Author Interview: Kelly O’Connor McNees

Please welcome Kelly O’Connor McNees. Her novel, IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE, was just released to many glowing reviews. Kelly was kind enough to answer some of my questions for her about the writing process, the book itself, and her first novel, THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT. Kelly is charming and I can’t wait to read IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE.

1. What inspired you to write IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE?

Since I read Sarah Plain and Tall, probably when I was about nine years old or so, I think this story has been rattling around in my brain. Can you imagine anything more simultaneously thrilling and terrifying for a woman in the nineteenth century than the prospect of leaving behind the life she knows inNew York City to travel to the frontier by train for the prospect of love, or, at least, a kind of freedom? And there are so many ways in which it could go wrong! The town could be awful, the man a dud, the marriage dull. Or he could be a lunatic. I read a story in my research about a mail-order bride who, while traveling west, was robbed at gunpoint on the train. She made the rest of the journey, penniless and traumatized, only to arrive at the house of her future husband and recognize him as the robber!

Real-life women entered into these pacts for all sorts of reasons–in search of love or financial support, to escape overbearing parents or a spoiled reputation back home. And once they arrived, they found that nothing worked out the way they expected it to. Many returned home, but some stayed on. And I just had to know, by reading as much a I could about those women, and imagining some characters of my own, why they stayed, and what happened to them.

2. What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Well, there is something sweet (and fleeting!) about the beginning, when the majority of the book is still living inside your head intact, and you have yet to disappoint yourself by inadequately capturing it on the page. Second to that would be revision, when rough becomes smooth and you have the chance to make the book something special. Maybe. I always feel a real sense of urgency during that process. For one thing, I want to try as hard as I can to fix what’s wrong while the answers are fresh in my mind. For another, I do not want to get hit by a garbage truck while it is half finished and leave the impression that I couldn’t do any better. I mean, I would prefer not to get hit by a garbage truck at any time, but if it has to happen, lord let it be after I finish the book.

3. What part of the process is not your favorite?

The doubt, the fear, the anxiety about the garbage truck. Seriously, the hardest part is calming my mind enough to get good work done. It seems we are all losing the ability to concentrate. I worry about this.

4. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your debut author self before the launch of THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT?

Ha! I would probably tell her to slow down and enjoy it a little more, not to worry so much about what was going to come next. But I doubt she would listen.

5. W hat is your favorite novel of all time?

Oh, dear. That’s impossible to say, I think, because it changes all the time. But I can name some authors whose work has had an enormous impact on me as a human: John Irving, Alice Munro, Ethan Canin, Laurie Colwin, Marilynne Robinson, Willa Cather, Kent Haruf… the list goes on, you see!

6. What is your first memory of writing?

Ooh, what a good question. I don’t know if this is my first memory, since I wrote a lot as a young kid and even more as a teenager. I always kept a journal and took notes on everything and thought about stories. In seventh grade I took a very boring required science class and each day would put my head down on my desk as soon as the bell rang. I came home with a poor report card at the end of the marking period, which said that I slept in class. But I wasn’t sleeping! I wrote an entire novel in my head. Each day I would pick up where I had left off the day before.

Here’s another good writing memory: In high school I worked as a waitress. I was always scheduled to work the same shift as this other waitress named Helen. She was petty and lazy–never did her fair share–and she had these long fake fingernails of which she was very vain. I was too chicken to confront her, but I did go home one day after realizing that between her hooves and her little flat nose, she looked kind of like a pig, and I wrote a soaring epic poem about her in which she was transformed into a pig by a witch. It was not very nice. I never showed it to anyone. But every time I saw her after that I felt like I was part of this wonderful inside joke about her. I realized writing could be a way of dealing with the world, of digesting what was happening to you, of calling a spade a spade.

7. What do you most want readers to take away from IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE?

I came to love the three women who are the focus of this novel, which is about a group of women traveling to a tiny Nebraska town to marry men they’ve never met. I wanted this to be a story about what kind of a person you’d have to be to survive such a thing. Not just survive, but endure, carve out a life for yourself. And if you weren’t that kind of person, what could you do to become her? So I hope IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE is about resilience and also friendship, and how then, as now, women could forge their own path if they were brave enough to do it.

*     *     *

What a beautiful message. I can’t wait to read IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE! For more on Kelly, visit her website at http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/. Also, find her at the links below:
Kelly O’Connor McNees Online Tour Schedule:
Oct. 2: http://stylesubstancesoul.com/category/interviews/
Oct. 3: http://www.greatthoughts.com/
Oct. 4: http://nomadreader.blogspot.com/
Oct. 5: http://www.erikarobuck.com/Blog.html
Oct. 8: http://www.2readornot2read.com/
Oct. 9: http://themaidenscourt.blogspot.com/
Oct. 10: http://literatehousewife.com/
Oct. 11: http://www.luxuryreading.com/
Oct. 12: http://readingthepast.blogspot.com/
Oct. 25: http://womensfictionwriters.wordpress.com/
Oct. 29: http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/

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5 thoughts on “Author Interview: Kelly O’Connor McNees

  1. This interview was so entertaining! Loved your answers, Kelly. I am a Midwest girl (Nebraska-raised) and can’t wait to read this book to see how you wove the setting into the novel. You are welcome on my blog anytime on your blog tour.

    Great job, Erika!

  2. Kelly, congratulations on your new book! And Erika, thanks for interviewing Kelly. I’m chuckling about the garbage truck :). Thanks for sharing, and I look foward to picking up your book.

  3. What a great Q&A, Erika. I love reading about authors’ early memories of writing — and I love that you wrote an entire novel in your head! And your description of one of your favorite parts of the writing process as the sweet feeling at the beginning: I can so relate to that. Can’t wait to read your book, Kelly!

  4. girlparker says:

    Love these questions and sincerely hope the garbage truck never rounds your corner, Kelly! Loved your first and can’t wait to dive into this one.

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