It is my pleasure today to welcome to my blog lovely author Kaela Coble, whose début title Friends and Other Liars has just been published in the US market by the nice folks at Sourcebooks Landmark. I would also like to thank her profusely for her time and, most of all, for her patience and perseverance in the face of a mountain of questions from me, and apparently as many problems with her wayward computer.
To begin with, here’s her short bio:
Kaela Coble is an author of women’s fiction, represented by Stephanie Kip Rostan of Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. Friends and Other Liars was published by Sourcebooks Landmark in the U.S. and Atlantic Corvus in the U.K. under the title Friends and Liars.
She is also passionate about helping people to develop professionally, whether that be as a writer or in any other career. This enthusiasm for career development led her to launch a coaching business in 2016. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer through the Professional Association of Résumé Writers and Career Coaches.
Kaela earned her B.Sc. in Communications and completed short stints in marketing, public relations and copywriting before switching to assistant work to free up creative energy for writing. She is a member of the League of Vermont Writers and a graduate of the Womentoring Project.
She is also a voracious reader and a hopeless addict to bad television and good chocolate. She lives with her husband in Burlington, Vermont, and is a devoted mother to their rescued chuggle, Gus.
Kaela Coble is a member of the League of Vermont Writers and a graduate of the WoMentoring Project. This is her first novel.
And last but by no means least, the interview:
1. Before anything else, let me welcome you to my blog, and thank you profusely for taking the time to answer my many questions. So, to begin with, could I ask you about your reading habits? Would you say you too are infected with the reading virus and, if so, how old were you when it first struck?
Thanks a lot for hosting me today!
I love to read, of course. I actually can’t fall asleep unless I’ve got a book in my hand, and I never go anywhere without a book in my purse, just in case I have to wait (this has served me well). I got addicted to reading when I was about 8, once I had been through a few years of learning to read, which can be torturous.
2. Which is the first book you remember reading, and how old were you?
Oh jeez, well I’ll just assume we’re going with a chapter book rather than those Run, Spot, Run books. The first books I remember being addicted to were the Babysitter’s Club books! I had read a ton of books before then but my memory is failing me. I do remember loving them so much I couldn’t put them down.
3. How much, and what, do you read? What are your favourite genre(s)/authors/books?
Well like I said I read every day, more on weekends. I look forward to Saturday and Sunday mornings when I can eat my breakfast and read for as long as I want in my pajamas with a cup of tea next to me. (Clearly I don’t have children). I like all kinds of fiction, and my favorite authors range from John Steinbeck to Elin Hildebrand.
4. Do you have any books that you return to over and over again? If so, which are they?
You know it’s funny because I have a huge collection of books that I keep in case I ever want to reread them, but I always have such a long TBR list/pile that I feel guilty returning to something I’ve already read! (I’m kind of an overachiever, very goal-oriented). I do read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving every other year. It gets me every time!
5. How do you read? Do you read as a reader, for the pleasure and entertainment of it? Or do you read like a writer, dissecting scenes, plot, character, action, pace, language, everything…?
I do find myself a little more critical since I started working with an editor, which can definitely take some of the pleasure out of it sometimes. I also beta read for writer friends so I have to be in that mindset, and that carries over. Hmmm..perhaps that’s why I’m reading a little less now? I especially get kind of cringe-y when I feel like dialogue is unnatural. And I can’t read on an e-reader because it’s too much like reading my own work on a computer, which I can’t do without editing something, no matter how many times I go through it.
6. I recently read a book that left me breathless and wishing I had written it myself, and feeling that nothing I will ever write can ever be as good as that. Have you ever felt like that with a book you read, and which is the book you wish you had written?
Oh yeah, tons of times! I felt that way with Eat, Pray, Love, especially because I had backpacked through Europe and was trying to write a fictionalized account of my journey of self-discovery at the time I read it. I knew I would never write something that good. I also get really jealous whenever I read or watch a really great concept, like Hunger Games and (more recently) Westworld. I just think it would be so much FUN to write but I’m not great at the whole alternate-reality-world-building thing.
