Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Conversation with Kristy Kiernan

By Julie

What Women Write welcomes Kristy Kiernan as our honored guest today. Her highly anticipated third novel, BETWEEN FRIENDS released Tuesday.

About Kristy (from website): Kristy was born in Tennessee and raised on the beaches of southwest Florida. She developed a love of reading as a child, devouring Nancy Drews and Trixie Beldens at a disconcerting clip, and graduating to whatever anyone left lying around when she ran out of girl detective stories. She knew she wanted to be a writer at a young age and, with the support of her husband, finally pursued publication in her thirties. Her first novel, CATCHING GENIUS, was published in 2007 by Berkley Books and went on to become a word-of-mouth hit with reading groups. Her second, MATTERS OF FAITH, was an IndieNext Notable Selection and won a bronze medal in the Florida Book Awards. She lives with her husband in southwest Florida and still spends as much time as she can reading on the beach and daydreaming about the story she'll write next.

About BETWEEN FRIENDS, from Penguin:
Thanks to modern reproductive technology – and the gift of her friend Cora's eggs – Ali Gutierrez is the mother of a fourteen-year-old daughter. Now, yearning for a second child, Ali asks Cora's permission to use another of the frozen embryos that have been stored away in anticipation of this decision. But Cora has a secret that could not only change Ali's plans for the future, but tear apart her life right now. BETWEEN FRIENDS . . . A provocative new novel about birth, death, and the stuff in between.

After following Kristy's writing career for the last several years and getting to know her on social networking sites, blogs, and the ever-amazing Backspace Writers Forums, I was thrilled to catch up with Kristy this week in the midst of her hectic release schedule. I received an advance review copy of BETWEEN FRIENDS, and I devoured this novel last weekend. I can't recommend Kristy's stories highly enough. Not only is she an accomplished novelist, but she's a down-to-earth gal and funny to boot. I hope you enjoy eavesdropping on our conversation!

www: Kristy, characters with unusual careers or hobbies always make for a more entertaining read, giving the reader a peek into new worlds. Cora, Ali, and Benny each introduced me to new things in BETWEEN FRIENDS. How did you research these characters' unique jobs or pastimes? Are any of their hobbies ones you've pursued yourself?

KK: I'm interested in everything! I want every job out there. So I get to explore all those careers that interest me when I write my books. Cora's wind researcher job came about because I found an old book on wind roses in a used bookstore in a little tiny Florida town, and grew fascinated by the beautiful illustrations. I wondered if I would have pursued something to do with weather if I'd seen the book when I was a kid, and I knew I'd make a character in a future book a wind researcher. And, really, it couldn't have been a better choice for Cora. Ali's music store is a natural extension of my abiding love of music, all kinds of music, and my deep respect of people who are talented enough to make it. And I've known several cops in my life and understand what a stressful job it is, so Benny's job was perfect for him, not just plot-wise, but personality-wise, also.

www: I loved Benny's character, as much as I wanted to shake him a few times! And as a reader, I definitely agree no other career would have done. I assumed from the cover copy that the story revolved around the conflict between Ali and Cora, the adult best friends. I was surprised to discover 14-year-old Letty's point of view represented in BETWEEN FRIENDS. Did you realize from the first that Letty's voice was critical to telling the story, or did her voice simply creep in until you knew she had to speak, too?

KK: I got the voice creep with Letty, for sure! But it happened early, at least, so I didn't have to go back and tear apart the structure to add her in. It just seemed to me that if I was going to address IVF (in vitro fertilization), then I had to address the person created from that. And at 14-going-on-30, I felt she had enough of her own personality to deserve a voice. I did, however, write her sections in third-person, so she's at a little bit of a remove from the main story of Cora and Ali.

www: I loved Letty's character, too, as much as I wanted to shake HER a few times! (In fact, there was a lot of character shaking I wanted to do. I think as a writer, that's something you're happy to hear. It means your characters became real to the reader.) Speaking of Letty, one plotline in BETWEEN FRIENDS required another teen's mother to access her daughter's email and MySpace accounts to find information to help Ali rescue Letty from a bad situation. Ali was surprised at how much access the other mother had. She reconsidered her own theory about the amount of privacy Letty was entitled to as a teen. This happens to be one of my soapboxes. I require my girls to follow the age guidelines on social networking sites, keep me updated on any they join, and notify me whenever they change passwords. They know I can "spot check" their email or any account when I feel like I need to. It's sad to say, but many parents might be horrified to discover what their children are doing online. Kids, vacillating as Letty does between adult and child, sometimes from minute to minute, often don't have the foresight or experience to understand that online activity can dangerous, and that once there, it's a virtual permanent record even if they hit the delete key. I'm curious about your thoughts on this. What led you to include this scenario in your story?

