We're super excited to have Karen Barnett here with us today, celebrating the release of her latest novel and a shared love of National Parks!!
blog! Can you tell us about your latest release and what inspired you to write the story?
The Road to Paradise is the first of my Vintage National Parks series, and it’s set in one of my favorite places in the world—Mount Rainier National Park. I grew up in Washington, so I fell in love with the mountain at an early age. I even had the joy of working there as a park ranger for two years. I can’t imagine a more romantic and exciting place to set a story.
An ideal sanctuary and a dream come true–that’s what Margaret Lane feels as she takes in God’s gorgeous handiwork in Mount Rainer National Park. It’s 1927 and the National Park Service is in its youth when Margie, an avid naturalist, lands a coveted position alongside the park rangers living and working in the unrivaled splendor of Mount Rainier’s long shadow.
But Chief Ranger Ford Brayden knows too well how awe-inspiring nature can quickly turn deadly. Ford is still haunted by his father’s death on the mountain, and the ranger takes his work managing the park and its growing crowd of visitors seriously. The job of watching over an idealistic Senator’s daughter with few practical survival skills seems a waste of resources.
When Margie’s former fiancé sets his mind on developing the Paradise Inn and its surroundings into a tourist playground, the plans might put more than the park’s pristine beauty in danger. What will Margie and Ford sacrifice to preserve the splendor and simplicity of the wilderness they both love?
Tell us about the setting of the story and why you chose that particular spot/area/region:
Obviously the setting is critical in this new series. The more I talk to people about the parks, the more I realize what a huge responsibility I’ve taken on. Readers have strong emotions connected with these places, and I hope it will help them to connect deeply with the stories.
I chose to begin the series with Mount Rainier because that’s where I first became fascinated with the National Parks system and the people who work to protect them. In many ways, that mountain is where my heart lives. For another reader, Glacier or Grand Canyon might elicit a similar sense of devotion. It’s this shared passion for these majestic places I want to represent in each of these stories, and hopefully each book will take you on a little armchair adventure. The next two books in the series will feature Yosemite and Yellowstone, two more parks with rich histories.
What is the primary spiritual theme of your book, and if that’s not applicable, what do you hope readers take away from reading your novel?
My deepest hope for this series is that readers come away with a deeper appreciation for God’s incredible handiwork. Our world is beautiful, complex, and infinitely wild—a reflection of the Creator, himself. I firmly believe that studying nature will give you a deeper appreciation for God’s unlimited power and majesty.
How did you determine what names to give your characters?
All of my previous heroes have been white-collar types, so when I decided to write a park ranger character who had been raised in the mountains, I wanted a name with a rural flavor. The image that jumped to my mind was that of a sturdy Ford pickup truck. Ford seemed like an unusual name for the 1920s, but just outside the main entrance to Mount Rainier is a small community named Ashford. I could picture his parents naming their son “Ashford” after the homesteading family who settled the area, but shortening it to “Ford” for convenience sake. So Ford Brayden was born.
The name Margaret has always been a favorite of mine and was a popular choice for the time period. It has a touch of royalty about it, yet it can be shortened in many fun ways. Since she comes from a political family, I imagined her upper-crust mother drawing out the syllables as she spoke, “Mahr-gahr-et.” But the character is much more down to earth, so she prefers to be called Margie. That minor change also made her more approachable and helps her ease into Ford’s world.
Which sub-character is your favorite and why?
I have many favorites, and to be honest—not all of them are people. But I’ll let you wonder about that. One of the most fun characters to write was Ranger Carson. I wanted to add some splashes of 1920s lingo into the story, but because of Margie’s upbringing and Ford’s position, slang seemed inappropriate for their dialogue. That left plenty of great lines for a more outspoken secondary character. Carson could refer to Margie as a “tomato,” a “gal with nice gams,” or “a bird out to nick their jobs,” and it all seemed perfectly natural in his voice.
Moving on from your story, tell us a little about yourself. We’ll help! What literary character is most like you and why?
I was just talking to some friends about this the other day. I’ve always wanted to be someone like Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet, or Anne Shirley—a natural leader, beautiful, impulsive, and endlessly clever. In reality though, I’m much mor
e like their counterparts, Meg, Jane, and Diana. I’m mild-tempered, gentle, and steady, but living in constant admiration and envy of the extroverts in my life. Maybe I’m just cut out to be a literary sidekick.
What hobby do you enjoy in your “free” time (‘cause we know you have tons of free time!)
I find music to be the ultimate stress-reliever. I’m fairly decent at the guitar, and I also like to play around with the Irish tin whistle, hammered dulcimer, and mandolin. I used to lead worship on occasion, but now I primarily play for the pets. They’re a captive audience.
Tell us about your pets (if you have some)!
I’m a complete and utter softie when it comes to animals. We have one elderly tabby cat and three mischievous dachshunds. I had never thought of myself as a dog person until we decided to foster a friend’s puppy. We’re what the rescue folks call a “failed foster” because we never gave her back. Eventually we decided she needed a dog buddy, so I started stalking the humane society websites looking for the perfect companion. We found two adorable dachshund brothers and didn’t have the heart to split them up, so now we have a pack. It’s a little insane at walk time, but still a lot of fun. Don’t tell anyone, but lately I’ve been looking at kitten websites. Do you think five pets would be too many?
