Author Karen Witemeyer ~Interviewed

Bio: Karen Witemeyer is a deacon’s wife who believes the world needs more happily-ever-afters. To that end, she combines her love of bygone eras with her passion for helping women mature in Christ to craft historical romance novels that lift the spirit and nurture the soul.

Karen holds a master’s degree in Psychology from Abilene Christian University and is a member of ACFW, RWA, and her local writers’ guild. She’s an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. Karen makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

A Tailor-Made Bride is a fun-filled romp in which a feisty seamstress tangles with a set-in-his-ways livery owner in 1880s Texas.

Here’s the scoop:

Jericho “J.T.” Tucker wants nothing to do with Coventry, Texas’s new dressmaker. He’s all too familiar with her kind–shallow women more devoted to fashion than true beauty. Yet, except for her well-tailored clothing, this seamstress is not at all what he expected.

Hannah Richards is confounded by the man who runs the livery. The unsmiling fellow riles her with his arrogant assumptions and gruff manner while at the same time stirring her heart with unexpected acts of kindness. Which side of Jericho Tucker reflects the real man?

When Hannah decides to help Jericho’s sister catch a beau–leading to uproarious consequences for the whole town–will Jericho and Hannah find a way to bridge the gap between them?

We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

My journey has had its share of bumps and blind curves, but I am amazed at what God can accomplish even when the paths are far from straight.

In 2007, I took my first completed novel to the ACFW conference. I arrived a day early and worked at the volunteer station stuffing envelopes. A woman worked beside me who shared my first name. That’s fun, I thought. However, as time ticked on, I picked up clues to her identity from others in the room. This was Karen Schurrer, an editor from Bethany House, my dream publisher. Only the Lord could have orchestrated such a meeting. I resisted throwing my pitch at her, but two days later, I sat at her lunch table and after everyone told her about their projects, one brave writer asked if we could send her our proposals. She said yes.

After the conference, I sent in my proposal and soon had a request for a full manuscript. Surely a contract was right around the corner since the Lord was at work, right? Wrong. The acquisitions editor rejected my manuscript. She considered the plot too unoriginal for launching a new author. Nevertheless, she complimented the writing and said there was one component to the story that she did like—the dress shop. Could I come up with a new idea surrounding a dress shop?

Now you have to understand, in the original book, the dress shop burned to the ground in the prologue. It didn’t even make it into chapter one. Yet she wanted me to create an entirely new book from scratch based on this shop idea. Maybe I should just seek publication elsewhere.

But publishing with Bethany House was my dream. So I started brainstorming, and even met with the editor in person at the 2008 ACFW conference where she gave me feedback and encouraged me to resubmit. By January 2009, Bethany House offered me a three book deal launching with A Tailor-Made Bride.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Finding a creative plot is where I struggle the most. I have never considered myself a creative person. I enjoy creative expression (I sing, cross stitch, play the flute), but every artistic outlet I’ve found success with in the past had specific instructions to follow. Music has notes. Cross stitch has a pattern. The first time I changed the color palette on a cross-stitch design, I thought the stress was going to send me to bed for a week! So when it came to creating an original plot, I feared I would never be able to do it.

That’s where prayer comes in. I pray over my writing every day. I ask the Lord to guide me and inspire me with entertaining and spiritually-moving stories that will touch hearts for his Kingdom. I even pray in the middle of a paragraph if I cannot find the right word. It is amazing to me how often the needed word will pop into my mind minutes later. I give the Lord full credit for the creativity in my stories, for I know it certainly didn’t originate with me.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Since plotting is a challenge for me, I find inspiration for my stories in the work of other authors and in classic romantic stories. There’s nothing like a good fairy tale to get the juices flowing. Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite fairy tale of all time, and you’ll see hints of it in A Tailor-Made Bride.

One thing that inspired my heroine, was Deeanne Gist’s book Deep in the Heart of Trouble. She has a heroine who is an avid bicycle enthusiast. That started me asking “what if?” for my own characters. Hannah doesn’t ride a bicycle, but she is a 19th century fitness maven who whips Jericho’s little sister into shape by using fitness equipment of the time—like Indian clubs, wooden dumbbells, and exercise rings.

With the clarity of experience, what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Don’t be in a rush. The publishing world moves slowly and a new writer would be wise to invest their time in honing their craft instead of pushing ahead with an imperfect manuscript. I tend to be task oriented and when I finish something, I want to immediately send it in. I still need to learn patience in this business.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

The single best thing I ever did for my writing career was join American Christian Fiction Writers. Through this organization I met my critique partners who not only have helped hone my skill but who have become precious friends and prayer partners. Through the ACFW conferences I’ve gained wonderful knowledge about all aspects of the publication process from craft to submissions to marketing. And of course, it was the contacts I made at these conferences that led to my first contract.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

It bothers me that in some circles, romance writers do not garner the same respect as authors in other genres. I believe this is changing, though, and that pleases me. Readers like romance enough to make it the top selling genre. I just wish critics did, too. I have to admit that I am still a little embarrassed to tell people that I write romance because of “the look” such an announcement usually receives. I always preface it with the word “Christian” to clarify that I don’t write steamy stories, but sometimes I take the easy path and say that I write Christian historical fiction, leaving the term romance out of the equation. I’m getting braver about it, though, and hopefully soon it will no longer be an issue.

Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.

Like most writers, I must confess that I long to see my books on the best seller lists and to win coveted awards such as the Christy or RITA. However, what my soul truly desires is to honor God with my words—to encourage, to bring joy, and to challenge readers to greater spiritual maturity.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, of course)?

Nothing encourages me more than positive comments from my editors and readers. Since this is my debut novel, I have not experienced much reader feedback as of yet, but knowing that my editors are excited about the book and that they believe in me makes all the difference.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

The first thing I do is brainstorm the main plot points of the story. Then I begin to research. I usually spend 2 weeks to a month researching different aspects of my characters’ lives, hobbies, setting, etc. For A Tailor-Made Bride I spent a lot of time researching 19th century exercise methods and equipment as well as sewing machines and fashion trends of that period. Once I have a firm grasp of who my characters are, I write up a synopsis, incorporating as many details as I can. Then I type “Chapter One” and go from there.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I don’t use a daily word count goal, but I do adhere to a schedule of one polished chapter a week. My quirk is that I am one of those rare species of writer who edits at the same time she creates. You often hear writing instructors recommend turning off the internal editor during the creative process. That is probably sound advice for the majority of writers, but it doesn’t work for me at all. Editing is my strength. My internal editor energizes me and keeps me going as I work to craft new scenes. This produces a slow writing pace, but when I finish, I have a polished draft that is ready to send to my publisher.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I’m a combination. I have to have a basic idea of the major story events before I start writing, but after that, I play it by ear.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Writing the book’s opening pages gives me the most stress. It is so crucial to create a beginning that grabs the reader’s attention. Sometimes I like what I come up with. Other times I end up going back and scrapping the entire beginning chapter (or chapters) and writing a new version from scratch. Since I edit as I go and usually only write one draft, I have a hard time moving on past the beginning until I have it just the way I want it. Going back and starting over is torture, and I usually try to rationalize a way out of it. However, when the Spirit prompts and my crit partners gently urge, I set aside my pride and attack. So far, I’ve never regretted making the change.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my journey with you. I would love to have you visit me at my Web site . You can find contests, character vignettes, research links, and everyone who signs up for my newsletter will receive a free download of a biblical fiction piece and Bible study based on the life of Rahab. You can also find me on Facebook.

May the Lord smile upon you today and give you peace.