Q&A With Jessica Strawser

Strawser Photo

By day, Jessica Strawser is the editorial director of Writer’s Digest magazine, North America’s leading publication for aspiring and working writers since 1920. By night, she is a fiction writer with a debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, new from St. Martin’s Press (named to the March 2017 Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction shortlist!), and another stand-alone book club title, NOT THAT I COULD TELL, forthcoming in 2018. And by the minute, she is a proud wife and mom to two super sweet and super young kids in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Her diverse career in the publishing industry spans more than 15 years and includes stints in book editing, marketing and public relations, and freelance writing and editing. She blogs at WritersDigest.comand elsewhere (if you’d like a guest post, contact me!), tweets fairly regularly @jessicastrawser (please do say hello), enjoys connecting on Facebook, and speaks at writing conferences and events that are kind enough to invite her.

 

I read her novel (ALMOST MISSED YOU) and was hooked immediately. Having a three-year-old boy myself really tugged on my mommy heartstrings and Jessica’s writing tugged on my writer’s heartstrings. Please, stop what you’re doing and download this ebook, or go buy it somewhere and start diving in! I even passed it along to my mom when I was finished (she adored it as well). Of course, after going gaga over this book, I had some questions for its fabulous author. So, here we go…

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1-  When you are writing, do you have beta readers? If so, how do you find them? 

I do have a few trusted beta readers—mostly generous souls from my life who are kind enough to lend an eye and who happen to share my love of books: a librarian, a former bookseller, a voracious reader. I’ve also traded critiques with fellow writers on occasion, and in those instances we connected regarding something else first and the swap came about organically. I do not share my work “when I am writing,” however—only completed drafts that I feel are on their way to being ready for an audience.

2-  Are your characters for your works loosely based-on or inspired by actual people?

My characters are wonderfully not inspired by actual people—dreaming them up is half the fun.

3-  Do you have a basic outline that you follow when you are writing? Or do you wing it?

I tend to have a central question I’m pursuing an answer to, and some key themes and plot points in mind that I’d like to hit along the way, but definitely not an outline (though I often wish I did!).

4-  Who are some of your favorite authors?

Liane Moriarty, Maggie O’Farrell, Anne Tyler, Jodi Picoult, Alice Walker, Jojo Moyes, Chris Bohjalian, David Sedaris … I could go on and on!

5-  Do you read other genres besides your own? What genre do you consider your work?

Part of my day job as editor at Writer’s Digest involves interviewing bestselling authors across all genres, and I never do so without reading their work. I’ve found it’s wonderfully beneficial as a writer, and enjoyable as a reader, that this forces me not to box myself in. I find much to admire in the never-saw-them-coming twists of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner, the happily-ever-afters of Susan Mallery, the nostalgia of Sarah Dessen. My own tastes are broad reaching as well, but my work is best defined as “book club fiction”—or, if you want a real mouthful, “upmarket women’s fiction with elements of suspense.”

6-  How did you go about finding a literary agent? Did you send many query letters out? How much time did it take to hear back/edit/receive an offer from an agent and then a publisher? 

The agent who sold Almost Missed You is actually my second agent. I had an earlier, unsold project that did help me land my first agent, on a revise-and-resubmit request (which really was more like a complete rewrite based on his feedback, which had resonated strongly), but ultimately he was unable to place the book and we went our separate ways for largely unrelated reasons. I had garnered many rejections for that first project, both from other agents and from publishers—I never kept count of how many, so as not to discourage myself further, but always tried to look to the next possibility.

With Almost Missed You, the only agent I approached signed me, and she sold me in a two-book pre-empt two weeks later. After years of waiting and being told no, I’d stopped getting my hopes up very high—it was completely unexpected!

7-  Do you listen to music when you write to create a mood? Or do you have the TV on? Do you prefer silence? 

I close the door of my writing room and aim for silence, though I don’t always get it! I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old, and do as much of my writing as possible when they’re asleep—but if they aren’t, I say a silent thanks to my husband for holding down the fort and do my best to tune out the noise.

8-  Which comes first? Plot/story or characters.

I simply can’t separate the two—they are intrinsically linked.

9-  What are some of your favorite TV shows/Movies/Music/Actors?

I’ve fallen woefully behind on both TV and movies, given that I work all day and write weeknights until bedtime—I really only have a chance to relax in front of the screen on weekends, so often stick to one thing at a time. Right now I’m loving the new season of “Better Call Saul,” and eagerly awaiting the new seasons of “This Is Us,” “Z: The Beginning of Everything” and “Mozart in the Jungle.”

10- When writing do you ever envision certain actors as you characters? If so, who?

I do not, but this is a popular topic at book clubs I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with! It’s fun to hear their own casting ideas (though to be clear, my work has not as of yet been optioned for film).

11-  How different is Almost Missed You from your previous novel? Any previews for your next stand alone book?

Almost Missed You is completely different from my unsold “drawer novel” (or “practice novel,” as Jane Smiley calls them), which was a very internal, first person, present tense story.

