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Interview with Kellie Coates Gilbert

Congratulations on your debut book as well as its second print run, Kellie. From the reviews and endorsements, Mother of Pearl sounds like warmth and nourishment for your soul. A quote from your website is, “My books tell poignant and emotionally compelling stories about women who face unexpected, life-changing obstacles. I write about messy lives, and eternal hope.” You follow that with a tagline of, “Stories for moms, daughters, sisters, girlfriends…” Tell us…

Is there a certain relationship or event in your own life which propelled you to choose Women’s Fiction as your writing genre?

I can’t really point to one relationship or event. The best way to explain how I gravitated to this genre is that 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.

Although the plotline for Mother of Pearl could have happened at any time, it is very relatable to today’s social media conscious world. With your background in the legal world, did the implications of social media fallout play a part in crafting Mother of Pearl?
Not social media exactly, but I am a news junkie. My novels will always pull from current events you might see on CNN or NBC, often because real stories are more profound than anything I could conjure.

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?

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?

Your Pinterest boards ooze cute, fun and cuddly. Is it an image you’re trying to project for your books, or is that just you?
Ah, thanks Anita. My Pinterest boards really are “me.” I know some authors use Pinterest for marketing, or for gathering ideas for future stories. But I created boards I love to go look at when I get those few rare moments of free time.

For example, I adore Yorkies. I have a tiny 2 ½ pound little girl named Emmie Sweetpea and she has my heart wrapped tightly around her little paw!

I grew up in Idaho, so I created a board with lots of my favorite places. Same with my “beach” board. I adore the holidays, so I loved collecting images that instantly put me in the mood for the seasons.
The boards I most enjoyed putting together were those that hold all the products/items and toys I enjoyed as a kid.

A bit of a confession though, I have to discipline myself to stay away from Pinterest. Especially when I have writing deadlines looming!

Do you find it easy to write or do you labor over every word?
Easy, if I plan properly.

I’m both a “pantser” and a “plotter,” 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.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Two things were significant on my journey: prayer and a great mentor.

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.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
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 nine 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.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I don’t think a novelist can be an effective storyteller without laying parts of herself all over the pages of her book. So the spiritual side of me shows up in my stories, but in a very subtle manner. I want my books to appeal to all kinds of readers - those who sit on church pews and barstools alike.

I did not grow up in church. My feet have walked out in the world and I know the hurt and pain out there. I’ve made mistakes and lived outside the protections God provides. NOT recommended!

I first “met” Jesus in a tiny church in Idaho, where I attended with my Gram every Sunday. But as a teen and young adult, I left that part of life behind and joined the Budweiser denomination (if you get my drift). Partying was pretty satisfying . . . until it wasn’t.

When I finally decided to live my life in a personal relationship with Jesus, everything changed. I became the “me” I was always meant to be. I understood my purpose here on earth, and how looking for love and significance anywhere but in Christ always falls short.

I’m no Bible thumper . . . but I am constantly studying God’s Word. I find Jesus and the way he related to broken people fascinating. I want to love like that. And when I fail (as I OFTEN do) I remember my life motto: Prone to wander, chained to grace.

Finish this sentence... if I could only have one Pinterest board, I’d call it ____________.
My one board would be titled: THIS IS YOUR LIFE

I’d post photos of my husband of 35 years, my two grown boys who have been my life’s greatest joy, and of my little grandson who simply tickles me to the core of my being.

Photos of dear friends, writing buddies and treasured work associates would be included. And near the center, in a place of prominence, I’d tack my prayer partner – a woman who has prayed with and for me for over twenty years.

I’d have a special place for my family of origin. My dad – who owned a sheep ranch. The love of that earthly sheepherder paved the way for the deep relationship I now have with the shepherd of my life, Jesus Christ. My mom, who succumbed to addiction, but not before she trusted Jesus to save her. My little sister who once let me cut her hair for fifty cents and made the best mud pies.

I’d include a copy of my debut novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, because frankly I still can’t believe He lets me do this thing I love.

What does your writing future hold?
Until the contract is completely executed, I can’t give a lot of details, but I’ve just entered into an agreement with a major publisher in the CBA to publish my next four novels. The first is tentatively scheduled to release late spring in 2014. So, watch for announcements on Facebook and on my website.

I’d also encourage anyone who would like news of future releases and book related information to sign up for KELLIE’S READERS CLUB. The button is on the home page on my website.

Any parting words?
Here’s a bit of a secret: Publishing a novel is as fun as you think it will be.

My email inbox is filled with messages from readers telling me they found Mother of Pearl riveting with twists and turns that wouldn’t let them put the story down. They often say they needed a box of Kleenex to make it through some chapters.

And, nothing compares to a reader email that says your story made her feel less alone on this journey called life.

I’m so honored we journeyed together for a little while.

Thanks for sharing with us, Kellie.

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