Author Q&A: Julie Kibler
I love this part of featured author week. I love connecting with authors about their books, and hearing how their stories made it from idea to paper and ink. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it rocks.
So, naturally, I’m so excited to bring you a Q&A from Julie Kibler, the author of Calling Me Home. If you’ve been following lifebythebooks this week, you’ve likely already read the excerpt and review of the book. If you haven’t, you should check them out (I’ve linked to the words “excerpt” and “review”.)
And now, without further ado, here is my Q&A with Julie Kibler.
Q: You mentioned that the idea for Calling Me Home came to you after learning of your grandmother’s history. What was it about her story that compelled you to write this novel?
A: My grandmother was emotionally distant and never seemed very happy when I was a kid. Learning that she fell in love with a black man when she was a young woman in 1920s Northern Kentucky, where continuing the relationship was virtually impossible, not to mention, illegal, was a big surprise to me, and a potential explanation for her personality and outlook on life. She was already gone by the time my father told me, so I wasn’t able to ask her the questions I would have liked to. I decided the best way for me to explore that was through fiction. Weirdly, I feel as though our relationship changed long after she died as a result of writing Calling Me Home, which has been a really good thing for me.
Q: What inspired the Dorrie and Isabelle story? Why not just tell the story of Robert and Isabelle?
A: I’ve always enjoyed books that look at a subject from both the past and present. I like to contemplate how things were, how things are, and how things might go in the future. Writing Calling Me Home from two different points of view, both past and present as well as from the perspectives of characters who might be considered extremely different, allowed me to explore racism and interracial relationships from many angles. I didn’t want it to be a white story or a black story, or a story that dwelled in the past or the present. It became not just a love story about Isabelle and Robert, but a love story about Dorrie and Isabelle–a story of how we find love and family in unlikely places and people.
Additionally, while some of my own experiences as a single mom over five years were instrumental, my hairstylist and friend of more than a decade very much inspired Dorrie’s character. While their stories are not the same, my friend’s remarkable sense of humor and compassion were a beacon for many of Dorrie’s words and actions.
Q: Talk about the experience of researching and writing Calling Me Home. Have you written/attempted to write a novel before? How was this experience different from the others?
A: Calling Me Home had been brewing in my mind for several years. By the time I started physically putting words to paper, it flowed out of me pretty quickly. It was different from previous manuscripts in that I had a strong gut feeling it was going to be the one that finally got published. When emails and texts started coming in from my critique partners and early readers, sometimes in the middle of the night, that feeling was confirmed. That was different from the previous ones, for sure.
I tend to research briefly, write a first draft as quickly as I can, then go back and do additional research and revision as needed. From initial research to sending agent queries, Calling Me Home was completed in about 18 months, with the second half being the revision phase. I think I could potentially pare down the process to about a year now, applying what I learned in writing a book that went on to be published–but only once I’ve found the right project. I had written a few full manuscripts and several partial manuscripts before I wrote Calling Me Home. I’m easily distracted, quickly bored, and struggle to focus a lot of the time, but when the right one comes along, I’m all in. At that point, I eat, breathe, and sleep what I’m writing. After some wandering in the writing desert over the last few years, I think I’m there now and it feels good.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Is there a resource you found helpful in writing this book?
A: I always tell aspiring writers: Take your time. Take the time to learn your craft, take the time to revise your manuscripts, and be slow in sending them to the world–to early readers, to agents, to editors, to publishers. Time really does fly. What feels like forever during the process will seem like no time at all in retrospect. And often, if you look back on something you rushed, you will likely have big regrets and kick yourself over missed opportunities or burned bridges. I started writing fiction in 2005, and Calling Me Home was published in hardcover in 2013. That seems about right now. There was some rushing along the way, but a few things I probably did right.
I like Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction. I don’t do every single thing he recommends–there are vast numbers of helpful exercises in each book–but the ones that floated to the top while I was reading and thinking made a big difference in my writing. I’m looking forward to attending an in-person workshop with him this spring. Each book written is brand new, and you never stop learning how to write.
Q: What is your favorite book (or favorite few books)? What are you reading right now?
A: I really don’t have a favorite book of all time, unless you count my childhood favorites, and there are a lot of those. I tend to have a few favorites each year. In 2013, the two that topped my list were The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I’ve been talking about them to everyone. Right now, I’m reading The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan.
Thanks again to Julie (and to her publicist, Katie) for working with me on this featured author week. I love her advice to aspiring writers, as well as her favorite books for 2013. You can find reviews for both Eleanor & Park and The Painted Girls here, and be sure to also check out the excerpt and review of Calling Me Home.