Not That I Could Tell, forthcoming in March 2018, has much in common with Almost Missed You—again asking the question of how well any of us really know anyone else, and alternating voices between three characters—though it takes a completely different approach. While Almost Missed You centered on our closest relationships (namely, our spouses and children), Not That I Could Tell looks to our friends and neighbors and raises some tough questions about the line between caring for those around us and minding our own business. It’s also a more linear story, in a more confined setting and on a tighter timeline, whereas Almost Missed You moved around in both place and time quite a bit.

12-  Any general advice to debut authors trying to get published?

Believe you can do it; persist.

13-  Any advice for writing with young children and trying to balance it all?

It’s not easy; sacrifice is involved. I suppose my best advice is to know your priorities (my first one is always my children), to not hesitate to make your writing one of them (which does mean learning to say no to outside obligations—including, sometimes, quite appealing ones), and not to be too hard on yourself when something falls short.

14-  Do you miss your characters when a book is complete?

You know, I really don’t. I try to leave them where I feel as if they can take it from there—and I love nothing more than hearing from readers who are imagining futures for these people beyond the page. The fact that they have become real to someone other than me is the greatest compliment I could receive, I think. (And given your questions at the end of this interview, that includes you, so thank you!)

15-  Is there a character of your own or of someone else’s that you think you are very similar to?

I think if authors are doing their jobs well, their characters are relatable in that they are like us, but also so apart from us that we can’t point to them as mirrors or archetypes of ourselves.

16-  I love your use of Gatlinburg and Asheville (since I am from Knoxville which is relatively similar and close) are these some of your favorite travel destinations? What made you want to feature them in your story?

The characters live in Cincinnati, as I do, and both Gatlinburg and Asheville are popular spots here for a long weekend away, which is what I needed for the purposes of my plot. That said, I do love them both, and it was great fun to write about Asheville especially.

17-  Do you think Finn romanticized his relationship with his ex (Maribel)?

That is, by design, for the reader to decide, rather than for me to say.

 

…The rest of my questions would be spoilers! So I didn’t share =)

 

XO

Audra

(Happy reading)

 

Interviewed by – Audra McElyea

AudraAuthorPhotoColor

Audra McElyea @AudraMcElyea is a writer, personal trainer, blogger, contributor, wife and mom to two young boys. Her women’s fiction novel When Lilies Bloom is currently in the querying stage. She is a proud member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and she is the host of Book Moms #BookMoms @BookMoms & Women’s Fiction Wednesdays. #WFWed @WFWed

Her work has appeared in national online publications, including SheKnows magazine. When she isn’t endlessly editing her novel, you can find her in Tennessee cleaning up after two wild, little boys, or teaching Pilates. She is active on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads

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#PitchWars #PimpMyBio

I am beyond excited to be entering #PitchWars for the first time ever this year! If you don’t know what that is you may want to stop reading right now (in order to save yourself from weapons of mass confusion).

My Novel in a nutshell

Eve tragically loses both her parents at thirty and her cancer diagnosis prompts a marriage proposal from her doctor—only he’s after more than her heart and it could cost Eve her life. Steel Magnolias’ southern wit and charm plus Emily Giffin’s relatability and focus on tight-knit female relationships

My Novel in a bigger nutshell

I would like to introduce you to my debut novel When Lilies Bloom, a witty, suspenseful, and emotional southern women’s fiction novel, complete at 80,000 words. When Lilies Bloom is the story of a sister-like bond and friendship that overcomes complex relationships and health crises in one year, and is best described as having Steel Magnolias’ southern wit and charm, and Emily Giffin’s relatability and focus on tight-knit relationships.

After the devastating death of thirty-year-old Eve Carter’s parents, she must take the inheritance left to her and form a new life and career for herself. She meets Cora, a newly engaged customer from her work, the day her parents pass away and the two become fast friends. Shortly before Cora’s wedding, Eve learns she has breast cancer and falls in love with Max, the intern at her oncologist’s office. However, when Eve’s lumpectomy prompts an unexpected marriage proposal from Max, who then convinces her to skip radiation following the procedure, Cora has her suspicions that he may be too perfect, and Eve must decide who to trust as Cora and Max pull her in two different directions.

After a malicious robbery on Eve’s boutique, undercover cop Beau poses as a customer and stakes out Eve’s store. Despite their bickering relationship, Eve and Beau grow close, and Max’s shocking, true motives ultimately come to light—with unexpected consequences. When Lilies Bloom is full of southern anecdotes, expressions, symbolism, and charm, but it is the blooming sisterhood between Eve and Cora that truly sets it apart.

 

(Emma or Rachel would make a perfect Eve)

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(Reese or Julianne would make a perfect Cora)

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It feels like this…

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Some of my favorite shows

(Notice that no matter the setting and genre) they all feature kick butt females who have issues, and although some may feature intense fight scenes (which my book does not!) they all draw you in because of the character development, believable flaws, close-knit friendships, and the epic (some tragic, some happy endings) love stories.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Alias

Desperate Housewives

This is Us

Friends

Pretty Little Liars

 

Who I am

I am hard working and a quick learner. I am the most persistent person I know (and the funniest). Haha! I would love a mentor who loves empowering women, the south, and has a sense of humor.

