Thursday, September 15, 2011

Meet Karen Kirst

Who is Karen Kirst?  

I'm a Southern gal, born and raised in East Tennessee.  I'm married to a Czech man who also happens to be a U.S. Marine, so I'm a military wife.  We have three energetic boys and a chatty parrot.  I'm a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom.  Our house is never quiet!

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

What free time?! Just kidding. When I need to get away, I find a friend to go with me to the local tearoom.  Spending three months in the Czech Republic turned me into a tea drinker and now I'm a fanatic!  I find the whole experience very relaxing.  I like coffee, too.  So sometimes my friends and I meet at a nearby bookstore and we chat over dessert.  Otherwise, I like to watch romantic comedies and read. 

Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters?

First I envision what type of relationship I want my hero and heroine to have.  Sweet and tender?  Strained? At odds?  Are they strangers?  Old acquaintances? Then I focus on who they are as people-their hobbies, strengths and faults, family life, etc.  I also use pictures of models and celebrities who resemble my characters and keep those handy for inspiration.

Of all the characters you’ve created, which one do you identify with the most and why?

I'd have to say the heroine of my second book, The Bridal Swap (March 2012).  Kate Morgan struggles to accept God's forgiveness for past mistakes.  Like her, I believe He is faithful to forgive us if we ask.  Sometimes, though, we allow shame and guilt to blind us from His truth.  I wanted to show how she overcomes these destructive emotions and moves toward love and healing.

Where do you get the ideas for your novels?

I daydream a lot. It's fun to think up different plots and scenes, and I think because I've read so much there are lots of ideas stored in my brain. lol

What are the major themes of your newest release?

Adventure.  Danger. Kidnapping. Secret identity.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book? (if any)

The Reluctant Outlaw is the first in my series Smoky Mountain Matches.  Because it's set in the real places of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I did a lot of research about those areas, visiting the local libraries and visitor centers.  There is an abundant supply of information about the national park, including the wildlife and plant life, which helped with the details. Cades Cove has many cabins, churches, and other structures open to the public.  Seeing first-hand how the early settlers lived was a huge inspiration.  The research involved in writing historicals has made history come alive for me.

What is your newest release?

My debut novel, The Reluctant Outlaw, is a Harlequin Love Inspired Historical (September 2011).
A Kidnapper—and a Gentleman?
The ruthless criminal who took Juliana O’Malley hostage was a thief and an outlaw—or so she thinks. But on a perilous journey through the Smoky Mountains, he becomes her unlikely protector. And when he pledges to return her home safely, she somehow finds herself believing him.
Evan Harrison has risked everything to find the men who killed his brother. Saving spirited, strong-willed Juliana could blow his cover with a deadly gang. Yet her courage and unwavering faith make him dream of the home and family he thought he could never have. And suddenly, that future is incomplete—without Juliana in it.

Smoky Mountain Matches: Dreams of home and family come true in the Smoky Mountains

Copyright [2011] by [Karen Kirst]
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

How did you get involved in writing?

I've been an avid reader all my life.  As a young woman, I got the crazy idea to write a romance.  I ignored it, of course.  But my major in college, Speech Communication, was writing-intensive and after that the prospect of writing a novel wasn't so intimidating anymore. I wrote and submitted my first two manuscripts about eight years ago.  They were politely turned down. I shelved my dream to focus on my young family.  It wasn't until I was expecting my third child (who's about to turn four) that I took up writing again.  A historical this time.  That's the one that sold!  

What do you enjoy most and least about the writing process?

My favorite part is probably the plotting of the story, visualizing the exciting scenes that may or may not make it into the book.  That's the fun part.  I can't really say I have a least favorite part about the process.  My challenge is carving out time to write.  That's a frustration for me sometimes.

What advice would you offer an aspiring author?

Decide what it is you want to write and read that genre.  That will give you a clue as to what's expected, what's popular, and what's unacceptable for that market.  Also read books on the craft of writing.  There are a lot of helpful tools out there.  My editor recently suggested Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation, Conflict. It's a great resource.  Write much and often.  Then write some more.  The more you practice, the more honed your skills and voice.  I hope that helps!

What story ideas would you like to explore in the future?

That's a tough question.  I like so many types of stories.  Right now I'm writing historicals, but someday I might try a contemporary suspense.  I like to put my characters in perilous situations and see how they react.  Both The Reluctant Outlaw and The Bridal Swap have elements of danger.

What has God been teaching you lately?

A lot!  This is such a time of upheaval and change in our household.  As a military family, we don't have the luxury of knowing where we're gonna live in the next few years.  I'm a planner and so it's tough for me to not know.  God is teaching me to "bloom where I'm planted" but I have to admit I've resisted putting down roots. I'm working on that, though! He's definitely showing me to take life one day at a time.  To live it to the fullest and not worry about tomorrow.

