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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Author Interview ~ Cara Putman

Cara Putman is a woman living a dream God planted in her heart years ago. An honors graduate of University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Go Huskers!) and George Mason Law School, Cara is an attorney licensed in Virginia and Indiana. She clerked for the Honorable Loren Smith at the Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. before following her husband to Indiana.

Cara started writing in 2005, and Heartsong Presents released her first book, Canteen Dreams, a WWII historical set in Nebraska, in 2007. It will be followed by Sandhill Dreams in May 2008 and Captive Dreams in September 2008. Love Inspired Suspense will publish her first romantic suspense Deadly Exposure in May 2008.

Cara is also an attorney, wife, mom to a 7 year old, four year old and one on the way, homeschool teacher, occasional professor at Purdue, women's ministry leader, and all around crazy woman. Crazy about God, her husband and her kids that is. In her "spare" time she serves as publicity officer for American Christian Fiction Writers and president of the Indiana chapter. To learn more check out

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

In May I have two books releasing. Sandhill Dreams is a historical romance set at Fort Robinson, Nebraska during World War Two. With her dreams shattered, will Lainie Gardner allow God and a soldier at Fort Robinson to breathe life into new dreams that will bring her more joy than she imagined? Deadly Exposure is my first romantic suspense. With a stalker closing in, will television journalist Dani Richards trust her former love and police investigator Caleb Jamison to help her and God to rescue her?

How did you come up with these stories? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

With Deadly Exposure, I tried to think of a worse-case scenario to put a television reporter in. I cut her off from everything and everybody and watched what happened. With Sandhill Dreams I was looking for a homefront story in Nebraska and remembered the war dog training at the Fort. As I dug into that, I found other cool WWII events at Fort Robinson. It was easy to imagine Audrey’s best friend from Canteen Dreams stuck in that isolated environment. Add a couple twists, and great conflict was born.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication?

After God gave me permission to chase this dream in April 2005, I started writing seriously in June. I attended my first ACFW conference in September and had a wonderful time learning and meeting with agents and editors. Out of that conference, I had invitations to submit to a couple houses. That has resulted in my first four books. But that first contract came at the 2006 ACFW conference. That book, Canteen Dreams, released in October 2007.

You received your first contract at the ACFW conference a couple of years ago. Tell us about that experience.

It was such a kiss from heaven to receive the contract in such a manner. I went to the conference wondering if I was doing the right thing. I love writing, but didn’t want to invest time in something that wasn’t God’s best for me. To receive the contract in the presence of so many friends and people I look up to in the industry was amazing. That conference flowed in a roller-coaster of emotion!

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

One of the challenges for me is adding enough twists to the plots. Fortunately, I have an editor who has really pushed me to dig deeper in this area. I’m frankly amazed she hasn’t said enough is enough, but because of her patience it’s clicking.

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)?

If I think one twist is enough, add a second. If there’s romance, make sure there are all kinds of reasons that the hero and heroine can’t get together. Make the plot ever harder on the hero and heroine, yet keep it realistic. Donald Maas talks about this in his book Writing the Breakout Novel, but applying the principle has been the biggest challenge for me.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

Umm, right now, I’m in my office. My husband is on the treadmill next to me watching old episodes of 24 very loudly. That’s pretty typical. I have a desk set up in the office, but it’s a multi-purpose room. Because I write on a laptop, I can move around the house, and sometimes will escape to Starbucks or Panera or even the library. But usually that’s when the deadline is looming and I have to get chapters finished quickly.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Get up in the morning and get the kids breakfast. Homeschool my seven-year-old, run the kids to different activities, prepare for Bible studies I lead, handle ACFW business, cook and clean, get the kids ready for bed, then sit down and start writing. Usually I warm up with a blog post or interview like this, then sit down and write my quota. If I’m under deadline, and don’t need to do more research, I’ll write a chapter a day. I will often revise the prior day’s chapter, too. I keep track of writing progress with an excel spreadsheet. It’s my equivalent of a time sheet, focused on production per day vs. time spent. It helps me stay on track and is critical when I’m on deadline.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

Most of the time the words flow easily. The first few chapters are always the hardest to write as I discover the voice for each POV character. Because Heartsong Presents requires a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, by the time I’m writing those, I know how the chapters string together. That makes them relatively easy to write, because 90% of the hard plotting work is complete.

With the mysteries/suspense, I write a detailed synopsis that provides a roadmap, and then see how the characters play out.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I start with a germ of an idea. For my World War Two romances, it’s usually a location. Then I look for the historical hook. What happened there that I think is interesting and unusual, and that others would like to read about?
Then I think of the characters. With Canteen Dreams, I knew the hero and heroine would be based on my grandparents, so the initial characterization and careers for the hero and heroine was easy. With Sandhill Dreams, I knew Lainie would be the carry-over character from Canteen Dreams, but I had to imagine what had happened to her in the intervening time. With Captive Dreams, I knew Sid would be the repeat character, since everyone who had read Sandhill Dreams wanted to know what happened to him. Those carry-over characters help set the tone for the next book.

I’m finding the same thing with Deadly Exposure. The proposed sequels contain two carry-over characters that people ask about and that I want to know what happens to them. I know the crime in each book, but the characters then dictate how the story will play out. Once I know the core plot, I start writing and remain flexible for when the characters demand a change.

I also pray throughout the writing process. I can’t tell you how many times I’m not 100% sure which direction a plot should go, and God will literally drop an idea or thought into my mind. Deadly Exposure changed at the end as I was writing it, yet as I looked back I realized the foundation had been laid for the new ending. That was so cool!

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

I love Brandilyn Collins’ Kanner Lake series, particularly Violet Dawn and Crimson Eve. The timing in those books is intense and kept the pages flipping. That’s the style I want in my suspense, so I love to read those. I love Colleen Coble’s suspense for the way she twists the plots and keeps me guessing. Then I really enjoy Kim Sawyer’s historicals. She has an amazing way of connecting me emotionally to her characters from the first couple pages.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Put your bottom on the chair, fingers on the keyboard and write. I wouldn’t have four books release in a year without following that advice.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I was a member of a critique group that was critical to me developing my style and finetuning my writing. However, if I’d known that I could keep writing, without stopping and editing the same chapters over and over as comments came in, I would have finished Deadly Exposure much faster. I had to reach the point where I realized I could save the emails and review them later. Sounds so simple, but I was almost compulsive going over and over those first six chapters.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I am still so new to this. I have a blog, a website, and contribute to Generation NeXt Parenting, CRAFTIE Ladies of Suspense, and Keep Me In Suspense. I also participate in many blog tours to help promote other authors books. I’m always looking for new ideas though.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If writing is a dream that God has planted in your heart, then invest the time. Read books on how to write like Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins, Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Martin, and Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. These are fantastic ways to learn. Also get involved in an organization like ACFW. You will learn so much quickly by that simple investment. And then, attend a conference. You’ll learn even more and get to meet people who understand the crazy dream you have. And never forget to pray!


  1. Cara it was so much fun watching you learn of your first contract at ACFW. You are such a sweet lady and absolutely amazing accomplishing all that you do.

  2. I agree, Gina. I'll never forget the look on Cara's face. Priceless!!

    Cara, I love your energy and enthusiasm. You're a lot of fun to be around because you inspire everyone around you!

  3. Thanks, gals! And thanks for having me here. It's pretty crazy actually being interviewed for Novel Journey. God is good!


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