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Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Karen Marcam!

Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Karen Miller, who writes as Karen Marcam, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance with her book SAVING COLUMBINE RANCH.

Image_Karen_MillerKaren lives in southern Wisconsin, where she can be found watching way too much HGTV when she isn’t reading or working on a story. She is married with one son who is married himself now. Her empty nest will get a little fuller in the future when he and his wife come for visits, because they are expecting her first grandchild in September.

Karen is a business analyst for her day job, which means she spends a lot of time asking lots of questions and helping people solve problems in their organizations. Being so analytical can be helpful when she is plotting a story, but can be a royal pain when it makes her want to identify every background detail – down to the wallpaper on the walls – in a scene before she writes it.

Karen’s previous role was as a trainer who spent weeks at a time traveling around the country. This is when she finally obeyed the voice in her head urging her to write. That first story she worked on in hotel rooms at night is now her GH finalist. So she is very glad she listened to the voice.

Here’s a blurb for Saving Columbine Ranch:

Widowed mother of four Susan Connolly never imagined she would be raising her family alone on the ranch she and her husband established shortly before he died. If enduring alone after his death is the steep price she must pay to keep her home, then she’ll make sure it’s worth the cost. Cade Anderson has kept to himself all the years since his pregnant wife died and won’t admit why he feels the urge to help Susan now. He calls it saving her from her own foolishness. She calls it one more debt she owes.

But she’s not done paying. When the story starts, a powerful neighbor’s disturbing comments reveal an escalating desire to take her and her land by any means. Even that is a drop in her bucket of troubles when she learns a mountain-sized loan her husband took out could cost her the ranch. With so much at stake, she can’t afford the temptation Cade proposes. His hovering protection would smother her spark of independence like a wet quilt thrown over glowing embers. Besides, it’s a sure bet their smoldering attraction will not survive once he learns how she plans to save Columbine Ranch.

I love her independence, and the quiet protectiveness you’re suggesting in him!! I so miss a good heartland American historical romance (for a couple years now, I’ve heard Westerns are returning!), and I see this Golden Heart nomination as a terrific sign!!

Image of READ keyring giveawayC’mon, everybody—join Karen and I in the local saloon (don’t worry—I’ve sent ranch-hands out to take care of all your chores), and we’ll set a spell and learn more about Karen and her writing journey.

One lucky commenter today will win this sweet READ keyring!!

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So, tell us a little about your Golden Heart finaling book and the process of writing it.

It was a long process. This was the first story I ever wrote, so you can imagine how many revisions it went through. I got the idea for this story many years ago, and let it rattle around in my head for a few years before I started writing it down. My idea for the story started with a mental picture of the first time the hero came to the heroine’s cabin, and continued from there, with additional scenes added over time. By the time I started putting it all down on paper, much of the story already existed in my head. But then I had a LOT to learn about how to get it from my head into words that other people wanted to read. For example, the first version had some serious POV issues. And I had to learn that even if I could clearly “see” a scene in my mind, no one else would unless I clearly described it with my words. Each time I went to a workshop or conference and learned a bit more about writing, I applied the lessons I learned to this story. Since it is my first, and I have spent so much time with it, I am very glad to have finaled in the Golden Heart with this particular story.

What was it like when you got the phone call telling you you were a finalist? And what have you liked best so far about being a Golden Heart nominee?

Oh my word, my “getting the call” story is so embarrassing, I almost don’t want to tell it! On THAT Friday, my husband and I were driving from Wisconsin to Ohio to spend Easter with our son and his wife. Well, my husband was driving and I was reading one of the Courtney Milan books I loaded on my Kindle before we left. It never crossed my mind the GH finalists were being announced that day.

We had a wonderful time with our son and daughter-in-law and after we returned I sat down to read the emails I didn’t check all weekend. One of the first emails I saw was one Courtney Milan sent me on Friday, asking for a way to contact me.

Here’s where it gets embarrassing. My only thought was “Wow, how did Courtney know I was reading one of her stories on Friday? She is really amazing – she must be psychic!” I couldn’t imagine why else she was emailing me. It wasn’t until I saw her next email, where she shared the great news, that it all made sense. (The missed phone calls from someone trying to reach us on Friday made a bit more sense then, too. LOL) I think all the other finalists were done celebrating and were buying their dresses for the gala before I figured out I was a finalist! But be assured, I will pay much more attention next time to when the finalists are announced!

The best thing about being a finalist is the huge boost of affirmation it gave me. After I read Courtney’s email, I started to smile and I haven’t stopped since. I know now that I am truly on my way to being a published author someday.

Oh!! I’m literally clutching my heart him imagining the fabulous Courtney Milan trying to contact you while you’re actually reading one of her books!!! (I hope you get to actually talk to her in person in San Diego!!) Squeeee!! You say your Golden Heart nominated manuscript was the first you ever wrote. How long have you been writing? Have you finished other books in addition to this one?

I have been writing for about ten years now, not including a few years that I didn’t write much because a hugely complex project for my day job sucked all spare creativity and energy out of me. All of my stories are romances, because I am a firm believer in reading stories with happy endings. I have a lot of ideas – both historical and contemporary – for stories, and it took me a while to decide where to focus. I have two completed stories and a partial which are all historicals in a series I am calling Colorado Wildflowers. Another completed story and a first draft are time travels in a second series. My remaining story is a contemporary. As I was finishing its first draft, I realized my heart is really with historical stories, at least for now. But I fully expect to go back to my contemporary and romantic suspense ideas some day in the future. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there with more story ideas than time to write them all!

That’s an impressive number for a first-time Golden Heart nominee!! (And, yes, the writing folders on my hard drive are like a rabbit warren….SO many partial stories all clamoring for attention! Some day, some day!!) What’s your writing process like?

I’m still working on my writing process, trying to figure out what works best for me. I don’t have a regular schedule yet – I wish I did. I do know I am a definite plotter, and have finally decided to embrace it. I need to have pages of outline and notes for the entire story before I start. Otherwise, each time I finish a scene, I freeze up and can’t write until I know exactly what happens in the next scene. I also incorporate story beats and the “W” plotting structure into my story planning.

Because I do so much plotting up front, my first drafts are pretty complete. I go back and add a few more scenes and some layers of emotion or description, but the most painful part of my revision process is catching the passive words or filler words. One of the best ways I have found to revise is a tip I learned at a Donald Maass workshop in Chicago last year. I print out my entire manuscript and then pull out one random page at a time to read. (He suggested throwing all of the pages up in the air, but I don’t take it quite that far.) Looking at the pages out of order forces me to pay closer attention to only what is on the page in front of me. Otherwise, if I start reading from the beginning, I find myself doing more reading and less revising as I go. And I miss too many of those pesky extra words which must be eliminated.

That’s a brilliant idea! Do you do it all solo, or do you have a CP or beta readers or writing critique group to back you up? If so, how do you work together?

I don’t have a set critique group anymore, but I have something just as good – the Wednesday Night B&N Crew. We are a group of writers who get together every Wednesday evening at a Barnes & Noble location to write for two hours. Now granted, there is sometimes as much socializing as writing going on, but we still get together nearly every week. If one of us has a particularly tough schedule, this might be the only writing we get done in a given week, but it helps tremendously to keep us all going with our respective stories. And best of all, it is a built-in group of people who are always available to help brainstorm, critique a synopsis – whatever someone needs. Since this group has been a great support and motivator for me, I want to take this time to thank each one of them for everything they have done to help me get to this point with my writing.

I love the idea of a regular Wednesday night gig! So when you hand out with the B & N Crew these days, what are you working on? A new Work-In-Progress?

I’d be happy to talk about my new WIP! My next story takes place in Georgian England during the Seven Years’ War. (Also known as the French & Indian War for those of us in the colonies.) The heroine was whipped by her drunken guardian after she refused to marry his friend, and is seeking sanctuary with a great-uncle she never met. The hero lives in bitter near-seclusion on the estate next to her great-uncle after being wounded during a poorly-planned battle which resulted in death for hundreds of his comrades. (This was a real battle, by the way.) Both consider themselves too “damaged” to live a normal life now. They meet saving a Mastiff dog which is about to be destroyed merely because a dog with eyes of two different colors is too “damaged” for other people to want. Over time, they both come to realize they are still good, worthy people in spite of the horrible things other people did to them.

This story has been in the back of my mind for quite a while, and I am excited to be finally writing it. I have several pages of outline/notes which I will flesh out a bit more. But right now, I am enjoying the excuse to wallow in research about the gorgeous dresses from the time period, and the beautiful houses, and the carriages, and… (you get the idea!)

Oh, that story idea hits me right in the feels!!! I love damaged heroes—and a damaged heroine and dog who needs saving, too!!!!! I would be weeping all over the manuscript pages. Wallow away in that research….that’s a sweet place to be! And it’s clear you imagination is fertile ground, indeed. From where you are right now, what’s the best tip you can give other writers?

I think the best advice I can give other writers – is simply to keep writing. I remember going to a conference years ago, where Jodi Thomas was the keynote speaker. She talked about the number of people who say they want to write a book one day, and of those the small number who ever start the book. And of the ones of start a book, the very few who finish it. This means we are all in a very select group.

Her words often inspired me over the years, whenever I got discouraged by the amount of time I was investing in my writing. It helps to remember that in this business, perseverance counts as much as anything else we can do to succeed. So that’s it, really. Keep writing. One day, it will all pay off.

