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Interview With Cara Putman

She describes herself as an attorney and author living a dream. And that she is. Her latest book, Captive Dreams, releases this month. Set in Nebraska, this third book in a series brings homefront World War II to life amidst a canteen, K-9 war training, and a prisoner of war camp.

Cara, can you tells us about the characters in Captive Dreams and the research it took to bring this series to life?

Captive Dreams is the third book in my Nebraska brides series. Canteen Dreams, the first book in the series, was easy to write because it tells a story from my hometown North Platte, NE. With Captive Dreams I was looking for a third World War Two story. Nebraska is my home state, yet I didn’t know there had been prisoner of war camps there – or really anywhere in the United States. As a World War Two history buff, the idea absolutely intrigued me.

Because I had no background knowledge, the research was critical. I found great help when I traveled to Fort Robinson to research the second book in the series. The museum curator walked me around the site for its POW camp and helped me with the basic structure and logic of the camps. I’m a firm believer in visiting the locations for the book if at all possible. Those visits often alert me to threads that will make the setting come to life and may give direction to subplots.

One thing I really wanted to do with this series was bring the time to life. I’ve often joked I’d have been a great teenager in the 40s because I love the music, movies and culture. The greatest compliment I get is when someone who lived the time tells me I got the details right. And I love it when people ask, “did they really…?” At the same time, the details don’t bog the story down because they’re sprinkled lightly over the pages. Just enough to enhance the plot and let you feel you’ve stepped back in time.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey thus far?

Being open. If I’d said I’d never write historicals, I would have missed the opportunity to write this first World War Two series that marries my passions for history and all things Nebraska. I also would have missed the opportunity to propose the series I’m writing currently.

God opens doors, but often we’re too stubborn to walk through them. They aren’t the door we expected or thought we wanted. I have asked Him to direct my career, and He’s been incredibly faithful, but that also means I need to be obedient. And whether that’s putting my fingers to the keyboard and writing or dreaming about the next series, I need to work with Him.

You’re a mom, an attorney, wife, author, and our very own ACFW Publicity Officer. You’re a busy woman! How do you balance your writing time with all your other responsibilities?

I don’t sleep a whole lot. Honestly. ☺ But I’ve also stepped back from a few things to focus on writing and teaching. Those are my passions and where I think God wants me to direct my non-family time. But it has taken persistence in going back to Him and asking if I was where He wanted me. Were there things that needed to be cut from the list? And that’s very hard for me.

I also make it a commitment to work most evenings when the kids are in bed. I don’t take many days off when I’m under deadline, because the hours I have to write are so precious and few. I also fight – sometimes more effectively than other – distractions like email.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture?

These are critical. I can tell when I’ve spent time with God and when that slips to the end of the priority list. I also frequently have a running conversation with God when I’m writing. I got within 30 pages of the end of Deadly Exposure and was asking God how to wrap it up. I thought I knew where we were headed, but wanted to double-check. His answer had me shaking my head, but I’d written the book headed in that direction without realizing it. I also had a plot problem in that book – how to make a romance realistic in the tight 7-day timeframe of the plot. I wanted to get that right, but felt trapped in a corner by the timeline. Then God showed me what to do and I literally sat there asking Him, “Are You sure?” I was certain my editor wouldn’t go with it, but wrote it anyway. I loved it, she loved it, and readers have loved it.

So to me writing is an extension of my walk with God. He is an active part of the process. Ultimately, I want everything I write to pleasing in His eyes. To use any talent He’s given me in a way that delights His heart.

What would you describe as your biggest obstacle in writing and how do you overcome it?

Lack of time and colliding deadlines. With a newborn in the house, my writing time evaporated this summer as I worked toward three book deadlines between September 15 and December 1. I’ve had to push through, duck my head, and write into the wee hours of the morning to keep from going crazy. It’s all about discipline. I don’t want to be the person who asks for extensions on deadlines. I want to have the opposite reputation, and that means I have to work hard and keep a close eye on writing goals.

I have an excel spreadsheet that I use with my novels to keep track of where I am and how much I’m writing a day. I think of it as my timecard. And I can tell in a glance when I’ve skipped a day or if I can afford to do that.

What do you consider the highest moment of your writing/publishing career?

Receiving my first contract at the 2006 ACFW conference. Talk about a kiss from heaven!

Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

Canteen Dreams was my opportunity to honor my grandparents specifically and their generation. That and the awesome, inspiring story of the North Platte Canteen made for a story I am passionate about – just ask me at conference.

For the historicals, the stories grow out of a historical hook. For example, my next series has the first hook with a child evacuated from England to the US, the second hook is the Enigma project (so excited about this one!!!), and the third hook is the All American Girls Professional Baseball league. Once
I’ve found the historical hook, the characters and rest of the plot, particularly the romance, develop.

For my suspense, the ideas usually evolve from headlines. I’ll see something that gets me excited about writing a book. I’ve got one idea I can’t wait to flesh out the proposal for because it is so unique and Nebraska specific and fraught with conflict and, and, and. You get the idea. And that passion is key for me, especially as I write them fast. I have to know that I’m excited enough to propel me through the book.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

I’m still learning this. My best guess from what readers tell me: the settings and time period come to life, they connect with the characters (though it’s often not the one I really expected), and with the suspense, the pacing pulls them in. They simply can’t put the book down.

Finish this question. My favorite part of writing is…

The exploration and research. It’s hard. It can be terribly distracting with bunny trails galore. But I love finding the detail that make the scene and time come to life in my mind. That I can translate to the page. How can one grow bored when there are always new things to learn, new places to explore, and new characters to meet?

Any parting words for up-and-coming writers?

Join an organization like ACFW where you can learn and meet people who will encourage you on this solitary journey. And be willing to invest the hours in front of a keyboard not knowing if anyone will ever read the pages. Until you’ve written a complete manuscript, you don’t have anything to sell and nobody will read it.

Thanks for sharing with us, Cara!

Thanks so much for hosting me. I know I would not be where I am without ACFW.

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