Interview with Author Karen Barnett–New Book: Out of the Ruins

 While her sister lies on her deathbed, Abby Fischer prays for a miracle. What Abby doesn’t expect, however, is for God’s answer to come in the form of the handsome Dr. Robert King, whose experimental treatment is risky at best. 

As they work together toward a cure, Abby’s feelings for Robert become hopelessly entangled. Separated by the tragedy of the mighty San Francisco earthquake, their relationship suddenly takes a back seat to survival. With fires raging throughout the city, Abby fears for her life as she flees alone through burning streets. Where is God now?  

Will Robert find Abby, even as the world burns around them? Or has their love fallen with the ruins of the city?

Today I’m interviewing Karen for an inside look at her new story:  

This book is a different setting from your first novel.  Why did you choose San Francisco? How did you decide which facts to use considering all that has been written about the earthquake?

The idea for Out of the Ruins came to me while I was watching an American Experience documentary about the 1906 earthquake. They included taped interviews with actual survivors, all of whom were children during the time of the disaster. It was their first-hand descriptions that pulled me into the terror of the story. I remember thinking, “What would it feel like to wander through those streets and see the city in flames around you?”

I did careful research into the events surrounding the earthquake and the three days of fires that followed. Though I attempted to stay fairly close to the factual history of the disaster, it was the many personal stories, letters, and journal entries of the time period that tugged at my heart.  

Abby’s struggles are internal, external and eternal.  What was your goal writing that many layers into one protagonist?

My goal is always to make the characters come alive in the hearts of the readers. I find it difficult to connect with flat characters, so I certainly don’t want to write them. With so much happening outside of Abby and Robert’s control (earthquake, fires, evacuations), it was important to make them more than just victims of circumstance. Their inner conflict and growth needed to be every bit as critical in order to balance the chaos going on outside. I think that’s the challenge of writing a story based during a disaster—or any type of high-stakes external conflict—the character needs to be strong enough to carry the story. I hope Abby and Robert accomplish this.

The love story weaves its thread throughout the tale. How did you view Robert King when you began the story and did he live up to your expectations at the end?

When I first began writing Robert’s character, he came on the scene as this cocky, overconfident young doctor with grandiose dreams of making medical history by discovering the cure to cancer. As the story progresses, he finds his feelings for Abby and for his patients have deepened to the point where he needs to surrender his pride and let God be the hero. Does he live up to my expectations? I think I learned through writing his character that heroism is about sacrifice. I’m drawn to heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves (or their desires) for those they love. And amazingly enough—that’s what Christ did for us!

When I read the novel, I found myself wincing at some of the trial-and-error kind of testing that  Robert and Dr. Gerald Larkspur were forced to use to investigate the effects of x-rays on human tissue. I often felt they were in danger.  Did your research reveal how many lives were affected as early research such as this worked to improve its technique?

I was stunned by the countless stories of doctors, scientists, technicians, and nurses who lost their lives due to their over-exposure to X-ray radiation. I have an early X-ray manual that assured users that the technology was completely safe and harmless. We know better today, but it took many deaths to prove it. I recently read a story of how the doctor who invented the portable fluoroscope showed it off at his little girl’s birthday party, scaring all the partygoers with images of their skeletal hands. Can you imagine that happening today?

While I was writing this book, we lost a young friend to cancer. Every time I stepped inside the children’s hospital, I thought of those doctors and the research they were doing back in the early 1900s. The experiments were dangerous (more so than they understood at the time), but today we have some valid treatments for cancer thanks in part to their sacrifices. We don’t have all the answers yet, but doctors and scientists are still hard at work searching for a cure.

What do you hope your readers will take away from the story?   

I hope readers are reminded that God is always with us—even when we’re trying to run from Him or push Him away. He’s always waiting with tender love, desiring to welcome us back in.

This is book one in a series entitled The Golden Gate Chronicles.  What can your readers expect from you in the future?

Book two, Beyond the Ashes, will be coming out in 2015. In this story, we’ll revisit San Francisco as it’s in the process of rebuilding. We’ll be meeting Robert’s widowed sister Ruby, who comes to the city to put her life back together and finds herself drawn to Robert’s mentor, Dr. Gerald Larkspur. As Gerald begins to show signs of the very disease he’s been fighting to cure, Ruby will be forced to ask herself—is it worth a second chance at love when time might be short?

Anyone you’d care to thank as Out of the Ruins launches this week? 

If you happen to read the acknowledgements in the book, you’ll see I have about a page and a half of people to thank! Two groups jump to the top of the list. First, my family—they make huge sacrifices to allow me to pursue this dream. And second, my critique partners—they continually push me to be the best writer I can possibly be. I have learned so much from each of them.

Special Announcement:

If you live in the Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon and surrounding areas of Oregon, Karen will be signing copies of Out of the Ruins and her other novel, Mistaken, at the Willamette Valley Christian Supply, 916 NW Kings Avenue, Corvallis, Oregon this Saturday, May 3 from 1-3.  Come meet the author and visit this new store.  Hope to see you there! 

3 Comment

  1. Thanks, Pat! It was fun to chat with you. What thought provoking questions! 🙂

  2. Thanks to you, Karen, for writing such a great book. I couldn’t put it down. Pat

  3. I enjoyed the interview so much!! Thank you both! Karen, I love your attention to detail in your research! And I liked that peek into how your characters grow. The story sounds fascinating!

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