Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the Texas novels The Paragraph Ranch and A Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch.
Christy Award finalist and winner the ACFW Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, and Inspirational Reader's Choice Award, CBA bestselling author Karen Witemeyer writes Christian historical romance for Bethany House, believing the world needs more happily-ever-afters. She is an avid cross-stitcher and makes her home in Abilene, Texas, with her husband and three children. Read more at www.karenwitemeyer.com.
Praise for Karen Witemeyer’s work
“This is an enjoyable story where Witemeyer skillfully evokes a sense of place and time.” —RT Book Reviews
"[Witemeyer’s] engaging and vividly pictured Western romance is narrated with warm humor, and its heartfelt story line will be popular with fans of Regina Jennings and Maggie Brendan.” —Library Journal
“This historical Western romance will delight fans with an engaging story of love, trust, and hope, integrated with the message of God's faithful, loving care of His children.” —Christian Retailers + Resources
“The plot twist of stealing a preacher is interesting, fun and romantic... an enjoyable summertime read.” --RT Book Reviews
“Showcases the author's ability to create plots with unusual circumstances, yet remain believable. Her characters are well rounded and appealing...an engaging story.” —Metro Christian Living
Karen Witemeyer, a California native who now calls Abilene home, had her first Christian historical romance published in June 2010.
Witemeyer started writing with the intent to publish in 2003. The first manuscript she sent to Bethany House Publishing, a national Christian publishing house, was returned, but the company saw merit in her writing. Six years later, the publisher accepted her manuscript for A Tailor-Made Bride, which was released in June 2010. In the six years since she began publishing she has averaged publishing a novel and a novella each year as well as participating in several book collections.
On the eve of the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, we caught up with her in Abilene via email.
LONE STAR LISTENS: I understand that you grew up in California, moved to Abilene to attend college, met your future husband, and have been there ever since. In the spring Lone Star Literary Life named Abilene a Top Ten Bookish Destination because of its burgeoning literary assets. How does living in Abilene influence your writing?
KAREN WITEMEYER: For being a relatively small town, Abilene has a wonderfully supportive literary environment. When I first started writing with the intent to publish, I joined the Abilene Writers Guild and met a host of other writers at various stages of their careers. From experienced journalists, to middle grade nonfiction writers, to novelists and retired editors, to other unpublished authors and hobbyists, I found a wonderfully supportive group of mentors and friends. Some of my first short pieces that I published came out of contests and challenges sponsored by the guild.
Abilene is also the host city for the West Texas Book Festival, where Texas authors are celebrated. USA Today best-selling author Jodi Thomas will be a featured speaker this year. I’ve been honored as a featured speaker in past years as well. This event draws hundreds of people every year and is sponsored by our local library. We also are home to the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature.
On a more personal note — researching the local history of Abilene and nearby Fort Phantom helped me establish the setting of my first book and many of my subsequent novels. Abilene was founded in 1881 when the Texas & Pacific Railroad came through. Although my books are set in many different areas of Texas, nearly all of them are in the 1880s or early 1890s. When my first novel debuted in 2010, I had my book launch party at Frontier Texas, a wonderful Abilene historical museum that aided in my early research.
What made you first decide to sit down and write?
I’ve been a bookworm my entire life. I love getting lost in a good story. But I never thought I’d be a writer myself. I’d occasionally jot down ideas I thought would make fun plotlines, yet my dreams of writing were always set aside with the label of Someday. Then after I had graduated from college and worked a couple years, I stayed home and had babies. When my youngest was less than a year old, my husband found out he was losing his position. Panic set in. I needed to do something to contribute to the family income, but I didn’t want to leave my kids. I know! I’ll write. (I was so naïve.) Needless to say, developing craft and learning the industry are not accomplished overnight. I ended up reentering the workforce a few months later, but the writing bug had bitten, so instead of shoving those ideas aside for Someday, I started pursuing my dream in real time. Six years later, I signed my first three-book contract, and my career as an author finally found fruition.
What was the turning point in your writing career?
My fourth novel, Short-Straw Bride, was my breakout book.
Readers seemed to really latch on to the reclusive Archer brothers introduced in that story. My career had been gaining momentum slowly up to that point, but after Short-Straw, it really took off. Maybe it was the fact that the story was loosely inspired by the fabulous old Hollywood musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I can’t be sure. No one can predict what readers are going to latch onto. Thankfully, I was able to capitalize on that success and produce two more Archer stories that proved to be equally well received: Stealing the Preacher and the novella A Cowboy Unmatched, which is up for the ACFW Carol Award.
What is it about romance and Texas? It seems like every publisher and every imprint has a variety of Texas romance titles, and readers can’t get enough. What’s your theory on that?
The cowboys. Yep, definitely those stoic, manly heroes who live by a code of honor and decency and who treat women as partners while still acting with chivalry. That’s what keeps readers coming back. At least that’s what kept me going back all those years. Ha!
Since you write historical fiction, what is your research process like?