7. Which kinds of fictional villains do you love to hate the most? Who are your favourite fictional villain and villainess?
I love the villains who are straight up about their villainousness (that’s not a word). The ones who are unapologetic about being bad, who don’t care if they’re good or seen as good, and the ones who are hilarious in the bluntness. For some reason the only ones I can think of right now are from movies and tv shows – like Miranda from Devil Wears Prada and Wilhemina in Ugly Betty – both fashion editors, weird.
8. What about heroes, what type of hero/heroine is your favourite? Who are your favourite fictional hero and heroine, then?
I’m not sure if it’s cheating to say I love an underdog who ends up standing up for himself and telling everyone else where to go, because that’s the basis of so many stories. My favorite hero of all time is Owen Meany, because he was so different and no one expected anything great from him, but he had this unwavering faith that he had a destiny to save people and that he would use his differentness to his advantage. He’s probably the most determined character I’ve ever read. The most recent heroine who comes to mind is Madeline of Big Little Lies – she is so funny and just give zero f***s about what comes out of her mouth. Clearly honesty and humor are two of my core values!
9. If you were a fictional character, what sort of character would you like to be, and what genre would you hope to be written into? And who by?
I would love to be written a badass superhero in some action or comic book – someone who is fearless and strong and can physically kick anyone’s butt!
10. Do you tend to read more eBooks or printed ones? And what do you read the most, traditional publishing house, independent publisher, small press, self-published?
I always read printed, as I said above, and I don’t really think about what kind of publisher. I just pick up whatever looks good to me.
11. What title(s) do you have on your bedside table (and on your fireside one, and your desk, and in your handbag) right now?
I just finished reading a friend’s manuscript to give feedback on it, so I wanted a break with something lighter and more fun. So I’m reading City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.
12. Do you have a favourite quote about reading, and would you share it with us?
I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I did read somewhere that people who read a lot growing up are more compassionate and empathetic. And that totally makes sense – when you read you get to really inhabit another person, and the more you practice that the easier it is to see other people’s perspective and feel even a tiny bit like you know what it’s like to experience things you may not have actually experienced personally.
13. Let’s talk about the “writing bug”, then. How old were you when you started writing? Did you always know you would become a writer? If not, when did you decide you’d become one?
I wrote my first poem when I was six years old, about my teddy bear named Dandelion. Ha! And I always like to write poems and little stories; creative writing was my favorite activity in school (besides silent reading). There were times as I grew up that I said I wanted to be an author, but of course there were also times when I wanted to be an actress or a veterinarian. It wasn’t until I quit my first job out of college and backpacked around Australia by myself that I realized I wanted to be a writer. I guess before that, I didn’t feel like I had anything to say.
14. Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated or favourite place (a desk, a study, a garden chair, maybe?) and could you describe it for us?
I mostly write at my desk, but also a lot on my couch so I’m not closed off from my husband. I have to have quiet when I write (no music or TV on), but I also like people to be around. So the couch is definitely more comfy, wrapped up in two soft blankets (one electric, because I’m always cold).
15. Do you journal/keep a diary? What about a notebook, do you have one that you take everywhere you go? What do you write in it?
I used to journal a lot more often, when I was younger and had a lot more feelings to work out. Now that I’m writing so much creatively and am also a happier person, I don’t find the need to write in a journal as much. I do have a One-Line a Day journal that I write in every night. It’s kind of become a gratitude journal. I have TONS of notebooks and carry one in my backpack in case I’m struck with a sentence or idea and don’t have internet access. I also write in a notebook rather than on the computer when I’m feeling stuck; somehow switching the medium in which I’m writing can help me un-clog.
16. So, how do you go about constructing your book’s reality? Are you a thorough planner, before you start writing our book? Or are you a “pantser”? Perhaps even a bit of both? Does it ever happen to you that one of your characters just suddenly decides to do their own thing?