(My bio is below)

Audra McElyea is a writer, personal trainer, blogger, contributor, wife and mom to two young boys. Her women’s fiction novel When Lilies Bloom is currently in the querying stage. She is a proud member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and she is the host of Women’s Fiction Wednesdays. #WFWed @WFWed

Her work has appeared in national online publications, including SheKnows magazine. When she isn’t endlessly editing her novel, you can find her in Tennessee cleaning up after two, wild little boys, or teaching Pilates. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads

Q&A With Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand is a New York Times bestselling author and the reigning queen of Nantucket beach reads. She has a twin brother who is not a bestselling novelist. She does her best writing on the beaches of Nantucket, as well as on the charming streets of Beacon Hill in Boston. She has three magical children who beg her not to sing along to the radio or dance in public.

 

Elin has published 18 novels and has 13 New York Times Bestsellers under her belt, and having such an accomplished author participate in an interview with me is a dream come true! I would like to add that I just finished The Match Maker a few months ago, my first Elin novel, and I absolutely fell in love with the characters and her writing. It was a beautiful story with a charming and inspiring voice. It had me in tears several times, which I love to hate. I loved how the characters were vastly flawed, yet they all remained undeniably lovable as well (except for one character haha). I always love a book that makes me think differently, and that makes me appreciate the wondrous gift of life. I cannot wait to read more of her incredible work…

elin

 

When you are writing, do you have beta readers? If so, how do you find them? Any recommendations?

 

I don’t have any readers while I’m in the midst of writing a book.  And I would advise against it for others.  Your novel should be your voice without interruption, distraction or input…until it’s completely finished.  When I have a first draft, I send it off to my editor at Little, Brown, Reagan Arthur.  Hers is the only opinion that matters…and she is always right.

 

How did you go about finding a literary agent? Did you send many query letters out? How much time did it take to hear back/edit/receive an offer from an agent and then a publisher?

 

I met my agent during my very last workshop at the University of Iowa.  He was also my professor’s agent.  He gave me the sage advice: When you are finished with your novel, send it to me.  I sent it to him in January 1999 (meaning, I put it in a box and mailed it).  I heard back from him a week or two later saying he would like to take me on.  But we didn’t find a home for the book until late May 1999 and even then, it was the last publisher we tried.  Everyone else rejected it.  Michael Carlisle, my agent, wisely saved every single rejection letter I got…it’s amusing only now that I’ve published 18 novels and had 13 NYT best sellers.  Back then, it was depressing.

 

Any advice for writing with young children and trying to balance it all?

 

My first five novels I wrote while my children were napping.  The key to being a novelist, and I can’t stress this enough, is discipline.  That means making the time to write, not stopping in the nebulous middle because you aren’t sure what happens next; it means not getting distracted.  It means staying off Twitter and Facebook and instead dedicating yourself to finishing your story.  Once you finish, you can always go back and revise.  But you have to finish.

 

Now that your kids are a bit older do they think it is “cool” that mom is an author?

 

No.

 

Is there a character of your own or of someone else’s that you think you are very similar to?

 

There are pieces of me and my real life scattered throughout all of my novels.  But no one character is Elin Hilderbrand.  Fiction is crafted to make sense and real people clunk around…as real people we are boring and we have aspects that don’t serve the arc of a narrative.  It’s imperative that every sentence of your novel is adding to the whole.

 

My novel is set in my hometown, Knoxville TN. I know you always have yours set in Nantucket, and Nicholas Sparks often has his set on the beach-y Carolina shores where he resides. Do you think this makes our writing stronger or more difficult as you add more books under your belt?

 

I just visited Knoxville properly for the first time last September and it was during a UT home game.  What a scene!  I definitely think sense of place is important, especially those details that make it different from the rest of the country.  Knoxville has its own thing going on…if you’re setting your novel there, I would include all the details that make Knoxville unique.

 

*Elin Hilderbrand FAQ*

(For inquiring minds – the order for her Winter book series and The Rumor is…Winter Street, Winter Stroll, Winter Storms, and then Winter Solstice, which is also a sequel to The Rumor.)

 

For more information on Elin’s books and her upcoming book tour this summer check out ElinHilderbrand.com

 

Her newest book The Identicals is available June 13, 2017 (or you can pre-order it now)

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Books A Million

theidenticals

(Overview)

Identical twin sisters who couldn’t look more alike…or live more differently.

Harper Frost is laid-back, easygoing. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She likes a beer and a shot and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything fashionable. She’s inherited her father’s rundown house on Martha’s Vineyard, but she can’t hold down a job, and her latest romantic disaster has the entire island talking.

Two beautiful islands only eleven miles apart.

Tabitha Frost is dignified, refined. She prefers a fine wine and has inherited the impeccable taste of her mother, the iconic fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost. She’s also inherited her mother’s questionable parenting skills–Tabitha’s teenage daughter, Ainsley, is in full rebellion mode–and a flailing fashion boutique on Nantucket in desperate need of a cash infusion.

One unforgettable summer that will change their lives forever.

After more than a decade apart, Harper and Tabitha switch islands–and lives–to save what’s left of their splintered family. But the twins quickly discover that the secrets, lies, and gossip they thought they’d outrun can travel between islands just as easily as they can. Will Harper and Tabitha be able to bury the hatchet and end their sibling rivalry once and for all? Before the last beach picnic of the season, there will be enough old resentments, new loves, and cases of mistaken identity to make this the most talked-about summer that Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have experienced in ages.

