Take debut novelist Kennedy Ryan.
As a native of Georgia USA - famously, the setting for "Gone With The Wind" - the odds on us meeting would be every long indeed, but through popular romance novelist Katie Oliver, we were introduced and struck up several, often surreal, conversations.
Through wizardly powers of deduction, I soon discovered she was about to release her debut novel and extracted a promise from her to come around the Cauldron - and here she is.
I picked up the Wizphone and caught up with her somewhere near Atlanta. She was coy when I asked whether she was sipping Mint Juleps or carrying a lemon parasol...
Who Is Kennedy Ryan?
Hi Wiz, I grew up in North Carolina, but now live in Atlanta. I have a degree in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go Tar Heels!) and am married with one son. I write for non-profit organizations and occasionally ghost write for various organs. I have started writing stories again in the past couple of years. As a person, I am a passionate advocate for families living with Autism. My son was diagnosed at the age of two, and I have made it my mission to help as many families as possible find the resources and services they need.
I understand you are from Georgia, USA. Do you have much in common with Scarlett O’Hara? Sipping Mint Juleps on the lawn in the afternoon after your extended afternoon nap?
The only thing I have in common with Scarlett, other than us both being Southern belles, would be my 17-inch waist. (Deadpan face) I don’t really do mint juleps or afternoon naps, but I have been known to say “fiddle dee dee” when a colourful epithet isn’t appropriate.
In what genre do you write? Why did you choose it?
I write romance/love stories/women’s fiction. It’s funny because I didn’t set out to write a romance novel. Just to tell a story, and then I realized some of the “risks” I took in my story kind of bent the expectations of traditional romance readers.
People kept saying this isn’t a romance. This is more women’s fiction. We’re not quite sure where this fits. I love romance, but definitely lean toward difficult scenarios that really stretch the characters into maturing, growing, evolving. I do want to give readers that happily ever after that is a non-negotiable in romance, but for me it is often more about HOW they got to the Happy Ever After. What did they have to change? What did they learn about themselves? How did they grow on the road to that ending?
Tell us about your latest work?
WHEN YOU ARE MINE is a love story about a girl, Kerris Moreton, who lived through a difficult childhood bouncing from foster home to foster home. Some of those experiences really shaped how she saw herself; her sense of worth. As an adult, she ends up in a relationship with Cam, who also lived through foster care and other difficult experiences. She has always thought of her self as “damaged” and “frozen over” in a lot of ways. Her response when she meets Cam’s best friend Walsh makes her question everything she thought she believed about love and about herself.
What’s been the reaction so far?
I think a lot of people don’t know what to make of it! LOL. Overall, the response has been favourable. Words and phrases like “couldn’t stop reading”, “page turner”, “angst”, “unpredictable”, and “WTF” have come up consistently. The book has several triggers for many romance readers. It’s a love triangle, which a lot of people don’t like. It involves emotional infidelity. A huge strike for most readers. And it ends on a cliffhanger with the next instalment releasing in October. I unwittingly stacked a lot against my novel, especially for it to be a debut by an author no one knows if they can trust with such sensitive material. So when I get these incredible reviews, I know that reader had to wade through a lot to reach that conclusion. It also makes me understand when other readers aren’t sure, want to wait until the whole series is done, or are – to be frank – angry with my characters.
Frankly, some of my best discussions have come with people who didn’t like my characters, couldn’t love my book, or wished I had done things differently. I enjoy that discourse. I want to learn from it. That doesn’t mean those conversations will change what I write, but those opinions are just as valid as the ones that glow. Like I said, I write for my characters to grow and evolve. This is the first book in a trilogy, so we’re seeing the genesis of these characters, for many of them at their worst. I promise they, like many of us, get better with time!
Can you share a short extract? Preferably with the words “Sultry Savannah Sunset” in it…
Remarkably, I don’t have any of those words in my novel ha ha. I know. What kind of Southern belle am I? I do have the opening scene of my book, which is below.
"All eyes were on him, except the bride’s. Walsh hadn’t looked at Kerris Moreton, his best friend’s wife-to-be, for weeks. As two hundred wedding guests waited, Walsh contemplated his glass of champagne and the toast they expected from the best man.“I met this scrawny, mean punk of a kid at camp thirteen years ago.” Walsh pieced together his most charming smile around the words. “We pretty much hated each other on sight.”He paused for a ripple of polite laughter before focusing his attention on his best friend, Cam.“But by the end of the summer, I had a best friend. I had a brother, and that’s never changed. We’ve been through a lot together, and you deserve every happiness. I love you, man.”With a look, Walsh and Cam exchanged years of memories and emotions in a silent moment between them.And then Walsh did what he had deliberately denied himself all day. He looked at the bride. Really looked at her, full on, and every word he had scripted fled his mind. His breath caught up in his throat at her beauty, illuminated by the kindness and compassion he knew lay beneath that gorgeous face. His tongue clung to the roof of his mouth for an extra second before he wrenched himself from drowning in her amber eyes.Kerris met his stare, her expression not guarded enough to disguise the fear, the near-panic. He read the question in her eyes as if she had spoken aloud.What are you about to say? “And what a girl you’ve found,” he said, unable to look away from her solemn gaze.“I saw her before I knew she was the girl you’d been telling me all about. She was going out of her way to help someone. I knew then that she was different, and that she deserved a special man.”He raised his glass to toast the bride, swishing champagne and disappointment in his mouth.He’d wanted to be that man."
I understand you are a big advocate of autism awareness? Why is this?
Autism is an incredibly personal cause for me. My son was diagnosed when he was two years old. We have been living with it for the last 11 years. He is on the more severe end of the spectrum, and raising him, constantly seeing his potential and doing what it takes to help him reach it, is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Most people have no idea what our families go through. For many of us, we will live with these challenges, be responsible for these kids, for the rest of their lives. It is a little bit of a different perspective on parenting. I started a foundation about six years ago called Myles-A-Part.
