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: