Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Full Steam Ahead - An Interview with the Author

Full Steam Ahead
Karen Witemeyer
(Bethany House)
ISBN: 978-0764209673
June 2014/352 pages/$14.99

When love simmers between a reclusive scientist and a wealthy debutante, will they abandon ship or is it full steam ahead?

Nicole Renard returns home to Galveston, Texas, to find her father deathly ill. Though she loves him, Nicole's father has always focused on what she's not. Not male. Not married. Not able to run Renard Shipping.

Vowing to find a suitable husband to give her father the heir he desires before it's too late, Nicole sets out with the Renard family's greatest treasure as her dowry: the highly coveted Lafitte Dagger. But her father's rivals come after the dagger, forcing a change in Nicole's plans.

After a boiler explosion aboard the Louisiana nearly took his life, Darius Thornton has been a man obsessed. He will do anything to stop even one more steamship disaster. Even if it means letting a female secretary into his secluded world.

Nicole is determined not to let her odd employer scare her off with his explosive experiments, yet when respect and mutual attraction grow between them, a new fear arises. How can she acquire an heir for her father when her heart belongs to another? And when her father's rivals discover her hiding place, will she have to choose between that love and her family's legacy?


Photo courtesy of
Amber Gilbert
Two-time RITA finalist and winner of the coveted HOLT Medallion and ACFW Carol Award, CBA bestselling author Karen Witemeyer writes historical romance because she believes that the world needs more happily-ever-afters. She is an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. Karen makes her home in Abilene, Texas, with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at www.karenwitemeyer.com and connect with her on Facebook.


Karen Witemeyer writes such fun stories, and this one is no exception. I loved the connection to Galveston and was fascinated to discover there were steamships in Texas! Clever character development and verbal sparring between Nicole and Darius sparked plenty of chuckles as I read. On the flip side, the issues burdening their hearts are as relevant today as they were in the 1850's and added depth to the story. Witemeyer deftly weaves a thread of faith throughout, making this both an enjoyable and inspiring novel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this this book from Baker/Bethany House Publishing as part of a blog tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Karen Witemeyer back in June when I was in Atlanta for ICRS. What a delight she is! We had such fun chatting together about this book and her writing. In fact, I had so much fun talking to her that I forgot to take her picture! Here is my interview:

Congratulations on your Christy nomination for Stealing the Preacher! I love your books, and they always have the cutest covers!

Thank you! They have really done a good job for me. I've been very pleased!

They're fun stories with great characters. Your brand-new release is Full Steam Ahead, which is wonderful. Tell the readers about that.

It is a bit of a different time period for me. I'm usually in the 1880's. That's kind of my decade of choice. This time, however, I went back to the early 1850's. The reason is, when i was brain-storming ideas, I thought, "I want something explosive. I want explosions!" So I had to figure out what I was going to do to make explosions work in my plotline. At first I thought that maybe I'd have a hero who was a chemist who would have lab explosions and chemical things. But it's so long since I studied chemistry that it scared me to death to even try to research and understand what I'm researching. So I started doing some more research, and I remembered the steam engines and how fickle they were, especially in the early days and started researching steamboats. I found some great information on actual explosions that took hundreds of lives. It was really devastating because so many lives were lost to something that they didn't understand. Basically, the technology advanced before their understanding of it did. They knew it worked, so they used it but they didn't really understand how to make it safe or how to keep these explosions from happening. I kind of wanted a "mad scientist" type as my hero, so that's where I was going with this.

I put my hero on an actual steamboat that exploded in New Orleans. He was devastated by this event because he saw firsthand all these people who died, and some of them died pretty brutally and in rather ugly ways since the explosion was so massive. I found firsthand accounts of the event and played off of that in describing it.

Was it on the Mississippi?

Yes, on the Mississippi, down in the harbor of New Orleans. Basically, just as they pulled away from the levee, it exploded. It wasn't like it was a steamboat that was trying to push too fast or anything like that. There were a lot of different reasons why the steamboats exploded. It wasn't all just negligence or faulty equipment. My hero became obsessed with trying to figure out how to make this technology safer so no more lives would be taken by this. He carries a lot of guilt about a child he was unsuccessful in saving after the explosion, and that's where his obsession comes from.

Because all of my stories are set in Texas, I wondered if it was realistic to have steamboats in Texas. As it turns out, there were a lot of steamboats, especially around Galveston and going up the Trinity River. So my heroine is from Galveston, and she is the daughter of a shipping magnate who is in failing health. He doesn't have a son to carry on the business, and even though she is capable of carrying on the business, in the 1850's, there is no one who would take her seriously as the head of this company. She has to set out to find the next best thing to a son, which is a son-in-law. Her dowry is a pirate dagger that was bequeathed to her family from Jean Lafitte, who was a famous pirate out of Galveston. I have a bit of the pirate angle going with the heroine. She keeps the pirate dagger strapped to her side and has some skills in that area. It is believed that the dagger is what makes their business successful; whoever owns the dagger will be successful, and a competitor is after the dagger. She takes the dagger with her to spare her family from being in danger from the competitors. She planned to go to New Orleans, where her family has business connections, to find a husband, but to elude the competitor following her, she goes up the Trinity River and stops in Liberty, where my hero is conducting his experiments.