The research process is a little different for each book. Some require more digging than others. I always thoroughly investigate the location as well as the occupations of the characters, but sometimes history itself plays a key role in my plotting. For example, in Full Steam Ahead, I did vast amounts of research on the steamboat boiler explosions that took thousands of lives during the 1840s and 1850s. My prologue recounts an actual explosion aboard the Louisana that claimed 150 lives. I put my hero on that ship and forced him to experience the horrors of that tragedy. I recreated the event after finding vivid newspaper articles recounting all that had happened. In To Win Her Heart, the burning of the Texas State Capitol building in 1881 played directly into my plot since the state ended up using convict labor (in order to save money) for extracting and transporting the red granite from Granite Mountain near Marble Falls to Austin. Since my hero was a convicted felon hiding his past in order to make a fresh start, connecting him to this incident gave me the perfect opportunity to expose his secret.
You’ve juggled being a wife, an author, a mother, and having a day job. How do you do it all?
A lot of prayer and a great deal of flexibility. Now that my children are older, it’s easier to close the bedroom door and tell them not to bother mommy when she’s writing. Yet having older children also means soccer, band, tennis, theater, church activities, football games, math competitions, etc., etc.
The schedule isn’t really getting any lighter. Somehow it all gets done, though. I’ve learned to buckle down and focus during those precious hours when I can closet myself away, but I also have learned to write during the more chaotic times. You just do what you have to do to get the job done. And if the energy lags, refuel with a square of dark chocolate.
How has Christian fiction changed since you started? How has social media changed the job of being an author?
Christian fiction has really grown in terms of genres and variety. More and more male authors are getting involved as well, opening doors to more male readers. There is always an ebb and flow, though. Amish was booming when I first entered the market, and now it is tapering off to some degree. Fantasy still struggles, but it is starting to gain some traction in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) market. Suspense is coming on strong, and of course, romance is always a staple.
As far as social media goes, it can be overwhelming for an author. New sites pop up every day. When I fist started publishing, only five years ago, no one was talking about Pinterest or Twitter. Blogs and Facebook were the hot button topics. Things change so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. Frankly, I don’t keep up very well. Since I work full-time, write, and have family responsibilities, social media takes a back seat. I have two group blogs that I contribute to on a regular basis, I interact on Facebook and Goodreads here and there, but that’s about it. What I prefer to do is to engage readers immediately and personally whenever they contact me. So if a reader emails me through my website, sends me a question on Goodreads, or tags/messages me through Facebook, I respond immediately with a personal note. Connecting with readers is my main focus. I don’t initiate that contact as often as I would like due to time constraints, but I always respond when they reach out to me.
What would you like readers — who may not have discovered your books — to know about your novels?
I write the types of stories that I love to read: strong, feisty heroines; rugged, take-charge heroes who would die for the women they love; adventurous, fast-paced plots; lighthearted, humorous moments; and a spiritual thread that is intrinsic to the characters themselves. The stories will leave you with a smile on your face and a satisfied sigh in your heart.
When it comes to giving advice to authors, everyone always says, “Don’t give up,” or “Just do it,” but can you give aspiring authors some suggestions a little more concrete than that?
Master the craft of fiction writing. There is always something to learn or refine in your craft. I’m still learning and refining. I wrote for six years before I signed my first three-book contract. It takes time to develop those skills. Anyone can throw words on a page and “tell” a story. Authors who find success are those who create an experience for the reader. Their words draw pictures and breathe life into characters who become real to the reader.
Techniques like utilizing deep point of view, creating moods with sentence structure and pacing, and developing a unique author voice that captures a reader's interest are just a few of the elements vital to helping a reader get lost in your story. Don’t cheat yourself on the education. Put the time in. Read the fiction you want to write in order to learn what appeals to your target reader. Join a writers group. Find critique partners. Attend conferences. Learn the industry. Accept that rejections will come. Learn from them and move forward. Perseverance is a huge factor on the road to publication, but without mastering the craft, it won’t get you to your destination.
Your next work will be in a novella collection called With This Ring coming up in February. Can you tell us about that book?
There are four great novellas in this collection. Mine is titled The Husband Maneuver and it is loosely tied to my most recent novel, A Worthy Pursuit, carrying over two of the secondary characters, Daniel Barrett (a.k.a. Dead-Eye Dan of dime novel fame) and Marietta Hawkins (daughter of the wealthy ranch owner who employs Daniel as foreman).
Marietta has been in love with Dan ever since he saved her from a pack of hungry wolves the winter she returned from school, but her father's strict rule of no fraternizing with the ranch hands has impeded her dreams of marriage. When Dan announces he is leaving to start his own spread, Etta panics and takes matters into her own hands by returning to the ranch after her father and all the other hands leave on a cattle drive, giving her time alone with Dan. When a deadly hailstorm strikes the ranch, however, Etta's plans for romance disintegrate. As she and Dan work to repair the damage, will they finally forge a bond that will keep them together, or when time runs out, will her dreams lie as shattered as hail-struck window glass?
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