Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sit Down Saturday with Karen Rock


Today we’re celebrating the release of HIS HOMETOWN GIRL by Karen Rock

So, Karen where did you get the idea for this novel? 


My sister, Cathy, is one of the most incredible moms I know and her husband Kevin is the rock she needs in her life as they raise their beautiful, autistic daughter, Abbie, together. Because of her autism, Abbie sometimes has difficulty in controlling her impulses or behaviors, and that can be a challenge. But her loving nature, adorable belly laugh, and generous spirit make her a joy and we wouldn’t change a thing about her. I’ve often wondered what Cathy would do without the love and support of such a good partner in Kevin, and that’s where the story genesis came from. What scenario could I give a single mother of an autistic child? Surely she deserved love as much as her son. Since I associate Abbie, my niece, with my hometown and extended family which includes dairy farmers, the two came together. Farmers are very independent-minded, and they don’t care too much for following other’s opinions. Abbie is just perfect to all of us, even if we do get judgmental stares from people who don’t understand her outbursts and think my sister Cathy isn’t doing her job as a mom. I know it hurts her, even though she tries to hide it. But around my Uncle Bob and the other big, booming-voiced farmers in my family, no one had better give Abbie or Cathy one cross-eyed look! So I thought a single farmer would be the right man who’d accept and love Jodi and her son Tyler. I also liked the idea of playing with more facets of ‘acceptance’ and part of that is accepting our flawed pasts which is why Jodi returns home and faces her mistakes and old, childhood sweetheart turned rival, farmer Daniel Gleason.

In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?


Daniel: Did you ever think you’d be home again? With me?

Jodi: Only in my dreams. 

How long did it take you to write? 
I wrote the book in about six weeks, but I’d spent a lot of time planning it out before that and researching autism. My sister, Cathy, is also a school psychologist. She was very helpful in making sure that my main character and her son were portrayed honestly and accurately. As for the farming details, that came from my childhood growing up around cows and in a small town.

What is your favorite scene?  
My favorite scene takes place in a strawberry patch with Daniel, Jodi and Tyler go berry picking. If you’ve ever been in the back fields of a farm, you’ll know that it looks about as close to heaven as we can ever get here on earth. Daniel convinces Jodi to drive tractor out to the strawberry fields. She’s worried that the ride will be too much stimulation for her son, Tyler, and almost refuses until Daniel’s sister gives him ear plugs. Daniel uses his belt to fasten Tyler to Jodi’s lap. I love the moment when Jodi reconnects with her farm girl roots, driving the tractor around the last barn’s corner and taking in the acres of growing things. Tyler’s delight is infectious, and what really tugs at my heart is when Daniel takes Tyler by the hand and leads him down the rows of strawberry plants. As a mom, I just melt at a strong man holding a toddler’s hand, helping and caring for the innocent child. It’s also a turning point for Jodi because, on the ride home when she stands on the back of the tractor and watches Daniel drive with Tyler on his lap, Tyler nods off and rests his little head on Daniel’s broad shoulder. Daniel then rests his head on top of Tyler’s and his eyes rise to meet Jodi’s. It exactly the acceptance and caring that Jodi needs after her ex walked out on her and Tyler. Finally, she realizes that home feels like the place where she and Tyler belong.

Who was your favorite character and why? 
I love Daniel’s strength, but Jodi is my favorite character. She is based her on my sister, Cathy. Like Cathy, Jodi is a professional woman and a passionate mom. She’ll do anything for her son, even if that means going back to her hometown and facing up to mistakes she made there, including leaving a childhood sweetheart who’s now her rival. Jodi needs the money she’ll earn from convincing her old neighbors to sell their farm land to her employer- an agribusiness. Daniel, on the other hand, wants the farmers to keep their independence and land and form a co-op instead. Jodi doesn’t quit and goes toe-to-toe with Daniel. I love her determination, her grit, and her big heart. She’s an amazing mom, though not perfect. Her flaws  make her human and all the more relatable to me.

If you could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be? 
I would pick Reese Witherspoon to play Jodi and Josh Duhamel would play Daniel… he’d look very nice in those overalls ;)

Tell us one thing you learned during research. 
I learned that the reason autistic children flap their hands is to get rid of the extra stimulation/energy that is firing along their neurons/synapses. These synapses normally close, allowing us to block out too much stimulation such as noise, sight, smell, taste and touch. However, autistic children’s synapses don’t close much, if at all, and they are flooded with sensations without an end in sight. The flapping of hands is a way to get rid of this extra stimulation, as is rocking, but it’s not a full solution. That’s why kids on the spectrum also act out occasionally. Imagine how you feel when you’re driving at night and a car approaches with its bright headlights on…. For those seconds/minutes you feel angry and your eyes hurt. You breathe a sigh of relief when the car passes you. For autistic kids, the world always has its ‘brights’ on and we need to accept and love them, understanding how strong they are for dealing with so much! 

What music would match the mood of this novel? 
Jesus Take the Wheel, because for Jodi, I think that’s the point she’s reached in her life. After her ex walked out, Tyler stopped speaking all together and she blames herself. She’s desperate to get him into a high-priced, daycare that will give him the specialized care he needs, even if that means going back to her old farm town and seeing Daniel. She feels like her life is out of her control and she needs someone to help, though she doesn’t, at first, realize that that someone is Daniel and her hometown.

