My friend, author Kellie Coates Gilbert, is here today to share with us her new novel, her theories on women’s fiction, and how she manages a full writing life and a full life in general and how she does it all so well.
Please welcome Kellie Coates Gilbert to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Interview: Kellie Coates Gilbert Juggles Writing, Life, And A New Novel With Finesse, Wisdom, And Humor
Kellie: Sure, Amy! Here’s the story blurb:
Texas socialite Claire Massey is living the dream—designer clothes, luxury cars, stunning homes. But her Neiman Marcus lifestyle comes crashing down when her charming cattle broker husband is arrested for fraud. Suddenly she finds herself facing attorneys, a media frenzy, and a trail of broken hearts. Betrayed and humiliated, Claire must start over against incredible odds to save her family—and discover a life worth living.
In late 2008, many of us watched as master financier Bernie Madoff’s story unfolded. I couldn’t seem to pull my eyes from the television as the man accused of swindling thousands of innocent victims—including family and friends—out of billions of dollars in the world’s largest Ponzi scheme, was taken from his posh Manhattan apartment in handcuffs and his family became vilified in the media. The events held particular interest for me. In my former role as a legal professional, I helped unravel, what was then, the largest cattle fraud in the United States. I interviewed dozens who were caught in the betrayal and who found themselves and their businesses floundering as a result. These stories fascinate me on many levels, but in particular, I’m intrigued with the families behind the scenes. What is it like for a wife to learn her husband is a criminal? What happens to children when they face that kind of shame? We know, at least in part, what transpired in the Madoff family in the aftermath—fractured relationships, family devastation and suicide. As a novelist, I yearned to explore what might happen if the converse were true. What would the story look like if a strong woman protagonist bucked the odds and used her faith to land on solid ground?
In my former career, I spent a lot of time in courtrooms working on high profile cases. People are often at their most vulnerable in these tense situations where much is at stake, and I gained a unique perspective on the human psyche. Early in my writing career, I recognized there could be value in telling stories about women facing relationship fractures, betrayal, and loss and what it looks like to exhibit strength and dignity in these journeys.
This story is particularly seeped with my legal background. As a legal investigator, I helped unravel the largest cattle fraud in the nation. I spent weeks in the Midwest interviewing and collecting records from farmers and ranchers who had invested with United Producers, a large cattle brokerage outfit. Ultimately, the owner George Young and his office assistant, Kathleen McConnell were imprisoned for many of the things you’ll see showcased in A WOMAN OF FORTUNE.
Amy: Your website says “Stories for moms, daughters, sisters, girlfriends…” We’re often the midst of some debate about whether women’s fiction is a label that negatively defines books by women, what’s your opinion of this? (As you might guess, the term doesn’t bother me, nor does writing books I believe will appeal to women, even though I realize there is a discrepancy as there is no men’s fiction.)
Kellie: I’m aware of the debates you reference. While I have no pat answers to some of the issues raised by authors who believe having their books labeled Women’s Fiction diminishes them in the marketplace, I think labels are often created so readers can find the stories they like to read. I make no apology that I write stories that primarily appeal to women, and if the label directs my audience to my books—well, that’s fine with me.
I also make no apology for adoring women’s fiction. I love what we write, Amy. My favorite books of all time are labeled women’s fiction and present stories about women and their relationships, stories with issues that can divert women from a path to fulfillment and happiness, and the strength and dignity it takes to prevail. The best books are the ones where I close the last page feeling changed, stories that leave me thinking about the characters and their choices—books that challenge my ideas about life and meaning.
Amy: You have a lot on your plate—more books coming out, you’re very active in WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association), you’re a dedicated wife, mom, and grandma. Do you have a schedule, a to-do list? Seven to-do lists? How does it all get done so well?
Kellie: Ha, true! I juggle a lot of roles, and a considerable amount of work. In addition to being a career novelist, I own and manage two small businesses. To keep everything straight, I have a Franklin Planner….EVERYTHING goes in the planner. I even calendar my grocery shopping! I also keep a master task list on my Mac and print it regularly (and put it in the planner.)
A key to success is learning to say “no” to some things. I carefully prioritize my commitments and only accept new items on my “plate” that really matter. I treasure my relationships and I’m committed to keeping priorities straight—even when my task list gets very long!
