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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Investigator Turns Author ~ Kellie Coates Gilbert

A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure. Her stories are about messy lives, and eternal hope.

This is such fun to have you here, Kellie. Sharing the same wonderful agent makes it special. Tell us about your new release:

MOTHER OF PEARL, Abingdon Press, tells the emotionally compelling story of a high school counselor who discovers her own teenage daughter had an inappropriate relationship with the football coach . . . and how she risks everything to bring him to justice.

Was there a specific 'what if' moment to spark this story?

I write women’s fiction, with a focus on poignant and emotionally compelling stories about women in life-changing circumstances.

I knew my first novel would focus on mothering and the perils women face in this role, especially during the teen years. I didn’t even know how many things there were to be afraid of until I had my first child. From the moment the nurse placed that tiny infant in my arms, a fierce need to protect bubbled from the deepest part of me.

As a novelist, I asked the question: What would a mother do if suddenly life took a turn and she learned the child she thought she’d protected had fallen into the hands of someone unsafe?  And what if she found out too late?

Early, when the inception of this story was still noodling in my brain, I saw a sadly recurring event on the news, the story of a coach who had inappropriately been involved with a teenager. While the cameras honed on the major players, I couldn’t help but wonder if the girl’s mother stood just out of view. What was she feeling? 

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?

At a recent writer’s conference, a workshop leader urged authors to be deliberate about developing a relationship with your publishing team. I took this great advice to heart.

I’d just turned in my manuscript and was heading to Nashville to meet my editor and marketing director. Thinking it would be nice to take a gift, I looked online and found a shop nearby that sold gourmet popcorn. Imagine my surprise when I sent my husband to pick up the popcorn while I packed, and he returned with a package almost the size of a four-year-old child.

I had a bit of an impish grin when the publishing folks almost had to call security to help them carry my gift into the elevator!

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?

I’ve found the best way to get creative writing juices flowing is to READ! There’s something about nestling my mind into the pages of a great book written exceptionally well that springboards plot ideas and word painting.  

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

I plot in a rather unique way. After defining the general premise and theme, I focus on populating my novel with the characters (my favorite part). The best way for me is to get a notebook and paste cut out images of people and places. Below the pictures, I note what lies these people believe and why . . . which springboards story ideas.

As I write a particular character, I open the notebook to “their page.” This helps me see them in my head and hear their voice as I write the dialogue.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

I heard of a very prolific author who creates a lengthy outline of her novel, chapter-by-chapter. Then, she leaves her family in her mother’s care and goes to a remote location for two to three weeks and writes the novel.

That approach sounds so appealing to me. The hardest time I have is the stop and start thing. I write a great couple of chapters and then have to shut off the computer when life and other obligations interrupt. Sometimes, it may be two or three days before I’m able to place my fingers on the keyboard and start back up. The story feels disjointed until I go back and reread and wait for the movie in my head to play once again.

In my imaginary perfect writing world, I could push the PAUSE button on life and write until I’m ready to stop.

What's your strength in writing (characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?

Reader emails have common phrases: riveting, couldn’t put it down, bawled my eyes out. 

I think I write stories that take the reader on a page-turning ride filled with emotion.

Did this book give you any problems? If not, how did you avoid them?

There is a very fast-paced trial at the end of MOTHER OF PEARL. Initially, I tried to write the legal scenes with step-by-step accuracy, which slowed the pacing and would likely bore potential readers. Before I even turned in the manuscript, I realized I had to make that part of the novel pop and move like a legal thriller . . . which meant a pretty major re-write.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I write from my home office—a quiet, organized place with lots of light streaming through the windows, Pachelbel’s Canon playing on the stereo, and a cup of tea on a coaster next to my Mac.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

The scenes flow if I’ve taken time to organize my thoughts and I know where I’m heading. If I skip the planning, my writing wanders and gets messy. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

If you want to be a great writer . . . READ!

How do you balance your writing time with family and any other work you do?

I did trial work for years and learned to be organized. Now, I run a contract paralegal business and write novels. I really don’t waste a lot of time. I watch very little television and always try to be in my office working by nine am. Before I close down my computer for the evening, I list the tasks that need accomplished the following day. My marketing and social media often is done in the early mornings and late evenings, while I sit with my husband in his “man-cave” with a football game playing.

Unlike some authors, I am at the stage of life where my children are raised and so I don’t have to juggle as much as some of my friends.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Like any other business, there can be a lot to get grouchy about in the publishing industry. You have to make a decision to be joyful and thankful (and usually those two go hand-in-hand.) 

Mother of Pearl

Barrie Graeber has two great kids, a loving husband, and a respected job as the high school counselor in her close-knit community. Without warning, everything unravels when her teenage daughter, Pearl, is betrayed and lashes out.

Nothing prepares this mother for the helplessness that follows when her attempts to steer her daughter back on course fail, and Pearl shuts her out . . . or when Barrie discovers the unthinkable about her nemesis, the football coach.

Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving, Mother of Pearl brings us into the heart of a mother bound by an incredible burden, who ultimately finds she must recognize her own vulnerability and learn to trust in something much bigger.


  1. Kellie, I loved Mother of Pearl and I can't wait to read your next book!!

  2. Love the article, loved Mother of Pearl, and love Kellie Gilbert! So excited about her next books.

  3. Excellent interview! Funny and intriguing!

  4. Ane, Lisa, and Marji - thanks for the sweet comments!


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