Carol Shields once said, “Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find.” When does a writer’s story begin forming? How long does it take to write? What were the finishing touches? We’ve asked Karen Witemeyer, author of Stealing the Preacher, to tell us the story behind the story. Be sure to RSVP to her party tonight!
Tell us a bit about the story behind your latest novel. Where did your inspiration spark from?
The inspiration for Stealing the Preacher actually sparked during the writing of Short-Straw Bride, the book that introduced the reclusive Archer brothers. Crockett Archer played a key role in the story, his smooth, teasing charm a balance to older brother Travis’s gruff, over-protective nature. I knew in my heart that this man deserved a story of his own.
When the Archer brothers were children, growing up alone on their ranch and defending it from those who wanted to take advantage of their youth, Crockett’s niche in the family evolved into that of spiritual mentor and healer. He was in charge of the family devotionals the Archers conducted in lieu of attending a church service, and whenever an injury occurred on the ranch, Crockett was the one to tend it. For years, the Archers never left their land, yet as he grew to manhood, Crockett felt God’s call deepen within him—a call not only to minister to his brothers, but to a congregation of his own.
So what kind of heroine could I create for this noble preacher-to-be? Well, she had to be someone who shared his values and his calling to ministry. But if I left it at that, we’d have an awfully dull story. So to liven things up, I made Joanna Robbins the daughter of a retired outlaw, one who despises “sermonizers” and their hypocritical ways.
Since Crockett is no ordinary preacher but a gun-toting rancher with a gift for doctoring . . . well, that meant a plot full of scrapes, trouble, and shenanigans. But amid the adventure and romance lies a heartrending tale of God’s pursuit of a single lost soul.
How long did your book take you to write?
My books usually take me about ten months to write. I strive to write one polished chapter a week, and since my books tend to contain around forty chapters, it works out fairly well.
How long was the editing/publishing process?
I do extensive self-editing as I write, and I have two critique partners who also go over each of my chapters as I write them. So there is extensive editing going on during the writing phase itself. Then a few weeks after I turn in the manuscript, I get the wonderful substantive edit letter from my publisher. This tackles big picture issues of continuity, character arcs, romance timelines, and spiritual themes. They usually give me four-to-six weeks to make the changes. After that, my editor works with the publisher’s copy editors to read for smaller details like grammar, historical fact checking, and consistency. Once this is complete, we head into the galley stage. At Bethany House, we actually do galleys twice. The first time we receive a printed Word document to read through and send back with any changes we would like to make. This gives us a final chance to catch typographical errors, sentence flow issues, etc. This is not the time for major rewrites. After this is complete, the final galleys are sent out. These are the finished, typeset pages. We are only supposed to mark things that are glaring mistakes like typographical errors and the like. Once we sign off on the manuscript, it goes to print.
Being the perfectionist that I am, I’m always nervous that I’m going to miss something in the galleys. And since we do the galleys twice in such close succession, sometimes it’s hard to keep the intensity up when you’re starting to get sick of rereading your own story. Thankfully, I’ve only had one reader so far point out a mistake that was missed. There could very well be more that others didn’t bring to my attention, but I’m satisfied with that track record.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
This is my favorite craft rule: RUE—Resist the Urge to Explain <click to tweet>. I constantly remind myself of this one. So many times I want to make sure the reader understands my intent, and I’m tempted to explain the meaning of what just happened in the story. However, the rule of RUE has helped me edit out those unnecessary words. Trusting the reader to understand is a leap of faith. Yet we have smart, savvy readers. They don’t need the message spoon fed to them. A few might miss my subtle imagery, but others will see it and appreciate it. A heavy hand just comes off as preachy. A joke explained is no longer funny. And dialog rehashed is boring. If I RUE as I write, I won’t rue my wordiness later.
What’s your next book or project?
My next project is actually a novella that features Neill Archer, the final brother in the Archer clan. I just couldn’t let him go without giving him his own happily ever after. Away from the Archer ranch for two years to earn the money needed to start his own spread with his childhood friend, Josiah, Neill takes a job repairing a little old widow’s roof. Only the widow isn’t old nor is she little. She’s nine months pregnant with her deceased husband’s child, and she meets Neill with a shotgun aimed at his chest. Neill’s story, A Cowboy Unmatched, will be part of a collection entitled A Match Made in Texas. It releases January 2014 and includes novellas by three other wonderful historical authors: Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Carol Cox.