AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Kristina McMorris, part 1

I love WWII-era sagas, so when Therese suggested I interview Kristina McMorris, I jumped on it. McMorris’ debut novel LETTERS FROM HOME is set in 1944 in the Chicago homefront and follows the lives of three women as they negotiate love, loss, and the social changes happening for women during the war era.  Can you say literary catnip?  Of course you can.  I couldn’t put it down.

A former child television star and public relations professional, Kristina began LETTERS FROM HOME innocently enough when she stumbled across her grandparents’ war era correspondance while compiling a self-published cookbook of her grandmother’s wartime recipies.  The letters became the basis for her novel, LETTERS FROM HOME.   The book sold to Kensington, and is quickly garnering rave reviews and global rights sales based on its commercial appeal and potential.  The condensed book club rights have been sold to Reader’s Digest, and the film rights are represented by the prestigious Creative Artists Agency of Los Angeles.  Better still, a portion of sales proceeds will benefit United Through Reading®, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children.

If you like sweeping sagas, heartbreak and history, all served with a healthy dollop of romance, this book will keep you up at nights, guaranteed.  The fact that this novel is her first is extremely impressive.

Please enjoy part one of our two part interview with Kristina McMorris.

Q.   You’ve been in the writing industry for a long time, as an entertainer and public relations professional.  Have you always had the itch to write fiction?  When did you decide to take the leap and write a novel? 

KM: Quite honestly, when I started writing LETTERS FROM HOME, I was barely a fiction reader let alone an aspiring author. Only after discovering a collection of love letters that my late grandfather sent to my grandmother during World War II did it occur to me to actually pen a novel. That’s when I learned the couple had gone on merely two dates before exchanging vows, as their relationship had developed almost entirely through letters. 

And I started wonder: How well can you really know someone through letters alone? What if those written messages weren’t entirely truthful? 

As a movie buff, I soon imagined a film set during WWII, about a GI falling in love with a girl through letters, unaware that the girl he’s writing to isn’t the one replying. For some crazy reason, crafting a book sounded a lot easier than creating a screenplay. Fortunately, by the time I realized what I had gotten myself into—and how little I knew about, well, anything in the literary realm—it was too late to turn back! 

Q.  In LETTERS FROM HOME, you weave the stories of three women into a single narrative.  Did you first conceptualize the novel this way, or did their stories emerge organically?  What are some things writers need to be mindful of when they work in multiple POVs? 

KM: I’d like to claim that my first draft was full of layers and complexities and interwoven plots from the get-go. But alas, the original version bore very little conflict period, much less multiple storylines. It really started out as a simple love story between two people. As my writing skills developed (“Ooh, I see…conflict is a good thing!”), so did the secondary characters, until I ended up with four periodic points of view. Still, only after I sold the novel did my editor help me realize that every one of those characters deserved equal time in the spotlight, which led me to add several chapters throughout the story before going to print. (Working backward like this isn’t a route I’d recommend, by the way!) 

As for working in multiple POVs—especially when several belong to those of the same gender and similar station in life—I think you have to be careful their voices don’t blend into one character. I’m a huge fan of analogies and metaphors, which certainly helped me distinguish how the characters would view life based on their passions. What was also helpful was a list I created of words or phrases that were unique to each of them, used in both their dialogue and thoughts. A difference in overall speech should also be considered, such as short or fragmented sentences versus longer, more proper ones. All of these tactics, even when done subtly, should aid in making the characters three-dimensional.

Q.  The theme of LETTERS FROM HOME seems to be self-discovery.  Was this a conscious choice for you?  How can writers incorporate themes without sounding preachy or obvious?

KM: I was aware of incorporating a theme for my two main characters when I first started the book—of self-discovery and finding strength deep within. The arcs of the secondary characters grew along the way, and somehow they all paralleled. Perhaps my subconscious had a hand in that. On the flipside, I was indeed aware of the commonality that no character was who he/she appeared to be on the surface. Everyone had a secret to hide and a lesson to learn. By the war’s end, nobody came out unscathed.  

Q.  Each of the three female protagonists don’t necessarily end up with a “happily ever after.”  Did that surprise you?  Do you let your characters dictate their stories as you were writing them, or do you have them firmly visualized before the writing begins? 

KM: My romance-author friends often tease me about the bittersweet endings I write. My typical argument? “It was a world war, people. Not everyone came home. Not everyone lived happily ever after.” That said, I do my best to give the reader a satisfying ending while also remaining rooted in realism. Since I’m a plotter, once I jot down a few sentences about where the chapter is going, I stick pretty close to that. Yet I do stay open to small surprises that might emerge, which I definitely enjoy. 

Q.  I loved the character of Morgan, the emotionally vulnerable farmboy who ships off to war and encounters battlefield horrors.   In fact, all of your characters struggle with a dichotomy.  How important is it for writers to embed conflicts in their characters?  Do you think it’s always necessary? 