I am a bit of both. I always try to map out the entire story but I get stuck because I don’t really know my characters well enough to predict everything they’re going to do. But I am a planner by nature, so it helps if I just have the next few chapters and a few things I want to “write to” mapped out. I definitely get better ideas for plot points as I’m writing, and when I decide to go with that instinct I go back to my chapter outline (I keep a spreadsheet) and make notes about what I have to change in earlier chapters in order for that change to make sense.
17. How do you create your characters? Are there real life doubles for them?
Now that I’m thinking about it I’ve had all different experiences with character creation. The characters in Friends and Other Liars were all heavily based on people I know; the ones in my second novel (which hasn’t been picked up yet) I thought of movie stars that would play them and imagined them as I wrote them; and the ones in my current work-in-progress aren’t based on anyone at all; I had an idea of their traits and how I thought they would react to certain situations, but I’m pretty much making them up as I go!
18. If there was to be a movie made of your book, and you were to have a say in it, who would you like to see being cast as your main characters?
I’ve given this a lot of thought, actually, because this is a dream of mine! The trouble is I’m in my thirties now and less interested in current celebrities, so I don’t know who all the hot young starts are who would play the characters in Friends and Other Liars. The ones I do know I would want is Jennifer Lawrence for Ruby and Connie Britton for her mother, Nancy.
19. Where did the idea for your book come from? Was any of it based on a true event, a piece of news maybe, a film, a book you read?
It was a combination, really, of a few things. I grew up with a really unique, tight-knit group of friends much like the ones in Friends and Other Liars, and I always wanted to write about them and borrow from our first experiences with friendship and romantic love. But I didn’t want it to be a memoir and I knew the plain truth wouldn’t be an interesting enough read to anyone but us, so I kept it in the back of my mind. Then, when I finished my first novel (a valiant first attempt that I toiled away at for many years until finally giving up on the poor thing), I was at my hairdressers reading People magazine, (which I only allow myself to read when I visit the salon), and I saw a piece about the 30th anniversary of the movie the Big Chill, and it had a description about college friends reuniting when one of the friends dies. And a lightbulb came on, like “That’s how I can approach it!” Quickly after that I thought, “what if that person left them all letters, but not nice ones because that’s boring, but ones that threatened them?” and then I went from there.
20. How much is there of you in your main character?
Ruby and I share some of the same experiences, which is why I wrote through her perspective so much. When I was a teenager, (like most teenagers), I was desperate to get out of my hometown, to get to define myself rather than be defined by who I was at a young age or who I was in relation to other people. Ruby also has this disunion between belonging to her group of friends and feeling outside of it. She feels different and dark, and worries that if people really knew her she wouldn’t be loved or accepted. Who doesn’t feel like that sometimes in high school?
That being said, Ruby and I are not exactly the same. We both like to think we’re tougher than we are, but Ruby is definitely tougher than me. I could never have kept the secrets Ruby did. I think the major difference was in our upbringing. Ruby’s family life was so unstable, she learned to bury feelings and secrets from the time she was very young. My family life was definitely much rosier and less dramatic than Ruby’s was.
21. How much research did you do for this book, and what kind, where, how? How easy, or how difficult, was it?
I didn’t have to do much research for this book, but one thing I did put a little research into was opiod addiction and the crisis it’s causing in the country, especially in rural towns in Vermont. I didn’t set out to write about it, but when I decided that one of my characters was going to commit suicide I wanted to take the opportunity to shine a light on that.
22. How easy or how difficult was it for you to write about your book’s themes?
I have to say I had a complete blast writing this book (most of the time, anyway). But I also had to dig into some of my own experience with first love and with my group of friends to really give the characters and the story skin.
23. Do you think the author knows everything there is to know about her/his characters and their life? How much do you know about your characters?
That’s a really good question, I had to think on that a little bit. Of course as the author you think you know everything about your characters because you are their “creator.” But there are times when I’m writing when I realize I want the character to do something or say something that I didn’t plan on, and everything changes. I think by the end of the story you should know your character pretty darn well at the point in their life that you’re writing them, but say you picked up that character five years later and put them in different situations, you would learn more about them. Just like you never really know yourself because you’re always growing and changing.