Myles - A - Part - CLICK HERE
It provides financial and emotional support for ASD families in Georgia. I am donating 25% of my royalties to autism. 10% to my foundation, and 15% to my national charitable partner, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).
My family would not have survived without organizations like these and without vigilant, intelligent parents who had compassion enough to reach back and help us. I want to pay that back any way I can.
With your busy life, when do you fit in the time to write?
I actually don’t sleep very much! LOL. Kidding…kinda. I don’t sleep as much as most people. Up until a few months ago, I was juggling writing, a full-time job, the demands of raising a special needs child AND running my foundation for ASD families. I left my job in September, so compared to what it WAS, some days it feels like I’m twiddling my thumbs. I write a lot at night after my son and hubby are sleep. And now that I don’t work a full-time job, I split my daytime hours between writing and my foundation work. And I watch almost no television. I allow myself about three shows at any given time. Never more than about three hours a week. So I DVR and hoard shows for when one show rotates off and I can make room for what I missed when it originally aired! LOL
On a vacation through the swamps on one of those cool hovercraft thingies, you find yourself lost in banjo country, with only your packed lunch and a roped sack of surprises to help you. In the sack are two books, two CD’s and a DVD. What would you like them to be?
Only TWO books? Geesh. It might surprise some who read romance and some of my steamy scenes, but I’d bring my Bible.
My faith is crucial to me. And I’d bring…oh, gosh. In this day and age my kindle should qualify as my one “book”, surely! LOL.
If only one book, it would be…The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
The triumph of the human spirit depicted in that novel. The rich dialogue, well-developed, robust characterization. The humor threaded through the survival narrative. Just everything I look for in a novel.
Breathing down its neck would be Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Beloved, The Age of Innocence.
CDs…I’ll cheat and bring 2 mix tape CDs! LOL. Old School and New School.
On the Old School would be Otis Redding, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Hall & Oates, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, The Carpenters, Al Green, and a plethora of others.
New School would be The Lumineers, Jill Scott, Mumford & Sons, Beyonce, Rihanna, Florence + The Machine, Jay Z, Talib Kweli, Amelle Lareiux, Julia Stone, Coldplay, Ray Lamontagne.
Movie – Legends of the Fall. One of my favorite movies. And beyond having a young Brad Pitt, (pause for a moment of silence) I love epic storytelling that spans years with a tight cast of characters. And only fitting since, like my book, it’s a love triangle…quadrilateral.
Have you ever ridden side saddle down to the summer fayre, underneath a lemon parasol, on Randolph, your sedate silver charger.
Yes. Next question ha ha ha.
Are you looking forward to “Constantine” on CBS this autumn? Or is there another TV show we need to watch out for?
I LOVED the movie. I know Keanu Reeves is often accused of being pretty wooden, but I love Rachel Weisz in…well, just about everything. Like I said, TV doesn’t really play a very prominent role in my life. The Constantine TV series wasn’t on my radar. The show in my “regular” rotation that I simply pant to see come back is Vikings on History channel. #ShieldMaidens
Invite an actor, a musician and a writer for dinner. Why? And what is Kennedy Ryan’s speciality of the house?
The actor would be, hands down, don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it, Audrey Hepburn.
In addition to being awesome and winning an Oscar for her first American film, Roman Holiday, and to being a style icon, she was a humanitarian who lived through the horrors of war and gave out of those experiences. I am slightly obsessed with her. People give me Audrey birthday cards, coffee table books, movies – all kinds of stuff. I even modelled my wedding dress on the one she wore in the final scene of Funny Face. Yeah. I’m that girl. LOL
The musician would be Billie Holiday.
Wow, what a unique, towering talent in many ways cut down too soon. So many artists live in the darker part of their giftedness. I believe that for many creatives there is this melancholy we can slip into. This darker side of the coin; addiction, obsession, compulsion. These darker emotions sometimes fuel our creative process, but we have to learn balance. Live with a certain centerdness. I’m always sadly fascinated by the brilliant artists who never managed to find that balance. I just look at so many of them who died much too young and offered so much less than they could have had they overcome those demons.
And writer…gosh so many. Maybe Zora Neale Hurston. She wrote one of my all-time favorite novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
She helped generate this massive wave of creative expression. She was a major player in a tidal wave of artistry during the Harlem Renaissance. She managed to create such beautiful, poignant work with two large decks of bias stacked against her: racism and sexism. She managed to be incredibly authentic and articulate and representative of her people in a very specific time and space, while writing something so transferrable and timeless and epic that manages to include and provoke people from all races and cultures and eras. Simply brilliant. Would love to pick her brain and hear her TRUE stories.
This has been fantastic, Kennedy, thank you. So. What’s next for fans of Kennedy Ryan?
I’m such a new kind of the block, I don’t have many fans yet, (LOL) but for anyone out there listening, my book WHEN YOU ARE MINE, is the first in a trilogy for Grand Central/Forever Romance.
Book 2, LOVING YOU ALWAYS, releases October 7.
Book 3, BE MINE FOREVER, releases February 2015. I also write non-fiction.
I’m a contributor for Modern Mom, and write a monthly series MOMMIES DO THE MOST AMAZING things.
Kennedy Ryan's Other Guise - Mommy's Doing Amazing Things!
I get to interview some of the most fascinating women and tell their stories. And I am working on the true story of my family’s journey with autism. Hopefully, someone will want to publish that one day! So be on the lookout!
I shall be. I am sure Wizardwatchers will want to wish you the very best of luck and thank you for such an entertaining natter.
Thank you, Wiz. I've really enjoyed it.
This post was written in Georgia. No, not the state - the font.