Thursday, February 24, 2011
FEATURED AUTHOR: Kristina McMorris
Prior to her literary career, Kristina acted in numerous independent films and major motion pictures. She began hosting an Emmy® Award-winning television show at age nine, and most recently served as the six-year host of the WB's weekly program Weddings Portland Style. Adding to her diverse résumé, McMorris is a professional emcee, literary workshop presenter, and former owner of a wedding/event planning business. Her previous writing background includes being a contributing writer for Portland Bride & Groom magazine and ten years of directing public relations for an international conglomerate. A portion of Kristina's sales proceeds from Letters from Home will benefit United Through Reading®, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children. She is currently working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com
How did you start out your writing career?
I had been a PR director for many years, specializing in business writing, and occasionally contributed articles to magazines, but I'd never imagined penning a novel. Only because of a Christmas project did this unexpected career come about.
I was in the midst of self-publishing a cookbook for the family, filled with recipes my grandmother had collected and created over several decades, when I decided to interview Grandma Jean for a biographical section. It was then that I learned an astounding fact: She and my late grandfather had gone on merely two dates during World War II before exchanging vows, as their relationship had developed almost entirely through letters. She then retrieved from her closet a gorgeous stack of yellowed pages, all of them sent by the young sailor to his "sweetheart."
Long after our visit, I continued to ponder their courtship, and I found myself wondering how well two people can truly know each other through letters alone. What if those letters weren't entirely truthful? Therein bloomed the idea for my first novel, LETTERS FROM HOME.
What did you learn while writing this book?
That writing a book is hard! :)
Thank goodness I was blissfully ignorant as to what I was getting myself into. Otherwise, no doubt I would have run screaming in the other direction! But, too late to turn back, I gradually learned how to actually write a novel. More importantly, after an overwhelming amount of research and many unforgettable interviews with WWII veterans, I discovered firsthand why they are so aptly dubbed the "Greatest Generation." When it comes to the women and men who served our country on both the battlefront and home front, their heroism is surpassed only by their humility.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
When I first began writing the story, my husband and I agreed that even if the novel didn't reach store shelves, it would find a fabulous home on our own bookshelves, compliments of Kinko's. I loved the idea of passing a novel along to my children that one day they could read and enjoy. So aside from now wanting to help spread word about the unsung heroes of this momentous war, I'm most proud of providing my kids with tangible proof of what a person can accomplish through hard work and determination.
Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
The American soldiers, without question! I often joke that I must have been a Midwestern GI in my past life because I enjoy writing their scenes more than any others. From the verbal jousting to the limerick duels, as well as the camaraderie, their narratives and dialogue typically feel effortless to create. Actually, a WWII vet was once kind enough to compliment me on how well I depicted the soldiers' interactions—only then to point out that the female characters weren't quite as believable. After laughing about the remark, which was spot-on in that early draft, I definitely put more effort into the girls of my story.
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
Gosh, what hasn't surprised me?!
At the top of the list, I'd have to say the timeline. Outside the industry, people continue to balk upon learning that my debut novel was slated for publication two years ahead of time. Among other elements that continue to intrigue me are cyclical trends in the market, the career challenges faced by even well established authors, the amount of promotion an author is responsible for, and, on the upside, how genuinely supportive fellow writers can be of one another.
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
What I hate? Writing from scratch. Unfortunately, when it comes to craft, the more knowledgeable I've become, the more I've struggled to simply throw unpolished words onto the page. I tell you, it was so much easier to write a novel when I had no idea how clueless I was!
Conversely, what I love the most—even more, I admit, than learning my book has deeply touched someone's heart—are the occasions when, in the midst of editing and tweaking my manuscript, I've happened across a really good sentence, one that makes me think, Wow…I wrote that. Those are the moments that help me through days when I review an entire chapter and think, Please tell me I didn't write that.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
1) I wish I'd known how thankful I would ultimately be that the first version of LETTERS FROM HOME wouldn't sell to a publisher. I would have been grateful instead of disappointed at the rejection letters from editors who, as it turned out, did me a huge favor.
2) I wish I'd known that when you realize you and your agent are not the right fit, it's best to part ways rather than let the relationship linger. You will find another agent. You will find the right fit.
