Author Kelly O’Connor McNees Says: Recommit To Your Purpose Every Day, And Write The Book You Want To Read

It’s been just about 18 months since I launched Women’s Fiction Writers, can you believe it?  And in that time I’ve featured debut women’s fiction authors, best-selling women’s fiction authors, some indie women’s fiction authors.  But one of the most special things to me is when the author being featured is an author I’ve admired for a long time.  Another favorite thing is when an author is an IRL (in real life) friend.  Well, Kelly O’Connor McNees is both!  So this is an extra-special day for me (oh, this isn’t about me? oops!).  I connected with Kelly because I read and adored her first book, THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT. I looked up the author website and sent an email, because that’s what I do, and did, even before I had a publisher or an agent (always appreciated by authors, by the way).  Then last Spring or maybe late Winter, we met in real life, in downtown Chicago, with another author friend, Renee Rosen.  We made that transition from acquaintances to friends.  From online to in real life.  And then Kelly’s second book came out, another historical novel, IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE, and I knew that it fit neatly under the women’s fiction umbrella we’ve discussed so often here at Women’s Fiction Writers.  It’s a book with a lot of visual history, which to me means it creates pictures in my head that are vibrant, detailed, and real, ones I refer to again and again. And the three main characters are ones I was thrilled to follow on their literal and metaphorical journey to Nebraska where they went to meet their husbands.  I highly recommend both books (that doesn’t surprise you, I’m guessing!)

Please welcome, my friend, Kelly O’Connor McNees, to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

P.S. I’ve shared more photos of Kelly and me at the end of the interview! 

Author Kelly O’Connor McNees Says: Recommit To Your Purpose Every Day, And Write The Book You Want To Read

Amy: Kelly!! Congratulations on the publication of your second historical novel, IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE! Can you share with us where you got the idea for this novel?

Kelly: I had been thinking for a long time about a story that involved women homesteaders in the years following the Civil War, when the government was offering cheap land to Americans willing to move west and settle it. But I wasn’t exactly sure what shape the story would take until I found Chris Enss’s book Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, and I knew I wanted to write a novel about women who arranged to marry men they’d never met.

Amy: How was it different publishing your second novel from publishing your first?

Kelly: It’s an awful cliche to say that book publishing is in a “time of transition,” but it is true. My first novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, was published in 2010, and I have seen change even since then. The big challenge continues to be how can authors connect with readers who haven’t heard about their books? Of course we have plenty of avenues online–Goodreads, book blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and more–but I think most people still buy the books they hear about from their friends. To me, that means the most important thing a writer must focus on is writing compelling, well-crafted fiction readers will enjoy.

Amy: Aspiring authors, and published authors, can get increasingly discouraged. How do you side step the publishing-me-blues? Or don’t you? Any tips appreciated!

Kelly: I think you have to recommit, every day, to your purpose as a writer. I also think you have to control what you can control, and let the rest go. For me that means keeping my focus on practicing and improving my writing, reading widely, and participating in my literary community. I cannot control how many copies of my books will sell, and whether I will continue to be published. But I can control how hard I work.

Amy: We’ve discussed the definition of women’s fiction here many times – and the broad umbrella the genre provides. There was no doubt that IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE falls under that umbrella. What is your definition of women’s fiction?

Kelly: I have mixed feelings about this term because to me it means, simply, fiction about women’s lives. But to others in the reading world, it is a disparaging term. I had a man ask me recently whether In Need of a Good Wife was “for guys,” and I had to take a deep breath before responding. The idea that a story that focuses primarily on women will not interest men is alarming to say the least. I and most women I know read about men’s lives all the time. Most lauded fiction is concerned with men’s experiences. Your wife is a woman; your sisters and mother and daughters are women, but women in fiction don’t interest you? I’m sorry, but what a crock of shit.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of any kind of women’s fiction?

Kelly: Write the book you want to read.

Kelly O’Connor McNees has worked as a teacher and editor and lives with her husband and daughter in Chicago.

You can find out more about Kelly and her books on her website.

The author and her book at The Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Kelly reading from IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE. This was before the smoke alarm went off in the store, and in every store on the block.

Me and Kelly after the alarms were turned off. We’re smiling because we’re happy, and because it’s quiet.

On a 100 degree day in Chicago, me, Kelly, and Renee Rosen chill with fish tacos and wine on Michigan Avenue.

26 thoughts on “Author Kelly O’Connor McNees Says: Recommit To Your Purpose Every Day, And Write The Book You Want To Read

  1. “Most lauded fiction is concerned with men’s experiences. Your wife is a woman; your sisters and mother and daughters are women, but women in fiction don’t interest you? I’m sorry, but what a crock of shit.”

    Ha! Love this. I’ve alternately rolled my eyes and gnashed my teeth for a long time about this. Women routinely enjoy thrillers, superhero movies and action, so why should men feel exempt from engaging in stories about character and emotion?

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  2. I love your advice, Kelly, especially about having to repurpose EVERY DAY. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget that, and get swept up in the small frustrations. Thanks and congratulations on novel 2!

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  3. I think I got really hung up with a few fiction manuscripts a few years ago because I was NOT writing the book I would want to read. I need to spend some serious time thinking about that before I ever attempt fiction again.

    Love the pictures of you two! As Amy knows, I’m a Chicago gal too though I’m in Minneapolis. Grew up in HP. My parents are still there . . . the North Shore is almost always the backdrop that pops up when I write fiction.

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  4. Hi Kelly and Amy,

    I love what Kelly said about only being able to control how hard you work. That’s so true and very reassuring. IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE sounds like a very interesting book and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Love your blog, Amy!

    Kristin

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  5. Awesome interview full of frank, simple insights and advice. Thank you both. Perhaps my favorite line? “Your wife is a woman; your sisters and mother and daughters are women, but women in fiction don’t interest you? I’m sorry, but what a crock of shit.” Amen to that. Keep up the good work, ladies!

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  6. I loved this interview from the start, but really, really fell in love with Kelly when I read “What a crock of shit.” So on target! And such wonderful gems of advice to write what we love to read — and most importantly that we can control only one thing: how hard we work. I’m inspired and can’t wait to read both novels. As historical fiction author Jessica McCann, above, can attest, more and more historical fiction is landing on my bookshelves! Dare I say I might be developing an addiction?

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  7. Great post Amy & Kelly! Kelly is an incredibly talented writer! I guarantee that she writes in such a way that her amazing passages will stay in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page.

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  8. Great advice from Kelly. A couple years ago Kelly gave a workshop in Missouri, and she was inspiring and informative. I loved The Lost Summer of Louisa Mae Alcott and ‘m looking forward to reading In Need of a Good Wife.

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