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Interview With Karen Witemeyer

Karen Witemeyer burst onto the CBA fiction lists with her first book, Tailor-Made Bride, which released in June 2010. Her unique storytelling style, characters, and plots make her books appealing to readers of historical romance. It was my privilege to catch-up with this busy lady and learn more about her and her writing.

How did you know you wanted to write fiction and historical romance in particular?

I’ve always been a bookworm. I can remember walking to our local library and checking out piles of Encyclopedia Brown and Black Stallion books. My mother used to have to force me to come out of my room to socialize when we had company. But I always found a way to sneak away and return to my books. Fiction fueled my imagination, and historical stories drew me more than any other. I grew from Little House on the Prairie to Anne of Green Gables to Jane Eyre and loved every minute of it. Before long, I found myself reading nothing but historical fiction, and eventually that focus narrowed even further to center specifically on historical romance. I love romance, and for me, there is nothing more romantic than travelling to the past. It enhances the fairy-tale factor of the story. So when I decided to try my hand at writing novels, there was no question as to which genre I would choose.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Attending the ACFW conference in 2007 was the turning point in my career. It was there that I met my editor, Karen Schurrer. The manuscript I pitched to her that year ended up being rejected, but it opened the door for me. The editorial team at Bethany House liked my writing enough that they asked me to submit again. I did and met with them at the 2008 conference. By January 2009, I had a 3-book contract.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I work full-time, have three preteen kids, and am active in my church as a ladies Bible class leader. All this can wreak havoc with meeting deadlines. I have learned to be very flexible when it comes to interruptions and very strict when it comes to meeting my weekly writing goals. I don’t give myself a daily word count to achieve because that doesn’t allow me the flexibility I need. Instead I set a weekly goal of producing one polished chapter a week. Since I’m one of those weird writers who actually works best by editing as I write, this system suits me. After 40 weeks or so, I have a polished manuscript ready to send off to my editors.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
Writing is a spiritual experience for me. I pray constantly over my stories, longing to be a good steward of the gifts God has given, penning words that honor him and encourage his people. My faith also shapes the characters I create. I prefer to mold stories around characters who are mature believers, struggling to overcome the same trials and temptations we all do, such as pride, selfishness, judgmental thinking, worry, forgiveness, and submission to God’s will. By the time I complete a novel, I’ve stepped on my own toes several times. The Lord has a knack for exposing my flaws while I expose those of my characters. Too bad improving my spiritual self isn’t as easy as writing a happy ending for my hero and heroine. Thankfully, we have an Author and Perfecter who is willing to continue editing and polishing until his Father calls his works-in-progress home.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I believe my characters are what make my stories unique—like the 19th-century fitness maven and the livery owner who hides his servant heart behind an arrogant demeanor in A Tailor-Made Bride, or the “recovering romantic” who only wears yellow and the English nobleman who runs a Texas sheep ranch in Head in the Clouds. I strive to create page-turning action and drama while sprinkling a liberal dose of humor into the mix. My heroines are feisty and independent, but they can also laugh at themselves. My heroes are strong and capable in a crisis, but they are also tender and not afraid to tease. I even used humor when depicting my villain in Head in the Clouds. He was so delightfully snobbish and condescending, saying and thinking all those awful things good Christians would never let pass their lips. He was a deadly scoundrel and not to be underestimated, but he had a snide sense of humor he gleefully employed at others’ expense for his own amusement.

Finish this question. The heart of romance is . . .
Friendship. Not all friendships lead to romance (most do not), but I believe the core of every successful long-term romance is friendship. This is the one person you want to be with more than any other, someone you trust and respect, someone with whom you share common interests, someone you simply enjoy being around. Doesn’t that describe a best friend? Yes, romantic love takes the relationship a step farther, but without friendship, all you have is physical attraction, and that is too shallow and fleeting to sustain a couple for long.

What’s next for Karen Witemeyer?
My third book with Bethany House will release next May. It is entitled To Win Her Heart and features a blacksmith with a criminal past and a librarian with pacifist ideals. Both long for a second chance, yet neither can escape the secrets that threaten their future.

This story set in the late 1880s asks the question—what happens after the prodigal son returns? So many times, we focus on the wonderful homecoming the lost son received from his father, but have you ever asked what life was like for him after the celebration was over? How did he relate to his bitter older brother or the servants and townspeople who were only too aware of his past arrogance and wild living?

To Win Her Heart plays on those very questions. My hero is a man recently released from prison who has returned to his faith roots and rededicated his life to the Lord. The heroine is a woman who has been disappointed by men in the past and has little tolerance for those who don’t meet her high standards. In an effort to make a clean start, Levi hides his past and Eden believes she has finally found a man of honor and integrity. But when the truth about his prodigal past comes to light, can a tarnished hero find a way to win back his lady’s affection?

Any parting words?
As we embark on a new year, I pray that 2011 will be a time of blessing for all of you. Dream dreams, set goals, and create manageable plans to see them accomplished. God can work through you in more ways than you can imagine. Empty yourself and allow him to fill you, then pour his blessing onto others—whether it be through the stories you write, the relationships you foster, or the good deeds you perform. To him be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Thanks for sharing with us, Karen.

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