An interview with Karen Kay
Interview conducted by Shyan Marie
Shyan: Why Write Native American Romance Novels?
Karen Kay: The reason I write romance is, I like romance. I read romance. I’ve loved Indians all my life. I have some Choctaw heritage, but didn't know about it until I started writing. Dances with Wolves reminded me again of the my love for the Indian culture and I started reading everything I could get my hands on, never thinking to write a story at the time. Then a friend of mine said that I might have enough research to actually write a story. At first I baulked at the idea, but then a story started forming in my mind and that was the start.
Shyan: Can you tell us a little more about your latest novel The Princess and the Wolf?
Kay: The idea came out of a book given to me by a Blackfeet friend. I read about Sacagewea's baby, Baptiste Charbonneau, and what an interesting life he led. After Sacagewea's death, Baptiste went to live with Clark (of the Lewis and Clark fame) in the St. Louis area. Clark had always been fascinated with the boy. Clark called him, "My little dancing boy. " When Baptiste was a teenager, he met Prince Paul of Wurtemberg, Germany. They became great friends and the Prince invited Baptiste to return with him to Germany and the Continent, which Baptiste accepted. There, Baptiste was treated as a prince, educated and lived in a castle and even toured the Continent with the Prince. But something happened between the two, and six years later, Baptiste returned to the Americas with the Prince and they parted, probably to never see one another again. What happened? Why did Baptiste suddenly cut all ties to the Prince -- and why, in a land where a man could take more than one wife, did Baptiste never marry -- but instead went on to become one of the best known scouts in western America? My asking that question led to the book, The Princess and the Wolf.
Shyan: How much time did you spend writing The Princess and the Wolf?
Kay: Seven months and that pretty much includes research.
Shyan: While Prince Althome is certainly not a main character in The Princess and the Wolf, is there any chance the Prince’s own romance will be in a future novel of his own?
Kay: No because he's not Native American, and at present the stories that I write are for women -- which usually means an Indian hero and a white woman.
Shyan: War Cloud's Passion just happens to be one of my favorite Native American Romance novels. Your character Anna Wiley is a plain beauty, something man woman can relate to. Why did you decide to create Anna in such a way instead of like the bombshell beauties in your other novels?
Kay: Thank you. I think at the time there were a couple of reasons. One is which I was interested at the time in the orphan trains and wanted her not to be an orphan on them, but rather to be one of those women escorting it. And I was thinking -- what kind of woman would do this. Plus, I wanted her to be a person with a big heart, who perhaps had never been what one might call "beautiful" although she might not be unattractive. The fact that she was tall came from growing up with my sister, who was about 5 foot 11. I remember her problems and complaints and always wished she could live in a world where height didn't make so much of a difference. Also, at this time in history, the Indians viewpoint of beauty was a little different than that of their white counterpart. Yes, a woman who was considered beautiful was prized, but perhaps prized more was the woman who had a big heart, who could raise the family and the children well and who kept the health and welfare of the tribe uppermost in her mind. These women, no matter their physical make-up, were considered to be beautiful.
Shyan: From your novels, who was your favorite character? Your least favorite?
Kay: My least favorite character was Kenneth from Proud Wolf’s Woman. He was based on an actual true person and some of the things that came out of his mouth were toned-down actual conversations. I shudder to think of it. My favorite character? I don't know. I love them all. They're like old friends.
Shyan: How do you choose your characters' names?
Kay: I usually base my characters on my close friends. The character's name is usually some alteration of my friend's actual name. The male names are chosen because they usually present vivid and strong images.
Shyan: Where do you get your ideas for your novels?
Kay: From anywhere. They can come from research, from life, from conversations, from happenings, from watching others and particularly, from brain-storming sessions with my husband. The book I'm writing now is based on my reading different legends. It's not an actual Indian legend, but was inspired by all the wonderful legends that I'm reading.
Shyan: How much time do you typically spend on research for a novel?
Kay: It goes on throughout the whole process of writing.
Shyan: How easy or difficult was it getting your first novel Lakota Surrender published and why?
Kay: It took about a year and a half to get it published. First I got myself an agent and she then sent the first book to a few places. I actually had to suggest to her to send to to the more commonly known publishers, like AVON, etc. When she finally did, Ellen Edwards at AVON discovered the book and immediately signed me on as an AVON author, where I have been for the past eleven year. I've just recently, however, signed with Berkley and am really looking forward to my new association with Berkley and my new editor there, Christine Zika.
Shyan: Would you ever consider writing a different genre and if so what?
Kay: Probably not another genre outside of romance because I'm already doing what I love. Maybe in the future a I'll try my hand at writing a romantic musical, or perhaps a different kind of romance. I'd welcome fans to write to me and tell me what -- if I were to expand out into some other kind of romance -- what they'd like to see.
Shyan: What keeps you motivated when you're writing?
Kay: Lots of different things. Music motivates me when I seem stuck, and my husband always motivates me. In terms of working and keeping going, I don't really have a problem with this.
Shyan: Have you ever experienced writers block and if so how did you overcome it?
Kay: Yea. The way I overcome it is I back off for a while. Go for a walk, go shopping, go to the museum. Something, anything that I like to do that might help the creative juices to flow. Another thing I'll do comes from the Study Technology from L. Ron Hubbard and consists of going back to where you were doing well, finding out what you missed there, correct that and then go forward again. Usually it works like magic. Your character begin to talk again, begin to act like real people, and you're off and away again.
Shyan: Who are your biggest writing influences and why?
Kay: My biggest writing influence is L. Ron Hubbard for so many different inspirations. His book, Buckskin Brigades, really influenced me tremendously. He is probably the best friend I've ever had. Also Amanda Quick inspires me. I love her pacing. And J. K. Rowling. I love the rhythm, pacing, language and fun of her books. Also Cassie Edwards. If I were to pattern myself and my career after another romance author, it would be Cassie. Not only do I admire her greatly, she is one heck of a nice lady.
Shyan: You now have 11 published novels to date. How does it feel to have so many published?
Kay: I don't think it's a lot. In my opinion I'm still reaching to get to the top.
Shyan: What was/is your family's reaction to your success as a writer?
Kay: Really Positive.
Shyan: What's a typical day like for you?
Kay: Well, I get up pretty early. Mornings are my time to write and then in the afternoon I do promotion, and then in the evening I go to a class.
Shyan: Anything new you're writing and if so can you give fans a sneak peek?
Kay: I am working on a new series called The Legends of the Lost Clan. It's a series about a clan and they committed some wrong against the Thunder God. And in order to right this wrong, they must help people -- particularly an enemy.
Shyan: What advice would you give to inspiring writers?
Kay: To never ever stop. I would tell writers to surround themselves with people who are kind, people who believe in them and people who do not criticize them or their creativity. I'm beginning to see as far as criticism goes, there's no such thing as good criticism.
Shyan: Is there anything fans might be surprised to learn about you?
Kay: They might be surprised I'm taking singing lessons and that I dance at pow-wows. I'm a fancy dancer. Also that I want to write a romance musical. Perhaps also that I have six cats and that I used to live in Vermont.
Shyan: Any final words you would like to add?
Kay: I would say, again I can't emphasize enough, stay true to yourself and your ambitions and don't allow others to alloy your view of what you want and need to accomplish in your life.
Shyan Marie would like to thank our author Karen Kay for taking time away from her very busy schedule and granting this interview.
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