Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with Karen Rees, Author of The Ruby Ring ~ by Sara Goff

When you think of the challenges of being a missionary in a foreign country, hardships such as language barriers, cultural differences, and missing friends and family, you might not think of the obstacles and isolation an author faces in marketing her first book. Award-winning author Karen Rees has been living in Hong Kong with her husband and now grown son and daughter since 1975. Last year her debut novel, The Ruby Ring, was released by Crosslink Publishing, and since then she's had to put a long-distance marketing plan into action. Let’s get to know Karen and her novel The Ruby Ring.

Karen's debut novel, The Ruby Ring, is the fictionalized story of how William Tyndale's first English translation of the Bible was smuggled throughout 16th Century England. Owen Alton, the son of a grocer, will stop at nothing to awaken the true teachings of the Bible and expose the false teachings of the Church. Owen's heart also yearns for a woman, Jane Horne, who sacrifices her reputation and future security by loving Owen. She waits for him to fulfill his calling, knowing his love for God, a love she doesn't fully understand, may likely get him killed.

Karen, tell us what you do as a missionary in Hong Kong. I would imagine you have many stories to write about from personal experience. Can you describe a typical or not-so-typical day?

Most days are routine – filled with housework, church secretarial tasks, Bible study preparations and keeping in touch with friends and family. But a phone call from a church member in crisis can drastically change my schedule. Over the thirty-three years that my husband and I have worked with imported Filipina household servants, the phone has rung a lot.

The live-in maids that make up our congregation come here under contracts that set the salary but not the number of work hours or what constitutes “adequate housing”. Many employers take advantage of lax government oversight to underpay, overwork and in other ways abuse their maids. Sometimes the employer defines “adequate housing” as sleeping on the kitchen floor with the dog.

I've lost count of how many church members I've helped with job problems. In the process, I've confronted employers, dealt with the police and accompanied the maids to court when they've had enough evidence to try to retrieve thousands of dollars of unpaid wages. I also help when they have medical problems or a family crisis back in the Philippines.

Besides the Filipinas, for the last seven years I've been involved with an Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seeker family. Helping them has introduced me to a whole new area of need.

The suspense blazing through The Ruby Ring kept me turning pages, but what I admired most were the details of the times. I felt transplanted in history. How did you come to focus on the English Reformation in your writing?

The simple answer - I ‘met’ William Tyndale. I'd never heard of him until a Christian college professor mentioned him in passing. That casual comment snagged my curiosity, so I began reading about Tyndale and his part in the English Reformation. His determination to give England a vernacular scripture captivated me. He knew that God's word had the power to change lives.

Although I feel strongly that God's word changes lives, THE RUBY RING isn't preachy. I don't like reading preachy novels, and I didn't want to write one. I wanted to write a story that people couldn't put down. Judging from readers' comments, I've accomplished that.

But I also wanted to give thoughtful readers something more than just an emotionally satisfying experience. I wanted to show them a period in history when having a Bible was worth dying for. It might cause us to value our Bibles more.

Personally, after cheering for Tyndale’s translation throughout The Ruby Ring, I not only have a better understanding of the Bible’s history, but I feel a deeper emotional connection to its words.

So when you first published The Ruby Ring, what marketing goals had you set for yourself? Did they change in the first six months of publication?

At the beginning, I had two main goals. I wanted lots of publicity since people won't buy something they haven't heard of. The second was to sell a thousand paper copies so my publisher will print the already-written sequel. I still have those two goals.

After a year, I've discovered that people are more likely to buy a book on the spot than to buy one they have to order from an on-line bookstore.

Over this year my husband and some friends have done a lot to help my publicity efforts. The internet also provides publicity opportunities. And I pray a lot. In the end, it's up to God what becomes of my novel.

Has anything you've done to market The Ruby Ring clearly not worked?

I paid to have my novel listed on a book club resource website with links to Amazon.com. Later I discovered that my book price was more than clubs are willing to pay, and that many clubs order directly from the author at author prices. I suspect that I wasted my money.

You recently blogged for ICFW about people watching in an entertaining multi-cultural post called Guess Who I Saw?  Have you had any sightings of your protagonist in your next novel? ;)

So far Paul is the only one I've seen from the sequel. But, whenever I ride the subway, I keep an eye out just in case.

Karen Rees and her second-generation missionary husband Benjamin have served in Hong Kong since 1975.  Besides her involvement in the mission work, Karen loves history, quilting and writing. They have two children, Matthew and Megan, and one granddaughter, Hadessah.  Karen writes historical fiction and has a special interest in the English Reformation.  Her first novel - The Ruby Ring - came out in 2013 and is a Finalist in the Religious Fiction category in the 2014 Indie Excellence Awards.  Find Karen on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/Author.KarenRees. Her mission website is http://www.hongkongmission.org/.

Sara Goff is the Zone Director of Beyond the Borders. She runs the global educational charity Lift the Lid, which she founded in 2010. Lift the Lid supports underprivileged schools and encourages the students to write personal essays and poems. Her first book, I Always Cry at Weddings, is a contemporary New York City story about homelessness and unconditional love. It will be released this summer by WhiteFire Publishing. Learn more about Sara and her outreach at http://www.saragoff.com/ and http://www.lift-the-lid.org/.


  1. It's been a lot of fun following your writing journey over the past year, Karen, and seeing how you balance your missionary work with your writing, while venturing down new roads in marketing your work. You've made great progress since you've joined Beyond the Borders, back when we were both newbies! Thanks for embracing ICFW and Beyond the Borders!

  2. I loved getting to know more about your writing and missionary life, Karen. Thanks so much for sharing, and thank you Sara for a great interview!

  3. Thanks, Sara and Lisa, for your encouraging comments.

  4. Karen and Sara, great interview! Karen, thanks for giving us an insight into your missionary life.