Feb 10 2010
The Dear Author Intro Interview: Kaki Warner, Author of Pieces of Sky
The hero hunts down his enemy, learns the truth, serves up revenge: not a bad final climax for the average novel. If it's Pieces of Sky you're reading, however, you're only midway through the pages, and Kaki Warner has lots more story to go. Pieces of Sky is a Western, a romance, a family saga-’plain Great Story, well told, with gripping characterization always at its heart. Join us in the comments for a chance to win a copy of Kaki's book.
A six-word memoir for your protagonist:
For Brady-’Bound by duty. Freed by love. For Jessica-’Ask me to stay. I will.
That first scene with Brady stranded in the wilderness is one of my favorite types of openings for a novel: one that’s gripping on its own, but grows in richness and significance after you’ve finished the book. When did you know you had the right lead?
Good question. I've taken some heat for that scene because of the horse, which I understand. Horses are magnificent animals and easy to love; I know, because I've raised them. But this scene wasn't about the horse. It was about survival.
Pieces of Sky isn't a "traditional" romance. The cover hints at that and the opening scene reinforces it. I wanted the reader to know from page one that this would be an uncompromising look at the hard choices that sometimes had to be made back then. So right off, I put the hero in a life-threatening situation, made him practical enough to see what needed to be done, physically able to do it, and humane enough to feel bad about it. That way, when other hard choices come up later in the book, the reader will be somewhat prepared. And hopefully, better able to understand and forgive.
Your favorite line or moment:
"Yet sometimes, after the ranch bedded down for the night and he was sitting on the porch in the still of the evening, with just the hound and the crickets and the "what-ifs' for company, thoughts of her would slide quietly across his mind like a gentle drift of smoke."
I liked that one because it shows Brady's loneliness. It's also the first time he starts thinking in terms of changing that, and he'll need Jessica to do it.
The scene in which Jessica faces Crawford is very satisfying. Tell us about writing it.
I had a lot of help from friends who have been in that situation. It made me angry hearing what they had gone through, and even angrier putting it down on paper. I wanted to be there beside Jessica, saying my piece. Or stomping down the steps with Brady. I wanted to get my hands dirty on Crawford's face.
But I'm not Jessica, and today isn't 1868, when women were told to suffer in silence. So I had to calm myself down and focus on her-’try to keep her reactions in line with the times, while giving her the strength to confront him in her own way so she could get her life back. But I still get mad all over again every time I read it.
The original "triggers" or inspiration points for Pieces of Sky:
A bad book and a lack of sunshine. We had just moved from the sunny Southwest to the rainy Northwest. To block the gloom and homesickness, I read voraciously. But after spending good money and five hours of my life on a truly awful book, I thought, hey, I can do better than this. So I sat down and wrote the first draft of what has become Pieces of Sky.
An unexpected research detour you made while writing the book:
There were several. When setting up the timeline for Pieces of Sky, I came across a reference to the "Great Epizootic", an epidemic of equine influenza that killed twenty-five percent of the nation's horses and brought the country to a standstill for several weeks. I decided that would be a great sub-plot, so I incorporated it into Book 3. Also, as I researched birth order and how it impacts behavior, I realized I couldn't tell Brady's story without giving equal time his brothers-which eventually led to Books 2 and 3.
As the “mother” of the Wilkins brothers, will you confess to having a favorite son?
I get asked that a lot. Like any "mother" I love them all. I admire Brady's arrogant self-assurance and unshakable self-confidence (even though he's often clueless, awkward, and downright wrong). I love Hank's brilliant mind, his wry humor and probing silences (and I especially like the way he interacts with his brothers). Jack, the youngest and the most high-spirited-’also impulsive, restless and desperate to escape the ranch-’makes me laugh. But my favorite? Sorry. I love them all the same. Only different.
Near the end of the book, there's a lengthy period of time that's covered in an elegant way over relatively few pages. Do you like writing this kind of narration? Is your approach different than when you write full scenes?
Very different. There's less urgency, less action, which enabled me to step back and take a breath. I think this section provides a much-needed change of pace for the characters, as well as the reader. It's also an echo of the first part of the book when Jessica is the bewildered stranger, the one out of step. These pages deal with the last, and hardest, choice to be made, and the decision has to be reached gradually-’not as a sudden epiphany, or an explosive emotional or physical reaction, but more as a slow awareness of what is really important and what has to be risked to attain it. It's also kinda funny.
Any sneak peeks for the rest of the trilogy? Jack's path seems clear at the end of Pieces of Sky (deceptively so, I'm betting), but I hope he gets to Australia somehow. And the excerpt for Open Country (Hank's story) is both unexpected and tantalizing.
In Open Country, (Book 2, out June 1st), Hank awakens after a train derailment to find he has a wife and two children of whom he has no recollection. Feeling betrayed by his own erratic memory and the brother he's always trusted, he learns that the only way he can regain his balance is to open his battered heart and wounded mind to possibilities he'd never dreamed.
Jack does travel to Australia, although the reader doesn't get to go with him. In Book 3, he returns after three years of wandering, hoping to finally win the woman he has loved all his life. Instead he finds the ranch in jeopardy, his older brother still treating him like a kid, and a surprise from his past that will complicate everything and change his life forever.
In many ways, this trilogy is more of a three-part family saga, because even though each book stands alone, the brothers weave in and out of each other's stories. In fact, I had a hard time shutting Brady up, probably because he still had a lot to learn. It'll be hard letting them go.
Length of time from page one, draft one to the "sold" call:
About twenty-five years. (You can close your mouth now). Not that I wrote on Pieces of Sky for the entire twenty-five years. I wrote other stuff during that time, did other jobs, raised kids, buried parents, lived life. But like a scrap of tune that sticks in your head, the story of Brady and Jessica wouldn't leave my mind. So about four years ago, I dug the manuscript out of storage and read it over again. It wasn't that bad. After sending it to several contests for feedback, I made suggested changes then shipped it out. Within just a few months I was safely tucked under the wing of a wonderful agent (Nancy Coffey), working with a great editor (Wendy McCurdy) and backed by a great publisher (Berkley). So, actual writing time? Four/five years. Chronological time? Too long.
Your paying job before and after publication:
I'm now retired, but during those twenty-five years I put on several hats, none of which fit-’high school teacher, commercial artist, surly secretary and various other unsuitable-for-me jobs. Now I only do what I want to do-’write, read, garden, supervise my husband, whatever. I'm the luckiest person you'll meet.
A published author who helped you along the way:
Every author I've ever read has helped me, enlightened me, intrigued me in some way. But my biggest debt is to the one who wrote that awful book twenty-five years ago, because he/she gave me the idea to try.
The moment you felt like a "real author":
Last month, when I held my first finished copy of Pieces of Sky in my hands. It felt really, really good. Just like a real book by a real author.
Your oddest or most reliable writing ritual/habit:
I fuss at my characters when they do something I know will get them in trouble (mostly Brady). Thank God none of them talk back. I also read every page aloud to check for redundant words, awkward transitions, and to keep dialogue tight. It confuses the dog but she seems to like the stories.
Writing advice you're glad you followed or ignored:
It's your story. Tell it in your voice. And while you're at it, take a course on comma usage.
Three things that feed your creativity:
Music, walking, staying away from cities. All three at the same time is a great day.
Your favorite book when you were 10:
White Fang by Jack London. I still love that book.
An author or book you recommend again and again:
You don't have enough space here.
The Blood Rose Trilogy continues in June with Open Country. You can find Kaki online at www.kakiwarner.com . Alyson H. interviews new authors for Dear Author; you can contact her at daintrointerview AT gmail.com.