Monday, July 25, 2011

Interview with Author, Kaki Warner

I first met Kaki Warner at the Crested Butte Writers’ Conference, in June, where she was a guest speaker. She writes gripping western stories with romances that capture the reader’s heart and lingers there; and she does this with finesse and humor (and oh dang, is she funny!).
As evidence of Kaki’s phenomenal story-telling ability, the first novel in her Blood Rose Trilogy, “Pieces of Sky,” won the 2011 RITA Award for First Book.
Huge Congratulations, Kaki.
She likes to say she’s a “nearly almost semi-famous author,” but the rest of us think of her as totally a soon-to-be famous author and I can’t wait for y’all to get to know her. You can go to her website, , to learn even more about her, and I’ll post her bio at the end of the interview.
So, let the grilling…er…questions begin….
Welcome to Cowboys and Dragons at the Café, Miss Kaki. I’m so happy you’ve taken time out of your writing and chicken and owl watching schedule to interview with me. Thank you. (She’s a bit of a bird twitcher, but just specific birds... a subject for another day)

Thanks, Marne, for inviting me to the Café today.  And thanks, too, for all the kind words.  You’re very astute—I especially like “phenomenal.”  So few people realize that about me.  By the way, Chicka-Boom-Boom and Owly send their love—tattered though it is.

They say a good author writes what they know. Is that the case with your writing, Kaki? Will you tell us a little bit about why Western settings and why these three brothers in your Blood Rose Trilogy?

I love the west—the landscape, the mindset of the people, the raw openness of it when you get away from the cities.  There’s a lot of stuff out there that can kill you—other than people and climate, of course—which adds drama to the story and allows the setting to become a character on its own.  The people who survived those hard years after the Civil War had to endure alot to prevail, and I admire that.  As for the brothers…that sort of evolved.  I started with a guy with a troubled past who had inherited a bit of a mess—a blood feud with the previous owner of his ranch, two brothers to watch out for, thousands of cattle running wild over tens of thousands of acres in the desert mountains in New Mexico.  But that was the task he’d been given, so he did it, and not always in a gentle, civilized way.   But by the time I’d finished that book, his brothers were all like “so where’s my story and I want a woman, too”—whine,  whine,  whine—so I thought, heck, I already had the setting and knew the characters, so why not?  Also, thinking it might help sell that first book, I lied on my queries and said it was book 1 of a trilogy.  Berkley fell for it, and suddenly I had to write two more books in the next nine months.  Gads.

People often ask an author what their favorite book to write was. I’m not asking that… Twist it, just a bit. Which book is your favorite one to return to? The one that you find yourself remembering and quoting, daydreaming about?

Well, here’s the thing.  Once a book is accepted, the editor will probably want revisions—which will necessitate a re-read.  If those are accepted, the book goes on to copy editing.  They fix all your dumb mistakes and send it back for your approval, last changes, etc., and another re-read.   Then the advance copies come out (ARCs) and you get to look that over for any problems before the final printing.  Re-read number three.  And then, if they decide to re-release the book in mass market (if it was previously released in Trade or Hardback) you get to read it over one last time.  That’s four readings on a project you’ve already gone over maybe a ga-zillion times before it’s finally finished.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like my books.  I’m proud of them.  But remembering and quoting and daydreaming about them?  Not so much.  The characters, though, they’re in my head forever.  Bless their hearts.

Talk to us about how you first became published, about your journey there.

It was long and twisty and full of potholes.   Sort of like that run between Gunnison and Montrose earlier this summer.  Twenty-five years ago I read a crummy book and thought I could do better. I eventually did, but it took me a long time because I’m easily distracted.  Life kept getting in the way and I’d put the project aside for years at a time.  About five years ago we retired and I looked at my husband and thought, holy crap—I gotta get a hobby quick.  That was when I got serious about writing.  I dug the ms out of storage, entered contests, made changes, polished and buffed.  Then I stopped weenie-whining about it and finally sent it out.   You know the rest.  But the point is, no matter how long the journey is, you have to get to the finish line if you want to be published.  So don’t ever give up.

Again Kaki, congratulations on your newest release, “Heartbreak Creek.”  It isn’t a part of your Blood Rose Trilogy. Tell us about it. Is it a different animal altogether from the Blood Rose (other than, you know, the Blood Rose Trilogy being stories about three brothers and all.) It is the first in its own series. Can you dish any goods on future stories, so we know what to look forward to?