 

Interviewed by – Audra McElyea

Audra2017Blog

Audra McElyea is a writer, personal trainer, blogger, contributor, wife and mom to two young boys. Her women’s fiction novel When Lilies Bloom is currently in the querying stage. She is a proud member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and she is the host of Women’s Fiction Wednesdays. #WFWed @WFWed

Her work has appeared in national online publications, including SheKnows magazine. When she isn’t endlessly editing her novel, you can find her in Tennessee cleaning up after two wild, little boys, or teaching Pilates. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads

Q&A With Jenni L. Walsh

Jenni L. Walsh spends her days knee deep in words in Philadelphia’s suburbia. Beyond words, Jenni is a mama (of an feisty three-year-old, an on-the-go one-year-old, and a needy goldendoodle), a wife, a Philly and ‘Nova sports fan, and a lover of carbs and Swedish fish (ideally consumed one after another). Her debut novel, Becoming Bonnie, was released on May 9, 2017 from Tor/Forge (Macmillan), it will be followed by its sequel Being Bonnie which will be available in the summer of 2018. For the kiddos, Jenni’s debut middle grade series, Brave Like Me, is forthcoming from Scholastic (Fall, 2018) and will feature true stories from women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.

Our interview focuses on Jenni’s journey as an author, Becoming Bonnie, and recognizes May 23rd as #BonnieAndClydeVersary — on this day in history: Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree came to an end.

becoming bonnie cover

Who isn’t intrigued by the history, romance, danger, and mystery that encompassed Bonnie and Clyde? From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh comes the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself (Add on Goodreads).



 Becoming Bonnie Is Now Available!

Now to our author interview…

 

Jenni walsh

 

When you are writing, do you have beta readers? If so, how do you find them? 

At this stage in my writing career, I’d say I more so have a tight group of critique partners than beta readers. Over the years, I’ve come to rely on some author friends to be my second set of eyes and to give me gut checks, and I do the same for them. It’s interesting because all of those relationships developed organically through different initiatives I’ve gotten involved with in the writing world. My book bestie and I used to share an agent together, but we’ve both since moved on to different agents. She’s always my go-to when I have something new written.

Are your characters for your works loosely based-on or inspired by actual people? For Becoming Bonnie is everything loosely based upon facts, or is it strictly fiction?

Becoming Bonnie is the coming-of-age origin story of how wholesome Bonnie Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. I’d say Bonnie is obviously fictional as it’s a novel and not a nonfiction account, but I tried to base it as accurately as I could on history. Of course there are deviations for storytelling purposes and there are areas in which I had to make a “best guess,” but those who are familiar with Bonnie’s background should be able to pick out the factual elements. The thing is; not much is known about Bonnie’s life pre-Clyde Barrow or their infamous crime spree, so I had to fill in a lot of gaps.

Do you have a basic outline that you follow when you are writing? Or do you wing it?

With a historical topic, I like to create a pretty robust outline with all the actual historical dates and events. But then I let my characters speak to me and take me where they want to go. I use the real dates/events almost as guideposts and then I fill in the rest.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I’ve recently been devouring books by Greer Macallister. If you’re into historical fiction, I would definitely check her out, along with Pam Jenoff, Crystal King, and Janet Benton.

Do you read other genres besides your own? What genre do you consider your work?

My book falls into the historical fiction and women’s fiction genre, and as a reader that’s where I spend the most of my time. For me, premise is king. And I tend to be drawn to premises in those genres, but I’ll read outside of my genre if the premise yanks me in.

How did you go about finding a literary agent? Did you send many query letters out? How much time did it take to hear back/edit/receive an offer from an agent and then a publisher?

I actually did a piece with Writer’s Digest where I outline much of my journey. But some of the specifics not included in that essay are that I queried well over 100 agents to get my first agent. The response time varied greatly. Some responded in an hour, some a week, some a month or more (this was the biggest camp), and some not at all. I ended up parting ways with my former agent and pursued new representation for Becoming Bonnie. That timeline was very different and I ended up receiving an offer five days after querying an agent. I got very lucky the second time around. And yes, I think luck has a huge part in publishing. It’s all about pitching/querying at the right time to the right agent/editor. Once my agent began pitching Becoming Bonnie to editors, the process took about seven months and I ended up with two offers of publication.

Do you listen to music when you write? Or do you have the TV on? Do you prefer silence?

Silence. Any noise distracts me to no end. I often write late at night when my husband and two kiddos are sound asleep. But, I do find inspiration in music, mostly Country music. I find the songs to be extremely visual and great at storytelling.

Which comes first? Plot/story or characters.

I’ll say… premise. I enjoy writing high-concept stories, which essentially means you can tell someone what the book’s about within a single sentence. I think having that succinctness helps me focus my stories. And, I’m finding that booksellers love it too. I’ve been in lots of bookstores lately and have overheard the employees telling people about my book. It’s very easy for them to say: it’s a story of how Bonnie becomes the Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde.

Once I have my premise figured out, then I’ll generally use the 3-arc process to figure out plot points. Then, I like to do this 3×3 rule within each chapter, which helps to develop both plot and characters.

What are some of your favorite TV shows/Movies/Music/Actors?

