WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
AK: Thanks, I'm excited to be here! About me, let's see... I'm a Southern Chick, through and through. Born and raised in South Mississippi, where the first thing Momma asks when you walk inside her house is, "Have ya eaten yet?" High school graduate with tidbits of law classes here and there. Proud owner of four ankle-biters, a husband who I am convinced is the most patient, understanding man on the planet, and mother to 3 boys, one of whom is actually mine. Coffee is my personal elixir. Oh, and Thames Lavender Hand Cream. No writing session starts without it. Puts me in that historical mindset.
WG: Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
AK: What a great question. Like most writers, I accuse the authors to whom I am utterly devoted: Maugham, King, Rowling, and Cleary, to name a few. But I can pinpoint the start of the obsession to my parents' divorce. I needed an escape; I turned to writing. Only, I didn't want to journal, to pour my own troubles onto page after page. So, I began writing about other people. Fictional characters. Listening to the voices in my head. Twenty years later, here I am. Still writing and loving it. Well. Most of the time.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
AK: A few years ago, I got this bright idea to check out writing classes in my local area. A community college offered a beginner novelist course, and I thought, "Why not?" My husband worked nights. I didn't have a kid at the time. That's how I met Harlequin Medical's Connie Cox, as well as a string of other local writers. The class turned into more classes, which led me to my local RWA chapter, NOLA STARs, which led me to my amazing critique partner, which... Yeah. You get the idea, right? I got involved. Discovered contests and conferences and, most importantly, people who were just like me. People with stories in their heads, like, 24/7. As far as submitting and, ultimately, being rejected, well... If you're a writer, if you're determined to do this, to take a shot at what might very well be the opportunity of a lifetime, then rejections will happen. Remember, twelve publishing companies declined Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone before Bloomsbury picked it up.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
AK: Including fan fiction, four. Two of those, Betrothed and Enraptured, are on the market right now, available in ebook and paperback. The fan fiction is entitled The Reason and is available to read for free on grangerenchanted.com.
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
AK: Being among the self-published lot, I didn't receive the famous "call," though I would be lying if I said I didn't hope to someday experience that doubtless amazing feeling. However, I can truthfully relay the inexplicable and overwhelming joy that is seeing your novel--your baby, your blood, sweat, and tears--come to the ultimate fruition of being published and selling. And when you get that first review? Forget about it.
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
AK: When you're finally published, you've no choice but to take yourself seriously. Not that you didn't before, mind, but now it's legit. It's real and tangible, and oh my goodness, you've got a public! You've actually acquired a following, hallelujah to hard work and perseverance, and your following wants--no, expects more. Which means more research and outlining and long hours that you totally don't have, but who cares? Real people want to read your stories. Few greater feelings exist.
WG: What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
AK: The stress of keeping up the game. Especially when you've small children and a day job. I remember being pregnant with my now ten month old and thinking, "When I go on maternity leave, I'll write and write and write. This entire book will be finished within ten weeks!" Nothing could've been further from the truth. Though unintentional, writing quickly slid to the back burner. However, As a published author who intends to keep publishing books, I knew I had to reanalyze and readjust my schedule. It took some time, but I forced myself to maintain that professional mindset and create a new schedule. Professionalism is vital in this business. Lose it, and you might as well say sayonara to your career.
WG: Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
AK: Before I gave birth to my son, I was a bona fide, cannot create any other time of the day whatsoever, morning writer. Now, I write whenever, wherever. Lunch time is especially great for me.
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
AK: At least one chapter per week. Other than my CP, I have readers who count on reading a new chapter every Friday. They keep me in check and on schedule.
WG: Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
AK: I prefer dim lighting, no music, maybe a single, scentless candle, and a swipe of my fave hand cream. Comfy clothes are a must, too. Oh, and almost always kick off my shoes.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
AK: The first book was totally by the seat of my pants. Now, I do some plotting before I begin, then allow the characters to do the rest. I've been known to joke that I often feel as though I am the puppet and they, the masters.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
AK: Definitely a combo of the two. Normally a single scene pops into my head, followed by patches of dialogue. After that, faces and personalities begin to take shape.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
AK: Never judge a book by its cover. That seems to be my reoccurring theme.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
AK: I'm constantly seeking to improve my craft, as should all authors, in my opinion. The best way to do that is by reading. And reading and reading and reading. So, yeah. I would say my strength is that I grow stronger with each book, and that's primarily because I read some of the best authors on the planet.
WG: Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?
AK: Christian author Betsy St. Amant gives a writer's workshop on time management, and until recently, I don't think I fully grasped the utter importance of doing just that. I have a 10 month old and a demanding day job. I write on lunch breaks, during nap times, and oftentimes in small 15 minute spurts. The key thing is that some writing is better than none at all. Once you find your groove, you're golden.