HEARTBREAK CREEK is Book 1 of the Runaway Brides trilogy.  It’s lighter in tone and heavier on humor than the Blood Rose books.  Probably because it centers around four women who are clueless about life in the west:   A southern belle mail order bride and her half-black half-sister, both of whom are desperate to escape the Reconstruction south—an English photographer who has given up on her absentee military husband—and a Yankee with a checkered past, a valise full of purloined railroad shares, and a really pissed off groom back in New York.  Add to that a burdened rancher/sheriff and his four rambunctious children, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier, a wounded Scottish cavalry officer, and the best friend of the really pissed off groom in New York.  Then top if off with assorted bad guys, set it in a dying mining town in the Rocky Mountains, add some romance, railroad issues, yadda-yadda, and you’ve got a real dog and pony show—especially since there’s also a deaf horse, an Irish wolfhound, and a yapper whose mother was a sound sleeper with questionable morals.  And of course there’s still the obligatory cussing and killing and creepy moments, but overall, it’s a fun group.  But then, I’m prejudiced.

Writing a series is more detail-sensitive (I think) than writing a stand-alone novel, because you have to keep track of your hero and heroine as well as the threads from the other stories. Writing historically accurate novels is even more of a challenge. How do you keep it all straight? Do you have any tools/strategies you use in your writing to share with other writers?

Google.  A writer’s best friend.  Especially the timelines.  And doing a series is not that hard if you know your characters well.  Think of it as a family.  The action and the setting are basically the same.  It’s the individual motivations and reactions to the plot that will be different.  The Blood Rose books were easier because even though each brother had a different story, the family history, the setting and main characters were basically the same throughout.  The Brides books have been harder, since there is no common backstory or shared history.  I had to start from scratch with each lady—then bring her to Heartbreak Creek, where their lives weave in and out of each others’ stories.  There was a lot more research for this second trilogy, too, because their interests were so varied.  Not to mention having to juggle so many speech patterns—English, Scottish, Irish, Cheyenne, Southern.  What was I thinking?

The one sad, sad thing about your stories, in my opinion, is they are set in a time when the poor fools just didn’t know they were missing out on great coffee experiences… Sad day. Since we are in a café, I have to ask you, what would you like to drink ma’am? Are you a coffee, black? Tea with cream? Café Macchiato with a double shot kind of gal?

Mocha latte.   And lots of it.  Maybe a pastry.  Or a scone with jelly.  Quiche.  Whatever.

Thanks so much for coming and hangin’ with us at the café, Kaki… and for not killing any horses.

It was great fun.  I thoroughly enjoyed you Montrose ladies at the CB Conference this summer, and hope to see you again next summer.  And I love your website.  Cowboys AND Dragons…what’s not to love?  Thanks for inviting me to visit.   

In honor of Kaki’s new release, “Heartbreak Creek,” we are giving away one copy of Kaki’s book to one lucky winner. Here are our rules: You must leave a question for Kaki or a comment (preferably about how great she is). You must leave an e-mail addie where we can contact you to let you know you won. Oh, and if you let your friends know, via Twitter or Facebook or another medium and send us a link, it'll earn you another entry into the drawing for her book. Total win/win for you, yes?
 Hmmm, what else… you must …? That’s it. That’s the Marne Ann Rules…

And here is Kaki Warner’s much anticipated bio and pic (although you can stalk her so much better if you go to her website:
Kaki Warner is an award-winning
author and long time resident of the
Pacific Northwest.  Although she now
lives on the eastern slopes of the
Cascade Mountains in Washington
State, Kaki actually grew up in the
Southwest and is a proud graduate
of the University of Texas.  Her years
spent riding horses and enjoying the
expansive views of Texas became the
inspiration for the backdrop of her novels - the wide-open
spaces of historic New Mexico Territory.
Several years ago after their two children had left for college,
Kaki and her husband, Joe, moved from the city to their hilltop
cabin overlooking the scenic Methow Valley.  Kaki now spends
her time gardening, hiking, reading, writing, and soaking in the
view from the deck with her husband and floppy-eared hound

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sense of Place: Writing Settings

I spent the weekend in New Mexico helping my son and his family clean up after the fires in Los Alamos. I did get to attend a workshop in Taos presented by the University of New Mexico. The subject was “a sense of place” led by author Summer Wood.

We visited the farm of Patricia Quintana. A former Washington D.C.lobbyist, she’s living her dream on the land she inherited from her grandmother. Churro sheep, who were brought from Spain as many as 500 years ago, wander on her fields. She has kept the culture of her ancestors and integrates her lifestyle with land. So how do you incorporate setting into your writing? The main point I came away with is that characters need to be placed into the landscape or the descriptions will sound like a travel log. The “character” can be a human or one example given was animal, perhaps a dog, moving across a landscape. History, food, building styles, and human interface with their environment are all a part of “place.” Examples include nostalgia for a time when the land was in a healthier condition or a desire to profit from development. Summer’s list of books that “contribute something fresh and valuable to the role of place in writing” include:

The Meadow by James Galvin

Home Ground by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney

Mayordomo by Stanly Crawford

Power by Lin Hogan

Wisdom Sits in Places by Keigh Basso

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Is that “sense of place” important to you as a reader/writer?  How do you write setting so they are more than the physical location of your story?