I watch a lot of HGTV, but as far as other TV shows, I loved The White Queen and I’m currently enjoying The White Princess. I’m dying for Outlander to come back on. Some of my favorite actors are Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Banks. I’ll be honest though that I don’t have a ton of time for TV/movies at the moment, but when I do watch, I tend to go for the “women’s fiction” type of movies/shows.

When writing do you ever envision certain actors as you characters? If so, who?

Not necessarily as I’m writing, but I did dreamcast who my Bonnie could be and I’ve narrowed down whom I’d be eager to see as my version of Bonnie Parker to three wonderful actors, based on two main attributes. First, it’d have to be someone with a similar 5-foot-nothing stature, and, second, I’d want a gal with a great singing voice, because my novel includes original lyrics that my Bonnie and Clyde pen together. That leaves me dreamcasting Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Aubrey Peeples (Nashville), or Darcy Rose Byrnes (Sofia the First, Y&R) as half of my Bonnie and Clyde.

How different is Becoming Bonnie from your previous novels? Any previews for Being Bonnie?

Becoming Bonnie is actually the fourth novel I’ve written, but the first to be published. The first two are fantasies, and no one will ever see them, ha. The next one was a historical fiction that answers the question: what if Anastasia Romanov actually survived the Bolshevik’s brutal attack? I adore this story and I actually plan to release it on Wattpad in July 2018, to align with the 100th anniversary of the Romanov’s assassination

I’m really excited for Being Bonnie, which is coming May of 2018. That’ll pick up where Becoming Bonnie leaves off and will quickly put readers into the infamous crime spree for which Bonnie and Clyde are known. If you’re on Goodreads, I’d love for you to add Being Bonnie to your to-be-read shelf!

Any general advice to debut authors trying to get published?

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep your fingers crossed. I know I’ve already mentioned this but so much of getting an agent or editor comes down to timing. All you can do is try to perfect your craft so that what you put out into the world is the best it can possibly be. There’s no need to rush an “almost there” manuscript into the hands of an agent or editor.

Any advice for writing with young children and trying to balance it all?

I sorta just want to laugh at this because I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m also constantly adjusting when I write, be it the morning or the evening. Right now, I write at night (mostly because my 1 yo’s sleep patterns can vary in the morning). But when I finally settle down in front of my laptop, I try to make the most of my time.

Do you miss your characters when a book is complete? Do you have a favorite character, or book of your own?

Definitely. Sometimes I still find myself adding southern dialect into my speech, even though I live outside of Philadelphia. Blanche is probably my favorite character from Becoming Bonnie. She’s sassy, fearless, and confident. So confident, in fact, that she often uses third person. I’m excited for readers to meet Blanche, and also see how Bonnie and Blanche banter together.

Is there a character of your own or of someone else’s that you think you are very similar to?

I think I’m similar to Bonnie on the basis that we’re both huge dreamers. Ya got to have dreams!

 

for more…visit JenniLWalsh.com & follow Jenni on Twitter & Facebook

 

Interviewed by – Audra McElyea

Audra2017Blog

Audra McElyea is a writer, personal trainer, blogger, contributor, wife and mom to two young boys. Her women’s fiction novel When Lilies Bloom is currently in the querying stage. She is a proud member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and she is the host of Women’s Fiction Wednesdays. #WFWed @WFWed

Her work has appeared in national online publications, including SheKnows magazine. When she isn’t endlessly editing her novel, you can find her in Tennessee cleaning up after two wild, little boys, or teaching Pilates. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads

Q&A with Kimberly Belle

I’m excited to kick-start my first author Q&A with the amazing Kimberly Belle. Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of three novels: The Last Breath, The Ones We Trust, and The Marriage Lie. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Agnes Scott College and has worked in marketing and fundraising for various nonprofits, both at home and abroad. She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

K.Belle headshot

I was excited to pick her brain (no, not literally, it’s a southern thing) about her path to success, and about her transition from women’s fiction to straight-up suspense.

When you are writing, do you have beta readers? If so, how do you find them? Any recommendations?

Yes, I have critique partners, plotting partners, and beta readers. As you can tell, I’m a strong believer in teamwork and am very open for criticism and advice. I believe that ultimately, smart criticism makes for a better book. The trick is developing a tough skin, which I’m still working on every day.

As for finding the right people, that’s a bit of trial and error. My critique and plotting partners are other writers I’ve met along the way, and my beta readers are a mix of writers, reviewers, and enthusiastic readers. Writing and reading groups are a great way to find folks, with Great Thoughts Great Readers and A Novel Bee being two of my favorites. I also help run Readers Coffeehouse along with a half dozen other authors. These groups are a great way to connect to other readers and authors.

Are your characters loosely based-on or inspired by actual people?

Yes and no. I do take bits and pieces of people I know and put them into my characters, but never enough that that person would recognize him/herself. I tend to mix and match, too, combining a bunch of characteristics into one very colorful character.

Do you have a basic outline that you follow when you are writing, or do you wing it?

