in the Bible is Ruth. I've read it many times. One time after I read the book I had that “what if” come to me. What if the same thing happened in a later time? You know it's happened more than once for women to be widowed that way and left on their own.

I read Sutter’s Landing first, but I had a good sense of the backstory from book one. Did you plot out both books from the beginning?
I wrote Annabelle's Ruth as a standalone. My publisher wanted a three-book series, so I worked on a proposal for the whole series with the first book open so that I could keep the details close. Book two didn’t go as far as I thought it would, but it was okay that it happened that way. Annabelle will get her own story in book three.

I loved the relationship between Annabelle and her friend, Tom. Are you going to explore that more deeply in the next book?
That's what my mother is hoping for.

Placing Sutter’s Landing in western Tennessee was an integral part of your story. You have been applauded for accurately reflecting the culture and language of the area. Did you do a lot of research?
I did some research but most of it came directly from my personal memories. I grew up in the Trenton, Tennessee area. A lot of my memories are woven into the story. The way the people talk, their speech, is very familiar to me. I have family there and visiting them refreshes it in my mind.

Why did you set your story in 1955?

The 1950s was a time of recovery after the war and the Great Depression. Industry was booming. It's a magical era to me. There was still a lot of innocence, but it was during a growth time. It attracted me because women were still mostly in the home. That's what I wanted to show in the story.

I really enjoyed the cameo of the famous person (no spoilers!) who showed up in the story. How did you come up with that idea?
I love that part. It just popped into my head as I was writing that scene. It was fun and I like to add humor to my books.

Were there elements in the story that were based on fact, such as the flooding that washed away some of the homes?
Western Tennessee is relatively flat and is surrounded by the Mississippi River on one side and the huge Forked Deer River Valley area on the other side. It does flood regularly. Also, in 1955 Alabama experienced a major 100-year flood. Since Tennessee is so close, it made sense that people there experienced a lot of rain, too.

You compassionately and sensitively handled difficult race relations in the story. Have you dealt with those issues in your personal life?
I grew up as lower middle class after my dad came out of the Navy. We were considered poor. I remember seeing "whites only" signs. My grandmother's farm had African Americans who worked in the fields. I actually picked and chopped cotton along with them, but I was told by my grandmother that they were "different." She was friendly and worked with them side by side, but the prejudice was there.

Why did you create prejudice in your story towards Connie?
It is a parallel to Ruth, who was looked down upon by the Hebrews because she was a Moabite. She is only accepted because of her character and love and care for her mother-in-law, Naomi.
In the same way, Connie experienced prejudice because of her skin color and Hawaiian ethnicity.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I really hope my faith is a natural product of my writing. My goal is to shine the light of faith in Jesus Christ in my stories, but I want it to be organic rather than manufactured. For the people I've written about in this story, faith is an everyday part of their lives. It's as natural to them as mashed potatoes and fried chicken, or the sweet iced tea they drink.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
The story of Ruth is a story of redemption, restoration and love. I've expanded this message in Sutter's Landing to include forgiveness and overcoming bitterness.

Why do you think many readers enjoy the “happily ever after” element that is found in books like Sutter’s Landing?
I count myself among the those who love happily ever after. I think sometimes we are after that euphoric feeling you get at the end of a really good story, when there's a warm glow. I know the not so happy is out there, and it's real life and more believable, but I also know with the faith I hold, there will be a happily ever after.

I think sometimes it's because people are going through tough situations. I know when I'm going through a hard time I do not want to read a book without a happy ending. It leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Encouragement. I didn’t set out to be a writer. I didn't go to college. I was more of a business person. I spent 15 years to be an office manager. One day, I just felt like writing. It was an odd thing for me, but I’ve always read a lot.

Fay Lamb, former head of the ACFW Scribes loop, was the biggest influence on my writing. She found something in my writing that she liked and she helped me get published.

What does your writing day look like? What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I don't balance with other responsibilities very well. I'm retired but I work part time doing bookkeeping, and I keep my grandkids occasionally. I try to do my marketing early in the day. I usually do the bulk of my writing late after everything else is done. I write everywhere. We have an office but I’m usually at the table or on the couch with my laptop.

What are you most proud of in your writing journey?
I am most proud that people are reading my books and are blessed by my stories. Where would we be without readers?

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I love long walks and I really enjoy traveling and seeing places I've never been. Of course, I love time with my family and my husband.

What are you reading now?
I’m finishing the last two chapters of The Revisionary by Kristen Hogrefe, another Write Integrity Press author. I love it. I don't usually prefer YA or books written in first person, but it is riveting. I want to be reading it right now.

Any advice for new authors?
Don't give up. Tell the story of your heart, even if it's not what's selling right now. At some point, the story of your heart will sell itself.


Teresa Haugh, a graduate of the University of Montevallo, is a recently retired public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. She and her husband enjoy life in Alaska, the Last Frontier. She takes pleasure in talking with other authors about their writing journeys, and is completing her first full-length novel.

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