Monday, January 30, 2012

FAST FIVE Interview with Author Karin Kaufman

Today’s guest is Karin Kaufman, author of The Witch Tree. Though I have been researching the multiple branches of my family tree since 1998, my interest in mystery novels extends far beyond that date to my preteens. After discovering Karin’s novel, a mystery with a genealogist for the main character, how could I resist? Karin and I have been trading comments on Twitter ever since.

FAST FIVE: Karin, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview today. Rather than an “elevator pitch” of 140 characters (#hashtags included) can you share with us a more detailed account of The Witch Tree and your research for the novel?

KARIN KAUFMAN: Those hashtags take up a lot of space, don’t they? My mystery is about Anna Denning, a thirty-something genealogist who discovers that a client’s family tree holds the key to a murder. She’s also a widow who’s still grieving the loss of her husband. Throughout most of the novel, she swings between grief and anger—the latter directed at God. When her life is threatened, that anger finds an outlet, giving her the strength to protect herself.

When I decided to write The Witch Tree, it was a no-brainer for me to make my protagonist a genealogist. I’ve been researching my family tree for more than ten years now, so I was comfortable with the subject. Plus, it’s a natural for mysteries. Genealogical research is similar to detective work: you gather a multitude of puzzle pieces and try to fit them together. Often, one small clue is the solution—the piece that allows all the other pieces to fall into place.

FAST FIVE: You have drawn an interesting parallel between genealogical research and detective work, that of gathering and piecing together clues to form a more complete picture. Another similarity between detectives and genealogists is in the resolute way they approach their job, whether to locate a missing ancestor or to nail the guilty party. In The Witch Tree, is “the job” the most important part of your protagonist’s life?

KARIN KAUFMAN: No, Anna’s work as a genealogist is just the catalyst. It gets her into trouble and, in the end, gets her out of trouble. As much as I love genealogy, I didn’t want it to be the focus of the story. I wanted anyone who likes mysteries to be able to enjoy my book. There’s genealogy talk in the book, and the murderer is discovered through genealogy, but the important parts of the book—the characters, their relationships, their struggles—have nothing to do with genealogy.

Still, like all genealogists, Anna loves to dig for and connect clues, and that makes her a good amateur sleuth. She’s tenacious in her work and her life. When she’s thrown into a dangerous situation, she discovers she’s more courageous than she thought she was. And what she considers her weaknesses—her occasional sharp tongue, her past involvement with wicca—turn out to be her strengths.

FAST FIVE: The Mystery/Suspense genre is the focus of Fast Five interviews, but what unique twist makes your novel stand out?

KARIN KAUFMAN: First, it’s a Christian mystery, and believe it or not, there aren’t that many Christian mysteries. Lots of Christian romances and even horror novels, but not so many mysteries.

Second, my protagonist begs to differ with those who think being a Christian means being a doormat. She not only stands up for herself, but in confrontations with decidedly antagonistic people, she stands up for her faith. (Usually with a sense of humor.) I find this tough-mindedness lacking in a lot of Christian fiction. Christian characters often limp through their stories, not wanting to raise any hackles or offend anyone.

FAST FIVE: How does your main character’s profession draw her into suspenseful situations, (murder, for instance?)

KARIN KAUFMAN: Where do I begin? When you explore a person’s genealogy, you can find out almost anything! It’s not all about your parents, grandparents, and so on. It’s about estates and wills, marriages and divorces, natural and unnatural deaths, houses bought and sold, schools attended and occupations held—the list is almost endless. If you start digging into someone’s family tree, there’s no telling what you might find.

FAST FIVE: Oh, so true, Karin! Your comment, “If you start digging into someone’s family tree, there’s no telling what you might find,” is an eerily accurate foreshadowing of the second novel in my mystery series. Is your novel, The Witch Tree, part of a series, and are you working on a sequel?

