Today we are interviewing the charming Kristina McMorris. Her novel, LETTERS FROM HOME is a World War 2 era love story, and one of my new favorites! She’s a master of fresh, evocative word choice and I’m a little jealous! But mostly I’m inspired – by her talent, her perseverance, and the originality of her voice. Please join me in welcoming her to “Interview an Awesome Author” Thursday.
TB: Kristina, thanks so much for being with us today! It’s a thrill to chat with you. Could you start by telling us a little about your most recent release and which aspect of this particular story you love the most?
KM: My debut novel, LETTERS FROM HOME, was released earlier this year in both the U.S. and U.K., also as a Reader’s Digest condensed book-club feature. It’s all been very exciting, particularly because the story was inspired by my grandparents’ wartime courtship. Essentially, the book is about a Midwestern infantryman who falls in love through letters, unaware that the girl he’s writing to isn’t the one replying. Woven around this tenuous thread are three female friends whose journeys toward independence take unexpected turns as a result of romance, tragedy, and deception.
If I had to choose one aspect of the story I most enjoyed, I would have to say it’s the era. The fashion, the music, the slang. Plus, I can’t think of a more romantic period, with emotions heightened and stakes raised due to an uncertain future. This, of course, is what made letter writing such a cherished connection – an art form that is sadly being lost in today’s world of speed and technology.
TB: I agree, the love letter is a lost art form! Having access to your grandparent’s letters must have felt like finding a hidden treasure! What are you working on now?
KM: My next novel, BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES, is due out February 28th! The story features a Caucasian violinist named Maddie who secretly elopes with her Japanese American boyfriend – the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed. Refusing to be separated from her husband, Maddie becomes one of the few non-Japanese spouses to voluntarily live in an internment camp, where she finds she doesn’t belong on either side.
Having grown up living between worlds—my father is an immigrant from Kyoto—I can’t wait to share this story with readers. As for the rest of my latest, I’ve just turned in a proposal for my third book and am working on a Christmas novella for an anthology headlined by Fern Michaels. (Which means, the pressure is on!)
TB: I happened to research Japanese internment camps for a college paper (a FEW years back!) and was amazed by what Japanese Americans were put through. I also have a 94 year old friend who was a WW2 pilot, but the government took his license once they discovered his father was born in Japan. He recently got his wings, though! He’s an inspiring man. And speaking of inspiration, what inspires you and influences your story choices?
KM: I definitely draw my greatest inspirations from true accounts in history, specifically the largely untold stories that have much to teach us, as well as other historical novels (no matter their era) that are just so well written they make me want to sit down at the keyboard in an attempt to create a similar experience for other readers. Ironic how when I first started writing, I was most inspired by what I viewed as poorly written books (“Heck, even I can do THAT!”) and now it’s just the opposite (“Ooh, I really hope I can do THAT as well as they have.”). Ahh, the bliss of ignorance.
TB: Yes, the more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn! That’s why I’m thankful for this opportunity to ask published authors like you all these questions. Such as: What techniques do you use to help develop your story?
KM: As a former wedding/event planner, I’m sure you can guess that I’m a plotter. Once I have the “hook” of my story and a few characters in mind, I can see the majority of the book play out like a movie in my head. This probably also comes from my background in acting, which shares many similarities to the craft of writing.
TB: I *see* my stories, too. Then hope I can translate onto the page the visions in my head. As you know, that’s harder than it should be! Who are some of your favorite authors or books?
KM: Some of my all-time favorites are: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and my latest amazing find, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (that story still haunts me months after reading it).
TB: I haven’t read Between Shades of Gray yet. I’ll add that to my TBR pile, which is currently ready to topple over. Do you have any writing rituals or habits which ‘put you in the mood’ (to write, I mean!)
