DUCK CHAT: Heading West with Kaki WarnerTuesday, July 5, 2011 10:00
We’re commiserating with Kaki Warner about her beautifully written historical western novels, as well as a lot of other fun ideas and things.
I’d not read any of Kaki’s work until I got my hands on the second book in her Blood Rose trilogy, Open Country. I was immediately smitten with the Wilkins brothers. Ms. Warner brings the old west alive and writes characters who are charming, definitely flawed, and who love their family and the land. I very highly recommend her books to you.
I hope you’ll take the time to get to know her today and to read her books if you haven’t already. Here’s your chance to begin reading her stories soon, Kaki is giving away two copies of Heartbreak Creek today. So please ask a question or leave a meaningful comment to be entered.
Now let’s chat!
Kaki Warner: Thanks for inviting me, Sandy. I’m a slut for self-promotion.
DC: Instead of the usual tell us about yourself question, why don’t you tell us that one thing that even your most hard-core fans don’t know?
KW: The best part of my day is hearing from a happy reader.
DC: If you could retire any interview question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
KW: “Tell us about the call.” It’s a great question—but my answer is boring and makes me look like a loser. By that I mean I didn’t hop around and shriek and swoon on the kitchen floor like any normal aspiring author would. I just sat there, phone to my ear, thinking “it’s about #@& time.” I know. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? But my agent said she could sell my book, and I believed her, so I sorta expected it. The shrieking and swooning would have occurred if she HADN’T pulled it off. See? Loser.
DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
KW: Always. They reveal themselves to me in bits and pieces, as if we were meeting and forming a connection in real life. I didn’t know Hank (Open Country) was color blind until halfway through the novel, or that Declan (Heartbreak Creek) had a fear of heights, or that Ash (Colorado Dawn) was dyslexic. As for the heroines, I always try to put a hard choice ahead of them, but I’m never sure what they’ll choose until I get to the “decision” scene. That way, I’m not forcing them in a pre-determined direction, but allowing them to work it out on their own: Will Jessica (Pieces of Sky) give up a life of luxury in England for a hard life in New Mexico? Will Molly (Open Country) violate her oath and kill Hennessy? Will Daisy (Chasing the Sun) give up her lifelong dream to stay with Jack? Will Maddie (Colorado Dawn) trade in her camera for the title of Countess? With Edwina in Heartbreak Creek, there was no single dramatic decision awaiting her—but a gradual awakening. But she’s such a volatile character, I was never sure how far she would take it.
DC: Your Blood Rose Trilogy introduces readers to the Wilkins brothers. Would you tell our readers about this series, how it came about, and has it evolved as you first envisioned?
KW: It started as one book twenty-five years ago (I know. Loser AND stubborn.) I had just read an awful book and thought I could do better. Alas, mine was pretty awful, too. So I did my due diligence with classes, critique groups, contests and kept re-writing. Then life got in the way and I put the manuscript in storage. About fifteen years later I dug it out, reread it, and decided it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. So after ANOTHER rewrite and several more contests, I finally got serious and sent it out. Two months later, I had a great agent and had sold that first book to Berkley with a promise of two more. The story itself (about a ranching family of three brothers in New Mexico Territory of 1868) didn’t change much from the original concept, although it expanded into three books. But the writing improved. Through the years, I really grew to love these guys—dumb decisions, quirks, bumbling heroism and all. They persevered despite all odds, and in the process found smart, strong-willed women to help them face the challenges of a hard life in an unforgiving country. It wasn’t easy back then, and my books reflect that. But I think that makes them stronger and the characters more believable. Or not. You decide.
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
KW: Well, of course I win: I’m the Queen Mum to these folks. But that doesn’t mean they do what I want. In fact, they make lots of mistakes, which I’m happy to point out by providing dire consequences to their actions. Many a time I find myself shaking my head and saying, “What are you thinking? Why would you do such a thing?” But eventually they learn and earn their happy endings (I know. Loser, stubborn AND crazy.)
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
KW: Fear. Will I meet my deadline? Will I find the best words to say what I mean? Does any of it make sense or have I just written twenty pages of drivel? Will readers love these characters like I do? That and, of course, book signings.
DC: The first book in the trilogy is Pieces of Sky where we meet Brady and Jessica. Can you tell us about them?
