Behind the Words with Karen Barnett Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

If Margie hadn’t wanted a career as a naturalist, would she have been a writer, or is journaling part of what naturalists do? In the 1920s (and before), women who were interested in botany were often encouraged to approach it by drawing, writing and painting rather than pursuing the actual science. So I could imagine her parents condoning that aspect of her study. She might have gone on to become a writer I suppose, or possibly gone into politics like her father. Though she hated the high society world, her passion and beliefs ran deep in her personality. If it hadn’t been the park service, I could see her taking up another cause and running with it.

Chief Ranger Ford Brayden is described as a blond-hair, blue-eyed Adonis. Before I read the description, I pictured him as a dark-haired, brown-eyed Adonis. Why blond and blue and not dark and brown? It’s funny you say that, because I’ve always pictured him as dark-haired as well. The reason I went with blond hair was to distance him from some of my previous heroes, many of whom were dark-haired. My book just prior to this one, Through the Shadows, actually had a dark-haired, brown-eyed man on the cover. My publisher chose the image, and I loved the cover. So when I wrote Ford, I thought I should describe him differently. My next hero has brown hair again. It’s funny how that works.

One of the conflicts in the story is about developing the park for more visitors. Please tell me that it is still rather primitive but has things like heat and indoor plumbing. I’m sure air condition isn’t needed, is it? I think they’ve struck a nice balance. Yes, they have electricity, heat and running water. There are still some rooms in the Paradise Inn and Longmire’s National Park Inn that don’t have bathrooms, but others do. There has been a general shift in what visitors are looking for in a National Park experience, and much less demand for entertainment. So Philip’s grand ideas about dance halls, dude ranches and golf courses would be less welcomed today.

Today, the struggle is how to accommodate increased visitation. Do they build more roads and parking areas? Close the gates when the parking areas fill? Require visitors to use shuttles instead of driving their own vehicles? I’m not sure these issues will ever be satisfactorily resolved.

And I discovered the hard way that even now, there is no cell service in much of the park. With every generation, there are more questions!

What was your favorite scene to write? That’s hard to say, but I think it’s probably Margie’s first night in her Longmire cabin where she discovers the typical “nightlife” of park housing. Suddenly all of her dreams of a perfect nature experience are interrupted by reality. I still remember listening to mice running around in the darkness and thinking, “This is NOT what I signed up for.” The early clashes between Margie and Ford were a lot of fun to imagine.

All four of your previous novels are historical fiction? How did you become interested in this genre? I grew up reading a lot of historical novels. It’s a genre that I love because I constantly imagine what it would be like to live in different time periods. To me, it adds another level of interest to a good story, and it’s my way of experiencing time travel.

There are three books in the Golden Gate Chronicles. Have you given up on that series, or will there be more in the future? The series was contracted as three books, so I never really had plans on going beyond that. A friend did suggest I incorporate the child of one of those characters into my new series, and I’ve been considering that possibility.

In addition to being historical fiction in genre, “The Road to Paradise” is also Christian fiction. I love the play on Paradise: a place, the romance and love Margie and Ford find, as well as the word to describe the park’s beauty. Is that coincidental or did you have to work at getting there? Actually, the title came pretty easily to me. It’s a familiar road for people who spend a lot of time in the park, and I thought it represented Margie’s journey toward her dreams as well as the spiritual aspect of the novel. But to be perfectly honest, I put the title on the manuscript as a placeholder, fully expecting the publisher to change it. This is the first time (after four other novels) that a title I’ve suggested has actually been chosen. Readers might not be aware of this, but authors don’t always have the final say in the title, cover design, or back cover copy. That’s the arena of the publisher since they understand book marketing far better than we do. We typically get input, but the final decisions lay with the publisher. So I didn’t spend much time worrying about the title because I was fairly confident it would be changed. I was actually quite shocked when they decided to keep it. I think it does work well, though—on multiple levels, as you said.

