Last spring, Kara Isaac hit the scene with Close to You (Howard Books), a fun romance set in the same location where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed. This fall, her second romance—Can’t Help Falling (Howard Books)—features an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup that brings together two C.S. Lewis fans. Kara tells us why the two books touch on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, what it’s like the visit the locations in real life, and why storytelling is an amazing way to share truth…
Q: In Close to You, the character of Allison is a “disgraced academic” who now uses her English degree to guide tours around the real-life locations where they shot the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. Is that a thing?
It is definitely a thing! Of course, over ten years on from the release of the Lord of Rings movies it’s no longer nearly as big of an industry as it was back then but there are still companies that offer tours of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit locations and Hobbiton remains one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions with more than 300,000 visitors a year.
Q: There’s something intriguing about setting your romance novel somewhere that’s a real place—but that is a tour spot because of events that never actually happened. As a writer, how much did you play with that dividing line as the characters were somewhere that is both real and yet magical?
I played with it as much as I felt I could without feeling like the particular scene was becoming farcical. In particular, the scenes where the characters are in real places but dressed up as Lord of the Rings characters were some of my favorite to write because there was that blurring of the lines between what was real and may be more magical. Jackson’s Uncle Louis was also one of my favorite secondary characters, because he loved dressing up as Gandalf; then there were also aspects of his character that made you wonder if he was even more like Gandalf than just being an old man who liked getting into costume!
Q: Have you been to these locations? Are they as amazing as one would imagine?
I have been to all of the locations around Wellington, where I live, and some of the ones that featured in the second half of the book in the South Island and yes, they are all as amazing as they sound! When I was writing Close To You I was either heavily pregnant with our second child or she was a newborn so I wasn’t able to make it to Hobbiton. But I did have friends who visited and graciously took 300 photos of it for me so I feel like I’ve been there. There are also a couple of locations in the story that require access to private land and/or by helicopter so I had to make do with research for those. Luckily for the people who go on those kinds of tours tend to be very generous about documenting them online.
Q: What inspired the Narnia theme in Can’t Help Falling?
I’ve been a huge fan of the Chronicles of Narnia since I was a little girl. With Close To You having a Tolkien/Lord of the Rings theme, my editor and I were talking about what a story could be that was somehow connected. Tolkien and Lewis both taught at Oxford University at the same time, were friends and both belonged to a literary critique group known as the Inklings. So I pitched her the idea of a story set in Oxford with a Lewis/Narnia theme and thankfully she loved it.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from the story?
A common theme running through my stories is the one of second chances. Peter and Emelia are both burdened by regret about decisions they have made and struggle with feeling like their lives will always be defined by them. I would love it if readers took away that there is no mistake that they have made that God sees them as being defined by.
Q: As Lewis and Tolkien well knew, there’s something about storytelling that can get in so much deeper than simple facts and figures. Why do you think that storytelling is such an amazing way to communicate truth?
I think it’s because storytelling has a way of getting under our skin that nothing else does. We find ourselves absorbed in the characters and what they are going through and then, when our guard is down, we are often confronted with a truth that applies directly to us. For example, when David tried to cover up his sin with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan told David a story of a rich man who had everything and yet took the one thing a poor man had of value. That impacted David so much more profoundly than Nathan going in and lecturing him about adultery ever could have done.