UPDATE: Read my review of The Love Sessions!
It’s still taking me some getting used to, being not just in communication, but in communion with all of these writers. It used to be that writing was something I did in quiet and alone, but now that I’ve taken the leap to get out there in the world, I am meeting so many amazing people who share the same struggles to translate into written word the wonderful, layered and rich lives we construct in our heads.
Recently I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Tia Kelly author of a very well-received series of novellas. And then I read her longer work, The Love Sessions. Let’s just say that in a saturated romance market, this book was not at all what I was expecting. And as someone who is always delighted by the unexpected, I had to interview her. So welcome, Tia!
Before we get started, tell us about your novel, The Love Sessions.
So here goes, in The Love Sessions, eight people discover the hard way that wedding vows are meant to be more than just words while attending a premarital retreat in the Pennsylvania Poconos with therapist Dr. Savannah Harper.
After a whirlwind courtship, Eric West and Shelby Bryan elope. When their love loses its shine, the toll it takes on their marriage leads them down a detrimental path. Secrets brought Terrence Baker and Alexis Norwood together and now secrets threaten to tear them apart. Donovan Sinclair adores his wife Mya and lives to make her happy. Until one day, the one marital vow they never imagined experiencing ends it all – death. Keri Waters arrives to the Poconos ready to pick a wedding date with her fiancée, but when she meets Nathan Garrett, she learns how it really feels to have a man love, honor and cherish her.
Okay, so that’s your current work, but tell us, when were you first sure that writing was something you wanted to do. And what’s the first thing you ever wrote?
I don’t think there is ever a decision to make or convincing that needs to be done when one has writing in their blood. It just happens and shows up in various ways until we figure out the best way to express that passion. The choice occurs when one must decide if they want to share that passion with anyone else. I think I have always known I wanted to share my stories with others. I just had to be ready for the moment when I did. Fortunately, I was four writing a story about my favorite things and I didn’t care what the critics had to say. Now fast forward several years later and I know I’m not that same little girl. It took a long time before I felt comfortable sharing my stories as an adult, but when it was time it felt right. I have yet to release the first thing I wrote as an adult. Maybe one day I will, but for now I am holding on to it. It’s too personal right now.
I’ve heard some writers say that they write because they have to, and don’t care if anyone ever reads it. What made you decide to share your writing with the world?
I didn’t care at one time and wrote for my own fulfillment, but I wanted to grow as a writer. I couldn’t do that by keeping my work to myself. I decided to self publish my novella Love’s Rebound to test the waters and see if I was “good enough” to be one, because I reached a point where I craved feedback. I guess you could call it a hands-on writing lesson. My plunge into self-publishing has taught me a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, as online reviewers tend to be brutally honest at times. I wanted to hear the truth from readers that didn’t know me and boy did they give it! Fortunately, a lot of the feedback was consistent and also encouraging, so I kept on writing and hitting the publish button.
‘Romance’ is a very broad genre. Some are more explicit, some more inspirational, some lean heavily on realism. How would you categorize the type of romance you write?
That is such a tough one, Nia. I am more contemporary with my style, but I believe in happily ever after for the most part. I do write straightforward romances, but I try to stay away from the fluffy stuff. Most of my work does have a dose of realism, especially The Love Sessions. The Love Sessions has a large dose of realism, but it’s what makes the love in that story stronger.
If you weren’t writing romance, what other genre do you see yourself writing?
I would stick to the fiction family and all its subgenres. I like driving in that lane.
Many writers draw heavily from personal experience or infuse personal causes into their work. I like to include references to race and gender in my work. Do you have any personal experiences or causes that you like to infuse in your books?
I infuse a little bit of everything in my work. My work is not biographical, but there are definitely elements from past experiences and those of people I know in everything I do. I used to avoid it, but I found it was easier to just embrace it rather than fight it.
When you write, do you think of plot first, or characters first? Tell us about your process for “building” your stories.
I have three processes. One is based loosely on plot. I will have an idea of where I would like to take a story, but then I introduce a few characters to see if that will work. The second is pretty much all character driven. Again, I let the natural chemistry of my characters take me wherever they need to go. Along the way, the plot will reveal itself. That is my favorite method, but it can get out of hand if you let characters take too much control with a story. My third method involves my extensive music library. If a song catches my ear, I think of the story behind it or what type of scene that song would be a great soundtrack for. It’s a little different and not traditional, but some of my favorite stories were born out of one song.
