Best-Selling Authors Karen Ranney and Sue-Ellen Welfonder

USA Today best-selling author Sue Ellen Welfonder writes Scottish medieval romances as well as Scottish-set paranormal novels, the latter appearing under the pen name, Allie Mackay , (website coming soon).

New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Karen Ranney writes Scottish historical romances set in the 19th century. She also writes contemporary romantic suspense novels which appear under her pen name, Katherine Storm.

They blog together at Tartan Ink .

 Welcome, ladies!

 “Two authors, one passion...Writing Scotland one book at a time.”  How did the two of you find each other? (And may I say that I LOVE that fans of your blog are referred to as “Tarts”.)

Karen:   We found each other through Digital Theft, believe it or not. I have often wished that more authors were active in hunting down those who steal our work. I don't believe, for example, that it's publicity. Sue-Ellen emailed me with a digital theft tip I hadn't realized, and I thought to myself: wow, another author like me. When she guest blogged at Warm Fuzzies, it was such a fun experience that we decided to do Tartan Ink.

Sue-EllenDitto to everything Karen said.  I’ll add that I was a hermit for years, keeping to myself and minding my own business.  Now and then, I’d glance at author blogs and eventually happened upon Warm Fuzzies.  I fell in love with Karen’s wit and outlook and knew I’d found a kindred spirit.  Like Karen, I hunt and report Digital Theft.  Through Warm Fuzzies, I knew Karen’s stance on Digital Theft mirrored my own.  One day I discovered a particularly evil trick used by Digital Thieves and emailed Karen, telling her about it.  We’ve been friends ever since.

How do you get across the language of the period, the Scottish dialect, and the medieval or 19th century references with the average reader in mind? (Definition of average reader for my purposes: One who is neither Scottish nor a student of history.)

Karen: I've always been fascinated with 19th century Scotland because it was a bridge over cultures. It was a hundred fifty years since the last battle with the English. On the outside, the Scots are good little British subjects, but their past was never far away. You could almost hear the thrumming beat of freedom calling. It's a duality that was buried, simmering below the surface, almost like today with the occasional cries for devolution.

Another thing that intrigues me is that the Scottish people are responsible for some of the greatest inventions that led to the lives we live today. Whether still living in Scotland, or expatriates, the theme of creation and risk-taking seems inherent in the Scottish spirit.

I don't write dialect. I may say something that reflects the cadence of speech, or use Gaelic, but I want the language to connect to the story, not put up a wall.

Sue-Ellen: Again, Karen and I resonate.  I, too, do not write dialect.  I believe there are other ways to convey a sense of Scotland without words like ye, yer, fer, and what-have-you.  Syntax, for one thing.  If I do use a Gaelic term or place name, I make certain the meaning is explained in the context.  I dislike heavy dialect of any kind and prefer to use words that are familiar to readers, while also giving a sense of time and place through how I use them.

If I were to write in language actually used by my medieval Scottish characters, no one would be able to read the books.

How much research is required when writing a historical novel?

Karen: It all depends on the plot. For example, The Devil Wears Tartan required a lot of history into Egyptology (which I love), Queen Victoria's Chinese expeditions, and the Opium Wars. Autumn in Scotland required that I read all about divorce, Scottish style, and inheritance law. Scottish law is not like English law.

The strange thing is - I do as much research on a contemporary, just to make sure I have the details right.

Sue-EllenTons, though only a small portion goes into the books.  I believe it is necessary for an author to know as much as possible about the time and setting of her work.  Only then, when you are wholly comfortable in that world, can you paint it vividly on the page.  Thankfully, most historical writers love research.  I certainly do and consider it one of the best perks of writing.

I’ve always been passionate about Scotland and medieval history, so I had a good working knowledge of medieval Scotland before I ever decided to write.  I’ve also been visiting Scotland all my life, so am familiar with the land and people.  Like Karen, I research deeper for specifics as needed.  As an example, I really studied the Black Death of the 14th C. for A Highlander’s Temptation.  My setting was far removed from the terrors of the plague, but it was going on in the world of that story.  I didn’t want to ignore it and so did a lot of really deep research and found a few fascinating tidbits I then wove into the book.

