Q&A: Karen Kirst, Author of the Historical Novella 'Smoky Mountain Christmas'

An author for Harlequin's Love Inspired line, Karen Kirst will sign (and sell) copies of The Gift of Family at an open house at Tea at the Gallery (4501 Kingston Pike) on Dec. 8 from 2 p.m.-4 p.m.

What's your connection to Knoxville?

I grew up in Maryville, so my family spent a lot of time in Knoxville shopping, eating out, and attending cultural events. After graduating from Maryville High School, I attended UT Knoxville, where I received a degree in speech communication.

You co-wrote The Gift of Family with Linda Ford. Why'd you set it in Gatlinburg?

The book consists of two historical novellas, Linda's "Merry Christmas, Cowboy" and my "Smoky Mountain Christmas." The two aren't related except for the fact they are both Christmas stories. I set mine in Gatlinburg because I wanted it to tie in with my series, Smoky Mountain Matches. When I planned the series, setting it in East Tennessee was a natural choice because of the mountains, the natural beauty and history associated with the national park.

How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first manuscript—now collecting dust under my bed—back in 2000. Four manuscripts and three kids later, I got what is known in the writing world as The Call—that first offer from an editor to buy your book. That was in 2010. I'm currently working on my fifth Love Inspired romance.

Did it seem strange to combine Love Inspired's motto of "faith, forgiveness, and hope" with romance?

Weaving spiritual themes into my books comes naturally because of my faith in God and Jesus Christ. My characters aren't perfect Christians. They struggle with issues and sometimes act in ways that need forgiveness from those around them, which creates the conflict every good story needs. As for hope, that's where the inspirational aspect of the books come in. Finding enduring love amidst the backdrop of strong faith uplift readers.

Do you base characters on people you know?

So far I haven't deliberately done that. I might use a neighbor's name for an insignificant character, though. I borrowed my brother-in-law's name for one of my outlaws, which I'm sure he appreciated.

What message of faith do you most often try to convey?

It varies with each story. Oftentimes, it doesn't become clear until I'm in the middle of a book. It could be something as simple as feeling unworthy of love to a more serious matter like blaming God for the loss of a loved one.

Do you add humor, or is it all serious?

My style does tend to be on the serious side. My goal is to create an engaging, emotional story the reader doesn't want to put down. However, I do sprinkle light-hearted moments in there. The book I'm working on now opens with the hero getting sprayed by a skunk. And it's the heroine's fault. That's funny, right?

Do people get mixed up about the type of romance you write?

When I mention I write for Harlequin, some immediately picture the steamy romances with racy covers—you know, the scantily-clad couple locked in a heated embrace? But Harlequin offers a wide variety of books to suit readers' tastes, so I usually go ahead and explain that I write for their Love Inspired line, what I typically refer to as the PG version. My characters have chemistry, but there's a line they won't cross because of their faith.