For many writers, the big draw of being an author is the solitude, but lately there have been lots of new collaborations, writing and critique groups and the like. What’s your comfort zone? Writing alone? Or writing with frequent feedback and collaboration?
I stepped out away from solitude a little and let me tell you, I miss it! A few writers that have been helping me along the way encouraged me to be a little more visible and active, but it’s taking me some time to feel comfortable in that space. I love feedback and that is one reason why I stepped out of my comfort zone. I wanted to grow as a writer and in order to do that, I needed to connect with other writers.
I am always open to new things, as I do believe it helps us grow. Who knows what is in the future when it comes to the way I will work, but for now, I’m just taking this one day at a time.
Tell us a little more about The Love Sessions. I was drawn in by the struggle that Shelby was going through. It was very gritty stuff. Not fluffy romance at all. What were you trying to say with that character?
‘The Love Sessions’ is not your typical romance, that’s for sure. In TLS, readers get a glimpse into the lives of eight people in different phases of life and love. Six of them are couples from previous novellas and we reconnect with them after the “happily ever after” pages of their individual stories.
Their prequels were all different, but in the end, they fell in love and were expected to ride off without a care into the sunset without a care. TLS brings the events that will test their love and the bond between them. I didn’t want to bring drama to the table just for the sake of having drama. I wanted to capture those moments for each couple that sealed their unconditional, everlasting love that is often missed in stories now.
Shelby and Eric had a whirlwind romance in Love’s Rebound, but once the dust settled they were thrust into a whole new level of reality in TLS. You’re right. Shelby did go through it, especially her struggle with an eating disorder. Her illness affected so many areas in her life, like her health (physically and mentally) and marriage. Most of Shelby’s life, she wanted to feel like she belonged. That struggle and the lifestyle Eric’s career afforded her fed some of her insecurities. As a result, things spiral out of control. She became another person while battling ***deleted because of spoiler*** and Eric didn’t even know she struggled with it. Their story was not easy to write, because Shelby became lost in ***another spoiler*** and I was right there alongside her while it happened. I also wanted to show the truth, that people don’t just snap out of it. In order to do so, I had to show some ugly truths.
Of all your books, which was the most fun to write, and why?
Give Me You had to be the most fun. I loved the characters and their dialogue. It was also fun getting into their heads, especially Donovan when he was dealing with his attraction to Mya. Veronica was also a fun (minor) character. At times, I think she was the voice of the reader. Now I can’t wait to deliver Darius and Veronica’s story.
Of all your books, which was the most difficult to write, and why?
The Love Sessions definitely was the most difficult. I had all of these characters with so much stuff, for lack of a better word, going on in their lives. While writing it, some of the characters only revealed what they wanted to when I tried to dig deeper, some were ready to share everything and others just closed off and didn’t want to give me their story. Once they all finally opened up, I found myself feeling what they felt. It was an emotional roller coaster.
Shelby’s problems were tough, but breaking a man like Donovan was difficult to write. There was one scene of his that clenches my heart every time I read it, but then there are many more that make me love characters like him more because of how they persevered through the trying times. I guess it was difficult, but it was also felt good to see the evolution of their love.
Of all your books, which was the one that felt like you HAD TO write it, and why?
I had to write ‘The Love Sessions’. The prequels were cool, but I just had to offer a full-length novel. I received a lot of feedback saying readers wished the prequels were longer and some wanted actual novels. I had my reasons for leaving them at their respective lengths. When I wrote The Love Sessions, I wanted to find a way to weave together several stories and prove that I could write a novel.
What are you working on now, and when might we expect another Tia Kelly book?
My next novel, Playing for Love, will be released in July. It’s a contemporary romance and part of a new series. I can’t wait to introduce this family!
What’s the one thing about the writing life you wish someone had told you?
You don’t always have to chase the story. Sometimes it is better to just let the story find you.
Great advice, Tia! And thanks for stopping by.
Here’s how you can find Tia in cyberspace. . .
. . . and here are other ways you can get in touch with her!