KARIN KAUFMAN: Yes, it’s part of a series. Definitely. And I’m currently working on the second book. The same Colorado mountain town and same returning cast of characters—Anna and her friends, as well as her dog Jackson. (I’ve received some lovely comments about Jackson, and I’m so glad readers have taken to him. I’m a dog lover, and there was no way I was going to write a book featuring a dogless protagonist!)

FAST FIVE: I think a protagonist who loves dogs automatically registers in a reader’s mind as honest and trustworthy. Include me with your other readers who appreciated that you wrote Jackson into the story. The following is not a Fast Five question, more an “if/then” scenario: If Paris is not an option, then where would you most like to spend your time writing and why.

KARIN KAUFMAN: Actually, I wouldn’t want to spend my time writing in Paris, or being in Paris at all. (Does that sound crazy?) I’d love to write in an adobe house outside Santa Fe or Taos, New Mexico. Northern New Mexico both soothes and invigorates me—the perfect frame of mind for writing. I also wouldn’t mind writing in a shockingly expensive lodge-style house in the Colorado mountains.

FAST FIVE: Another stimulating hideaway to add to my wish list! Thank you for sharing your insiders’ knowledge of genealogical research and the process of creating a like-minded protagonist, Karin. You have offered an insightful look into the personality of your main character and given us much food for thought about research, animal lovers, and your expensive taste in lodging! I am on your list of readers who are looking forward to the sequel of The Witch Tree. 

For more information about The Witch Tree and author Karin Kaufman, please visit:


  1. A lovely interview with Karin! Thanks for inviting her, Gail! I've read "The Witch Tree", and I enjoyed it immensely. It was fun learning the background behind it!

  2. Thank you, Gwendolyn! I appreciate your visit and comments.
    And a gracious thank you to Karin, for what Gwendolyn accurately described as "A lovely interview!"

  3. Hi, Gail--first time here.

    Karin, A couple of things stand out. I totally agree that Christian Mysteries are rare. I love love love mystery writing AND I'm a Christian. Now all I need is the talent. I also agree that when you have a dog in a story, people bond with the story. Most people--except those who hate dogs.


  4. That's what makes Anna so appealing, "what she considers her weaknesses...turn out to be her strengths." She's stronger than she knows! I can't wait for the sequel, either, although if Jackson's in trouble I might have to peek at the ending to make sure he'll be okay!

  5. Thank you, Gwen, Teresa, and Cynthia for your comments.

    Gwen, I'm glad you enjoyed reading about what spurred me to write the book. You can thank Gail's insightful (and fun) questions for that!

    Teresa, I wish I knew why Christian mysteries are so rare. The secular mystery genre is very popular, but Christian mysteries are neglected by both authors and publishers. If Christian publishing houses publish anything faintly mystery-like they generally call it "suspense" and require it to have a major romance element. So you *must* write if you feel the pull--the more Christian mystery authors the better!

    Cynthia, I'm glad you like that element of Anna's personality. I think most people don't realize that their weaknesses (their "thorns") may be their strengths. It reminds me of Joseph's "What you meant for evil, God meant for good" -- we often don't realize what good use God can make of our weaknesses.

  6. Karin, it is so nice to meet your friends here, Gwendolyn, Theresa, and Cynthia.
    An interesting coincidence: just this morning, I added Theresa's blog to my list for the A to Z Blog Challenge in April. It is a small world after all.

  7. Say Gail, a neat interview here, Kaufman's book is very interesting; you did her a good service with your questions.
    On a brief aside: I've been hearing the word "Hashtag" a lot lately. Does this mean we are finally abandoning the extremely stupid "Pound sign" reference to that tic-tac-toe sign (which is ridiculous if not also stupid)?

  8. Hi Anthony, thanks for visiting.

    Any new recipes this week? Guess I'll just have to visit your blog!

    The Twitter hashtag is # (#mystery)
    The number sign is # (#20)
    Is the # also used for the pound sign.

  9. Anthony, thanks for your comments, and yes, Gail's questions were great. Re: hashtag, when it comes to Twitter, that's how I've always heard it ("always" meaning about three years). I hear "pound sign" in reference to the telephone.


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