I’m so happy to have Kaki Warner at Smexy Books today. Both of her western historical trilogies are favorites of mine. Tomorrow, Bride of the High Country releases.
Who is Kaki Warner? Give us the low down.
Ah…my least favorite subject. I guess I would describe myself as a late bloomer baby boomer and twenty-five-year overnight success, because after piddling around with writing for a quarter century, I finally got serious about it after I retired. I now live in a remote area on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in north central Washington with my husband of forty-six years and our rescue coon hound. I’m a lousy cook, a haphazard housekeeper, and I cuss a lot (with cause, I think. Forty-six years is a long time). I don’t hunt but I do own guns (we’ve had bears and rattlesnakes on our deck, and cougars abound in our area. Luckily wolves were recently re-introduced just to keep us on our toes. But not to worry, animal lovers. I’m a lousy shot, too.) I have an irrelevant and irreverent since of humor and find it hard to take anything seriously. I’m also the luckiest person you know. It’s a great life.
You are coming up on the close of your second historical western trilogy. Pieces of Sky started it all back in 2009. What inspired you to write about the Wilkins’s brothers and set it in the New Mexico Territory?
I lived in Texas and spent a lot of time visiting New Mexico and Colorado. For a girl raised in the big city (Houston), those wide open spaces and that sense of freedom had a great appeal. (As did the guys in tight jeans, but that came later). I grew up on the Code of the West as described by Zane Grey and portrayed by various western actors—I love mountains, and horses, and cowboys (but that came later), and always wished I could have lived back then (but with modern conveniences, of course). When I started Pieces of Sky, I just wanted to write a story about a lonely but steadfast man caught in a cycle of destruction, guilt and a desperate struggle to keep his land and family together. Then I cast people (mainly a woman) and obstacles (mainly himself, as well as a crazy bad guy) in his way to throw him off balance and hopefully show him a better way to live his life. After twenty-five years of goofing around with it, I shipped it out as book one of a trilogy (to be written) with his brothers as stars of their own books. It snowballed from there.
I read in a previous interview that you didn’t start out by writing Pieces of Sky as a romance, that is just where it happened to fall. In later books do you find yourself focusing more on the romance as you write?
It was my editor who decided to label it as a romance. A good marketing decision, since the majority of readers are women, and the majority of those are romance readers. Have I focused on the romance more in later books? I don’t know. Probably. I just mostly write the story my characters dictate. But I don’t think any book is complete without a love story somewhere within the pages…especially in books that are more character-driven than plot-driven. I try to do both. But only the readers can decide if it works.
Along the same line, while your books have a lot of romantic build-up, a lot of times the door closes on the sexy times. Do you ever feel pressure to incorporate more physical romance scenes into your books?
Only from you, Mandi, LOL.
*Mandi sneaks in – it’s an innocent question! *grins*
Every author has to decide how far to take the violence, language, sex scenes, angst, whatever in their books. There are many writers who can do sex scenes much better than I can, but how many can kill a horse with finesse? (Trust me, animal lovers, it was necessary—for the horse and the plot). I consider myself more of a storyteller than a romance writer, and would hate to have readers thumb through the story to get to the sex scenes, or skim over the sex scenes to get back to the story. I knew I was taking a risk not putting in more graphic scenes. But I’ve been gratified by the number of readers who write thanking me for focusing more on the “romance” of the relationship, rather than the “ins and outs” (get it?) of the sex scenes. Besides, these characters are my friends, and I don’t want to see ANY of my friends getting it on. I get enough raised eyebrows as it is.
Your current trilogy focuses on three women who form a strong friendship in Heartbreak Creek, Colorado. The final book, Bride of the High Country releases June 5. Tell us a little more about it.
Lucinda’s story was the hardest to write, not only because it dealt with the exploitation of a child, but because of structural issues. These bride novels are so closely woven, even though most of Lucinda’s story covers the time before she reaches Heartbreak Creek, I had to include some of Edwina’s and Maddie’s stories to give continuity to Lucinda’s (does that make sense?) Plus, since the hero and heroine weren’t even in the same location for the early part of the book, I had to keep the relationship going and growing. The odd thing is that I was already well into the book before I realized the main male character wasn’t the hero. I just hate when my characters wait so long to tell me stuff. But from then on, everything started to make more sense to me. In addition, I had the added task of making Lucinda more likeable. She came off a bit harsh and cold-hearted in the first two books, but I think once the reader knows her background and the emptiness she struggles to hide, they’ll like her better. And thankfully, the perfect guy came along to show her to the right track. This is a romance, after all.
Have you read any romance books recently that you’ve enjoyed?
I’m ashamed to say I hardly get to read any more. And when I’m writing, I have to be careful that I don’t become influenced by another author. Kinda weak-minded, huh? There are tons of great books out there calling to me, but I just don’t have time. Although on a recent trip, I started Genevieve Graham’s Sound of the Heart, and am enthralled. She writes gritty, dark, action romances with incredible historical detail and an almost lyrical quality to her prose. She could easily influence me, so I can only read her work in snatches.
Your Blood Rose Trilogy was recently released in mass market paperback. Where is Brady Wilkins’s mustache on the cover of Pieces of Sky? I am a huge fan of a mustached hero. His lip looks so bare. *grins* Do you have a preference to landscape covers vs. sexy men?
GADS. I know! I think he looks like Sophia Loren with beard stubble. WTF? When I whined about it to my editor, she said facial hair doesn’t sell well. Still… Brady and I were both embarrassed. Hanks’ cover (Open Country) was pretty good, but Jack (Chasing the Sun) looks like he’s barely past puberty. Now they’re working on the mass market covers of the Bride’s books and they’re along the same lines as the Wilkins mass market covers—although Declan looks too skinny and Ash has no premature gray in his hair. Oh well. I’m just glad they have on all their clothes (one wouldn’t want to mislead the reader, you know). The problem is that I don’t visualize real people when I write. Otherwise, they start to walk and talk like them rather than the character I’m trying to depict (weak-minded, remember). So I’m always shocked to see how the art department portrays them. I think, overall, they’ve done a tasteful, geared-to-the-market job on most of them. And although the cover of Bride of the High Country is beautiful, the pose and model are a bit sweet for a woman who spent two years in a brothel and is crafty enough to run rings around most men. But that’s just me. My favorite so far? The trade cover of Pieces of Sky. Maybe because it was the first, or because the colors are so vibrant, or because it was a good representation of the story. But Hank’s cover isn’t bad, either.
What is up for you next? Another western trilogy? *fingers crossed*
Now that you mention it… I just signed a contract for three more books set in Heartbreak Creek where we’ll be visiting with all the old characters, as well as meeting new ones. There’s a lot of unfinished business to cover—saving the town, resolving the railroad and water issues, birthing Edwina’s giant baby, and figuring out what’s up with Thomas and Pru. The first one involves a woman trying to cover for her famous father’s dementia, a lonely and embittered railroad security agent, a budding love story between a Chinese girl and R.D. (Declan and Ed’s oldest), a serial killer, and trouble ahead for…well, you’ll see. Fun stuff.
*Mandi jumps for joy!*
Thanks so much Kaki! Today, Kaki is giving away one copy of Bride of the High Country. To enter, just leave a comment. Contest open to US/Canada through June 6th.