Romances, like mysteries, follow a certain formula. How do you keep your characters and plotlines fresh?

Karen: I think the characters are the ones who keep it fresh. If they're filled in, if you know enough about them, if they breathe, then the book is almost a living entity.

Sue-Ellen: Re plots... The path and destination may be the same, but it’s the individual journey that makes it fun.  It’s not so much the happy ending, but how they get there that keeps it fresh.

Re characters... Story people are as individual as real people.  Discovering their personalities and watching them come to life on the page is always a grand adventure.

Sue Ellen, you’ve branched out into paranormal novels. Was this a complete switch from Scottish romances, or an extension of that genre?

Sue-Ellen: Not a complete switch at all.  Definitely an extension.  Anyone familiar with my medievals will know that they’re bursting with paranormal elements.  And not just the usual Highland magic such a second sight and myth and legend.  There are also curses, ghosts galore, enchanted stones and animals, crones who work spells and other magic, mythical creatures, etc, etc…

I’m always surprised when someone blinks at my inclusion of such things because all the above and more were very much a part of medieval Scotland.  To leave out such elements would be to ignore a vibrant and colorful part of Scotland’s past.  I have great fun working such threads in my Scottish medievals and wanted to expand on that enjoyment with my Scottish-set paranormals.

For that reason, there are many touch-points between my Scottish medieval and my Scottish-set paranormals.  I love taking a modern day American heroine and sending her to Scotland where she either time travels to medieval Scotland or falls in love with a medieval Highland ghost hero.  These books are light and humor-filled and the heroines often live out my own travel adventures in Scotland which makes them great fun to write.

Karen, you also write contemporary romantic suspense novels. Are they easier to write than historical?

Karen: I think it's just as difficult to write either, frankly. My recent contemporaries feature San Antonio as a location, since it's my home. My historicals never mention an exact place in Scotland, because the setting is an amalgam of places. As far as plot, characters, pacing, all those are the same. The only difference in historical romance from contemporary suspense is the mores of 19th century Scotland - oh, and the clothing. I still insist on a Happy Ever After in my contemporary suspense, or at least the hint of one.

Both of you have pen names. Was this your choice or your publisher’s choice, and do you worry that readers of one name won’t discover all that you have to offer?

Karen: In my case, using the name Katherine Storm was my decision, to differentiate from my Scottish historical romances. These books are so different that I didn't want fans of one genre to be expecting something similar.

Sue-Ellen: It was my choice to use Allie Mackay for my Scottish-set paranormals.  Sue-Ellen Welfonder is my real name and, frankly, quite a mouthful.  When opportunity arose, I wanted a shorter, snappier name that also sounded Scottish.

I do worry about readers of one genre not reading the other.  But not because of the different names.  I’ve been very open about writing in two genres and using a pen name for one.  It’s no secret.  But I’ve discovered that very few of my historical readers read the Allie Mackay titles.  As noted above, there are so many shared elements in both types of books.  I’d hoped my historical readers would follow me into the second genre.  Some did, but most haven’t.  I have two sets of core readers with just a bit of mixed readers.

Sue Ellen, you’ve written a trilogy. Do you start a trilogy with the entire story in mind? And which do you consider easier to write--standalones, a trilogy, or a series? Does your approach to the characters differ with each format?

Sue-Ellen: Highland Warriors is my second trilogy.  I wrote my MacLean trilogy (Knight In My Bed, Master Of The Highlands, Wedding For A Knight) early in my career, although my publisher did not market the books as such.  My MacKenzie series also wasn’t marketed as a series, although it certainly was one.

I like to think all the books can be read as standalones, but writing-wise I prefer series.  I love revisiting well-loved characters and a setting that feels like home.  Yes, I have the over-all story in mind before starting a trilogy.  There has to be a powerful enough plot to sustain three books. 

My approach to characters doesn’t change with format or genre.  I’m always inspired first by an atmospheric setting and then the fitting character just ‘appears in my mind.’  I see them instantly and always full-bodied.  But they only come when I first know where the story is to take place.  My characters are always born of the setting.

Karen, you also blog on Warm Fuzzies. Is blogging an effective way for authors to get the word out about their books?