This is your second adult romance book.  Exactly what does that mean to you? 
I’ve been writing a YA contemporary romance series, CAMP BOYFRIEND with my co-author and fellow Harlequin writer, Joanne Rock. It’s been fun going back to those teen years and writing moving romances for that age group. However, as my second book for Heartwarming, I’m enjoying getting to delve deeper into adult issues and love stories. I’m so proud to write for Harlequin and, most of all, Heartwarming. A blogger with a son who has PTSD reviewed this book and wrote to thank me for giving a voice to moms who have children facing challenges. It meant the world to me. There is a saying that we read to know we’re not alone. I write for that reason too. It’s like putting your thoughts and feelings in a bottle and dropping it in the ocean, hoping someone will get it. There is no greater moment than when you connect with others who understand what you are trying to say and are touched by it.

What do you plan to work on next? 
I just turned in my next Heartwarming book, SOMEONE LIKE YOU and am simultaneously writing a YA romance, CAMP CRUSH as well as another Heartwarming, A LEAGUE OF HER OWN. Each story is so different and it’s a joy to step into each character’s story!

What are you reading for pleasure right now? 
I’m reading HUNTED (The Profiler) by Harlequin Mira author, Elizabeth Heiter. It’s an awesome suspense thriller. I read all genres and just finished Sue Monk Kidd’s Historical novel THE INVENTION OF WINGS which was also amazing

22 comments:

  1. This sounds like another perfectly Heartwarming read, Karen! I love how you're tackling the tough issues in your stories. :)

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  2. Karen, The book will be hard for me to read as I have a grandson on the autism spectrum. He's at the Aspergers end, but any child on the spectrum consumes the family. And most school systems put up roadblocks instead of helping kids cope. The more a person knows helps them understand that these beautiful children aren't just acting out or throwing tantrums. Thanks for writing the book.

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    1. Roz, I feel the same way you do! These remarkable children have so much to teach us!

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  3. A great interview and the book sounds great. I have a niece with Asperger's, but have learned more about autism from my special education teacher daughter and from volunteering at school. The kids do offer specific challenges, but specific delights, too.

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    1. Agreed, Liz! They are a delight and a challenge and I couldn't 'imagine my life without my amazing niece!

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  4. I can't wait to read this book, Karen. I, too, thank you for writing it.

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    1. Thanks , Rula! It was one of those books where so much of it comes from a place that is real and full of your own experiences!

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  5. This was a beautiful interview. It sounds like you have such a great relationship, and the deepest respect for your sister, and that you empathize with the struggles she faces raising an autistic child. You truly honor her by writing this book. Thanks for the insight as to what an autistic childs world is like. Your description helps me to appreciate how much they must deal with on a regular basis, especially in our fast-paced society. This book is a must read for me.

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    1. Oh, WOW, Laurie! Thank you so much :) You are absolutely right about our fast-paced society being especially difficult for autistic children to manage. There is so much stimulation and change... and transitioning from one activity to another is not easy for them! But they deserve our love and respect so much and it was so meaningful to me to write a book with one of these wonderful children :)

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  6. Looking forward to reading, Karen! And I won't be able to stop picturing Josh now. Added bonus! :) Good luck! wishing you many sales and new readers.

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    1. Thanks so much, Anna :) And picturing Josh while writing was definitely an added bonus for me too! lol

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  7. Such a touching story. Can't wait to read it.

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  8. Karen, you're such a powerhouse of enthusiasm and emotion. How wonderful for your sister that you're in her life and seem to understand it so well. Your book sounds as though it's full of earnest and touching topics - not easy to deal with when you're the writer trying to put it all together in a cohesive and entertaining package destined to enlighten and remain with the reader. Like Anna J, I now have osh Duhamel in overalls in my head. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

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    1. hehe- Josh Duhamel in overalls, riding tractor, his baseball hat (that's what the Yankee farmers wear) pulled low- but we can still see his square chin... sigh...Yes- I'm not getting rid of that image for a long time :) Thank you for your supportive comments about the topic. You are right. It was not easy to separate myself and my family from the issues in this book, so I gave up trying. Jodi is my sister Cathy in many ways just as Tyler is like Abbie right down to his obsession with his stuffed elephant (for Abbie it's her monkey) and his belly laugh that Abbie also shares. It meant a lot to me when Cathy gave me the thumbs up after beta reading because she is a mother of an autistic parent and if it touched her, then I know it will resonate with readers who have children with special needs. And if there are any unsung heroes in the world, it is the patient, loving parents of these beautiful children.

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  9. I love how personal this story is to you. I have a feeling it is going to make it that much more amazing!

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    1. Thank you, Amy! It is very personal and one that came from my heart instead of my brain- as corny as that sounds!

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  10. What an interesting article, Karen. I love knowing the story behind the story, how writers get their ideas and develop them. I can tell that you put your heart and soul into this book. How great to have the Heartwarming line for stories such as yours! I look forward to reading it.

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  11. I've taught many wonderful autistic students. Right now, in the school system, we're seeing their numbers double, and believe me, schools are scrambling to teach instructors how to best accommodate. I really look forward to reading this.

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    1. Thank you, Pam :) In addition to my niece, Abbie, as a teacher I also worked with autistic students. There was quite a learning curve for me! But once I understood little things, like giving them the next day's agenda the day before so they could know what was going to happen, giving them things to hold or squeeze during class, using light from windows instead of fluorescent lights (the flickering is irritating and causes temper tantrums...) stuff like that... I felt so rewarded because I felt like I was making a difference! Creating an environment that let them shine!

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  12. Thank you very much, Linda :) I agree. Heartwarming is the perfect line for writers like us- who draw from real life and the moments that lift us up and break our hearts.

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