Welcome, Kathleen. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I don’t write myself into my characters, at least not intentionally. I like to include some diversity and try to make that authentic. In The Street Singer, Adda had a distinct voice that matched her life circumstances. In Beauty for Ashes, Angelina is of Puerta Rican descent. I wanted to write her authentically.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I arranged a flash mob for students. The movie, Frozen, was on every kid’s mind. Teachers were circulating the lunchroom. We started the music and one teacher stood on a bench and began to sing. One by one, we joined in, dancing with scarves and singing to wide-eyed, delighted students. I can’t say it went viral, but it received a lot of hits.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
That’s a hard question. I was a closet writer for many years. I began a novel that I would pull out from time to time. I worked as an elementary principal and had three sons at home. That didn’t allow writing time. When I made the decision to retire from a job that I loved a few years earlier than planned, I knew I needed something positive in my life. That’s when I became serious about writing. I think I discovered that I’m a writer when I realized that people actually liked what I wrote.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I love Christian fiction as well as clean reads from the general market. I write contemporary, but also love historic. I’m partial to books with multi-generational friendships, ethnic differences, and time slip novels. I read mystery, suspense, and love to find legal scenarios. I’m not a huge fan of speculative fiction, but will occasionally read it. I do admire the creative imagination of those who write spec fiction.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
My run, run, run world has slowed down considerably. I retired early with Parkinson’s Disease. It’s a slower downer. My life is busy, but not hectic. I write, exercise, and keep up with friends. My body tells me when it needs to rest. Seven years since my diagnosis, I’m doing well. I’m certain that’s because I’m committed to stay as stress-free as I can.
Good for you. How do you choose your characters’ names?
I think a long time when choosing main character names. For example, in Beauty for Ashes, I wanted a sophisticated male name, someone born in an upper socio culture. I chose the name Grant. It felt like a fit. For his rival, I wanted someone unpretentious and down to earth. That gave birth to Rusty. I look up character names to make sure I’m not creating a name with a known association. That served me well once when I discovered that the name I had considered was actually a high-profile murder victim. I switched that name quickly. I do have a character with a somewhat famous name. Scott Harrington was deep-rooted in the novel that stayed hidden for many years. Once it was contracted, I learned that it’s the name of an NHL hockey player. Well, at least my Scott Harrington is a good guy.
Secondary characters are easier. I can have a little fun with those. Beauty for Ashes contains the names of my three sons—Brian, Stephen, and Darren. The characters are so minor, you could miss them. A main character in my novel, The Least of These, has neighbors named Molly, Jan, and Rebecca. Three of my friends became Claire’s friends. They were delighted to learn that they were part of my novel.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I taught elementary school, and at my principal’s suggestion and encouragement, I took classes to get my principal certification. Then I moved into administration. While I loved my job, I think I’m most proud of my teaching years. I believe that we know when we do something well, and for me, that was teaching. I still have students who keep in touch with me. It humbles me knowing that God allowed me to be a small part of shaping their future.
I know what you mean. I was a church children’s choir director for decades. Seeing my children grow up and become worship leaders and some even professional musicians and yet staying in contact with me has been such a blessing. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I think I’d be a cat. They do things their way. They can be aloof one minute, then loving the next. My sweet, bobtail cat named Murphy stretches out on the footrest of my recliner, and purrs contentedly. That’s how I feel when evening comes and I relax. Cats are mischievous and playful. They can be curled up lazily, then dart to chase after something that catches their eye. They take you by surprise—sort of like a flash mob!
James and I were part of a Christmas flash mob in a mall one year. It was fun to see the reactions of the people. What is your favorite food?
My favorite pick from a nearby restaurant is cod imperial—a delicious hunk of cod stuffed with yummy crabs and seafood. Ice cream is my sweet tooth weakness.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Remember that novel that I worked on for eighteen years? I was still on chapter five. I continued to rewrite it. Even when I committed my retirement to writing it, I couldn’t get past the first ten chapters. A wise author from my writing group encouraged to me to finish it. Don’t worry about every detail. Don’t continue editing. Just get the story on paper. That’s what I did and was met with a huge sense of accomplishment. Obviously, it needed lots of editing and sensory embellishment, but I had a completed story.
Tell us about the featured book.
Beauty for Ashes started thematically. I finished reading Water from My Heart, an amazing novel by Charles Martin. It stayed on my mind for a long time. I knew I wanted to write something with a similar theme—seeing the far-reaching consequences of actions, living with devastating guilt, holding a secret deep inside, and falling in love too close to the hidden truth. I played with scenarios in my mind and chose the one that became Beauty for Ashes. It’s not Charles Martin’s story. The plot differs, the characters are different, the setting’s different. But it carries similarities in theme.
Please give us the first page of the book.
January 1, 2006
Heaviness pressed down upon him. Nathan tried to open his eyes, but as a sliver of light penetrated his eyelids, pain exploded in his head. He hooked his arm around the pillow and pulled it to block the light. He ran a hand over the wrinkled sheets and risked opening his eyes.
He was in his own bed, fully clothed, still wearing shoes. A leaden feeling held him there, his own weight too heavy to lift. A glimpse at his alarm clock showed eleven fifteen in red lights. Sunshine forced its way through the window, and dust particles danced in the sunbeam, telling him it was morning.
Fragments of memory surfaced. Music. Pulsations rocked the truck at deafening decibels. Sam’s singing. Blinding lights moving in concentric circles and changing directions. Nathan wedged his foot free of the covers and then forced his legs off the side of the bed. Once he managed a sitting position, his stomach rebelled. He remembered something else—something red in his foggy brain. A swift image ripped through his head. A spinning top. No, that wasn’t right. It wasn’t a toy. A car! A red car—brakes screeching as it spun and twirled before crashing into a pole.
His mouth watered and his throat filled with bitter acid. He wouldn’t make it to the bathroom. He grabbed the trashcan as his stomach lost the battle.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Website – www.KathleenNeely.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/kathy.neely.98
Twitter - https://twitter.com/NeelyKneely3628
The best way to reach me is through my website: www.KathleenNeely.com .You’ll find links to my social media and a contact link.
Thank you, Kathleen, for sharing this book with us. I’m eager to read it.
Print - https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Ashes-Kathleen-Neely/dp/1522301976/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3TCXTIGU2YYWY&keywords=beauty+for+ashes+by+kathleen+neely&qid=1559780776&s=gateway&sprefix=Beauty+for+Ashes+by+%2Caps%2C180&sr=8-1
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