Thursday, October 4, 2012

Interview: Kelly O'Connor McNees

After reading and enjoying both novels by Kelly O'Connor McNeesThe Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (my review) and In Need of a Good Wife (my review), I was happy to participate in a blog interview tour in support of the release of In Need of a Good Wife this week.

In the author's note you mention a few of the resources you used to research this story. As an academic librarian who teaches students how to research, I'm curious about your research process. How much time did you spend researching? What aspects of research were most difficult for you?

I am sure I take a much more free-form approach than your students, since academic research is serious business. My research goals have to do with finding great story ideas—sometimes buried in the footnotes—and then fleshing out my setting and characters with historical detail that is both accurate and compelling. But I don’t think historical fiction should attempt to be comprehensive about events or people—that’s a recipe for boring fiction. The story is the most important thing. So I choose details carefully, using only those that propel the narrative and try to leave out the clutter. I find that primary sources like journals and letters help me create the voices of my characters, so I often turn to those. I spend a good amount of time amassing this collection of mental images, I guess I would call it, before I begin to write. Research is fun, but it can also become an excuse to avoid getting down to work on a first draft, so that’s one thing I have to be careful about.

I'm a sixth generation Kansan, and my family history fascinates me. What compelled my ancestors to settle where they did? As a Midwesterner, have you discovered any family history of homesteaders?

My family, on both sides, came from Ireland and England and maybe Germany (we aren’t exactly sure about that one) to Prince Edward Island and then on to Ontario, and then to Indiana and Michigan (in the late nineteenth century, when these places were well settled), so as far as I know none of them were homesteaders on the frontier. Many people who did travel west in the mid-nineteenth century went because of the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered land to settlers for a very cheap price. If they worked it for five years, they could claim the deed. This was an unfathomable thing for European immigrants, who came from countries where they never could have dreamed of owning their own land. I think the West gave people a chance to start again, too, if things hadn’t worked out so well for them in the eastern cities.

What have you read lately that you'd recommend?

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a wonderful novel of homesteading in Alaska in the 1920s.

You're active on Twitter and use it well. Which Twitter users do you most enjoy following?

I love following fellow Chicago writers like @zulkey@kateharding@talexander, and @mollybackes, since they offer entertaining tweets about writing and publishing, and can give me good restaurant recommendations.

Your book tour has you traveling throughout the Midwest. What's your favorite hidden gem in the Midwest you wish more people would visit?

I think the secret’s already out on this one, but northern Michigan, especially the Traverse City and Petoskey area, is one of my favorite places on earth. I won’t be getting up there this time around because I have a new baby at home, but McLean & Eakin is a wonderful store.

Thank you, Kelly! 

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy In Need of a Good Wife from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Check out the rest of Kelly's interview stops:

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. Carrie, like so many times before, your blog introduced me to a book that is right up my alley. Thanks!

    Kelly, your novel sounds like a candidate for the South Dakota Festival of Books. You might want to ask your publicist to contact the director about the 2013 festival in Deadwood. It's a great event.

  2. I can imagine that the researching aspects of writing a book like this one are intense and interesting, and I can see that I might get lost in it like McNees did! I can't wait to read this one!

  3. Oh -- I need both McNees novels and now! Having gotten bogged down in research while trying to come up with a NaNo novel, I admire her for having the discipline to stop when she's getting lost. Wonderful interview, Carrie!

  4. I haven't read either of these but I've definitely heard of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.
    I know, from the Paris in July meme, that you love everything about France like I do, so I wanted to tell you about my book The Summer of France which is now available Here on Kindle or
    Here on Nook or
    Here in Paperback


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