You mention WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association). It is such a pleasure to donate time to this start-up organization. The board members are top notch and work so hard to provide a community for published authors and authors seeking publication. The workshops are great (you recently taught a fabulous class on blogging to RAVE reviews) and the forums are a very popular tool for networking. We’re climbing on four hundred members strong.
Amy: When you’re ready to write a new story, what’s your pleasure — outlining or writing by the seat of your pants? Why do you think your chosen method works for you?
Kellie: Typically, my story ideas generate from a former case I’ve worked on or an item I see in the news. An idea ruminates until I’m nearly obsessed with the concept. That’s how I know I’ve come up with a storyline I could spend months writing.
About a year back, I discovered the writing tool SCRIVENER. I love this low cost writing software (I paid $40.) You can link to websites and I keep all my research there. I use the character profile sheets and store images of my characters and all the information about them as it develops.
Since I’m primarily a “pantser” I don’t work from detailed outlines, because that stifles my creativity. I do make a general outline of the major plot points and plan how my characters change over the course of the novel. I store scene ideas and keep a running outline of finished chapters, which I later use as the submission synopsis I turn in with my manuscript. I also keep an extensive timeline.
Amy: Without giving us any spoilers, what was the hardest scene for you to write in A WOMAN OF FORTUNE? What made it a challenge?
Kellie: Wow, Amy—I could answer this in multiple ways. Many of the scenes in A Woman of Fortune were very emotional for me. After thought, I’d have to say the hardest scene was the final one. I typed the last line with a huge lump in my throat. After spending months with Tuck and Claire Massey and their adult children, Garrett, Lainie and Max, after I’d journeyed with them through betrayal, felt their intense emotions as their world changed in unexpected ways, watched these people stumble and falter until they finally landed back on solid ground—I didn’t want to say goodbye.
Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring and published authors going through transitions with their careers and even with their goals?
Kellie: I believe networking is critical—when your career is going as you hope, and especially when it isn’t. I’m a grateful member of an online group of women’s fiction authors which provides a safe and confidential place to share challenges, successes, support and answers to difficult questions. I treasure this community of authors and the knowledge base represented there. If an author isn’t a member of a similar gathering, I’d urge them to choose authors they respect and create one by starting a Facebook private group.
The other advice I’d give is this: Foster your public image carefully. Too often I see authors use social media to rant about the downside of this business, and nothing could be more foolish. Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan probably look back at their marred careers and wish they’d used more caution. Authors are not immune and should use care to create and maintain a positive impression “out there.”
Your question about weathering the ups and downs of the publishing industry, that’s more difficult to address. We’re writing in a volatile time, with so many aspects of the industry making discoverability of our books harder to establish. Both you and I know very talented authors who are not in contracts right now. We know authors who have repositioned their careers and are publishing outside traditional avenues. And we’re all experiencing marketing demands crowding our writing time. No doubt, it’s tough to stay viable and succeed.
Last week, I was in New Orleans at the RT Booklovers Convention. Readers packed three huge hotels, some traveling from Paris, Germany and Australia. These reader fans lined up to meet favorite authors and bought stacks of books. I returned home with a very upbeat notion cemented in my mind—while the delivery method for providing books may morph in unexpected ways, there will always be avid readers. There will always be great writers of superb stories. That will never change.
Amy, thank you for hosting me on Women’s Fiction Writers blog. As you know, I loved The Glass Wives. You are a talented novelist and I’m so looking forward to your next release!
And, it’s true isn’t it? Creating and sharing women’s fiction with readers is as much fun as we thought it might be!
Kellie Coates Gilbert spent nearly twenty-five years working in courtrooms and behind the scenes of some of the largest and most well-known cases in America. Kellie was one of the lead paralegals in the Jack-in-the-Box litigation, where uncooked hamburger resulted in the deaths of several toddlers and made many more critically ill. In the late nineties, she investigated the nation’s largest cattle fraud, which is now the subplot of her soon-to-be-released A WOMAN OF FORTUNE from Baker Publishing/Revell. Her books not only explore the heart issues that matter most to women, but often allow readers an inside peek into her former legal world.