KK: I think if I were a parent today, I'd have spyware on my kid's computer. Isn't that awful? But there is so much out there they don't have the emotional maturity to deal with yet. Heck, there are things I've run into online that I don't have the emotional maturity to deal with! And, of course, they think they do. I have always believed that no matter how involved you are in your kids' lives, there is plenty you don't know, and some of those secrets are okay and important for them to keep. But some are dangerous, and those lines aren't as apparent online as they are in real life, especially to teenagers. I'm so glad we didn't have the Internet when I was fifteen. I'm so trusting that I think I would have gotten into some trouble. Oh, and the permanence of it all! That one photo taken when just being silly, that conversation or comment thread that gets out of hand, that Facebook rant ... it's all, always there. And what kid really understands how that can affect their future? Yes, a scary world, and I don't blame any parents for their attempts to monitor their kid's Internet usage.

www: Kristy, in BETWEEN FRIENDS, as well as in your previous novels, you've done an excellent job of portraying the actions and emotions of people who aren't necessarily like you. I was particularly struck by a scene where now 15-year-old Letty allowed her mother to hold her hand as though she were a little girl again. It felt completely genuine, and I've had moments like that. I suspect a tear or two even slipped out while I was reading. Similarly, Cora's feelings about her illness seem spot on, though I've never experienced anything like PKD (polycystic kidney disease). What or who do you draw from to help you see through the eyes of characters who may have different family structures or life-changing situations than you've experienced?

KK: You know, a lot of people ask this, and I just don't have a great answer. My mother always said that when I was a kid, I was always sticking up for the "little guy," the picked on kids. I was a pretty quiet kid until I thought someone was being treated unfairly, no matter who it was, and then I'd get all ninja on whoever was being mean to them. So I think I've always been overly empathetic. I just close my eyes and imagine how they'd feel, I do (I know this sounds weird) become them. If one of my characters cries, chances are I cried just before I wrote the scene because I put myself in their place, with their life experiences and current situation firmly intact within me. It takes me a while to change points of view. I tend to take a break when I switch POV so I can let go of the last person and be the new person. Either that or it's magic. Take your pick.

: I pick both! And I think I was that kid, too – both the picked-on and the one who went ninja when I saw it happen to others. Maybe it's all part of a writer's DNA. And after reading my third Kristy Kiernan novel, your author voice is becoming more and more recognizable to me, too, by the way. Voice can be such an intangible, incomprehensible idea to convey. I love how your characters call each other honey, and I can just hear you calling your own friends honey with the southern drawl you're bound to have after growing up in Tennessee and Florida. Have you become more comfortable in recognizing your own voice with each novel you've written? When you go back and read your work now, do those little trademark mannerisms or the ways you put words together jump out at you, or is it as much a mystery as ever?

KK: Oh, how funny! Yes, I do call my friends honey. All the time. I'm naturally affectionate toward the people I love, heck, to people I barely know, and I think that comes through in my characters. I have grown more comfortable with my "voice." I'm more comfortable carving out a space in which I just write what and how I want without any outside noise, without worrying about what anyone might think about it. And aside from reading one or two passages out loud at events, I don't go back and reread my work, so nothing has jumped out at me. I have noticed that my characters tend to drink a lot of wine though ...

www: ... and your Facebook followers know you never drink wine. (Ahem.) Gosh, Kristy, you're practically a seasoned author now with the release of your third novel. How was producing novel three different from the others?

: Ah, the third one has been interesting. I know everyone compares their books to their kids, but it has been a little similar for me. I am much more relaxed on my third one. I'm all Zen now. I let it run around without a diaper, play in traffic, get on the back of motorcycles with inappropriate boys. I'm even considering buying it short shorts and a pack of cigarettes.

www: And I bet you never washed its pacifier off after the paci fell on the floor either. I mean, I never did that with my third kid. Well, rarely. Kristy, last but not least. Wait. Maybe most important of all. I've heard it said that every novelist is writing to answer "one big question," and that question shows up in their writing through theme, conflict, characters, setting, and so on. Have you discovered your "one big question?" Would you care to share, or do you have any supporting or conflicting thoughts on this idea?

KK: I think I'm obviously fascinated by the balance of power and control in long-term relationships, parent/child, husband/wife, friends. The yin and yang. Push and pull. I think it's related to empathy again. I want everyone to really understand everyone else and live happily ever after. I'm such a sucker.

www: Well, you are one talented sucker, and we're so pleased you found the time to visit with us here at What Women Write. Thank you! We wish you lots more amazing novels and your own happily ever after.

BETWEEN FRIENDS is available now at all of your favorite retailers, but why not give IndieBound a look and support your local independent bookseller.


  1. What a great interview, Julie and Kristy. Can't wait to read the book!


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