Where can readers learn more about you and your books?

My website has information and pictures about the characters and books.  I also have a fan page on facebook where I post information.  Catch me on goodreads, too!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001: 10 Years Later From insanity and homelessness to Freedom

A story of Overcoming
8:43 am - September 11, 2001

I just stood there in the north facing window of Tower One, frozen in time. My heart was pounding in my chest as I watched my life fall from 90 stories high—reduced to tiny pieces of paper, bits of furniture and the broken bodies of my friends. I was sure that at any moment I’d simply stop breathing.

I remember it like it was yesterday and can describe every little detail. From the smells that filled the halls to the muffled cries of those trapped beneath layers of debris, the crushing metal and the “boom” of the final collapse; it’s all a part of me now. I escaped the building just before Tower Two crashed to the ground. And then, like a domino effect, my life followed.

Day after day, one piece of my world after the other collapsed and took me and my son, Eliot, deeper into despair. I was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — unable to even speak coherently. Eliot fought through depression, anger and relationships. The medical bills mounted, the mortgage fell behind and my illness intensified until finally, we became homeless. It was surreal to watch the world move on with its memorials and life celebrations while Eliot and I continued to struggle. We were trapped in a never-ending nightmare of 9/11, and every time I heard the names of the victims being read, I nearly expected to hear my own.

Once upon a time I believed that if I prayed a lot and trusted God, He would make my life easier. I thought that if I worked hard, I could rebuild what I’d lost. Not so. In fact it was as if the harder
I tried, the worse off things became. Finally, the grace of God pointed me to a different perspective and I began to focus on releasing rather than rebuilding.

You see, release means freedom. It sets us free from the striving, the expectations and the disappointments. Release lifts our vision far above the threshold of our circumstance and allows us to live beyond the limits of life’s difficulty and toward life’s opportunity; not in starting over, but starting from the place where we are. It is in release that we fully understand that freedom beyond the confines of your present circumstance will ultimately cause an unavoidable consequence … the transformation of circumstances. Hallelujah!

And so I stopped striving. I stopped struggling and ever-praying about that never ending list of things to do that would make life okay for Leslie. I set aside perceptions of what “should” be in exchange for what “is.” I moved forward in a faith that saw my situation as but one piece of a glorious and all encompassing journey spurred on by the move of God’s hand and filled with great expectations and even greater possibilities!

So where has that faith taken me?

I am persuaded that the victory over my struggles and the strength and passion I now have for life is a direct result of faith. I am living a new dream; traveling globally and encouraging others to live life without limits, love without demand and appreciate that living is a lot more than just a beating heart.

For Eliot, he has resumed work toward his degree in broadcast engineering and is creating his first music CD. Most importantly, he has returned to his faith in God. And even after losing so much so early in his life, he is not bitter and he encourages his peers in their own life journeys. On a larger scale, there is a screenplay in the works with Cloud Ten Pictures to tell our story that we believe will inspire millions.

You see, we believe that my story is everyone’s story… complete with the ups and downs, and ins and outs and all the go betweens. We all have those moments of struggle and even desperation that knock the wind out of us enough to wonder if we’ll ever breathe again.

As we journey through life, today might be marked by conflict and tension, last year might have been financial loss or human tragedy and tomorrow can be as right as rain.

And through it all, my challenge—and yours, too—is to not live bound by circumstance but embrace the bigger world of possibility, remembering that no story is complete without a challenge and victory is empty without a good fight.

And for that I’m so grateful. You see, in this, I can be assured of my ending this year, next year and always. A life without limits. A happy-ending story.

© Adapted by permission from the forthcoming book, When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, by Leslie Haskin (Bethany House Publishers, 2012)

9-11 Pentagon Survivor Brian Birdwell, LTC (Ret.), Reflects on the Last Ten Years

Q: It’s hard to believe ten years have passed since 9/11 changed America—and your lives—forever. Will you do anything special to commemorate this milestone? 

A: The past years have been an adventure and definitely a time of spiritual growth for me. Mel and I

have not made a formal plan to be somewhere (at the time of this writing), but we will be together and most likely will remain in Texas.

Q: Take us back to the moments after you arrived at the hospital and the doctors began to realize the extent of your injuries. What were your thoughts? What were your prayers at that point?

A: When the attending doctor in the Georgetown ER told me they were giving me anesthesia and that I would be going into surgery soon, I realized that what I said and did right then might be my last words and my last actions. I wanted them to count. I asked the doctor to wait. There were two things I needed to do first, given that I knew I was facing the end of my life.

First, I saw Major John Collision, one of the men who helped get me to the hospital. I called him over and requested that he remove my wedding ring. (The burns were so bad on my hands that the nurse had to do this.) I said, “Make sure that my wife gets this ring.” He assured me he would. Then I asked him to tell Mel that I always loved her. Second, I prayed with Chaplain Linda Cirillo, acknowledging God’s sovereignty and command of my life and eternity.  