KW: Brady is the oldest Wilkins brother and has inherited the task of keeping the family ranch going and protecting what family he has left. He’s hardheaded, a bit awkward, arrogant, and burdened with a terrible secret. The last thing he needs in his life is a prim and proper Englishwoman, who also happens to be pregnant and on the run from her own terrible secret. So of course, that’s what I give him.
Jessica is convinced the rules she writes in her pamphlets on deportment will protect her in an uncivilized world…until a terrible shame sends her fleeing her ancestral home for the American West in search of her long-lost brother and a new start. Instead, she finds herself stranded at the Wilkins ranch under the watchful eye of Brady Wilkins. Through humor and heartbreak they both confront their pasts: Brady teaches her to trust again—she gives him back the joy he thought he’d lost—and, of course, they live happily ever after (this is a romance, after all).
DC: What has been your favorite book cover from all of your releases and why?
KW: Well, I loved the one for Pieces of Sky because I halfway expected a cover showing two semi-nekkid people groping each other. I guess I should explain that: I didn’t set out to write a romance. I just wanted to write a book about a period in history I liked and slip in a love story on the side. It was my publisher who decided to market it as a romance, which was good, since romance readers are the most loyal and prolific book buyers out there. But my books aren’t “traditional”—meaning they have less graphic sex than most romances. (I try to make up for that with some violence and a lot of cussing, so it all works out).
But now that Berkley is re-releasing this trilogy in the mass market format, they’ve changed the covers so that each book has a brother on the front. Well, half a brother, anyway. Fully dressed. They’re OK, but I have to say, Hank on the cover of Open Country is HOT! Look for it this November. Oh, mama!
DC: How about your least favorite book cover? Why?
KW: Refer back to the mass market releases coming out this fall. Brady’s mustache is missing. I know. Mustaches are out of style (please don’t tell my husband). But it was a big deal to Brady, and I think he was a little hurt…until I photo-shopped a mustache onto the copy I have framed over my desk. He’s a lot happier now. As am I.
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
KW: I don’t write them differently…just better. They’re less stereotypical now, more flawed and, therefore, more believable. They’re still the same people that have lived in my imagination for years—I’ve just found a better way to describe them.
KW: After one disastrous courtship, Hank is distrustful. He’s also brilliant, creative, the brawn and brains as well as the peacekeeper of the family. He’s willing to live a quiet life as the middle brother, doing his own thing. Just don’t lie to him. Which, of course, Molly does right from the start.
But she has reason. She’s desperate to protect her niece and nephew from their vicious stepfather—and how better to do that than to hide out at a remote mountain ranch, posing as Hank’s wife…the wife he doesn’t remember he has. (I know. But it makes sense when you read the whole thing.)
These are both highly intelligent people. He’s an inventor (or sorts), and she’s a Civil War nurse. Yet, neither of them knows the first thing about relationships. Or raising children. But they muddle along until the truth comes out and Hank overreacts. Then Molly has to face down a killer to save the family she’s come to love, while Hank has to deal with her betrayal and learn to forgive.
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
KW: Maybe Time travel. As long as it has a western element.
DC: Oh, I hope so – time travel is a favorite genre of mine! Which fictional character would you like to hang out with?
KW: All those in my books. And of course, the Phantom of the Opera—or any other character Gerard Butler has played. Or will play. Bless his heart.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
KW: Eat less, exercise more. Forgive. Stop worrying.
DC: The last book for the brothers is Chasing the Sun. The youngest Wilkins brother, Jack, finally comes home. Would you tell us a little about him and his heroine, Daisy?
KW: Jack is a doofus. Or so he appeared in the first book—young, impulsive, restless, a high-spirited womanizer in love with the wrong woman for the wrong reasons. But now he’s all grown up. He’s ready to stand up to his two forceful older brothers and win the woman he’s loved for most of his life. Luckily, Daisy shows up from his past to show him a whole new way of looking at things—like which dreams are worth pursuing and which are best let go. Mostly this book is about Jack growing into the man he was meant to be. But it’s also about a family coming to terms with a violent past and brothers accepting each other as the men they’ve become, rather than the boys they once were. And then there’s a flood and bear attack and…well, you’ll see.
DC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever learned by Googling your name?
KW: That there are a lot of “Kakis” out there. I always thought my brother was the only one who couldn’t say “Kathy.” I was wrong.