She's out of funds and finds work as his secretary since no one else will work for him because of all the explosions he makes in his experiments. So that's how they meet and the story unfolds from there.

That is fascinating. I never knew about the steamboats in Texas! And I loved the pirate angle. I've been trying to convince Mary Lu Tyndall to write a book set in Galveston!

That would be neat! It's not a major part but it's some back story that adds some flavor. It's a lot of fun.

Of course, since I'm from Texas, I love books set anywhere in the state, but Galveston is my kids' favorite place to go on vacation and not because of the beach. It has so many other places and history that we love to explore. It's fun to read a book that has a connection there.

I didn't get to go in person but I found some great pictures of historic homes that were built around the same time that my heroine's family would have been building houses. And I found a map of Galveston from 1848, I think, so I could see exactly where all the streets were and where all my fictional houses would be. It was really a lot of fun.

Did you grow up in Texas?

No, I grew up in California but came to Texas to go to Abilene Christian University. I met my husband in college and stayed! We both work at ACU. I work as a testing coordinator. I give ACT's and CLEP tests, stuff like that, as my day job. (She laughs.) That's a very left-brain job and then writing is right-brain!

I'm amazed at authors like you that have full-time jobs and manage to write as well!

And I have three kids at home, too! That's why I only get out one book a year.

Tell me about your kids.

My oldest is a daughter. She just turned sixteen, so we're working on the whole driver's license thing; that's fun! Then I've got two boys, fourteen and twelve. They keep me hopping!

What are you working on next?

There will be a follow-up novella to Full Steam Ahead. One of the characters is a runaway boy who is sort of adopted by the hero and heroine during the course of the story. I wrote a novella that will feature him once he's all grown up and he's finally, after seventeen years, going back to the home that he ran away from, facing his past. Of course, he finds love on the way. That will release on February 3, 2015 and is called Love on the Mend. It will just be in e-book format for now.

That seems to be a trend now, to put out novellas and e-books.

Yes, and because I only put out one book a year, that's a long time for readers to wait to see something from me. I'm trying to find new ways to get more content out there. Last year I wrote a novella for my last Archer brother and put it in a compilation with Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Carol Cox called A Match Made in Texas that came out in January. We're trying that again with this novella, only it will just be a single release on my own. We're just playing with it to see if it's something that's marketable. If it is, then maybe it's something that can continue. I can find a way to squeeze in a novella in my year's worth of writing, but there's no way I can write two full-length books in one year. I'm trying to find new ways to stay in touch with readers and give them new content and make them hungry for more so they don't forget me over the course of the year!

Then my next full-length book will come out around the same time period, early summer, in 2015. It's called A Worthy Pursuit. I'm still writing it. It's due on August 15. It's set in 1891 in Texas, of course!

It's interesting that you love writing books set in Texas so much since you are originally from California. Not that I'm complaining!

Well, it's home. I've lived in Texas now longer than I lived in California. And since I live here, it's easy to research and access. Also, it is so varied. You can get the ocean, the forest, the desert, everything in Texas. I've tried to move my stories around geographically within Texas to give it a different feel. This next one will have a bounty hunter who is going after what he believes to be a kidnapped child, and the teacher who took the child – to protect her from her grandfather – has three children with her who are all child prodigies in some way. They all have different gifts, so that's fun to make it unique. Over the course of the story, each of the children's gifts come into play in the plot.

Where do you get your ideas for your stories?

All different kinds of places! I love to read, and I probably get most of my inspiration from things that I read. Sometimes movies and TV play into it, too. Before I ever started writing, I was a historical romance reader. That was all I read. I never read contemporary. Historical romance was my genre and I loved it. I'm still that way. Some people say, if you write in the genre, you shouldn't read in that genre. I'm the exact opposite. I want to be so absorbed in the genre that it's just natural and flows. So I get ideas from different authors. I take something from here, something there, twist it and make it something completely different.

Do you read just Christian authors or do you read general market as well?

I read both. In fact, Short Straw Bride, with my first Archer brother, kind of had two main inspirations. One was the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Then Jodi Thomas, who is also a Texas author who writes for the general market, has a similar set of books with a set of brothers who are somewhat reclusive and that kind of spawned an idea for me. I took those two inspirations and mixed them up and made something totally new.