My stories have a lot of moving pieces, so I do plot them out beforehand. I work from an outline, but it’s pretty fluid and there are always some surprises along the way. For example, Evan was nowhere in my outline for The Marriage Lie. He walked into a scene, and I was like, “who are you?” He ended up being an essential character for the story.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

How much time do you have, lol, because the list is long. In my genre—suspense—I adore Karin Slaughter (who I ran into at the doctor’s office once, btw, and was a stuttering fangirl!), Harlan Coben, Chevy Stevens, Mary Kubica, Heather Gudenkauf, and Kate Moretti. Jennifer Weiner is an automatic buy for me, as are Liane Moriarty and Allison Winn Scotch. Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger was brilliant, and I also adored Julia Heaberling’s Black-Eyed Susans. So many great books and authors out there!

Do you read in other genres besides your own?

Like most writers, I am a voracious reader, and I read way outside my genre. Women’s fiction, romance, historical, humor – I’ll read just about anything as long as it’s not horror.

How did you go about finding a literary agent? Did you send several query letters out? How much time did it take to hear back/edit/receive an offer from an agent…and then a publisher?

After I wrote my first story (The Ones We Trust), I began querying. Anyone who has ever queried knows what a hellish experience that is. Agents get hundreds of emails a week, and getting discovered from the slush pile is often a crapshoot. But writers write, so I started my second book, The Last Breath. As I was writing that story, The Ones We Trust finaled in a number of contests. One of them was at a local RWA chapter, so I went to that conference and pitched it to agents (this is a whole other story, btw. These pitching sessions are like speed dating and just as hellish; I freaked myself out so much I had to take a Xanax.) I signed with one of the agents, Nikki Terpilowski of Holloway Literary Agency, by the end of the month. She sold both those books to Mira in a 2-book deal, and they ended up flipping the order. The Last Breath was my debut, mostly because it needed the least amount of work. They asked me to rewrite the last chapter and that was about it. The Ones We Trust needed a pretty significant rewrite.

Do you listen to music when you write, or do you have the TV on? Do you prefer dead silence? 

I write best in an empty house and in complete silence. I have a lovely office upstairs, where I never, ever sit. I float around downstairs – the kitchen, the living room, the outdoor patio – with my laptop, changing spots whenever I get stuck or need a change of scenery. We’re currently building a house, and our architect calls them “landing spots.” He’s designed a bunch of them for me throughout the downstairs.

Which comes first? Plot/story or characters.

Plot, always. I write suspense, which means my stores are very plot driven. I backdoor in things like character and setting. For example, The Last Breath is a story about a scandal so I set it in a small town, where everybody knows everybody and everybody knows your business. The Marriage Lie was set in Atlanta, my hometown, amid big businesses and elite private schools, and I made my main character a school psychologist. Intellectually, she knows about grief, but when confronted with her own, she finds herself at the mercy of her emotions. I choose whatever works best for the plot – and by that I mean, whatever puts my characters in the worst possible position.

What are some of your favorite TV shows/movies/music/actors?

I watch very little television, other than news programs and a few guilty pleasures like the Housewives. I fly a lot, so most of my movies are seen on the plane. Like I mentioned in an above answer, I’m always struggling for balance, which means I’m very choosy with how I spend my free time. TV and movie time aren’t high on the list.

Music, however, is a different story. Whenever I’m not writing, I have music playing in the house. R&B, soul, country, lounge, EDM…. I love it all. Jill Scott, John Legend, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, and all the Dutch DJs (Tiesto, Afrojack, Martin Garrix, Armin and so many more) are some of my favorites.

When writing do you ever envision certain actors as you characters? If so, who?

I get asked this question all the time, but the answer is no. My characters feel very real to me, but they are unique and not based on a real-life actor. I also try to keep their physical descriptions a bit vague so that readers can make their own assumptions as to who they look like. If any of my stories get made into movies, there are plenty of actors/actresses who would fit the bill.

How does The Marriage Lie differ from your previous women’s fiction novels?

My first two novels kind of straddle the line between suspense and women’s fiction, but when I came up with the idea for The Marriage Lie, there was really no other way to tell the story other than as a twisty suspense story. A husband dying under mysterious circumstances, a wife determined to dig up the truth about the man she was in love with. To write it any other way would not do the story justice.

But it was exactly my background in women’s fiction that led me to write the story as I did—with a normal, everyday lead whose emotions play a big role. It’s not just about the action on the page, but about how Iris responds to what happens. When she loses her husband under suspicious circumstances, she’s dealing with grief and confusion but also feelings of betrayal, and her emotions color every decision she makes from there on out. The action drives the emotion and the emotion drives the action, and the two become so intertwined that one can’t exist without the other.

And while yes, this story is a departure from my two previous books, I am fascinated with secrets and how when they come to light (as they always do), they can really destroy a relationship. In that vein at least, The Marriage Lie is similar to my other two novels.

Any advice to debut authors trying to get agented/published?

The biggest advice I can give to any writer is to keep writing. Letter for letter, word for word. Don’t wait for an agent, a publisher, a contract, just keep writing and polishing your craft, every single day. Treat your writing like a job. Set your alarm and go to “work” behind your laptop every day, five days a week, because if you wait for inspiration to strike—or for a story idea to come upon you—you’ll never get anything written. Some days you’ll end with a lot of words, other days you’ll stare at your screen and pull out your hair. In the end, it all evens out and eventually, you have a book.