24. Which of your fictional heroes/villains did you enjoy writing the most, and why? Are those your two favourite characters in your own fiction?
I really enjoyed writing Ally and Emmett’s characters the most in this book. They both totally crack me up. Ally because of her unique dichotomy between fierce maternal friend and gossipy Queen Bee; and Emmett because he doesn’t let anyone get away with anything, especially Ruby, who he has a such a funny brother/sister relationship with.
25. Is there a sequel in the works? If not, what else is in the forge? And how far are you into writing your new title, and when can we expect it to hit the shelves?
I would LOVE to write a Friends and Other Liars sequel, and I have a lot of ideas rolling around in my head. The trouble with the women’s fiction/suspense genre is that it doesn’t have a huge precedent for sequels/series unless the first book is mega-successful first. So my agent’s advice was to write FAOL like a standalone book and then move onto something else so I can build up an arsenal of work, crossing my fingers that I’ll get to come back to Chatwick and the crew.
The working title of my second novel, which is currently being shopped, is Remember That Night, and it’s about two best friends, one of whom kills the other one’s fiancé in a car crash. And my work in progress is about three sisters, all hiding something, who gather at their family home for the 15th anniversary of their mother’s death, only to find that what their father is hiding blows their little secrets out of the water!
26. Of all your titles so far, which is your favourite one? Which was the one that gave you more pleasure, and the one you found the hardest to write?
FAOL is my first published, and I think that’s been the one that was the most fun to write because I felt like I knew the characters so well and there were all kinds of interesting places I could take the story.
27. For the benefit of any learning writers among us, could you describe your creative process? (how you pick an idea, develop it, draw your characters, plot the action, etc.?)
I am actually a huge nerd and start off writing projects with a spreadsheet. Well, actually, when it’s just an idea it’s usually a weird scribbled note that I write on the notepad next to my bed when I wake up in the middle of the night, and I have hundreds of those. But the one that I can’t stop thinking about is the one I always choose as “the” next project. Then I go to my spreadsheet and start typing out ideas for plot points, details about my characters, etc. Like I said earlier, I can usually only decide a few chapters at a time. Then I just sit down and stare at the blank page and write the first thing that comes into my head. I’m working on allowing myself to create what Anne Lamotte (in Bird by Bird) calls “shitty first drafts,” and that’s been helpful. Rather than putting the pressure on myself to write everything perfectly and try to foresee the whole story, I just write what comes into my head and worry about editing later. I mean, I’m going to have to edit anyway, so why stress about getting it right the first time?
28. If one of your characters were to become a writer, what advice would you have for them?
You better learn to be patient! If you want to be a traditionally published author, it will take a looooong time even under the best of circumstances. But what’s even more important is, if this is your dream, you need to just decide that you’re going to keep going until you make it. Because you’re going to get a lot of rejection, you’re going to have times when you doubt your abilities and your luck, and that’s okay; that’s normal. But deep down you have to have that drive and that belief in yourself that you’ll always get back up and get back to writing. That you’ll get better and better and more and more knowledgeable about the industry and how to market yourself, until all the stars line up and it’s your time.
29. Finally, what’s your favourite quote about writing?
I don’t have one off the top of my head but after a quick search I really liked this one: “A wish or a dream is a good place to start, but eventually we have to get up off our behinds and make it happen.” – Jose N. Harris
30. Here are the quintessential questions, then — first one: why do you write?
In short, because I have to. It’s become a habit for me, and when I don’t have a project to work on or when I abandon it for too long, I’m a much more anxious and irritable person. I know a lot of people say more unselfish things like they want to change the world with their words, but for me I just want to support myself by making up stories in my pajamas, and I know I have to work my butt off in order to get there.
31. How long have you been writing?
I started writing my first book when I was 25, and I’ll be 35 soon, so almost ten years. I probably worked on my first book for a good five years, but that was when I allowed myself several months-long periods of not working on it, and also that book went through about a billion drafts before I finally shelved it.
