THERE ARE A number of talented writers in Central Iowa and I am fortunate to know quite a few of them. One is Kimberly Stuart, a member of one of my author groups, who has a new novel, Operation Bonnet, being released next month. It is the story of a young wantabe private investigator, Nelle Monroe, who goes undercover in an Amish community to find the girl her client left behind. Says the book jacket: “So Nellie straps on her bonnet and goes undercover to get the dish. Literally, since she’s talked her way into Amish cooking lessons…. Will the boy still get the girl? Can Nellie save her career in criminal science? And more importantly, will she ever learn how to make a decent piecrust?” Kimberly is a stay-at-home mom and author who says that means she writes under pressure, during naps and before laundry! You’ll have a chance to win a copy of Operation Bonnet at the end of the interview.
Mike: Kimberly, welcome. Before we get into your books, let me ask you how you got started writing novels?
Kimberly: I've always loved reading, which is a close cousin to writing. However, if you'd asked me about writing as a career, the firstborn in me would have scoffed. Wasn't that like wanting to sing on Broadway? Nice dream but completely unrealistic.
Shortly after my first child was born, I found myself needing a linguistic outlet that did not rely heavily on words like "blankie," "poopy" and "pee-pee." I turned to writing, first non-fiction vignettes about parenting, God's grace, and my need for it, and eventually the beginning pages of Balancing Act.
M: I think it is easy to tell from the synopsis of Operation Bonnet and your answer above that you like to write humor. So the obvious question is how did you settle on humorous stories?
K: For a long time, I wanted to write books that I thought I SHOULD be writing. My coveted genre was dark literary fiction, accompanied by reams of horrible poetry. Turns out, God did not wire me to write stories like that, try as I might. I'm about as dark as Pollyanna. Once I started writing in my most natural voice and cadence, I found contemporary comedic fiction to be the best fit.
M: Operation Bonnet is your fifth book. You’ve obviously been successful with your writing, so I’d like to go back to the beginning: How did you find your publisher and agent? In other words, how’d you get first published?
K: I attended the Blue Ridge Writers Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. There I met a great author and friend, Ray Blackston, who was kind enough to spur me on and to introduce me to the editor who would eventually acquire my first two books.
My agent came along after the first two books were sold. I am forever grateful for Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, who is infinitely smarter than I am and a great asset to any writer trying to make sense of the publishing world.
M: By my count you have four other books. Can you give me a brief (like 2 sentence) review of each.
K: Balancing Act: First of two in Heidi Elliott series. The story of Heidi, a new mom who is navigating (not very successfully) the struggles of work, home, a postpartum marriage, and a woman with synthetic body parts who preys on husbands.
Bottom Line: Heidi Elliott, Book Two. Heidi gets sucked into a pyramid scheme selling "Christian lingerie." It's as dicey as it sounds. I do love Heidi and have another of her sagas in me to write someday...It's so much cheaper than therapy!
Act Two: I recommend this book to readers of all ages. Sadie Maddox is a New York diva whose classical singing career has hit the skids. Desperate times bring her to an Iowa pig farm, among people who have never even SEEN New York, much less Parmesan cheese not in a green container (gasp!). I think of this book as a modern Green Acres with good doses of wit and romantic comedy thrown in.
Stretch Marks: Mia Rathbun is a yoga-practicing, earth-loving, granola-munching twenty-something living in urban Chicago. Her mother, Babs, is a straight-ticket Republican who wears stilettos even to her job as a cruise ship hostess. The two are thrown together when Mia finds herself pregnant by her sloth boyfriend and in need of help. Babs is a lot of things, but "helpful" isn't one of them. This book is particularly perfect for any woman who has or is a mother.
M: Are they still in print and available for purchase?
K: Balancing Act and Bottom Line are available on Amazon but are now out of print. Act Two, Stretch Marks and Operation Bonnet are in print and available in bookstores and on-line.
M: I understand that Act Two, Stretch Marks and Operation Bonnet are available in ebook form.
M: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing style, when, where, etc. do you write?
K: I write during the afternoon, which is not naturally my best body time but I've had to force it into accommodating that schedule. I have three young children and I am blessed (most days) to stay home with them. So I write while they are napping or at school. I'm also a deadline and goal girl, so I set a word count I need to reach each day or week and I plug along until I reach it. When I hit the mark, I shut the laptop and get back to my normal life. It makes for quick muse-gathering, I'll tell you. Not much time for mind wandering.
M: We know writing is only part of the game; marketing is a huge part of being an author. What do you do to market your books?
K: Oh, for the love of Pete. Marketing. Blech. This is not my favorite piece of the puzzle. While even twenty years ago, authors were sometimes discouraged from involving themselves in the marketing effort, we are now expected to shoulder a hefty percentage of the marketing burden. So I'm always looking for ways to expand my audience and reach people who might enjoy a Kimberly Stuart book. I blog, I maintain an e-mail relationship with a list of readers, I'm active on Facebook and Twitter, I do lots of speaking engagements, magazine articles, interviews, and I send snail mail postcards for every book I release. I also try not to be irritating, if you know what I mean. Do we REALLY need to know when Kimberly Stuart is taking her car in for an undercarriage wash? I think not. It's always a tightrope walk for me, how much to reach out to readers and when to just be quiet.
M: I have to ask you about the video SPELLBOUND. How did that come into being and is that your husband and kids in the video with you? I’m putting it at the end of the interview…it is great!
K: Thanks. :) We did the Spellbound video when Stretch Marks released. I know a brilliant video guy and a brilliant songwriter guy, so they joined forces and we recorded the song and the vid. It was great fun and incredibly humbling. My husband, apparently, has an inner Julio Iglesias, and still rubs it in that a woman in a restaurant recognized HIM as the star of Spellbound. My kids are in the last few frames as well and think they're hot stuff too.
M: What upcoming projects are you working on?
K: Operation Bonnet releases in a few weeks, so I'm happily busy working on all that entails. Our release event will be Monday, February 7 at 6:30 at the downtown library in Des Moines. I have a great publicist and marketing team at my publishing house and we're working to get the word out about the book in innovative and fun ways. In a few months, though, I plan on starting a new novel. Ideas are percolating and after a year off of writing, I'll be ready to start in again.
M: If someone can’t make it to the release, where can they find Operation Bonnet?
K: Operation Bonnet will be available in lots of great places: Barnes and Noble, Borders, independent bookstores, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and online. So no excuses, blood relatives. You WILL be required to show your copy of Operation Bonnet in redemption for Christmas presents in 2011.
M: What activities are you involved in when not writing or promoting? Do you have any hobbies, etc.?
K: Hobbies? Does that mean outside interests when I'm not wiping noses or bottoms or kitchen counters? Um....Wow, Mike. This is a stumper. I'd say I love to cook, eat, and read, preferably all at once. I also sing at church quite a bit and get whooped at Trivial Pursuit by my husband who, in addition to starring in questionable music videos, plays a mean game.
M: How can your readers contact you?
K: I'd love to hear from you! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit my website and blog at www.kimberlystuart.com.
M: Thanks, Kim.
For those in the Central Iowa area, the launch party for Operation Bonnet will be held at the Downtown Des Moines Library February 7 at 6:30. Also, for those interested in winning a copy of Operation Bonnet, autographed by Kimberly, just add a comment and at the end of the week one commenter will be selected to receive an autographed copy of Operation Bonnet.
And now, enjoy SPELLBOUND:
Remember to post a comment for a chance to win the book!
Sunday January 30: We have a winner!!