Member Spotlight: Ken and Deborah Raney
Mike Miller · Jan 01, 2016
Ken and Deborah Raney share the message of Christ in image and word from their home in the middle of America.
He is a graphic artist who illustrates books and runs a Christian entertainment website. She is an award-winning writer with 30 published novels to her credit, such as A Vow to Cherish, Winter Brides, and the current “Chicory Inn Novels” series.
The Samaritan Ministries members conduct their creative careers from their Wichita, Kansas, home in the same region where they both grew up and met.
Deborah started writing on January 1, 1994, as part of a New Year’s resolution to bring in some money for their older children’s college tuition and to be able to stay at home after giving birth to their youngest daughter, Tavia.
A Vow to Cherish, which was later turned into a movie, was published two years later.
“Writing was something I had always wanted to do and it just seemed like the right time,” Deborah says. “The miracle of it all really is that the offer I ended up taking was a two-book contract from Bethany House. I hadn’t even written the second book nor did I have an idea for it, but they still wanted the second book.”
Even more encouraging and affirming to the Raneys that this was the direction God wanted Deborah to take was the advance on royalties they offered. “It was to the penny what we had just been told four years of college for our son was going to be,” Deborah says. “It was just an exact answer to prayer on a silver platter that God gave us. Best of all, it allowed me to stay home with our daughter, which was the goal in the first place.”
The idea for that second novel, In the Still of the Night, came soon enough “and ideas have been coming fast and furious ever since.”
While that was going on, Ken was careering as an advertising manager “for a pretty large manufacturer.” After surreptitiously decorating several desktops in high school, Ken majored in commercial art in college and wanted to be an illustrator but found it “hard to make a living at that.” While working a desk job, though, he managed to illustrate two children’s picture books, some Sunday school materials, and a few issues of National Geographic Traveler besides “various and sundry other freelance jobs.”
In the mid-2000s, though, Ken started feeling a divine nudge. He went to a Gideon Media Arts Conference, “a bunch of Christian creatives who want to use their gifts for the Lord’s kingdom.” Even though he had a corporate job at a good salary, he felt the Lord telling him, “Ken, you won’t be retiring from this company; I’ve got something else for you to do.”
“The Lord did not tell me any of this,” Deborah inserts.
Then Ken was laid off in 2009, and “it seemed like a good time to get serious about it.” He made plans to start his own business, although Deborah wasn’t on the same page with him “for quite some time.” That period turned out to be a growth phase for their marriage.
“I’m a big believer in wives submitting to their husbands,” Deborah says. “But it’s a lot easier said than done. Once I finally submitted to my husband and to the Lord, however, it was just amazing how things came together.”
Ken started going to writers conferences where Deborah was teaching and, when they discovered he was an illustrator, asked him to teach at the same conferences.
“As a result of that,” Deborah says, “we both work from home and we get working vacations, but they’re paid vacations because we travel and teach at the same conferences. It’s just been really neat to see how the Lord intertwined both of our careers into something brand new.”
Ken hasn’t had trouble finding work. He has done book covers for several of Deborah’s friends who are writers, and has been working on middle-reader books, including one called Dino Hunters. Two orphaned, creationist teens go to live with an uncle who teaches biology and is a Darwinian. The culture clash results in Uncle Dave going on jaunts with his two charges to check out evidence of dinosaurs living within human memory, and Uncle Dave’s views start to change. A trilogy is planned.
He also has been working on an allegorical fantasy called Forever Quest, which Deborah has done some writing for as well, although the project is on hold.
Another result of Ken’s attendance at the Gideon conferences is Clash Entertainment, a web portal aimed at providing entertainment and cultural information for adolescents and young adults.
“We post information on movies, books, comics, music, video games, all of it from a Christian perspective, most of the information actually produced by Christian creatives,” he says. “It’s aimed at the teenage market.”
Deborah’s books appeal to a different market, mostly Christian women, although Ken testifies that men are perfectly capable of enjoying them as well. The author wasn’t sure which market her books would appeal to when she started; A Vow to Cherish was written in a Christian version and a secular version.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to preach to the choir or be a light in the darkness,” she says.
In the end, the only difference was characters praying in Jesus’s name, and she “realized I could not tell the story without the freedom to use Jesus’s name.”
The Christian market it was.
“Of course, I hoped that I would have nonbelievers reading the book and hearing that message,” she says. “I wanted in my book to be able to share the difference that Christ makes in the life of a family. They have all the same problems that the world has, but there’s a huge difference in Who we have to support us and carry us through.”
That’s part of what makes her writing a ministry.
“I write to entertain,” Deborah says. “I want my stories to be interesting and fun and sometimes tragic. I want them to make people feel, to laugh or cry or get angry. But at the same time, I hope that by telling a good story, I am demonstrating the difference that Christ can make in a person’s life.”
She has received letters from readers telling her that a marriage was healed or that salvation occurred as a result of reading one of her novels.
“That’s just a seed I planted,” Deborah says. “I’m certainly not the one to harvest that. But it’s neat to have the work that I do to provide for our family also be a ministry.”
Her newest books focus on family, but she says she has had to struggle to keep her family out of them. The Chicory Inn novels are “probably the closest to my real life as anything else I’ve written,” Deborah says.
In the books, an empty nest couple who have turned their family home into a bed-and-breakfast have their children, one at a time, one to a book, end up back home “for whatever reason.”
“I’ve had to struggle not to put too much of my real family in the books because the premise sounds a lot like our own family,” she says.
Three of the novels in the series—Home to Chicory Lane, Two Roads Home, and Another Way Home—have been published. Close to Home is in rewrites and is due out in June. The final, installment, Home at Last, is planned for February 2017.
Future plans for the couple include republishing some of Deborah’s earlier works with Ken doing some of the cover illustrations.
“We are in the process of starting our own small press to get some of my older books out and some of the books I have rights for again,” Deborah says. “Actually my favorite cover of all time, Because of the Rain, is one that Ken designed. So I’m excited about having him put together some of my other books.”