3) And I wish I had known from the beginning not to take personally any literary criticism a fellow reader or writer was willing to offer. I would have simply and genuinely thanked them for their time, and given more objective consideration to input that I indeed invited.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
DO believe in your voice. Everyone has one that is uniquely his or hers. You can improve upon grammar and opening sentences and a whole slew of other literary aspects, but take pride in your voice, your perspective on life, so you can share it with others.
DON'T get caught up in the so-called "rules," particularly when they use the word "never." Never use adverbs, never write prologues, never write in first person…never write a WWII story. Creative writing is an art form. Treat the "rules" as a cafeteria line; pick and choose what works for you.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I wish readers who enjoy nitpicking minor factual errors in novels would keep in mind that what they're reading is fiction. In general, it's meant as entertainment. Although I take great pride in my extensive research efforts, doing my best to honor those who lived through my stories' eras, it's nerve wracking to know there are readers out there who would love nothing more to pounce on an author's labor-of-love.
If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?
I'm embarrassed to say I can't think of a single character I'd like to be, but I can certainly name my favorite character in a novel: Death, the narrator in THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. He had wit, compassion, and profound insight about human nature.
When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
As the mother of two young boys, I sadly don't encounter much "spare time" any more. But when I'm not writing, I love watching movies, enjoying wine and cheese, catching up with friends, and spending time with my family. I swear, there is no sound in the world more beautiful than my kids making each other giggle.
What do you do to interact with your readers?
Since my novel provides a nice source of book-club discussions, I've geared pages on my website specifically for their interests. I'm very excited about meeting with reading groups in person, on the phone, or via Skype. And I also welcome readers to submit WWII letters on my website to be posted as part of the collection.
Our theme for this month is Writing the book, what advice do you have for staying motivated to complete the book?
Treat it as a job. Don't wait for the muse to guide you to the keyboard. On days when the words fly across the page, or when typing each syllable is as enjoyable as enduring a root canal, sit in the chair at your scheduled time and write.
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
People should never be judged at a glance. Beneath every permanent scowl or grin, every offensive remark or unyielding belief, is a reason. I've learned firsthand that the curt receptionist might have just lost their child. The elderly passenger you ignore, seated beside you on a plane, was once a young person who has since survived events others can only imagine. He just might tell you about the day he broke an Olympic record, or liberated a concentration camp—if only he was asked. What I know for sure is that we all have a story to tell; we just need to know someone is interested.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
Given that it's my new shiny toy, I welcome any chance to chat about the next one. BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES is another World War II love story, but completely different from my debut. It's about a Caucasian violinist who secretly elopes with her Japanese-American boyfriend—against societal molds and families' wishes—the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed.
As the half-Japanese daughter of an immigrant father and American mother, I'm very proud of the vastly unknown history I was able to incorporate into the story, as well as the unique perspective of living between cultures.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
I love to hear from readers! My email address is Kristina@kristinamcmorris.com and my mailing address is PO Box 100, Troutdale, OR 97060. They can also contact me through my website at http://www.kristinamcmorris.com/
In the midst of World War II, a Midwestern infantryman falls deeply in love through a
yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he's been writing to isn't the one replying.
Chicago, 1944. Liz Stephens has little interest in attending a USO club dance with her friends Betty and Julia. She doesn't need a flirtation with a lonely serviceman when she's set to marry her childhood sweetheart. Yet something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share only a brief conversation—cut short by the soldier's evident interest in Betty—but Liz can't forget him. Thus, when Betty asks her to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan, stationed overseas, Liz reluctantly agrees.
Thousands of miles away, Morgan struggles to adjust to the brutality of war. His letters from "Betty" are a comfort, their soul-baring correspondence a revelation to them both. While Liz is torn by her feelings for a man who doesn't know her true identity, Betty and Julia each become immersed in their own romantic entanglements. And as the war draws to a close, all three will face heart-wrenching choices, painful losses, and the bittersweet joy of new beginnings.
"Ambitious and compelling…[a] sweeping debut" (Publishers Weekly), LETTERS FROM HOME is a story of hope and connection, of sacrifices made in love and war—and the chance encounters that change us forever.
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