KM: I must wear fuzzy socks (ugliness is perfectly acceptable) and a comfy zipped hoodie (I’m almost always cold). Once I settle in with a half-caff coffee, heavy on the vanilla-caramel creamer, I’m ready to start writing – so long as the house is quiet. Authors who can punch out coherent sentences while seated in noisy coffee shops boggle my mind.
TB: I think we might be sisters. I need quiet, coffee, and comfy clothes! How long have you been writing?
KM: I’ve been writing creatively for six years, all beginning the day my grandmother shared with me her secret collection of courtship letters from my dear late grandfather. Before that, I had been a PR and business writer for about a decade, skills from which I continue to use in the marketing of my novels.
TB: That is a great combination of skills! I recently read another interview with you where you talk about how to market your own work. That was excellent information, and something most of us writers could use help with. When I decided to ‘write a book,’ I never considered what went into to get published and being successful. You’ve done a great job with that. What advice have you received from other writers which has been particularly helpful?
KM: I was still crawling my way through the literary jungle when I entered the first early manuscript chapters of LETTERS into a contest. Wow, did I have a lot to learn. One of the judges—who had every right to decimate my pages—gave me the best encouragement I could have hoped for; she wrote something to the effect of “You have a great voice, which can’t be taught. Everything else you can learn.” I wish I could thank that judge today, as that advice helped keep me going when it was awfully tempting to throw in the towel.
TB: I’m so glad you didn’t throw in the towel! What are a few ‘myths’ about being a writer that you’d like to dispel? (Aside from the one about us making loads of money!)
KM: The question I’m frequently asked by readers is if I’m going on a huge book tour, their tone indicating that such a thing would entail sheer glamour and excitement. Oh, and publisher funds. None of which is the case for most authors today. Well, unless you’re Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling. Otherwise, due to widespread accessibility from the Internet, virtual tours are usually the most efficient and common way to go.
TB: Ah, yes, the glamour of a blog tour! Jammies and slippers for most of us. I do think the general non-writer public is blissfully unaware of what goes into marketing a book or how the submission process works. They think getting an agent is like hiring a realtor. I wish!
On to something non-writerly, what is your favorite board or card game? Are you competitive?
KM: Oh, gosh, I’m not competitive at all. Okay, that’s a big lie. I love to play a huge range of games with my kids. They’re finally at the age that they’re able to play games that my husband and I actually enjoy and that allow plenty of strategy; the downside is that they’ve also learned to smack talk with the best of them. Right now, our favorites are Skip-Bo and Mexican Train dominoes.
TB: My kids just learned to play Euchre and I have one daughter who is very strategic. The other is so empathetic she never wants to steal the trick from another player. Guess who usually wins?? Tell us something most people don’t know about you and would be surprised to learn.
KM: Something I haven’t yet announced on a city billboard is that I was once in a movie titled “Frozen Assets” (with Corbin Bernsen and Shelley Long), in which I danced and sang a song about sperm donations. I actually grew up as a TV host since age nine, so I like to joke that I’m the only child actor in America who didn’t end up in rehab.
TB: That’s hilarious! I’d like to hear that song. You should put that on YouTube. Or work it into a story? And since you mentioned movies, what is your all-time favorite movie?
KM: Ooh, that’s a tough one. Tied for #1 would probably be: Dangerous Beauty, Gladiator, and Braveheart. Notice the common thread? All of them filled with war, tragedy, and romance. The Notebook is another movie I never tire of watching.
TB: Mmmm, Dangerous Beauty. She is so gorgeous and Rufus Sewell is so… Rufus-y. And of course, Gladiator is a classic. You have great taste! I did learn during a recent trip to Scotland that the Scots were not impressed by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. In true Scot fashion, *their* version of his exploits was superior. (My father was born in Glasgow, so I know all about that!) You cannot one-up a Scotsman.
Kristina, thank you so much for sharing your insight and journey with us. I’ve learned more about you, and more about the crazy business of publishing. I am eagerly awaiting the release of BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES in February. Best of luck to you for continued success!