32. What was the very first thing you wrote which made you stop and look at it, and think: “wow, yes, this could be something”?
I think it was Friends and Other Liars!
33. So, how did you come to writing? Did you take the academic path, or is it just something you discovered you were good at, and decided to pursue?
See question 13.
34. What kind of thing do you prefer to write, and how did you come to choose your genre(s)?
Well apparently I’m drawn to drama drama drama! I thought at first I should be a literary writer but that’s just not what came out. The books I most like to read are the ones I can’t put down, because I get absorbed in the characters and the plot, and that’s the kind of work I wanted to write. There are certain authors you can’t WAIT until they release their next book because you know it’s going to make you excited about that minute or that hour that you get to sit down and read, and I wanted to be that reader for someone.
35. Do you write full time? What’s your usual writing routine?
Definitely not – that’s the goal, though! I work full-time as an Executive Assistant (a very busy one) and I have to have, you know, a life, so right now I write an hour a day, either first thing in the morning or first thing when I get home from work. I recommend this approach to busy writers who are juggling multiple priorities vs. word count goals, which can take a lot longer to hit if you’re having a bad day. I am “lucky” that it took so long for me to find an agent for Friends and Other Liars, because while I was querying I was writing another book, and it was very close to being done by the time I got my book deal. So I have a bit of a backlog of material, which is why I can afford to take my time with my work in progress.
36. The “writing life”, as it is — is that something you recommend? Which aspects of the writer’s life do you enjoy the most (apart from writing, of course!), and which are you not so keen on?
Haha, I would say I would only recommend it if writing is your true love. If it is, then most of the time you are writing you will feel like you’re doing what you were meant to do, and there’s just nothing like that. I actually enjoy editing more than first drafts, because I already have something to work with I don’t have that panicky feeling that I do when I sit down to a blank page. I love that feeling that I’m leaving a chapter better than it was when I started. And of course, I love the finishing part ☺. Another high for me was holding my first paperback book in my hands, and doing my first signing, and getting my first (good) review. These are all really amazing and surreal feelings that not everyone gets to experience.
The part that feels more like a chore for me is the marketing part. I try to be active on Twitter and engage readers and writers but it’s sometimes hard because there is SO much competing noise, and I burn out on it once in awhile. It’s also really hard because there’s only so much within my (and my publicist’s) control, so letting your work out in the world and not having any control over how successful it is is absolute TORTURE.
37. Who are you signed with (or not)? Why did you choose the traditional path to publication? And if you didn’t… why not?
My agent is Stephanie Kip Rostan of Levine Greenberg Rostan. I have two publishers – Sourcebooks Landmark in the US, and Altantic Corvus in the UK. I chose the traditional path because I knew I didn’t have the energy to figure out and be successful at all the hard things like figuring out how to get my book into stores and get good press. I also didn’t want to incur all the costs associated with it – hiring an editor, a cover designer, pay for printing, etc.
38. Ninth “quintessential” question, now: where do you see yourself as a writer, in the long term?
Honestly, maybe I shouldn’t tempt fate but I really see myself becoming a “book a year” writer who does that full-time. Trust, me, I know the odds of that happening, but it’s really my goal. And I want at least one of my books to be a movie, because I just think that would be a really amazing experience.
39. And last but by no means least, which of these do you prefer?
Coffee, or tea? …Tea
Cheesecake, or blueberry muffins? …Muffins, of course! I hate cream cheese.
Turquoise, or aqua green? …Turqouise
Violets, or jonquils? …Ha I don’t know what jonquils are! So violets I guess.
Mountain, or the sea? …Both!
Music, or theatre? …Music most of the time. I probably go to a play or musical once or twice a year.
… and here’s where you can find Kaela:
Thank you so much for your availability, Kaela, and for your amazing patience to put up with me and my endless curiosity. It’s been absolutely lovely getting to know you this little bit, and I very much hope to have the chance to welcome you to my blog again when your next book is out!
Thank you also to Sourcebooks Landmark for this opportunity, and to Liz Keltsch for all her indefatigable assistance. I look forward to working with them again.