Michelle Keener is a multi-genre author and speaker. She lives in Southern California with her retired Marine husband, their two children, and a spoiled dog named Bobo. When she isn’t writing, she is busy homeschooling, teaching creative writing workshops, or baking something involving chocolate. Michelle loves to hear from readers and you can usually find her on Twitter (ok, you can always find her on Twitter), Facebook and Instagram @MKeenerWrites or at her website.
List of Books:
What is the first book that made you cry?
The first book that I remember crying my eyes out while reading was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I was in elementary school and I was reading the book during our silent reading time when I got to the...really sad part (no spoilers). I started crying and everyone in class was staring at me, but my teacher, who had read the book, totally understood.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
In terms of craft, I see a lot of aspiring authors rely too heavily on dialogue. Pages and pages of dialogue without any narrative can be exhausting to read. Sometimes all that dialogue is a cover-up for an information dump, and other times, it's unnecessary to the story. Does it move the story forward? Does it reveal something about your character, or is it just filling up space?
In terms of publishing, I see many aspiring authors putting too much pressure on themselves. Publishing is a ridiculously slow industry, but in this day and age everyone wants things to move quickly and be done immediately. It can be easy to expect too much, too quickly. Take a long-view of your writing career. Don't think in terms of months, think in terms of years. Where do you want to be five or ten years from now and what will help you get there?
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I have considered it, but I haven't done it. I tend to be a bit of a rule beaker when it comes to conventional writing wisdom. I've written nonfiction, romance, and women's fiction all under my own name. I am considering adding middle grade books to my writing resume, and that is when I would probably go with a pseudonym. I would want to make sure middle grade books were distinctly different from my adult genre books.
Do you prefer writing series or standalones?
I've written both, and they each have their unique pros and cons. Light on Glass is a stand alone women's fiction book, and I love the feeling of completion from having a single, complete book. It feels finished and whole, but because it's a standalone book, there isn't an opportunity to revisit those characters.
My Mission Hollywood series however gives me a chance to go back again and again to this family I've grown to love. The challenge, for me, with a series is keeping all of the details straight. I can't simply change a difficult bit to make the next book work. I have to work with the world and characters I've already established.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Getting my first advance changed my perspective on writing, more than my process. Though I'd had several poems published prior to that contract, this was the first time someone had paid me for a book. I stopped looking at my writing as a hobby and started treating it like a business. I focused on my writing in terms of what readers would get out of it and not just what I got from the writing process. Plus it was just awesome to hold a book I wrote in my hands for the first time. Best day ever!
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
My laptop! Not counting computers, the best money I've spent as a writer was going to a genre-specific conference. I met some amazing people, learned a great deal, and when my first novel came out, I was able to capitalize on those connections. I booked a blog tour with a company I met at the conference that brought in a bunch of positive reviews. I was a guest on a podcast with a host I met at the conference, and I was able to reach out to a number of the authors I met there for blurbs. It was a great learning opportunity, but those connections and friendships have been a blessing. It's important to remember that other writers are our colleagues and developing professional connections is important.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
It might not count as under-appreciated since it was a bestseller, but The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I absolutely love that book. It was a big influence on my novel Light on Glass. I love her style and voice and the unique way she tells the story.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I actually don't have any unfinished books. I am a serious Type A personality and I always finish books...even when I shouldn't.
As for unpublished books. Well that's a different story. Right now I have one book under contract, another sitting with my publisher awaiting their decision (which is still incredibly nerve-wracking), and another I plan to self-publish later this year. I also have an awful historical romance manuscript sitting in the bottom drawer of my desk. It was the very first novel I ever wrote, and it's terrible. It will never again see the light of day. In case of a zombie apocalypse, it's the first thing I will use as kindling.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I love research. When I write nonfiction, I research extensively. I love big, thick books and Google searches. I fill up legal pads with way more information than I will ever use.
With fiction, I tend to do the bare minimum amount of research I need to get started, and then go back between the first and second draft to fill in the gaps. With Light on Glass, I had to go back and figure out some details from 18th century Portugal, but I didn't know what I was going to need until I started writing. With Mission Hollywood, I had to go back and check street maps of Hollywood and the behind the scenes working of film production.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
In general, I don't read reviews. When a book launches, I will check to make sure my launch team is posting reviews and that there aren't any problems with the process. I will confess that if I see a five star review come up, I will stop and read it. My family can tell you that I cry all the time when I read a positive review. It is such an encouragement, and it fills me with absolute joy to see someone else connect to my book.
But, those bad reviews can be confidence-squashers. My first published book was a memoir, and it received a one-star review and to this day I can quote it to you. It didn't matter how many five-star reviews I read, that one-star hurt my heart. I learned then that it's best for me not to read reviews, especially the bad ones. Reviews are meant for readers, not for authors, so I find it best to leave them for the readers.
The things I LOVE to read are emails readers send me.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien. My 3rd grade teacher read it out loud to the class, and I loved it so much he gave me the book. I read that book until the cover fell off...and then I read it some more.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It depends on the book. For my novels, it takes about 9 months. The first draft usually goes pretty quickly, but I am a notorious under-writer so the second draft takes longer because I need to fill in a lot of details. I also usually add about 20,000 words in the second draft. I use critique partners for feedback so the timing will depend on their availability as well. Once the book goes to my publisher it takes another 9-12 months to be published.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
For me, it's less writer's block and more creative emptiness. When I'm struggling to write and the words just won't come, that's usually a sign that my creative well is empty and needs to be refilled. The best cure for me is to take a break and find inspiration. Reading, hiking, being out in nature, listening to music, those are all things that inspire me and refill my creative storehouse. Sometimes we all need a break to rest and refresh.