What made you give Margie such deep faith? I don’t remember her ever doubting for even a second. Did she and I don’t remember? (‘cause  her faith really touched me) I don’t think she actually doubted, but I’d say her faith matured over the course of the novel. She started out with a very childlike, almost naïve, faith. Facing up to Ford’s questioning made her think through some things that she believed. She also had to reconcile the fact that some of her spiritual role models, including her much-adored father—had deep flaws. That’s an area where my faith has stumbled from time to time—seeing Christians I admire who then fall prey to human weakness. I know we’re all human, and we’re all sinful, but actually seeing it play out in front of you is sometimes difficult to accept.

With the recent 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, I half-expected Teddy Roosevelt to be mentioned, although he died in 1919. I always equate the National Parks with him. Can you give us a brief overview of his role in preserving America’s wild beauty? That was my one regret with the time period I chose for the novel. I would have loved to feature some of our conservation heroes like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. I did have Margie quote both of them, as well as other greats like Thoreau and Emerson.

Teddy Roosevelt’s emphasis on both conservation and preservation (slightly different concepts) shaped our view of public lands and can still be seen today. He established many new national parks and monuments and encouraged Americans to protect and preserve our national treasures for future generations.

How was writing this book different than your other four novels? In a way, writing this book felt like going home. I know and love this setting so much that presenting it to readers was sheer joy. There were a few points where I had to dial back description so it didn’t bog down the story. There were other segments where my editor asked me to add description because the scene was so familiar to me it didn’t dawn on me to describe it.

The Golden Gate Chronicles series took a lot more work for me to feel immersed in the setting because I’m less familiar with San Francisco. Even though I’ve been there many times, the area still surprises me. I have a close friend who lives in San Francisco read through my manuscripts just to make sure I had everything right.

 Which book was easier to write? I’d say The Road to Paradise was easier because of the reasons I already mentioned. But it was also frightening because I wasn’t sure if readers would have the same passion for the material that I did. I basically took my heart and splayed it across the page in a few places. If readers weren’t pulled into the story, I feared my writing might come off as silly and sentimental. So far that hasn’t been the case, and that’s gotten me excited about the next couple of books in the series.

How long did it take you to complete this novel and how many drafts did you write? I actually started the book several years ago, after writing Mistaken and Out of the Ruins. But when I received the contract for the Golden Gate books, I put The Road to Paradise on a back burner. It was a joy to pick it back up and realize I was just as excited about the story as ever. I was even more thrilled when WaterBrook & Multnomah signed the series. If you don’t count that gap in the middle, it probably took me about a year to do the research, writing, and editing for the novel.

Margie always has some books with her about flora and fauna. Can you give us a list of those books? (I started writing them down but got entranced with the story and lost track, sorry.) Oh, boy. There were so many. I had a list at one point, but I can’t seem to track it down right now. I know when she first arrived at the park, she mentioned these titles:

Forests of Mount Rainier National Park, G.F. Allen, 1916

The Glacier Playfields of the Mount Rainier National Park, Joseph Taylor Hazard, 1920

Features of the Flora of Mount Rainier National Park, John B. Flett, 1916.

Our Greatest Mountain, F.W. Schmoe, 1925

Wildflowers of the West, Edith S. Clements, 1927

There may have been others, but I can’t remember. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a list of references, they were just guides that would have been available to Margie at the time.

 I’m very excited for your next novel!  Can you tell me anything about it?  If not, can you at least tell me which National Park will be the setting?  I’d love to! The next novel, Where the Fire Falls, is set in 1929 Yosemite National Park, and it releases on June 5, 2018. I’m excited to write about this beautiful park. Olivia Rutherford has blasted onto the California art scene with her avant-garde watercolor paintings, drawing the attention of the country’s nouveau rich while successfully disguising her family’s dark history. When she lands a lucrative contract painting illustrations of Yosemite National Park for a travel magazine, she hopes the money will lift Olivia and her sisters out of poverty. Clark Johnson is a former minister who lost his job due to false accusations, but found new purpose guiding tourists at Yosemite. Crossing paths with the mysterious artist soon has him questioning everything he believes. But Yosemite National Park—and its one-of-a-kind Firefall event—has a way of breaking through every masquerade.

“The Road to Paradise” is available as a book and an eBook.

Karen’s books in our collection:

The Road to Paradise


 Out of the Ruins

Beyond the Ashes

Through the Shadows

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