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Interview with Cara Putman

In her latest novella, Cara Putman returns to WWII, which is one of her favorite time periods to write. Even in such a challenging era, she strives to include a message of undying hope.

You teamed up with Angela Ruth Strong and Crystal Caudill to create this novella collection. How did that happen?
Collections like this happen one of two ways: the authors come together and propose an idea or the publisher puts the authors together, sometimes with a connecting idea. For this collection Kregel had a track record of successful Christmas collections and approached the three of us about a collection related to We Three Kings. When I was approached, they specifically asked me to write a WWII related story, possibly set in France. I loved the idea of returning to WWII, one of my favorite time periods to write, but the more I thought about it and researched, the more I leaned toward Germany. Fortunately that worked really well with the direction that Crystal wanted to take her story. It was such fun to work with Crystal and Angela to create the strong generational connections between our stories.

What did you enjoy about writing stories with other authors? Challenges?
I really adore the process of writing with other authors. So much of writing is solitary. It’s an author and her computer. Long hours staring at a computer screen. That’s why writing a collection with friends can be such fun. This is my third Christmas collection, and each of those has been a particular job because the stories have been so thoroughly connected—in a way that I think readers really enjoy. The challenge can be keeping the details straight. Fortunately, Crystal is very detail oriented, so she became something of the repository of all the family history. Angela brought a lot of fun to the process. The combination has been great!

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Beauty Bright, my novella in We Three Kings, is set primarily in Germany in the days and months after the end of World War Two. It’s a time of devastation and rebuilding. I’ll never forget standing in the Rathaus in Hanover, Germany, and seeing a diorama of the city in 1939 standing next to another of the town in 1945. It put the devastation of the war in Germany in stark relief for me. That detail and many others come into the story. I did so much research, but part of what I hope readers will take away from this book is that there is always hope. Life can be dark and all can seem lost, but there is always hope as long as we are looking for and trusting in God. Some days I need that reminder more than others. And I want readers to be reminded of that, too.

I read that your love of mysteries began with Nancy Drew. Why do you like to keep that suspenseful edge in your novels?
My mind moves fast, so I like to read books that have layers and twists and turns. I think that’s why I like to write those too. That’s been my approach from the earliest days I could read Trixie Beldon, Encyclopedia Brown, and Nancy Drew. Even Cherry Ames solved mysteries. So when I started writing, I knew many of my books would have mystery and/or layers of suspense. My World War II novels have varying degrees – it really depends on the book. I’d say this one has a layer of mystery alongside a layer of romance and a layer of history. It was so much fun to write, and I truly hope readers enjoy stepping back in time with characters that they can love.

You write both contemporary and historical. Does one come more naturally?
I didn’t set out to write historical, but I’ve always loved history, so it was natural to find myself writing novels set during World War II. There are so many inspiring true stories that we don’t know about if they aren’t encase in a novel. It also make those books challenging to write, because I know the average fiction reader won’t read the stack of nonfiction books I did to fact check and see what I got right or wrong. That means I really want to make sure I got it right so people can learn the history while enjoying a great story.

Contemporary novels can be easier to write, because they often don’t require the level of detailed research. However, I find I’m often embedding an issue of some sort in the story, which ends up requiring copious amounts of research. The saving grace in that situation is that I don’t have to research the day to day life details. Instead, I’m researching car-T Cell research or legal details like the statute of limitations on an alleged crime.

But when I’m in the flow of the story, both come naturally.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
It depends on the story. It’s easier to write when I’ve plotted it out. And several of my early publishers required a chapter-by-chapter or similarly detailed synopsis so I learned to be a plotter. I’ve also written books where I had a paragraph – that’s much harder to do. I’d say my preference is to be somewhere in the middle. To have a solid idea of the characters and where the story is going and then write for a bit. Then I may have to pause and plot a bit more, but I find I can write really fast when I’ve done the character prework and plotting.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Two or three things have been key. The first was meeting Colleen Coble at a book signing and my husband telling her I wanted to be a writer. That’s when she told me about ACFW. The second was my husband agreeing I should invest in ACFW that year – five months later, and I sat down and started writing. It had been a desire for years, but that was when I started realizing this could happen. Colleen has been an amazing mentor to me and so many others, and without her, I would be where I am today. That and a supportive husband has made a huge difference. The third would be a mother-in-law who stayed with my kids each year for years so I could come to ACFW. She allowed me to be consistently present during the years we homeschooled and I served on the board. Some of those years, my mom would come to conference to help with a baby while my mother-in-law was at home with my other children. Their practical belief in this crazy dream made a huge difference. It was also amazing to be able to recognize my mom in the audience when my first novel tied for ACFW Book of the Year in the short historical category. That was pretty awesome.

What type of law do you practice? Has being a lawyer been helpful in your writing?
For years I practiced with a firm with an emphasis in litigation, small business, employment law, etc. Then I spent some time in family law and decided teaching sounded great. Even while I taught, I kept my fingers in the law, doing adoptions and wills through July of this year. Now I’m fully focused on teaching and writing.

Being a lawyer has definitely helped my writing. Law school taught me to be a fast and clean writer. Law school also taught me to be logical and efficient. Reading though taught me the elements of story. You put the two together and it was great preparation for writing.

How does your faith affect your storytelling?
My faith is embedded in everything I do and that includes my writing. Like everything, the faith element depends on the particular story. All of my characters have a faith journey. My job as the author is to partner with God on what that looks like for that particular book.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
That’s a tough one. Maybe staying published. It’s a challenging business and I don’t take that for granted.

What is your writing routine? Any quirky habits or must-have snacks?
My writing routine varies on the season and book. Usually I write at night when the family finally settles down, but I’ve learned that as my kids become teenagers, that time isn’t as settled. It seems teenagers like to start talking at about ten at night. So I’m in a season of praying about when my writing time will be. Right now it tends to be in twenty minute bursts as many of them as I can get.

I’m not a big snacker, but I drink a ton of water, and usually some coffee or hot tea.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
I would love to pick CS Lewis’ mind. I’m blessed to call so many of my favorite authors friends. Through Book Talk with Cara, my podcast, I’ve had conversations with so many. I can’t believe that’s at 101 episodes!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I love to read, travel, and play games with my family. Oh, and grade.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I’m reading the next book by Colleen Coble (Fragile Designs), Nancy Mehl’s Cold Pursuit, and my Shadowed by Grace which I’m rereleasing in September.

Finish this statement: If I were not an author, I would be…
A university professor. I really feel incredibly blessed because I’m getting to do what I love!
A church girl from the get-go, Christine Boatwright learned storytelling through her time as an award-winning journalist and academic writer. She's the president of the ACFW Upstate South Carolina chapter and has won a handful of ACFW awards for her debut manuscript. In her free time as a stay-at-home mom, she squeezes in words for her new manuscript, a split-time story mirroring the choices of Eve in the garden with a modern-day cancer researcher fighting the death released by the Fall. Connect with her at or on Instagram.

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