This week’s Rita finalist is Karen Harter. Karen’s books have been translated into eight foreign languages. Last year her novel, Where Mercy Flows won the Christy Award for Best First Novel.
Her books have been featured in Reader’s Digest Select Editions alongside bestselling authors like Mary Higgins Clark and Lee Child. The Seattle Times featured her first novel as a recommended read. She is thrilled with the nomination of her second book, AUTUMN BLUE, for a coveted RITA award.
Karen and her husband live in Mount Vernon, Washington where they pastor The Valley Church. They love to fish the many streams and lakes surrounding their home. Karen has recently (after raising three boys) decided to learn to cook. Maybe that will bring them back home.
Here’s Karen Harter!
1. Describe your RITA phone call.
It was a busy morning; schedules to keep and a to-do list as long as a roll of toilet paper. The phone call telling me I was a RITA finalist stunned me momentarily, but then the next call came and I was off and running. It was not until much later that day that it sunk in. A finalist for a coveted RITA award! Little ol’ me? Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
2. Tell us about the RITA book and why you think it stood out in the crowd.
Sidney Walker is a single mom, raising her kids in the safe environment of Ham Bone, Washington, a small town tucked against the foothills of the mountains. But despite her efforts to protect them, her fifteen year old son, Ty, is broodingly angry and has run away into the woods. The handsome sheriff who appears with a warrant to search her home seems to have an anger problem himself, and a personal vendetta against Ty. His repeated visits leave Sidney shaken, and questioning her sweet son’s innocence. She prays that God will send a man to help her raise her children, and of course he answers in the strangest way.
Readers tell me they relish the way the layers of each character are slowly peeled away until they understand each one intimately. Everyone loves Millard Bradbury, the old man across the street, who has a problem with sulky teenagers and pesky moles. And of course, they cringe when the evil ex-husband/dad appears, suddenly wanting to become a family again. I believe people say “I couldn’t put it down!” because they care so much about each member of this evolving “family”.
3. How many books have you written?
I’ve written four complete novels. The first one is great for leveling table legs or starting a fire. Two are published, and the fourth is just about finished.
4. Do you have a favorite?
Yes, my first published novel, Where Mercy Flows, which won a Christy award last year. It’s told through the eyes of Samantha, a single mom carrying a load of guilt, who becomes destitute and has no choice but to return to her parent’s home on the river of her childhood, along with her illegitimate son, TJ. She has never been able to live up to the strict standards of her powerful father, Judge Blake Dodd and it seems nothing has changed. Her childhood friend, Donnie Duncan, runs his father’s ranch just up the road. He vies for her love, but she’s not free to give it. Sam still longs for forgiveness for what she did to her estranged husband, and for the child she threw away.
This story is really a parable. It’s about me and God; maybe you and God too. When my life was full of sin, I pushed my heavenly Father away. I couldn’t see my way out of the darkness. But he loved me all along, and it was through his amazing sacrifice that I no longer carry a load of guilt. Keep some tissues with you when you read this story of a struggle between father and daughter, and Samantha’s ultimate redemption.
5. Describe your writing process.
A story begins with a character who appears in my head and begins to walk around in there. I think about him/her or them for weeks, maybe months while their story unfolds. I may write little scenes that will occur somewhere in the book, which helps me develop their voice, their motivations, their past. I pray for the Lord’s message and write down the theme or what I want the reader to take away personally from this story. Eventually I use 3×5 cards to map out scenes, which can be rearranged until I know the order of the chapters. On each card I briefly write Intention, Conflict, and Collision. (I learned this from writing coach, Gloria Kempton at a conference). This keeps me on track and ensures that at the end of each chapter there is a collision, or dramatic point that pulls the curious reader into the next chapter.
Then I write and see what really happens, often surprised by the wonderful characters and events that weren’t even in the cards!
6. When did you decide to become a writer and why Christian fiction?
I dreamed occasionally about being a writer during high school and college when teachers told me I had a gift. It was a romantic concept at the time. I saw myself living in a little cottage by the sea where I sustained myself simply by writing, growing vegetables and harvesting crab and fish. That didn’t happen. It was not until I was sitting in church one morning with a husband, two young boys, and a mortgage career that I made the decision. Rather, God made the decision, and through the pastor’s teaching on the parable of the talents, dropped it into me. What transpired between the Lord and me that day is unforgettable! I’ve gone back to that in moments of discouragement and know beyond a shadow of doubt that this is His plan for me, and that he will use the words he gives me to draw people to the Truth.
7. Tell us about your next or upcoming projects.
I’ve just completed a story about a Jewish single dad, whose heart is broken when his daughter runs away. In his search for her, he becomes involved with the Human Services Director at a downtown Seattle church, a disorganized goy woman with blond hair the length of his grass between mowings. When she risks her life to save his daughter, the attraction that he’s denied is beginning to feel like love. But she is a Christian and he’s a Jew. They are oil and water. How could they ever become the family that he craves?
I believe the next project is Annie and The Fisherman, a love story that’s been walking around in my head for at least two years. I’m also working on A Train to Somewhere, which is about an unlikely friendship that develops between a flighty art student and her mandatory college roommate, a beautiful, but bitter violinist. Oh, the trouble they get themselves into! But they survive into adulthood, and Kenzie (the artist) is still trying to crack the crust around Maggie’s heart, while Maggie attempts to break up her friend’s pending marriage. This is a best friend story with lots of romance woven in. Possibly a series.
8. Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?
If you are a Christian writer, then you are an ambassador for Christ. Your motivation, your passion should be to glorify Him. Be sure that you are gifted and called to serve him through the written word, because, believe me, there will be times of discouragement. I know that I would have quit if not for the knowledge that this is God’s assignment for me.
And of course, pursue excellence. Read quality writing and attend conferences. Pray each time you sit down to write. This is the real key to success. It’s almost like cheating but you never get busted because the words that come out of you are being whispered by the Spirit of God. Oh, and have fun. Words are fascinating, dazzling like crystal beads, and you get to string them together into unique stories like no one else can!
Thanks for having me!