Beauty for Ashes by Kathleen Neely: Author Interview
About the Book
Book: Beauty for Ashes
Author: Kathleen Neely
Genre: Christian Contemporary Romance
Nathan Drummond’s actions at the age of eighteen had devastating consequences. Writing became therapeutic, leading him into a successful career as a mystery writer. With seven novels to his name, Nathan is rapidly becoming a household name.
When family responsibilities force him to return to his home town, he meets Angie Hernandez. Nathan doesn’t count on falling in love, and certainly not with a woman who has the power to shatter his peace.
Being at home pushes him too close to painful memories, and as guilt threatens and panic attacks set in, Nathan begins to write a novel paralleling the tragic event from his youthful folly.
Will the novel be seen as a work of fiction, or will it expose his secret and threaten his future?
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What about writing do you love?
I love writing for many of the same reasons I love reading. There’s a different kind of freedom in literature. I’m able to experience things that will never be real life for me. The difference between reading experiences and writing them is that I create the adventures, the events, the dialogue. The sky’s the limit. If I do my research, I can plot things that I’d never dream of really doing. My brain runs on overdrive when I’m plotting. I play an actor’s role, refining it until I’m satisfied.
Do you end up doing research for every book?
Authors have probably heard the phrase, “Write what you know.” If I followed that advice, my writing would be quite limited. I enjoy writing what I don’t know. Every book requires research. In Beauty for Ashes, Del is a dyslexic teen. As a retired educator, I had a background that prepared me for those scenes. However, Del is also headed to the NBA. Angie is a classical violinist of Puerto Rican descent. There are legal issues, business issues, and panic attacks, all outside of my wheelhouse. For those, I needed research.
The internet is readily available, but my preferred method is to follow up by consulting with experts. My Puerto Rican friend assisted with cultural authenticity; a first-chair violinist read musical scenes and added input, a sports enthusiast provided facts about the NBA.
For other books, I’ve consulted attorneys, construction workers, and an accountant. People like having their name mentioned in the acknowledgments.
What is the funniest thing you’ve ever had to google?
I’m not sure if this is funny, but I was critiquing for another author and double checking some of his facts. I did a search for countries that had no extradition with the United States. Then I wondered who was watching. Would I end up on an FBI watchlist? That’s been months ago, and I don’t see any men in overcoats and fedora hats spying on me. I think I’m safe.
How do you develop your characters? Do you use character charts?
Characters are the heart of a novel. No matter how good the plot, if characters aren’t lifelike, it all falls apart. Writers can find a plethora of character questionnaires to use before striking the first key for their new novel. I applaud those who created these visual maps, and I’ve tried them. They just don’t work for me. Instead, I role play in my mind. I make friends with my characters, getting to know them intimately; what they think, how they feel, and why they do the things they do. I live through their scenarios, feeling their emotions, and have even shed a real tear. Sometimes, just like real life, my characters surprise me. When I’m living through a scene, often in the middle of the night, they’ll do something that I hadn’t anticipated. Like any good actress, I play the scene a few different ways, step back and watch it, then decide if I’ll use it or throw it out.
What is your process for coming up with a title?
I often don’t choose a title until a manuscript is complete. I once had a working title in mind and changed it when I neared completion. That novel became The Least of These. If I watch closely and listen to the story, the title will emerge. Beauty for Ashes, a phrase from Isaiah 61, found its way to the cover of my book based on the Biblical truth and details in the story. Nathan, battling guilt from his past, found journaling to be therapeutic, but feared anyone seeing his written words. He burned each page allowing the ashes to fill a jar. I hope you enjoy reading Beauty for Ashes as much as I enjoyed writing it.
About the Author
Kathleen Neely is the author of The Street Singer, Beauty for Ashes, and The Least of These. She is a former elementary teacher. Following her years in the classroom, she moved into administration, serving as an elementary principal at Eden Christian Academy in Pittsburgh, PA and at Shannon Forest Christian School in Greenville, SC. Kathleen is an alumnus of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and Regent University in Virginia.
Among her writing accomplishments, Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions. She continues to speak to students about writing. Kathleen is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers.
She resides in Greenville, SC with her husband, two cats, and one dog. She enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading.
More from Kathleen
I’ve always been an avid reader, but began writing at a period in my life when I didn’t have time to commit. While raising three sons, I also worked full time as a teacher, then later as an elementary principal. That left little time for writing. I’d plug away at my manuscript then neglect it for months. Those months became years. Every now and then, I would pull it out, re-read it, then add a little to it. When retirement approached, I thought of that old, abandoned manuscript. That’s when I began to take writing seriously. I joined a writing group, attended conferences, and met with two other writers weekly to critique and be critiqued. That manuscript is now a published novel.
I truly love writing. I can get lost in my own thoughts when planning a story. Characters become real and take on their own personality, sometimes different than I originally intended. Nathan, the protagonist in Beauty for Ashes, is a novelist. This excerpt is scripted from the book as he attempts to explain his trade with Angie. His explanation describes my approach to writing.
Excerpt: “They’re real people. I have to make myself become them. My mind lives out each scene. What would they feel? How would they react? I’m an actor playing a role, except that I have to play each role, each character. I immerse myself completely, then find words to capture it.”
I hope you’ll visit the pages of Beauty for Ashes and meet Nathan. He loves writing as much as I do, but hides a deadly secret. His past triggers challenges that leave him with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Writing has always been a balm for Nathan—until he writes his own story.