Amen to that!! Thanks so much for being here with us today, Karen! Before you go, what question would you like to ask our readers to get the conversation going today?

I was talking to a non-writing friend the other day about researching and writing historical stories. He asked if I ever find myself still “stuck” in my story world when I am living my daily life. So that is my question for other writers:

When you are world building for your story (regardless of the genre) – do you ever find yourself mentally staying in your story world when you are not writing? Has anything amusing occurred because of it?

 

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Karen writes under the pen name Karen Marcam and can be found at www.KarenMarcam.com. She also pops up occasionally on Twitter (@Karen_Marcam) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/KarenMarcam)

36 responses to “Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Karen Marcam!”

  1. Hi Karen! Well, I definitely world build with my stories, especially my paranormal romances, but I can’t say I stay in them. Which really would be so much fun!!

    I’m a plotter, too, and I’ve heard about the ‘W’ method but I can’t really remember what it’s all about. Are the points of the ‘W’ turning points? And the lines, the three act structure (with act Two broken into two parts?)?

    Looking forward to meeting you in San Diego!

    2+
    • Karen says:

      Alyson,
      You are exactly right with your description of a W plot. I like having the visual of the ups and downs at the various stages of a story, so I even have a diagram in the shape of a “W” with the major turning points of a story noted on it. That helps me to see how the story I am working on fits into the structure.

      See you in San Diego!
      – Karen

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  2. Elizabeth King says:

    Hi Karen
    I world build with my stories too – Regency England primarily. Much as it would be lovely to stay in my story world even when I’m not writing, it hasn’t happened to me yet. It could be interesting/embarrassing (?) if some of my Regency historical turned up in my tax law books!!
    Looking forward to meeting you in San Diego!

    1+
    • Karen says:

      Elizabeth,
      Wouldn’t it be fun if you could lose yourself in a Regency setting? But on the flip side, I can only image what some of your characters would say about our tax laws if they did turn up in one of your law books!

      – Karen

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  3. Jen Gilroy says:

    Congrats on your final, Karen. I love western historicals and your story sounds like a wonderful read.

    I write small town contemporary romance and live in a small town so there’s sometimes a fine line between my real and fictional worlds! Especially when I’m writing a first draft, a part of me stays in my fictional world even when I’m not actually writing. So far, that hasn’t led to any amusing moments…just distraction!

    1+
    • Karen says:

      Oh, I love small town contemporaries! But I would guess there is a real risk of blurring the lines between the real world and your story world. On the other hand, just walking down the street must give you fodder for a story sometimes! LOL

      – Karen

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  4. Diane Holiday says:

    Karen,
    Congrats on your final and the upcoming grandbaby! Fun times ahead. I constantly live in my books. It’s ridiculous. I drive around talking to myself and so many times when I try to watch a TV show with my husband we have to rewind or he has to fill me in because I say, “Sorry, I was thinking about the book, what happened?” Yeah, that might annoy him. LOL. Good luck and a wave out to my fellow mermaid.
    Diane

    1+
    • Karen says:

      Thanks, Diane! This has been an amazing summer already!
      I can relate to the TV thing. It’s a good thing my husband has the patience of a saint, and puts up with my frequent bouts of total inattention.

      – Karen

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I’m like you, Diane–constantly thinking and talking to myself about my stories.

      Without realizing it, I can be silently acting out dialogue….my kids catch my face in the rear-view mirror while I’m driving sometimes and say, “Mom? Are you okay? You look really upset.” I have to tell them I’m fine–but my characters are in some trouble.

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  5. McCall Hoyle says:

    Karen and Elisa love the post and love the Rubies for all the Mermaid love. <3

    Karen I haven't recently lost myself in one of my own settings. But I finished a book recently that I'd been meaning to read for years–THE SWEETEST THING by Elizabeth Musser. Anyway, the day after I finished it, I seriously thought to myself, "I wonder what Perri and Mary Dobbs are up to today?" And I kind of laughed at myself when I had to remind myself, McCall, they're characters in a book. My dream is to write something like that–that will affect others and linger with them even after they put it down.

    Can't wait to meet you in person!

    Mermaids forever!

    McCall

    1+
    • Karen says:

      Oh, I know what you mean. The characters of a well-written story can stay with your for days, can’t they? I have the same dream you do — to write a story people can’t stop thinking about. Or even to be compared favorably to authors who write the stories I can’t stop thinking about.
      For now, I’ll dream of meeting you and so many other people in San Diego!
      – Karen

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  6. Ilona Fridl says:

    Karen, my friend, I’m so excited for you! Great interview and your book sounds fantastic! I really miss seeing all of you every month. Good luck in GH!

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    • Karen says:

      Thanks, Ilona! I am in great company here on the blog and with the other 2016 GH finalists! I’ll carry thoughts of my WisRWA friends with me to San Diego.