We talk a lot about faith and how it weaves throughout our fiction, here at the blog. How has your faith affected/or not affected your writing?
I thought writing Christian fiction would be a subtle way to share my faith, but what I didn’t realize was God planned to use writing to re-shape my faith. Each spiritual thread in one of my books has been an active case of me wrestling with Him over something. Just like sitting down with a human counselor and talking things through, I feel like Jesus lets me spill out my fears and doubts in writing. Then in His wisdom and timing, He gently guides me to a better understanding of the issue. If that helps others along the way, all the glory has to go to Him!
Because Jaime has some darker elements to her split-time historical and contemporary romantic suspense coming out this year, she likes to ask weird questions. So, if you were to find yourself stranded in a creepy old house at night, who would you want with you to keep you company?
It might sound like too easy of an answer, but I’d have to say my husband. The thing I admire most about him is his generous self-sacrificing spirit. He’s always quick to put others’ needs—mine included—before his own. So in a creepy-old-house type of situation, I’d definitely want him by my side.
Anne, Erica, and Gabrielle both write sweet historical romances. How does romance influence your own writing?
I like stories that wrestle with deep emotions and struggles, but always with an element of romance. Romance is like the cream and sugar in your coffee—it sweetens the bitter moments. As a reader, I’ve found I can walk beside a character as they endure great suffering if I’m confident that they’ll find love and redemption in the end. That’s one of the reasons I love Christian romance.
And for some extra fun . . .
If you could pick one superhero to save you from impending doom, who would it be and why?
Oh, man. Ummmm… Back during the whole Team Ironman vs. Team Cap business, I had to admit to the world that I find Ironman much more entertaining to watch, but in real life, I’d rather have Captain America on my side because of his strong moral code. The rest of them I’m pretty ambivalent about. I’d probably prefer to have the Doctor show up with his TARDIS.
If you could guest star in one TV show, what would be and what would your ideal role be?
As I hinted on the last question, I’m a big Doctor Who fan so that’s probably what I would choose. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of time travel. It would be fun to dress up in the full Victorian garb before getting killed off by some scary alien monster or swept away into another dimension.
Name one significant heirloom or keepsake you have and why it’s important to you:
I tend to be sentimental, so I have plenty of things that I’ve hung onto. I still have the first gift my husband ever gave me when we were dating—a pink mouse he won from one of those claw machines. I also treasure my wedding ring, not just because of what it stands for, but because it was an heirloom passed down from his family. It’s 1920s-era art deco style ring, so it’s quite unique.
We’d love you have you share a snippet from your novel to entice us and hook us! J Please share something below:
This snippet comes from the beginning of the second chapter where Chief Ranger Ford Brayden is reluctantly escorting the overly-enthusiastic Margie Lane to her new employee quarters:
Ford hoisted the lady’s trunk from the rear bumper of the superintendent’s vehicle. The weight caught him off guard; the box slid from his grip and dropped into the dirt. Muck splattered across his boots. “What have you got in this thing? Granite?”
Miss Lane blinked at him with deep brown eyes. With the hat framing her pale face, the woman resembled a cornered barn owl. “I wasn’t sure what I would need, so I erred on the side of caution. Likely as not, I overpacked. I usually do, I’m afraid.”
He reached around the box with both arms, grasping the leather handles before heaving it to his shoulder, smearing his uniform with mud. “I didn’t know dresses weighed so much.”
The woman laughed, her lips forming an impish smile. “Not dresses. Books. I brought Forests of Mount Rainier National Park, The Glacier Playfields of the Mount Rainier National Park, Features of the Flora of—”
“I see. Well, there’s only so much you can learn from books.” Ford turned and plodded down the path. She may be well read, but he guessed she couldn’t tell the difference between a raccoon and a spotted skunk. Might be fun to find out.
She caught up a moment later, her short legs matching his stride. “That’s why I was so eager to come and study with you.”
“Study…with me? I’m no teacher.”
“Not with you, exactly. But someone like you. One who speaks the language of creation—who can hear the whispers of the waterfalls, see the secrets hidden in the soulful eyes of the black bear…” she lifted her hand to gesture to the surrounding forest. “To sit at the feet of a master.”
What kind of fairy world had Margaret Lane dropped out of? He looked her up and down. Clearly, she’d never been in close quarters with a bear. Ford turned away, the weight of the box crushing against his shoulder.
Ford’s mother had passed when he was just a boy, and he’d spent precious little time with women since. He vaguely remembered her bedtime stories of forest sprites, but this was the first time he’d met anyone meeting their description.
The woman’s skirt swished as she trotted at his side. “I’m determined not to waste a minute of this opportunity. I shall soak in the timeless wisdom of the forest primeval.” She beamed. “And I shall endeavor to live up to your expectations, just like any other ranger.”
Ford halted a few feet from the cabin door. “You are not a ranger. Is that what Harry told you?” The twinge in his spine grew talons.
She took a step back. “Not in so many words. But Superintendent Brown said I’d be working for you, so I assumed—”
“You assumed wrong. A person—a man—has to earn the right to that title. We don’t just hand out…” Ford caught himself, Harry’s warnings still ringing in his ears. “You’re not a ranger. Just a—a naturalist. And here on trial, at that.” Ford tromped up the cabin steps and dropped the box at the door. The sharp sound echoed through the stillness.
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