<posted by Vicki Law, however written by Gail Saunders>

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting Write

We spent the last five days in the beautiful San Juan Mountains at a place called Priest Gulch Campground, RV Park, Cabins and Lodge.

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This is Mike's and my second year writing in River House 2 (see cabins). Marne joined us this year.

What motivation the mountains, trees, river and wild birds were for me. No matter where we were in the cabin, we could hear the river. Marne and I spent most of the time on a wonderful wrap around porch overlooking the Dolores River. Each of us with only one headphone on. Tuned into our favorite music on Pandora with one ear and the river with the other. Thank goodness for Pandora, because Marne and I have very different taste in music and music is important to each of us when writing.

No cell phone service or phones in the cabins, but we did have WiFi. None of the teenagers could reach us except through Facebook. :)

Having Marne and Mike clicking away on their computers next to me helped my motivation as well. I accomplished much, both on my story bible and my manuscript. Twenty new pages of work I’m excited about. I’m loving my story and my characters. Mike and Marne seem to be happy with their accomplishments as well.

I don’t have pictures, because although I always bring along my camera (and phone), I never think to use either one of them. No doubt Marne will post a couple of the pics she took.

What motivates you? Do you get the chance to get away to write? Where do you go?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Character Who Won’t Leave Me Alone and How I Misplaced His Voice

I started my first manuscript well over ten years ago. Late at night, after tossing a best-selling author’s book across the room and telling myself I could do better.

My first attempt was full of cliches, passive writing and confusing POV. I was excited that I would soon be a New York Times best-selling author. Along with a bad case of new writer syndrom, I had the where-with-all to know there were other writers out there I could learn from and I went on a quest to find them.

Those first chapters pretty much sucked, but there, from the ashes of bad writing, arose a wonderful character. I knew his history. I knew where he came from and where he was going and why. I knew what was stopping him and how he would get around barriers. I gave him life and he’s taken up residence in my mind and still talks to me at the oddest moments. I think that’s why writers are weird people. It’s difficult to be normal when you have someone else riding shot-gun in your head.

Three or so chapters into this character’s story, I learned a few things about writing and made changes. Then I learned a few more things, attended writers’ functions and became thoroughly depressed. I scratched much of what I’d written and started over, but the heart of my character stayed.

Digressing...I love books and always have. The written word fascinates me. I have a very distinct memory of my mom walking by me, stopping to look at me with a smile on her face, then taking a book out of my hands to turn it right-side up and put it back into my clutches. I remember where I was sitting when that happened. I was probably about three years old. Yep, I’ve always loved books and reading, but once I learned a little about writing, I came to love it more.

I finished that first story, after giving it chapter-by-chapter to my critique group and incorporating their suggestions. I received good feedback, from writers, readers and contest entries. It finalled with, according to the contest coordinator, the highest first-round score they’d ever had. I was proud and, with the feedback I received, I started editing. I found an online critique partner (because my in-person critique group was tired of reading that first story). The new partner said, “This is ready. Get it out there.” I thought she might be right, but I was still editing. I was also working on newer work, but that first story just wasn’t quite good enough yet.

Then Mike and Marne said, “This is ready. This is good. Get it out there. And for God’s sake, leave it alone.” I thought they might be right, but I was still editing.

Our critique group went through a few changes. People left,  new peopled joined. Fresh opinions! I submitted the book again. I didn’t realize it then, but I am somewhat of a perfectionist. When the new blood made suggestions, I saw problems with the manuscript and I set aside other projects and started tearing the book apart. Fixing things, changing things, re-writing.

Now, ten years later, the story is in pieces. Worse, along the way, while trying to make it perfect, I lost my voice with this manuscript. It’s tragic. I mourn often.  

Unlike other losses I have had in life (which, I’m fortunate enough to say, are few) time has not healed this wound. My character is pissed. He tells me about it daily. He wants closure. It's a good story. I screwed it up by trying to make it perfect.

I have a new belief from this experience. I believe there is no perfection in writing, because perfect writing is boring writing. No perfection, only story, characters and voice. Someday I’m going to let Jesse out to play and I’m going to tell his story. I have to distance myself from the mess he’s become first.

What do you think about perfection in writing? How about your characters? Do they holler at you while you’re trying to hold meaningful conversations with your children, your spouse or your boss? What about your first manuscript? Did you finish it? Did you submit it?

Are you still in mourning like I am?