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
AK: Only that I try not to read the subject matter on which I'm writing. I don't want to be too easily influenced; I want my work to be my own. Original. For example, if I'm writing historicals, I read contemporaries, and vice-versa.
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
AK: I've always been a sucker for a good Regency. Most recently, however, I've grabbed several YA contemporaries, as well as a few paranormals.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
AK: Women's fiction or a solid, contemporary YA. You know, one of those awesome, life-changing stories that sticks with you for weeks and weeks? I recently read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and oh my goodness, it haunts my thoughts at the most random moments. If that one's not on your Keeper Shelf, make it happen.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
AK: A little cliche, I suppose, but never give up. Accept constructive criticism. Read multiple genres. Connect with other writers. Get a good critique partner--one who applies honest critiquing, isn't afraid to hurt your feelings, but at the same time, praises and encourages your strong points. Most importantly...place butt in chair and write!
WG: Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?
AK: Recently, a reader sent an email saying how much she enjoyed Betrothed and that she couldn't wait for the next novel. She went on to point out the scenes which intrigued her most and the characters she found most interesting. The grin on my face was slow to fade, and I remember thinking that this must be how a singer feels when she looks into and witnesses a sea of faces mouthing the lyrics she wrote. As an artist, there's no greater feeling than that "ah-ha...this is what it's all about" when you realize people actually appreciate your art.
WG: Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?
AK: With integrity and class. Be happy when you get a bad review! Take a deep breath and have a piece of chocolate when that rejection email arrives from Mrs. Elite Agent! This means people are actually reading your work!
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
AK: That if you want to be a successful author, you should write for the market. In my experience, nothing can make you sink and/or lose interest faster than writing what's not in your heart. Doesn't mean you're not market savvy, mind. But writing for the love of writing is why you started in the first place, am I right? Thought so.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
AK: Escaping. As I mentioned earlier, I never wrote in a diary. My parents divorced in the middle of Freshman year. Other than band and choir, real life held little interest. Creating and writing about other people is what kept me going, kept my gaze ahead to a real future with real goals. As far the ever-present Struggle, the one which niggles most is the fear that this is the last story I'll come up with. I'm brainstorming my fourth, so it hasn't happened yet!
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
AK: I am a total makeup junkie. It's disgusting. Right now I'm going through a foundation phase. I've bought, like, five different formulas in the past month. Tarte's Amazonian Clay is amazing, covers like a dream, and lasts all day long. It's the fave of the moment.
WG: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
AK: Debbie Gibson! Go ahead and have a laugh, but it's true. I dreamed of touring, wearing cool clothes, having an entourage of backup dancers and singers, and belting my heart out every night in front of thousands.
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
AK: Besides the makeup junkie bit? I don't know. Maybe that I love, love horses. Oh, and pigs, too! I grew up on a farm, so animals of any kind are very special to me. My mother still trains and rides quarter horses.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
AK: I don't really have a favorite of either, but at the moment I am loving Downton Abbey, InkMaster, and American Horror Story. Revenge is pretty delicious, too. And any movie with Josh Hutcherson. He's my cougar-crush of the hour.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
AK: My mother and I are quotes freaks, too! One of my very faves is, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" I have that one taped to a framed photo of J.K. Rowling typing away at the last Harry Potter novel.
AK: Eep! I don't even have a synopsis or high concept yet, but here it goes: Futuristic society. Kind of medieval. Many years ago a virus wiped out 76% of the earth's population. Women are a high commodity. Every year, women may voluntarily put themselves into an auction pool where they are bid upon by wealthy, powerful men in exchange for food and protection for their families. The heroine is one of these women.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
AK: A really, really strange dream.
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
AK: The heroine specializes in herbal remedies, so I bought two huge medicinal herb books and bookmarked a gazillion internet sites into my "WIP" folder. I've only just begun with research, so the most interesting stuff I've found is all the info on biochemical warfare. Did you know Smallpox is one of the most feared? Though most Americans have the vaccination, the government worries that terrorists could release new strains. It is highly contagious and there are no good treatments for the disease. Up to 40% of people who catch it will die in less than 2 weeks.
Makes me think of a writerly quote I once saw flit across my Facebook: If the FBI shows up at your door with an arrest warrant, claiming you've had seriously suspicious Internet activity, you may be a writer.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
AK: The next novel to be released is another historical entitled Return to Me. Uncertain on the exact date, though.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
AK: Via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and my author website: www.alyssiakirkhart.com. Hope to hear from all of you!!
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!