By Leslie Lindsay
I am super-excited to spend some time chatting with NYT bestselling debut author, Kimberly McCreight of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA. While this book was a Target Book Club pick and my local book discussion group selection, I am in awe as to how this literary wonder woman does it all. She’s a mom to two young girls, runs marathons, and has several unpublished manuscripts just lying about. Oh, and she’s a former attorney. To accomplish all of that, you’d have to say the woman is driven, hands down.
RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA appealed to me for several reasons: it’s been compared to Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, has a Jodi Picout-like quality in that it alternates between view points, and perhaps most importantly, the storyline is ripped right from current trends in mean girl behavior, also know as social aggression–a trend I am not proud to associate with the female culture. So, without futher ado…please welcome Kim McCreight.
LL: Thank you, Kim for taking the time to chat with us about your book, RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA (Harper Perennial, 2013). I am currently in the last quarter of the book and find myself racing to the end to find out what really happened to young Amelia. Without giving away too much, did you intend for the book to be a mystery?
Kimberly McC: Reconstructing Amelia was inspired first and foremost by my experiences as a mother, specifically my fears for my daughters as they grow older. And I don’t think I set out to write a mystery per se. I didn’t set out to write any particular kind of book. But as much as I cared about the characters while writing Reconstructing Amelia I was also very interested in the puzzle aspect of the story. And I knew from the outset that a central question driving the narrative would be the “why” of what happened to Amelia. For me, that’s the question at the heart of all great mysteries.
LL: Cyber-bullying has become such an unfortunate trend in young people’s lives—from texts to blogs, to Facebook. You tap into this environment surprisingly well—the teen slang, the secrets, their mannerisms, yet your own children are young. Can you give us a glimpse into your ‘research’ for the book?
Kimberly McC: I was certainly influenced by many news accounts of bullying, though the book wasn’t inspired by any one story in particular. I also did a fair amount of Internet research, exploring what teenagers talk about and what mediums they use. There was a lot that surprised me about the ways teens use social media these days, for better and for worse. I’m amazed how different their definitions of “privacy” and “friend” are from mine. I also talked to local teens while writing Reconstructing Amelia. I grew up in the suburbs, so I needed to get a sense of how the details of life differ for an urban teenager—where they go one weekends, after the school, etc. But much of Amelia’s character was inspired by my own memories of being a teen. And her voice came very naturally, which maybe should concern me more than it does.
LL: Speaking kids…as an author, how do you structure your writing time while still remaining an engaging parent? My own kids are 7 and 8 and I write like mad while they are at school, but sometimes that’s not near enough! My characters keep “talking” to me as I help with homework, prepare dinner, etc. Can you share some tips for ‘trying to do it all?’
Kimberly McC: Ever since I left the practice of law to write fiction, I’ve tried to treat writing as a full-time job with regular hours and a clear structure. That was less complicated, of course, before I had children. But then, life for any working parent is a constant juggle. I feel very lucky that I at least have the flexibility (and proximity) most days to be at school at the drop of a hat to pick up a sick child.
These days, I write from 9-6 pm, five days a week, which means my girls are in aftercare or with a sitter after school. Having lots of strict deadlines (and sub-deadlines, and sub-sub deadline helps) and I rely heavily on a great to-do app.
But you’re right that even that isn’t always enough. Just last night, I had to sit across from my older daughter revising something as she finished her homework because I had a deadline.
Also, I am always jotting story notes in my iPhone—while watching my kids play sports or while cooking dinner (which might explain why I’m such a terrible cook) and, yes, sometimes even when they’re talking to me. In that case, of course, I feel totally guilty, but mostly do it anyway).
Because you can’t control when a new idea or the solution to a vexing narrative problem will come to you. And if you don’t grab it, it can disappear. But I find that as long as I’ve made a detailed note, it will usually keep until whenever I can return to it during my regular work hours.
LL: I understand your first manuscripts are stored someplace under your bed or in your hard drive; RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA is actually your fifth attempt at writing a novel, right? You must have really, really been determined to get a book out. What advice would you give to emerging novelists?
Kimberly McC: Keep writing. That’s really obvious, but it’s also an incredibly important point. And by that I mean don’t give up, but also: write to get better at writing. My work has certainly improved over the years. I think feedback is critical, too. Find a great critique partner or, better yet, a terrific writers group. Then listen to what they have to say about your work. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything they say, but keep an open mind. There is no way to improve in a vacuum.
LL: Moving on to agents. You say you’ve gone through several, yet we struggling writers would be happy with just one! What tips might you offer for finding that perfect fit, crafting a stellar query letter, and ultimately getting a book in the hands of readers?
While it’s certainly important to approach agents who represent your kind of work and who are accepting new clients, I think it’s easy to get bogged down in the research phase of finding an agent. The “who to approach” part, instead of getting to the “actually approaching” phase.
I would recommend casting a wide net. Part of finding an agent is a numbers game: sending out enough queries to enough agents (keeping in mind always to notify them that yours is a simultaneous submission) until you find that perfect match.
I’d start with a group of ten agents and see what response you get to your query letter. If only a very few (or none) ask to see pages, your query letter probably isn’t strong enough. Stop and revise it. Writing a great query letter takes a lot of time. More than you’d ever think a single letter could possibly take.
It’s also really hard. How to write a good query is something I would recommend researching extensively. You can start online, there are lots of great articles there. Then imagine you’re writing the jacket copy for your book. You don’t need to tell the reader everything, you just need to grab their interest. On that note, be sure that your letter is written in the same tone as your book. If your novel is funny, make your letter funny. Wrote a mystery? Make sure your letter is suspenseful. And don’t be gimmicky. Agents get more queries then you can possibly imagine. You want to stand out, but not for the wrong reasons.
LL: What’s next for you? When will we see more of your books on the shelves?
Kimberly McC: I’m at work on revisions for my next book, another mystery with a strong character element. Don’t know when it’ll be out, but I’d expect in about a year or so. I’ve also started the first book in a YA trilogy that I’m really excited about.
Thank you so very much for being here today, Kim! It’s been an absolute pleasure. Best wishes!
And now for the book give-a-way!! One lucky winner will be drawn at random to WIN a FREE copy of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA. All you have to do is share this interview via email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. and let me know you shared (if you don’t let me know, I can’t enter your name). How do you do that?! Easy. Just leave a comment on this blog or shoot me an email at leslie_lindsay (at) hotmail.com with subject line, “I shared…enter my name!” *
For more information, please follow Kimberly’s social media:
*Fine Print: Give-a-way is open to US residents only. Must comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org so I know to enter your name after you’ve shared via social media. Contest runs Wednesay, January 22-Saturday, January 26. Please check your in-box/junk/spam for an email from me indicating you won. Please respond promptly with your mailing address. Book will be sent to you from HarperCollins Publishers. Good luck!!
[book image retrived from Amazon.com on 1.21.14; author image courtesy of Harper Collins Pub with permission of Kimberly McCreight]