But at the same time, the end goal for any writer is to get published. Unfortunately, rejection is part of the process. Keep writing and keep fighting and keep putting yourself out there, even when you want to give up and crawl back in bed. The most successful writers aren’t necessarily the best but the most persistent.

Any advice for writing moms with young children who are trying to balance it all?

I began writing when my kids were older, so I can’t speak to carving out writing time with young kids in the house, but balance is something I’m constantly working on. Deadlines, reviews, sales numbers, etc. are all different pressures but they’re still pressures, and they can really mess with your writing mojo if you let them. It’s part of the reason I’m such a yogi. Getting out of my chair and into the studio help me to breathe when the pressure becomes too much.

Do you miss your characters when a book is complete? Do you have a favorite character or book of your own?

Oh, no! That’s like asking me to choose between my kids, lol. And no, by the time I put the last touches on a book, I’ve read it 84027490558236 times, so I’m ready to put a bit of distance between me and my story. What I do love, however, is when readers talk about my characters like they’re old friends. That’s the very best compliment you can give a writer, that people they create travel from their brain into yours and become as real to you as they are to the writer.

Is there a character of your own (or of someone else’s) that you think you are very similar to?

I put a lot of myself into Gia of The Last Breath, who like me comes from a small Tennessee town and made her career in disaster relief (I worked for 15 years in fundraising for nonprofits). When she returns to care for her dying father, her former hometown feels stifling, kind of like how it felt for me back when I lived there. But here’s a plot twist I didn’t see coming: throughout the story, Gia learns new appreciation for the place she thought she’d left in her rearview mirror, just like I did while I was writing it. By the time I typed “The End,” I was homesick for the blue ridges and the green valleys and the trains rumbling in the distance. As it turns out, my inner Tennessee girl was right there all along, lurking just under the surface.

Keep up with Kimberly on Facebook (www.facebook.com/KimberlyBelleBooks), Twitter (@KimberlySBelle), Instagram (@KimberlySBelle) and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/KimberlyBelle). For more about Kimberly and her books, please visit her website, http://www.kimberlybellebooks.

More information on Kimberly’s books…

The Marriage Lie

Even the perfect marriage has its dark side…

Iris and Will’s marriage is as close to perfect as it can be: a large house in a nice Atlanta neighborhood, rewarding careers and the excitement of trying for their first baby. But on the morning Will leaves for a business trip to Orlando, Iris’s happy world comes to an abrupt halt. Another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board, and according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers on this plane.

Grief-stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding. But as time passes and there is still no sign of Will, she reluctantly accepts that he is gone. Still, Iris needs answers. Why did Will lie about where he was going? What is in Seattle? And what else has he lied about? As Iris sets off on a desperate quest to find out what her husband was keeping from her, the answers she receives will shock her to her very core.

Purchase links

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29095401-the-marriage-lie

Marriage Lie Book Cover

https://www.amazon.com/The-Marriage-Lie-Kimberly-Belle/dp/0778319768

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-marriage-lie-kimberly-belle/1123431375

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-marriage-lie/id1104851524?mt=11

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-marriage-lie

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778319764

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kimberly_Belle_The_Marriage_Lie?id=eOr-CwAAQBAJ

 

The Ones We Trust

When former DC journalist Abigail Wolff attempts to rehabilitate her career, she finds herself at the heart of a US army cover-up involving the death of a soldier in Afghanistan—with unspeakable emotional consequences for one family. As the story of what happened comes to light, Abigail will do anything to write it.

The more evidence she stumbles upon in the case, the fewer people it seems she can trust, including her own father, a retired army general. And she certainly never expected to fall in love with the slain soldier’s brother, Gabe, a bitter man struggling to hold his family together. The investigation eventually leads her to an impossible choice, one of unrelenting sacrifice to protect those she loves.

Beyond the buried truths and betrayals, questions of family loyalty and redemption, Abigail’s search is, most of all, a desperate grasp at carrying on and coping—and seeking hope in the impossible.

Purchase links

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23638956-the-ones-we-trust

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-ones-we-trust-kimberly-belle/1120842318?ean=9780778317869

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-ones-we-trust/id957346589?mt=11

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-ones-we-trust

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778317869

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kimberly_Belle_The_Ones_We_Trust?id=E0UnBgAAQBAJ

The Last Breath

Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living. It’s the perfect lifestyle to keep her far away from her own personal ground zero. Sixteen years ago, Gia’s father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he’s come home to die of cancer, and she’s responsible for his care—and coming to terms with his guilt.

Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town’s most infamous murderer, a part complete with protesters on the lawn and death threats that are turning tragedy into front-page news. Returning to life in small-town Tennessee involves rebuilding relationships that distance and turmoil have strained, though finding an emotional anchor in the attractive hometown bartender is certainly helping Gia cope.

As the past unravels before her, Gia will find herself torn between the stories that her family, their friends and neighbors, and even her long-departed stepmother have believed to be real all these years. But in the end, the truth—and all the lies that came before—may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated….

Purchase links

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20579282-the-last-breath

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-last-breath-kimberly-belle/1119057927?ean=9780778317227

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-last-breath/id870407897?mt=11

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-last-breath-6

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778317227

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kimberly_Belle_The_Last_Breath?id=FF10AwAAQBAJ

 

Giveaways

Kimberly has graciously offered to give away a signed copy of The Marriage Lie to one lucky reader! To enter, comment “book” below and for a bonus entry tweet a link to this interview and tag @AudraMcElyea.

