I loved the title of Kellie Coates Gilbert’s novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, right away. I love a play on words, don’t you? Then I saw the cover and loved that! But what I love most is how Kellie describes how she asked herself questions and then wrote a book that answered them. I haven’t done that exactly and think it’s a great idea. Kellie shares a lot of insights and ideas with us today — so please give her a warm welcome to Women’s Fiction Writers. Then, share your own thoughts in the comments. I promise – we don’t bite – but we might write back!
Women’s Fiction Author Kellie Coates Gilbert Asks The Tough Questions, And Then Writes A Novel That Answers Them
Amy: Congratulations on the release of your novel, MOTHER OF PEARL! It’s a relationship story about a mother and a daughter — I won’t give away more than that, but can you tell us what sparked the idea for the book?
Kellie: I knew my first novel would focus on mothering and the perils women face in this role, especially during the teen years. I didn’t even know how many things there were to be afraid of until I had my first child. From the moment the nurse placed that tiny infant in my arms, a fierce need to protect bubbled from the deepest part of me.
As a novelist, I asked the question: What would a mother do if suddenly life took a turn and she learned the child she thought she’d protected had fallen into the hands of someone unsafe? And what if she found out too late?
Early, when the inception of this story was still noodling in my brain, I saw a sadly recurring event on the news, the story of a coach who had inappropriately been involved with a teenager. While the cameras honed on the major players, I couldn’t help but wonder if the girl’s mother stood just out of view. What was she feeling?
Amy: I love your website’s tagline: Stories for Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Girlfriends…. What prompted you to be so specific about the type of stories you write?
Kellie: I’m a former legal investigator and trial paralegal who worked on many high profile cases, including the Jack-in-the-Box e-coli litigation in the mid-nineties and the largest cattle fraud case in the United States. People are often at their most vulnerable in these tense situations where much is at stake, giving me a unique perspective on the human psyche. Early in my legal career, I recognized there could be value in telling stories about women facing relationship fractures, betrayal, and loss and how we often exhibit strength and dignity in these journeys.
My agent urged me to write romance to break into publishing. I did, and my first novel sold. But that story was not one that burned in my heart as I wrote. When the publishing house switched directions and pulled back even before we got the contract to sign, the situation was an easy one to let go of.
I am meant to write stories for women that focus on relationships, and the deep places in life. People have many layers, and never more than in family dynamics and hard times. I’m intrigued with the coping mechanisms we employ to fill our empty places. These are the stories of my heart.
Amy: Can you share with us a little about the timeline and circumstances of your journey to publication?
Kellie: Like many authors, I am an avid reader. Strangely, I never considered a career as a novelist. Instead, I pursued a sensible legal career with predictable income (especially while my boys were in college). But in 2004, I attended my first writing conference and left with an overwhelming feeling that I was always meant to write novels. The experience is hard to describe, but I knew in the deepest part of me I would publish a novel.
So, I lifted an outrageous prayer and asked for the impossible.
But first, I had to learn to write well. So, I spent seven years going to writing conferences and workshops, taking courses, reading every craft book I could find. And a published novelist mentored me. She started off our first session by saying she was like a dentist who only works on the bad teeth. She meant to encourage by reminding me I had a lot of good teeth. But frankly, fixing a broken novel is sometimes as painful as a root canal. But, with her help, I learned the tools of how to create a good story.
My biggest challenge can be time management.
I often wake early and spend the first twenty minutes of my day talking with my husband before he leaves for work. Then, I spend some time reading before heading out for my morning swim. This is where I think through the upcoming scenes and plot points in my current manuscript.
After breakfast, I head directly into my office. My first attention is directed to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with readers and publishing folks. I try to start my actual writing no later than ten in the morning (and meet this goal most days).
I enjoy a quiet, organized place to write with lots of light streaming through the windows. Often I have Pachelbel’s Canon playing and a steaming cup of coffee on a coaster next to my Mac computer.
Amy: Are you a plotter or a pantser (meaning, do you write by the seat of your pants)? Can you share any early draft tips with WFW readers?
Kellie: I’m a combination of both, but lean heavily to the pantser side. Early, I create a notebook with photos of my main characters and think through what lie they believe about themselves, and why. I jot down notes about who they are and why these elements are key to the general story.
I also make sure I know the inciting incident that pulls the main character from her regular world. I note her goals and brainstorm all the threats to achieving that goal. In the end, I have a general framework of where I am going with the story, which keeps me from wandering too much. But if I over-plan, I seem to clench up and can’t write. Plus, I enjoy discovering the story as I write.
The downside of this method is a messier first draft, which needs a lot of editing.
Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?
Kellie: I personally define women’s fiction as a story about a woman (or women) that tells more about her inner journey than her outer experiences, where relationships are key and the journey evokes a lot of emotion.
Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
Kellie: Read. Don’t get in a hurry. Learn as much about the craft of writing as you can before you start submitting. Get a great agent (and editor). And read. Then, read some more. In the end, great story trumps great craft. If you have both, you’re far ahead of the pack trying to break in.
And here’s a bit of a secret: Publishing a novel is as fun as you think it will be. Nothing compares to a reader email that says she couldn’t put your book down and your story will remain in her heart.
A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure. Her stories are about messy lives, and eternal hope.
Kellie’s novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, Abingdon Press Sept 2012, tells the emotionally compelling story of a high school counselor who discovers her own teenage daughter had an inappropriate relationship with the football coach . . . and how she risks everything to bring him to justice.
For more information, go to www.kelliecoatesgilbert.com