Q: As you started the recovery process—all the procedures, surgeries, and physical therapy—and were in constant crushing pain, how did your faith help sustain you? Were there ways you sensed God guiding you through this exceedingly difficult time?

A: I’m not sure it is possible to explain the anguish that critical burn patients experience. There were many days I begged for the mercy of death. Mel would read scripture to me and not only her voice but the Lord’s words also afforded me spiritual comfort in the physical agony of being a critical burn patient. One of our favorite scriptures was this: After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (I Peter 5:10, NASB)

This is the Lord’s promise to us no matter what challenge we face—be it physical, mental, emotional, financial, etc.

Q: What was it like having Mel as a caretaker when you were finally allowed to go home? What was the toughest part about those months? What blessings did you experience along the way?

A: Mel is amazing. She had to perform some very difficult tasks as she cared for me and my wounds. Helping me recover was a full-time job. On top of that, she had to act as both mom and dad to our son Matt at the same time. I think that might have been one of the toughest aspects for Mel. She tried to hide her emotions, but I know it was hard on her. Everything was piled on her. Many times I felt like such a burden. I realized what a gift I had in Mel. She lived the rigor of her wedding vows. I can only hope to reciprocate half as well should the roles be reversed.

Q: Why did you decide to start visiting burn centers and talking to the patients there?

A: Visiting a burn center is still very hard for Mel and me, but II Corinthians tells us to comfort others as we were comforted. Being able to shed some light on the dark path ahead of a burn survivor is our way of encouraging and comforting others. If, through our interactions, the survivor and family seek the Lord or come closer to Him, we are certainly pleased to be of use to the Lord in that way. From these initial visits, the idea for Face the Fire Ministries was born.

Q: How does Face the Fire help burn survivors and their families?

A: Besides providing encouragement to burn survivors and their families, we also offer financial assistance to help with expenses the family incurs. Given the length of time survivors must usually stay in a burn center, the family members can end up living out of a suitcase for awhile, and those costs can add up quickly. Higher gas prices mean greater cost for visitation or other expenses related to the family caring for the survivor. We do what we can to help defray that cost.

Q: Tell us about your new role as a Texas state senator. When did you sense God calling you to this new area of service?

A: The Lord put people in my life that encouraged this new path of service. When the position became vacant, Mel and I spent time in prayer, sensed this was the Lord’s time, and stepped out in faith. By His grace, I was chosen by the voters. My duty is to serve where called and be salt and light to the best of my ability. I am very much enjoying my new duties and the opportunity to serve the citizens of the 22nd Senate District of Texas. 

Q: How is your health today? Can you think of any obvious differences in your daily life compared to life before 9/11?

A: I am doing pretty well for someone who has been run over by a 757! I have range of motion limitations and diminished lung capacity but I have a great quality of life. I think the key difference is that I make sure that when my travels separate me from Mel or Matt, we always stay in contact or I report my progress as I travel. Our experience on 9/11 taught us that you never know when that day will come when you will see your loved ones for the last time. We make each moment count.

Q: How do you think 9/11 changed us as a country?

A: In the intervening years since Pearl Harbor (the last time a foreign aggressor successfully attacked us on U.S. soil), it was easy for us as a nation to become insulated from the realities of war and the lengths to which evil men will go to further their causes. The attacks on 9/11 were a horrific reminder of the capacity for evil that we face in a fallen world. While we have not forgotten the events of that day, I think that, as a nation, we have forgotten to a great degree the nature of the enemy we face.

Q: What do you hope others learn from your story? Do you have any plans/hopes for the future?

A: I want people to see that God is gracious. He is always in control, no matter how difficult the road we are walking. This is an easy thing to say, but it is much harder, in our prideful human state, to live as if we believe these words are true. As far as the future goes, our main purpose is to continue to serve and be faithful to His purposes for our lives and be sensitive to His calling as He puts things on our hearts. Of course, Mel and I look forward to many more years together. Our great joy will be seeing Matt continue to mature, all the while anticipating all of the things that accompany this stage of life. We live in the greatest country—and, if I may be so bold, the greatest state! We have much for which to be thankful.

* Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Brian Birdwell is a survivor of the terrorist’s attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.  After American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, just feet away from his second floor office, Birdwell was thrown to the ground and engulfed in flames. Of the burns that consumed 60 percent of his body, nearly half were third-degree burns. After enduring more than 30 operations and months of hospitalization and multiple skin grafts, Brian has made a miraculous recovery. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received on that day.

* Refined by Fire by Brian and Mel Birdwell, Face the Fire Ministries 2011 Thank you for use of this interview!