Also, Kimberly agreed to give one lucky reader a query critique or critique of your first five pages (your choice). To enter, comment “critique” below and for a bonus entry tweet a link to this interview and tag @AudraMcElyea.

Interviewed by – Audra McElyea Audra2017Blog

Audra McElyea is a writer, personal trainer, blogger, contributor, wife and mom to two young boys. Her women’s fiction novel When Lilies Bloom is currently in the querying stage. She is a proud member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and she is the host of Women’s Fiction Wednesdays. #WFWed @WFWed

Her work has appeared in national online publications, including SheKnows magazine. When she isn’t endlessly editing her novel, you can find her in Tennessee cleaning up after two wild, little boys, or teaching Pilates. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads

How this all started

My “novel journey” began in 2011–the beginning of many struggles for me. My husband and I excitedly moved in June from our hometown in Knoxville Tennessee for his blooming career. Before we left, I had a job as a jewelry buyer–but I was having struggles moving up the corporate ladder, so when he was offered a great job three hours from home I decided to leave my job as well and go with him, naturally.

We departed for my husband’s career in engineering, which took us to a very remote (but picturesque) landscape in rural Alabama–where you can inhale pure air and view magical scenery that takes your breath away, and unfortunately where having a job myself or friends was about as likely as a toddler not whining for one thing all day.

Before we left, I prepared (or so I thought) for this lack of work by obtaining my group fitness certification, because not every town has a big corporate office where you can be a buyer, but every town does has a gym! Right? I would later learn that the only gym in that small town wasn’t interested in having instructors, they had a video instructor system (eye roll).

So, there I was, all alone for 12 hours a day with zero friends and zero job. I was by myself in our rental house which was perched on the most majestic bluff I’d ever witnessed, but something was still missing. I began my health and beauty blog (AudrasPicks.com) while we lived there in an attempt to kept my sanity, and luckily we traveled back home about once a month.

After ten months in the beautiful boonies, we were transferred a few states away once more. This was utter culture shock! We originated in suburbia, left for the sticks, then we were thrust into the bustling D.C. metropolis area–where we stayed with my hospitable and gracious friend and her boyfriend.

We were only supposed to be there for a few weeks, so, naturally I didn’t look for a job. After a few weeks turned into a few months I landed a fitness job, and of course we were transferred back to our hometown before I could begin.

Once we moved back home, I began the tireless job searches again. Finally in September 2012, we were on vacation and I got an email from a friend about THE PERFECT job opening in social media at the company where I was a buyer! After turning a few cartwheels on the beach (yes, literally) I quickly applied. I made it to the final two candidates and was beyond ecstatic, I knew in my heart this job must be my calling.

When they eventually went with the other candidate, (after about two months of interviews and elaborate presentations) who, by the way, quit a few months later, (eye roll again) it destroyed me. I was completely shattered. Who was I? What was my purpose?

I felt pressure from everyone to have a job, including myself. I felt judged and was even referred to as “the stay at home wife” by our friends’ wives who worked. I guess they assumed I was dragging my feet, or was unmotivated? I don’t know, but everything combined threw me into a health crisis.

I began having extreme bowel issues (sorry, tmi) all day every day and night for about a month. I thought for sure I had stomach cancer and was dying. I cried all the time from worry and the seclusion I felt, and couldn’t get my head above water. Very few people understood, or tried to understand what I was going through besides my husband, family, and one or two friends. I went to doctor, after doctor, after doctor. They all referred me to someone else and couldn’t tell me what was wrong.

Finally, by the grace of God, I found an immunologist/allergist who went the extra mile, and then some. He finally helped me realize I wasn’t dying, I just had Celiac Disease (which is genetic and can be triggered by severe stress).

After I began to avoid gluten and heal, I began my first novel. I needed it, I wanted to be working…and as you can probably tell I had/have a lot of feelings! I decided to write about a young woman who suffers extreme loss and confusion, and while her story is immensely different than my journey, in the end, we both were led down paths that were unexpected.

I wrote half of my book in 2-3 months, became pregnant, had a miscarriage that crushed my heart to a point I thought was beyond repair, got pregnant again, had extreme morning sickness for 37 weeks and 6 days before delivering baby boy on Christmas Day 2013…and basically, I never finished my book because my lovely son became my #1 priority.

Flash-forward to my second pregnancy in 2016, where I was on bed-rest for five months (yeah, that sucked). I finally finished the second half of my book in 2-3 months because I finally had the time…and here we are (after many months of editing my book to death).

It has been a labor of love! It’s consisted of a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and non-believers, but here I am! I started that novel during an extremely difficult time, and completed it during another. It is my silver lining and my calling. It has been anything but smooth sailing, but I believe it was what I was meant to do.

When doors close on you that you thought you wanted to plow through – take a step back and look all around you, because there may be another hidden door behind you…where you never would have looked.

All thanks to God for my journey.
For me, this quote is me and my journey!
“IN A WEAK MOMENT, I HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK.” -MARGARET MITCHELL