Karen: I think blogging is a great way to introduce yourself to people, but it's not for everyone. For example, I make a conscious effort not to talk about my books very often. When you go to Warm Fuzzies! - they're all there. If someone wants to buy one, they can. I also don't talk about writing all that often, even though I do like having guest authors.

Instead, I talk to my readers, and I think I've narrowed down who they are. Predominantly, women just like me. So, I'll talk about funny things, odd things, my peculiar view of the world, anything to reach out and connect with other people.

How much time do you both spend on social networking? Which venues get the best reader response?

Karen: I spend an hour a day. I love Goodreads, but I've also developed a liking for Facebook. I'd like to think that both blogs, Warm Fuzzies and Tartan Ink, generate the best response from people.

Sue-Ellen: I spend about the same amount of time on social networking as Karen.  About an hour a day, more around releases.  I’m fairly new to social networking, having resisted that whole scene for years.  I find self-promotion awkward and painful and have avoided such things for that reason.  I adore Twitter.  I can’t stand Facebook and will be taking down my page there.  I love blogging with Karen at Tartan Ink and enjoy popping by Warm Fuzzies.

I am not convinced that social networking sells books.  What I love is the immediacy of saying hello to friends on Twitter, catching word of neat blog articles and newsy bits tweeted there.  Above all, I LOVE Tartan Ink.  We have a warm and friendly community and I believe our readers enjoy visiting the ‘tea room’ each day.

When you read, do you stick to romance or is there another favorite genre that you indulge in?

Karen: I love almost anything. I'm a fiend for non-fiction. Right now I'm reading a collection of paranormal stories, a couple of motivational books, a contemporary romance, and a gritty crime novel.

Sue-Ellen: I adore cozy mysteries and Regency-set historicals.  I also love Karen’s books.  I have a set-in-stone rule not to read in my own genre, but I make an exception for her.  I also read tons of nonfiction.  As I love research, it’s pure pleasure to delve into books on all things medieval, Scottish history, Celtic myth and legend, archaeology, the paranormal (haunting, earth mysteries, and sacred places, etc.)

Karen again: Well, shoot, I have to add Sue-Ellen's books. Trust me, I do not read inside my own genre, so I was really annoyed that her latest book, Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel, was so good that it just grabbed me and wouldn't let me go. Truly, her books are wonderful, and she has such a magnificent way of depicting Scotland.  

What’s next for each of you?

Karen: I'm currently writing a very spooky and difficult book under the Katherine Storm name and soon to begin a new Karen Ranney book. I have A Scottish Love coming out November 29, 2011, and a few books in 2012.

Sue-Ellen: My next release is an Allie Mackay title, Haunted Warrior, out in Jan. 2012.  After that, comes Highland Warriors book three, Seduction of a Highland Warrior, also 2012.  Thereafter, a spin-off series from Highland Warriors.

Thank you both for stopping by A Writer's Jumble! You can find out more about each author's books at their websites, and I highly recommend their blogs.


  1. The interview looks great. Thank you so much for inviting Karen and I here today. These were some of the most thoughtful interview questions I've ever seen. Well done.

  2. Hi Jacqueline, Sue-Ellen and Karen,

    This was a wonderful interview.

    I found Sue-Ellen through her Allie Mackay books which are wonderful. Sue-Ellen herself suggested I try her historicals. I started with Devil in a Kilt and was hooked.

    Karen intrigues me. She was a wonderful historical voice but it is her contempary voice that is so intriguing. It is like she is sitting right beside me telling me the tale. That may be because I have come to know her these last six months through the blogs, email and social networking.

    Anyone reading these comments should definitely try these ladies. There is such a variety that it will keep you satisfied for a long time.

    Kathy Garuti

  3. A very interesting and enjoyable interview. I am a big fan of both Sue-Elen and Karen and enjoy my daily visits to Warm Fuzzies and Tartan Ink.

  4. I have to echo Sue-Ellen, what great interview questions! I can honestly say I've never been asked some of them. Thank you for having us here.

    I started Pekingese Premonition, and it's wonderful!

  5. Thank you, Ladies, for the compliment, and for taking the time to be on A Writer's Jumble. I have to say that I had to restrain myself (with my questions). There were so many things I wanted to know about you both as authors and about your books. I will definitely keep up with your blogs!


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