Do you plan everything out or do you have just the basics and see where the story takes you?

I'm kind of a combo. I don't write out a synopsis for every chapter or anything like that. Of course, I have to write a synopsis for my publisher before they'll sign a contract. I need to know the basic story problem and how my hero and heroine are going to meet. I usually know two or three big events that are going to happen in the plotline and how the happy ending is going to work out. Part of that is research, like with the steamboats. If I want explosions, how am I going to get explosions? Once I have those pillars of the story, I just start writing. I have my road map, but sometimes it may get a little wavy between Point A and Point B.

Do your characters ever do things that surprise you?

Every once in a while, but I'm a pretty strict taskmaster. I like to keep them on task and on track. Sometimes they'll say things I don't expect or will move the story in a tiny detour and then come back. I let them have a little bit of leeway, but I don't let them go too crazy. I'm too much of a control freak!

I'm also one of those strange authors that likes to edit as I go. I don't have a big session of writing creatively and then going back to layer and fix it. I'm a perfectionist. It has to be polished as I go through it. So I pretty much write one draft, but it's a very polished draft. I send each chapter to my critique partners, so I polish it as I go. So when it's The End, it's the end, and I turn it in. Of course, I get my editorial feedback and go back and make changes based on that but for the most part, it's a very slow first draft, but it's the only draft. I'm odd. I think I'm in the low percentage of authors that do it that way!

Yes, most authors I've talked to just want to get something on the page and then go back and fix it.

Right. But my bent is more editorial than it is creative. The creative part is really hard for me. I put in all that energy at the beginning so I know what the story is going to entail and what direction it's going to go. Once I have that outline, my editor comes out and says, "Okay, I want to play! And I want to fix it and make it perfect before we go on to the next thing." I guess I have to keep both sides of the brain happy as I go through because my editor will not be quiet!

Oh, I can see that I would be that way, too. I'm such a grammar geek and continuity person. It would drive me nuts to misspell a word and not fix it.

I've got enough of a perfectionist streak in me that I can't move on until it's taken care of. If I can't find the right word, I will sit there and work on that word until it comes to me, and then I'll move on!

Do you hear the voices in your head or see it playing out like a movie?

I would say I'm more visual. I'll see it as a movie, and that's how I try to describe it: as I see it. If I can't figure out where he's standing – and it might not be anything that's on the page – I have to visualize it to make sure he can actually use that hand to do that or whatever I'm writing.

You are plenty busy with working and family and writing. If you ever do have spare time, how do you like to spend it?

Besides reading, my next favorite hobby is counted cross-stitching. I really enjoy that. I don't do it as often as I would like because, obviously, time is an issue. And sometimes I get in reading mode where that's all I want to do when I have free time. Other times, I'll be ready to take a break from reading and I'll cross-stitch while we watch TV. My husband loves to watch Texas Rangers baseball, and I like it fine but I'm not riveted, so that's a perfect time to get out the cross-stitching.

What has been the best thing about your writing journey?

My favorite thing of all is hearing from readers and seeing what God can do through my story. I will probably never meet these people in person but God can do wonderful things even through simple, lighthearted stories. My books have been translated into Dutch and German; I've even had a couple in Romanian. To hear from people all the way across the world tell me they loved my books and why and how it impacted them, it just blows my mind to think that someone has read my book and has become closer to God because of it.

Tell me more about that. Your books are definitely more lighthearted, as you say, rather than issue driven. Faith is more subtle.

It is. My approach to Christian fiction is that I write what I would like to read. Because I've been a Christian for many, many years, the characters I most relate to are characters who are already Christians. What I have my characters deal with is not so much the "finding Jesus" as the day-to-day reconnecting, and learning how to deal with things that weigh on them. For example, in Full Steam Ahead, the hero has had guilt just weighing on him for nearly two years, and he's trying to atone himself by finding these new safeguards. That's his way of trying to redeem his failure. It takes the heroine coming in and seeing things from a different perspective to say, "You can't redeem your failure. Only Jesus can do that for you." Those kind of moments. I know the things that I struggle with. You will see worry a lot as a theme in my books because that's something that women deal with a lot, as well as anxiety about the future. Because I experience that myself, I let my characters deal with it, and hopefully letting them find peace helps me and helps others find peace and trust and surrender. That's my faith message. These are established believers dealing with everyday life and stuff that happens, just like we do. How do we find Jesus in the midst of all that? How do we remember to lean on Him? And sometimes, how do we lean on each other when it's hard to ask for help? At the same time, while my faith message is subtle, you will find overt places where the characters are going to the Bible and finding wisdom there instead of feelings. I incorporate Scripture into my stories as well. So that's my angle.

I love it. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! It's so much fun to meet you!


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1 comment:

bp said...

Enjoyed your interview.