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Interview with Kathleen Denly

Kathleen has had a very busy year. She and her husband moved to a different home with their four young homeschooling children and went from a two-cat family to a ten-cat family plus a dog. All this besides preparing her fourth historical fiction, Harmony on the Horizon, for publication.
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I’m curious about how you manage to do it all. With four children, nine pets and a husband, moving households, teaching four children at home, and still finding time to ready a novel for publication—you must be super organized. And your family must be very supportive. How do you manage your schedule to include writing time?

I wish I could say I had a secret formula, but the truth is, I struggle like everyone else. In fact, I pushed myself so hard over the last two years that I reached burnout this past July. And I’m not using that term lightly. It was bad. God basically knocked me on my butt and said, “What are you doing? Sit down and listen.” And for a full month, that’s nearly all I did.

The reasons for how I ended up in that position are too complicated to get into here, but part of the problem was that I’d lost sight of my purpose and let the urgent take over the important. I said yes to too many opportunities and tried to help too many people. The short of it is that I tried to do things because others said I should, or I thought I should (and they were all good things), instead of doing them because God was asking me to do them.

Now, I’m working hard on saying “no,” even when the opportunity is appealing. More importantly, I’m trying to develop the habit of pausing when I hear or get a new idea and asking myself, “Why would I do this? Is it because I feel God directing me in that way or because of some other reason? Will it help me reach the goals God has given me? Will it bless others? Do I truly have time for this?”

One of the more practical things I’ve learned is to not work straight from my to-do list. I’m naturally schedule resistant, so the only thing I used to put on my calendar was a list of what I wanted to accomplish that day. The problem was, there was always more to do. There always will be more to do. So now I transport my to-do list into my calendar and assign time slots to each task. I may not accomplish any specific task in its assigned time slot (I do have four kids and nine animals), but at least this way I have blocked off the time needed to accomplish it. This prevents me from thinking I can accomplish ten tasks when I only have time for three.

And yes, my family is incredibly supportive. I couldn’t do what I do without their love and support. My husband helps me in every way imaginable except actually reading my novels (He doesn’t read for fun. Isn’t that horrible?), though he will read a scene or two if I need a man’s perspective on something. He even wrote a recipe for me recently to go in my new book club kits. Thankfully, my kids are bookworms like me, and my thirteen-year-old son even enjoys my genre. So, he’s read my work and often volunteers to read it aloud for me when I’m in the editing stage.

I see on your website that this is the third book in the Chaparral Hearts series, fourth if you include the prequel novella. Will this complete the series? What do you plan to write next?

I am incredibly excited to say that this is not the last book of my Chaparral Hearts series. I recently signed a contract with my publisher, Wild Heart Books, to extend the series by three more novels! (If you could see my grin, you’d think I resemble the Cheshire cat.) So that’s what I’m working on next.

You have said that you like to draw from true historical events to form your stories. Can you tell us something about a true event in Harmony on the Horizon—without giving away spoilers, of course?

Yes. In fact, the story spark for Harmony on the Horizon originally occurred during a field trip I’d taken with my children to the San Diego Old Town State Historic Park. We toured the Mason Street Schoolhouse as part of the trip and the docent shared the true story of Mary Chase Walker, the first teacher to teach in San Diego’s first school building. Mary was from Massachusetts and arrived in San Diego in 1865 (immediately following the close of the American Civil War), bringing her northerner ideals to a town dominated by southern sympathizers. She wound up setting off a scandal that is still talked about today. When the docent explained that there was a romantic element to Mary’s tale, my author’s imagination positively lit up. I immediately knew I wanted to write a story inspired by Mary’s experiences.

Tell us about story inspiration and research. Are historical sites your main sources of inspiration and research? Where else do you draw from?

I absolutely adore visiting historical sites. Thankfully, so do my husband and my kids. So, I’m blessed to not only visit our local sites, but also to spend most of our vacations visiting them. I find story ideas at almost every site I visit. The trouble is figuring out which historical inspiration to run with first.

Aside from historical sites, I also spend a lot of time digging through archives. Library archives, historical archives, newspaper archives…if it’s paper and it’s old, I’m there! I absolutely adore reading primary sources (diaries, letters, ledgers, etc.). One of the highlights of my life was getting to hold and read the actual mining records from 1870 Julian, California, back when I was researching a novel that hasn’t yet been published (it’s for a different series). Another incredible resource were the ledgers and letters written by Ephraim Morse and preserved in the San Diego Historical Society’s Archives. Ephraim Morse was on the board of education at the time of Mary Chase Walker’s scandal and is the inspiration for my hero in Harmony on the Horizon.

Added to these sources are published historical nonfiction books, numerous (vetted) internet sources, and the experts I consult. I’ve spoken with firearms experts, steamship experts, train and trolley experts, historical experts of many varieties, and cultural experts.

Do you plan each novel with a particular spiritual theme, or are you more of a ‘pantser’ with spiritual themes growing organically out of the story? Does Harmony on the Horizon carry a clear spiritual message?

I definitely plan a spiritual theme as part of my brainstorming and plotting before beginning a first draft. These themes are usually a variation of the things God is teaching me, or has taught me, in my own life, and all are connected to seeing ourselves the way God sees us. For Harmony on the Horizon, my theme verse is "To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit." 1 Peter 3:8 (NASB)

What or who do you consider has been the greatest influence on you in your writing career?

Wow. That’s a great question. If I don’t go for the obvious answer of God, I would have to say my husband has had the greatest influence. First, because he has blessed me with a love beyond my wildest dreams. Second, because without him, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Without his support and encouragement, I’d probably still be clicking away at my keyboard, writing stories no one ever read.

What do you find most helpful in writing and successful publication? For example, a critique group, writers conferences, craft books, etc.

That’s a tough question. I would have to say that the number one most helpful thing I have going for my writing career (aside from God, of course) is a supportive husband. With all the other pressures in life, I honestly couldn’t do this without his incredible love and active support. He not only encourages me when I’m discouraged and wrangles the kids while I’m working, he helps me act out difficult action scenes and gives me feedback when I need a male perspective. He helps me decide where to invest my limited budget and never complains about the money I’ve spent pursuing this dream.

As for something I’d recommend to other writers, I would say the Aeon Timeline software is an incredibly useful tool for keeping dates and events straight not only within my stories, but within history. As a historical fiction author, I need to not only be aware of what is happening in my fiction world, but also what is happening in the real world during the time my novel is set. For example, it would be a pretty sad state of affairs if I wrote a novel set in 1906 San Francisco and failed to mention the earthquake that devastated the city that year. I think this tool would be helpful for writers of other genres as well.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

For the record, not all ten cats live in our house. Four of them are feral rescues who live in our large, converted chicken coop which we now call “the cattery.” And no, we won’t be adopting any more. We’re maxed out with cats. But chickens and goats are probably in our future.
Pearl Fredericksen lives on the beautiful west coast of Canada, where she enjoys photographing the scenery and writing about her favourite places. She also loves to read and post reviews to spread the word about good books. Her little dog, Bear, sits under her desk to keep her feet warm while she writes. He's very cute, and you can see him in quite a few photos at

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