KM: I would venture to say an author could get away with a sole focus on external conflict—find and diffuse the bomb or the world will explode! But to keep the pages turning while enabling the reader to become truly invested in the characters, I think you really need internal conflict. After all, it’s through these challenges that we as readers can relate, and when characters reveal their greatest strengths and flaws.

Click here for part two, when former public relations professional Kristina talks about what writers should be mindful of when marketing their books, as well as writing the “big book” — a novel with commerical appeal.  And check out the book trailer for LETTERS FROM HOME:

0

About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.

Comments

  1. says

    Hey Kris! Can’t believe the book is almost here! Can you tell us a little bit about what surprised you during the journey from sale to getting the book on the shelf? What would you do differently — or what advice can you give to newbies on that path?

    Hugs,
    Inara

    ****
    http://www.inarascott.com
    Delcroix Academy: The Candidates (Disney-Hyperion)

    0
  2. says

    Loved her answer about writing in multiple POVs. She may claim to be a newbie, but if that’s the case, she’s got great gut instincts!
    Kristan´s last blog post ..Shedding

    0
  3. says

    This sounds fantastic. I love what Kristina said about her endings being satisfying. I do like happy endings, of course, but I like bittersweet endings too as long it’s satisfying. Good for her for writing how it’s meant to be written and not others might think it should be written.

    And triple awesome that some of the proceeds go to a charity. That’s a wonderful thing she’s doing!
    Laura Marcella´s last blog post ..Copyright Violation

    0
  4. says

    @Inara – Hi, sweetie! Wow, you’re going to make me think on a Friday evening, huh? LOL. My greatest surprise, honestly, was how much effort my publisher put into the appearance of my book. Authors typically have so little control over the cover, and yet for unknown authors, the cover can be a vital element for success.

    What they came up with far surpassed my expectations; not only does the beautiful artwork perfectly capture the essence of my story, with a look that targets my ideal audience, but they even used a special linen-type, dimpled, matte card stock with French flaps (giving the look of a hardcover) and for the pages they used rough-cut almost yellowed papers that give the illusion of old letters. Just amazing.

    On a more technical note, I was also surprised to discover that each house has its own guidelines of how many changes are allowed during the page-proof stage. So I would definitely recommend that new authors ask about editing guidelines beforehand to help prevent disappointment.

    0
  5. says

    @Kristan – Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed my thoughts on writing multiple POVs. In my second book, which I just turned in, I again wrote from four viewpoints, and although I was really happy with the final product, alternating POVs every chapter over a story timeline of four years was definitely wearing. Fingers crossed my “gut instincts” came through!

    0
  6. says

    @Margo – I’m so happy you actually found something useful amid all my rambling, lol. I used to read quite a bit of Jodi Picoult’s work, and she did a great job with varying sentence patterns.

    You know, that’s probably another reason I love writing guys’ POVs more than girls'; I tend to make my female characters more flowy and lyrical, and many of the guys get nice short, choppy sentences. Cadence is sooo much easier to nail with short phrases, let me tell ya. :)

    0
  7. says

    @Laura – Thanks for sharing that I’m not the only one who finds “satisfying” endings important. I always think of it like having a wonderful 3-course meal at a fancy restaurant; the food is great, the wine delicious, the dessert superb. BUT if the server disappoints you in the end by taking an hour to deliver the check, that, above all else, is what you remember.

    It’s hard to reverse a bad aftertaste, and to me, that’s what poor endings do to an otherwise great story. Most often I feel this way when a novel wraps things up too hastily, leaves too many threads dangling, or, worst of all, throws in some implausible, overly convenient, or where-the-heck-did-that-come-from conclusion. (Hopefully, my own endings won’t leave any readers feeling that way….ugh, did I just jinx myself??)

    0
  8. says

    @Therese – Thanks so much for having me here and for all your continued support. You should be incredibly proud of WU; such an amazing site!

    @M.E. – I’m so glad you enjoyed the video. I love sharing my grandparents’ story any chance I get! Hope to see you back here for Part 2. :)

    @liz – I definitely feel fortunate about the cover! Thanks for the kind words.

    0
  9. says

    Coming late, but fantastic questions, Kathleen. Kristina, you know I’ve been a fan of that video, but now that I know your background, I can see why it would be so much more effective than many trailers I’ve seen. It’s a great example of a writer going with their strengths for promo, IMHO.

    Can’t wait to read this book, and congrats on what promises to be a busy writing career.
    Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..Relaxed Writer- The Importance of Staying Loooose

    0
  10. says

    @Jan – Wonderful to see you here! Thanks, as always, for your warmth and support. I definitely debated on doing a traditional book video, but in my case, the marketing factor outweighed the potential fun factor. So glad you liked the final product! :)

    0

Trackbacks