      – Karen

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  7. Tracy Brody says:

    Karen,
    We sound alike in a lot of ways. I totally get the special love that comes from having your first story (which has been worked on and rewritten for years as you learn more after writing craft like POV) final in the Golden Heart. Look forward to meeting you in San Diego.

    As for your question, I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten stuck in my story world, but I still smile at memories of my sons’s friends asking me questions about weapons used by soldiers because I could tell them or when one of the soldiers that I supported commenting along the lines of forgetting that I wasn’t a part of their unit while they were deployed to Iraq. No, I was safe in the air conditioning in NC baking them cookies and not worrying about coming under mortar fire.

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    • Karen says:

      Tracy,
      We are more alike than you realize. I also have sent care packages to the troops overseas. A young Marine I met that way gave me the military perspective for a story while he was stationed in Afghanistan. He is like a second son to me now, which is a bonus I never anticipated.
      – Karen

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      • Tracy Brody says:

        I try not to let them think of me as their mom, but I have a lot of ornery younger brothers and some sisters. 😉 Been blessed to meet a few dozen of the troops I’ve supported. Even meeting up with one on Monday in San Diego prior to the conference. It’s definitely been a perk having connections to get info – even if I haven’t scored a ride in a Black Hawk helicopter – yet. Though my agent did comment that it was obvious I’d flown in a helicopter several times when she read my first manuscript. I laughed and knew my guys had come through for me.

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        • Karen says:

          Tracy,
          You have been blessed, indeed. Nearly as much as all of your “brothers and sisters” have been blessed to have you in their corner. I hope your meet-up in San Diego is everything you could wish it to be.
          – Karen

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  8. Yay for Plotters!!! (I am an unabashed plotter, myself, so I totally “get” you.)

    I write in Regency and Early Victorian settings, but adore stories that are *outside* of the London social scene. It’s the English countryside that speaks to me best, and I spend a great deal of time watching videos of farming practices, travel diaries, and garden plans. I can’t say I get lost in that period, but I definitely get lost in the research.

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    • And I can’t wait to meet you at Conference, fellow Mermaid!

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    • Karen says:

      Eileen,
      It sounds as though you have some great research materials — I’m a little envious! LOL And I know exactly what you mean about getting lost in the research. I don’t know how many times I spent way too long learning about something, not because I thought it would be useful for my story, but simply because I was having too much fun to quit. But I am sure it will all be useful some day, right?

      I’ll look for you in San Diego — Go Mermaids!
      – Karen

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  9. Seana Kelly says:

    Wonderful Interview, Karen! I love the Courtney Milan story 🙂
    Yes, when writing I often find myself daydreaming about the characters and setting when I’m supposed to be doing something more productive. I also sometimes slip into the speech patterns of my main characters.
    See you in San Diego!

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    • Karen says:

      Seana,
      I’m glad you liked the story. I must admit, it is a lot funnier now than it was at the time!
      – Karen

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  10. Sandy Goldsworthy says:

    Congratulations, Karen! Sounds like a great read. 🙂

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  11. Nicole Hohmann says:

    Hi Karen,
    Your historical and your GH manuscript sound great. One reason I write is I love to be immersed in a story/place so yes, I do have my stories floating around in my head during the day. I like to keep a channel open so that I can catch the ideas when they want to jump out at random times. Good luck in San Diego and I look forward to meeting you!

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    • Karen says:

      Nicole,
      I know what you mean about catching ideas at random times. Mine usually jump out at the worst possible time– when I am no where near anything I can use to jot it down. I swear, one of these days, I’m putting markers in my shower for when it happens!
      – Karen

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  12. Betsy Norman says:

    Yay Karen! All of WisRWA and the B&N Crew are rooting for you! What an exciting time – cherish it and let it nourish your writing career! We believe in you- believe in yourself!

    1+
  13. Hi Karen,
    I love your “call” story. That was me last year – totally didn’t realize it was THE day, until I got the call. 🙂

    Congrats and I look forward to meeting you in San Diego.

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    • Karen says:

      Tosha,
      Maybe we should start a club for GH finalists who don’t keep track of the day? (Or, maybe not…)
      – Karen

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  14. Great interview!

    I was stomping around the kitchen the other day and my husband asked what I was so mad about. I gave him a blank look and said I’m not. It wasn’t until I went back to the computer to finish writing my scene that I realized my H/h were in the middle of a heated argument. Oops. 🙂

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  15. Hi Karen,

    Congratulations! I am so happy about your GH final. I am keeping my fingers crossed for a win.

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  16. Your call story made me laugh out loud!!! I love it! Congrats on the GH nod, Karen! Your story sounds great!

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  17. Karen, that story is hysterical about reading Courtney and thinking she was calling you about that. It sounds like something I would have done, too. Your book sounds terrific, I can’t wait to read it. Hugs!

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