DC: What book would you like to read again for the first time?
DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?
KW: Late-bloomer baby-boomer stuns long-suffering family by becoming twenty-five-year overnight success and laughing all the way to the bank. (Sort of a fantasy/romantic comedy).
DC: What would your “voice’s” tagline be?
KW: Descriptive, irreverent, sarcastic.
DC: You have a new series beginning and the first book is on the shelves today. Would you give us peek into Heartbreak Creek?
KW: These have been such fun books to write. Picture this: four women meet on a train heading west in 1870. Two Southern half-sisters (one white, one mulatto) escaping the war-torn South. A Yankee with a mysterious past and a valise full of money. A genteel Englishwoman who has left her absent Scottish/soldier husband to pursue a career as an expeditionary photographer. All are intent on starting new lives. Instead, they end up stranded in a dying Colorado mining town.
Heartbreak Creek is Edwina’s story. A Southern princess widowed and orphaned by the war, her only skills are flirting, sewing a fine line, playing the piano blindfolded, and divining water with willow switches. Nonetheless when her Louisiana home goes on the auction block, she grabs her sister, Pru, and heads west as the mail order bride of a rancher with four children.
Declan advertised for a sturdy, English-speaking woman to help with the chores and his rambunctious children. Instead he gets Edwina. He’s already had one bad marriage—his first wife ran off with a gambler and was killed by Indians—and now it seems he’s in for another. Even the children don’t like her. Yet, somehow, as they struggle through the three-month waiting period Ed insisted on before consummation (her word, not mine), they reach an understanding…which slowly becomes an attraction…that grows into love…that leads to (gasp) consummation…then disaster when the first wife shows up, and an enemy from Declan’s past threatens the family. (There’s a lot more stuff in between, like Pru and the Cheyenne Dog Soldier, and Declan’s fear of heights, and…well, you’ll see.)
DC: And how about a sneak peek into the next book in the series?
KW: Colorado Dawn. I love this book because the hero is a Scotsman (as in Gerard Butler. Sort of). After an accident ends his military career, Angus limps home to find his family decimated by fever, his wife off in America taking tintypes, and himself next in line for an Earldom. His duty is clear: find his runaway wife and breed heirs.
After only one visit and two letters in five years, Maddie had given up on her marriage and accepted a commission to photograph the West from a female perspective. When Angus tracks her down in Heartbreak Creek—an older, slightly wounded version of the man she fell in love with—she tells him flat out that she won’t go back to her sterile life in Scotland, even for the title of Viscountess.
Angus—Lord Ashby—is a peer now. Divorce is unthinkable. So he’ll have to court the lass all over again. Eventually, after many ups and downs (no pun intended) they rediscover the love they once shared. Yet Maddie knows she’ll never be able to trade her camera for a lofty title, any more than Angus—a man bound by honor—can turn his back on the duties awaiting him. Oh dear. What will they do?
DC: What romance book would you recommend our readers pick up during their next bookstore run? (Yes, in addition to any Kaki Warner novel!)
KW: Anything by Madeline Hunter, Julia Quinn, Jodi Thomas, Elizabeth Holt, Sara Donati, Anne Gracie, Candace Camp…gads, the list is endless.
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
KW: Working in the garden.
- dark or milk chocolate? – Milk
- heels or flats? – Flats
- coffee or tea? – Coffee
- summer or winter? – Winter
- mountains or beach? – Mountains
- mustard or mayonnaise? – Mayo
- flowers or candy? – Flowers
- pockets or purse? – Pockets
- Pepsi or Coke? – Pepsi
- ebook or print? – Print
And because we still enjoy the answers we get:
1. What is your favorite word? – Hork
2. What is your least favorite word? – Sorry, I love them all, even the nasty ones
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – Music and walking
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? - Having too much on my schedule
5. What sound or noise do you love? – Birdsong
6. What sound or noise do you hate? – Repetitive noises—like my dog barking
7. What is your favorite curse word? – Sonofafuckingbitch (kind of covers everything, doesn’t it?)
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – Horticulturist or songwriter
9. What profession would you not like to do? – Anything involving sewage, armpits, private parts (you know the ones) and cutting people open.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “It’s OK. I know you meant well.”
DC: Thank you, Kaki for being with us today. It’s been a pleasure!