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Interview with Karen Rees

Welcome, Karen. What was your inspiration for your Reformation trilogy?
William Tyndale inspired my first book, The Ruby Ring, Battle for an English Bible. Like many people today, I'd heard of Martin Luther but hadn’t heard of Tyndale until a seminary professor mentioned him in passing. Loving history as I do, I read about Tyndale and was captivated by his story.

Because Tyndale knew God's word had the power to change lives, he willingly sacrificed everything to provide Tudor England with a then-illegal printed New Testament. When the main fictional characters in The Ruby Ring become involved in efforts to smuggle Tyndale's Testaments into England, it disrupts their romance and changes them forever.

Book #1 inspired book #2, A Tale of Souls, The Church in Turmoil. Tyndale and the main fictional characters were still alive at the end of book #1, so they continued doing things in my head. The only way I could get them out and have a good night’s sleep was to write #2.

Book #2 tells what happened to Tyndale and the main fictional characters, their extended family and children from the time Henry VIII broke with the Pope to the final months of Bloody Mary's reign. The continually changing religious policy of this period affected every aspect of life – how you could worship, what you could read and eat, even who you could marry. One of my strong-willed female characters rebels against that final restriction.

What inspired you to write in the Elizabethan era? What is your favorite part of writing that era? What did you find most challenging?
The merciless historical period covered in book #2 pushed me to write the final and newly released book, This Tangled Skein, The Elizabethan Dilemma, set in 1572 during the reign of Elizabeth I. With some of my book #2 fictional characters in exile on the Continent and others being sent to the stake, I had to write book #3 to bring the exiles home and end the saga on a happier note. Of course, two of the characters in book #3 unexpectedly find themselves in Paris and are caught up in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. So along with romance, this final book does have its dangers.

I actually had two favorite things about setting a story in that era. The first was doing all the necessary research to get an accurate picture of 16th century England. This applied not only to the food, clothing, housing, transport, etc., but also to the mindset of the people. In the 16th century worldview, the family took priority over the individual and marriage was a business arrangement. Love, if it arrived, came after the wedding.

Interestingly, when my husband and I started our mission work in Hong Kong, I discovered that this 'family takes priority' thinking and arranged marriages were, and to some extent still are, common in Asia. Seeing this 16th century mindset in action helped my characters, even those rebelling against an arranged marriage, to better stay true to their culture.

My other favorite part, and the most challenging, was seeing how the fictional characters would respond to what was happening around them – the actual historical events – and how their lives would be shaped as a result. Also, by the Elizabethan period, religious conflicts had expanded beyond 'Catholic vs Reformers' to conflicts among the emerging Protestant denominations. With different fictional characters understanding scriptures differently, presenting the different viewpoints in a positive way was another challenge. Thankfully, having Hong Kong missionary friends from a variety of denominations helped with this.

What does your writing routine look like, if you have one? What challenges or obstacles present themselves in making time to write?
I'd like to have a writing routine, but I've never managed to have one. As a missionary on call to help church members with problems, I never know what my day will be like. So, over the years, I've written when I could. Apart from the usual church and family obligations, I've sometimes had most of a day or so to write. At other times I've not been free to write for several weeks because I'm helping a church member with some emergency need.

What led you to the decision to publish independently? What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being an indie author?
The Ruby Ring was originally published by a tiny traditional publisher. For various reasons, the publisher was unable to publish book #2, so I self-published it. When my publisher later returned the book #1 publishing rights to me, I self-published it also. I then self-published book #3 so am now an official indie author.

My favorite part of going indie is being free to write exactly what God has laid on my heart to write. I don't have to follow some dictated formula for Christian historical romance. My least favorite part is having to do marketing. Not only am I not good at it, but since I live in Hong Kong and am a nearly full-time missionary, I have limited time and opportunities to connect with native English speakers, the ones most likely to buy my books.

As you look back on your writing journey, what is one piece of advice you’d give to your younger Writer Self?
A story doesn't have to be perfect the first time, but it can't be improved unless it's first written. So, write, write, write. After that, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until you think it can't get any better. Then wait a few months, or a year or two, and rewrite again. You may be surprised by how much better the story will be afterward. I was.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
The same things I've done for years – teach the Bible and help church members with problems. Most of our members are female household servants imported from the Philippines and, as such, are easily taken advantage of both by the hiring system and their employers.

Helping them has ranged from accompanying someone to a Labor Tribunal hearing in an effort to get months of unpaid back wages, attending a doctor appointment with someone to explain the medical terms the doctor is throwing out, and providing what comfort I can when the employer refuses to let the church member return home for the funeral of a close family member.

In recent years I've also become the main support person for a Christian asylum seeker family, currently stuck in Hong Kong waiting for refugee status and resettlement to a safe country. I help them in a wide variety of ways on an almost weekly basis.

I previously made quilts as a hobby but marketing needs have squeezed that out – except when it comes to quilts for grandchildren. I'll soon be making one for grandchild #3.

How can we pray for you?
You've probably heard of the turmoil that’s been going on in Hong Kong since June. We've been in the States for the last two months, a trip that we'd planned long before the demonstrations started. We'll be returning home to Hong Kong in mid-January. Please pray that we and our luggage make it home safely and that a just solution for the Hong Kong problems can be reached.

My other prayer request is also two-fold. First, that by learning of the sacrifices our spiritual ancestors made to have a Bible, readers of my Reformation trilogy will place a higher value on their own Bibles. Secondly, pray that my readers, like our spiritual ancestors, will follow their religious consciences regardless of the personal cost.


Amanda Wen is an award-winning writer of contemporary inspirational romance. Her contest wins include first place in the 2016 ACFW First Impressions Contest, the 2017 Great Expectations Contest, and the 2017 Phoenix Rattler Contest. Also a professional cellist, Amanda has been spotted onstage with the worship team at the ACFW Conference. A lifelong lover of the flatlands, she lives in Kansas with her husband and their three adorable Wenlets. Amanda is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. 

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