Author Interview – Kelly Smith

What is your most recent book?

Open Your Heart with QuiltingMy most recent book is Open Your Heart with Quilting (Dreamtime Publishing 2008). It is a non-fiction, inspirational book and part of the Open Your Heart series. It explores the holistic aspects of quilting, including how readers can use quilting to connect with family and community, carry on traditions of the past, help them heal from illness or grief, help them celebrate milestones in their life, explore their creativity, deepen their spiritual connection to the universe, and leave a legacy for generations to come.

The book is for quilters who have ever been asked “Why do you quilt?” and for non-quilters who want a broad overview of what quilting is and how people use it to express themselves, earn a living, or just make the world a more beautiful place.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am originally from New Brunswick, Canada but have lived in Michigan since 1997. I moved here to work for an IT firm and was with them for twelve years before I was laid off in the summer of 2009. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first “book” when I was six. I put that in quotes because it was just a pencil-drawn comic book with stick figures! But I’ve always loved to write and have written many short stories. I am currently working on two novels.

What inspired you to write this book?

When my friend Jeannette Cézanne (editor of the Open Your Heart series) put out a call for new authors I originally thought I had nothing to write about that would suit the series. At the time all the other Open Your Heart books were about sports of one kind or another. My passion – quilting – just seemed sort of artsy compared to the titles they’d already published.

Author Kelly SmithBut I spoke to her about the idea and she loved it! Once I realized that quilting was a viable topic for the series, I jumped in with both feet. I wanted to share my love of quilting with others and thought this would be the perfect way.

I didn’t start quilting until 1996. I tried to learn on my own using books, but that was a rough way to learn! In 1998, after I’d moved to Michigan, I found a shop that offered classes. My first and best teacher was Beth Ann Williams and she is the one who originally inspired me to follow my heart and make what I wanted, not necessarily what someone else said I should, and not necessarily what the pattern said I should make. Thinking of Beth is what really inspired me to write the book and she was kind enough to write the foreword for me.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on your publisher?

I was acquainted with the series editor, Jeannette Cézanne, through an online mailing list of copy editors. She posted about the series and asked for authors to send proposals. I put one together with her help. They liked the idea of a book about quilting and accepted my proposal.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I have always loved reading and writing stories. I wrote short stories all through junior high and high school. I took a break (although not intentionally) when I got to university. There were too many other demands on my time and writing didn’t seem like a viable career path. After I graduated I went back to composing short stories though, just for my own amusement and eventually I went into the IT industry with the intention of becoming a technical writer.

I didn’t get back into writing for fun until after I completed Open Your Heart with Quilting. A couple of weeks after I submitted the final draft of the manuscript I began work on my first novel. Since then I’ve joined a weekly novel-writing practicum led by Ami Hendrickson and I’d made a lot of progress. With inspiration from the novel-writing group I think I’ll have my novel complete and the first edit done by the end of this year.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

I think it varies from person to person, of course, but for me it’s just forcing myself to sit down and write. The maxim that “writers write” is true. If I’m thinking about writing, or talking about writing, I’m not writing. And even though I’m currently between jobs and should have “lots of time” that time seems to get filled up quickly.

I plan to make a concerted effort this year to make myself sit down and compose a certain number of words per day. Participating in the 2009 National Novel Writing Month proved to me that I could do that if I put my mind to it. Now I just have to practice what I’ve learned.

How do you do research for your books?

Research for fiction and non-fiction is very different. For my quilting book I interviewed about thirty-five quilters and asked them all the same basic questions. Each question related to a theme I wanted to focus on in my book. Their answers and the insights their response gave me into my own reasons for quilting make up the largest part of the book. There was also the nuts-and-bolts research of finding websites, books, and other reference materials for my readers. That was all done through Internet research.

My current novel is set in the 1920s. I don’t know anyone who was alive back then, so I’m relying on books, internet sites, and archives from the period such as newspapers and the archives of universities and other organizations, to help me fill in the blanks on what life was like back then. It’s an era I’ve been fascinated with since I read The Great Gatsby. I love the fashion and architecture of the era and for the story I want to tell, that’s just the right time period.

Did you learn anything from writing this book?

I learned several things while writing Open Your Heart with Quilting. One is that I really can write a whole book. Until you’ve done it, you’re never really sure you can. I learned that even people who share a passion for the same hobby can have widely differing views of why they do it, how they do it, and how it affects them and the world. I learned many things about the publishing process in general that I didn’t know before. No one ever really explains what it’s like – or at least no one had explained it to me, so that was an education in itself.

What are you reading now?

I am re-reading On Writing by Stephen King. It’s a valuable book for any writer. I’m also about to start a book called The 20’s by Frederick J. Hoffman that a friend loaned me. As far as fiction, I just finished The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, Under the Dome by Stephen King, Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett, and the second and third books in Lemony Snicket’s series.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I read all sorts of books. I like horror (King and Rice are my favorites), fantasy / science fiction (Pratchett, Douglas Adams), speculative fiction (especially Margaret Atwood) and historical books. I liked The Devil in the White City and other books of that nature. I’ve never really thought about why I like particular authors. I read whatever my friends suggest (and they’re usually great suggestions) but I guess I have a few standbys who I always return to. They tell a good story. They have engaging characters. They write books that I don’t want to put down. I’m sad when the book is over.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My next book is a historical novel set mostly in the 1920s. It’s a saga about a very dysfunctional family who appear quite prim and proper on the outside, but things happen on the inside that no one talks about for decades. When the last member of that generation dies, her great grand niece discovers the body of a baby hidden in the attic and has to piece things together, gradually uncovering her family history as she does.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Two things.

One, write every day. You only get better by doing it a lot. There is something called the 10,000-hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Outliers. All the very accomplished people he lists (and they’re all household names) put in at least 10,000 hours doing what they do in order to become the best at it. Writing is like sports – you have to practice a lot to make the majors.

Two, find a group of knowledgeable fellow writers who are not afraid to tell you when your writing sucks. Make sure they are brutally honest with you and don’t hold it against them when they are. Do them the same courtesy in return.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

I have a website, which I’ve recently converted to a WordPress blog. It’s easy to update, I’ve been able to add an excerpt of the book and a shopping cart and all sorts of quilt-related information. I write a quilting column for I Tweet on Twitter almost daily. I do speaking engagements and book signings and I hope to begin teaching quilting classes very soon.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?



  1. documania says

    Great to learn about your books and experiences, Kelly!

    There’s one statement, though, I’d like to challenge: “If I’m thinking about writing, or talking about writing, I’m not writing.”

    No, it means you’re just not sitting down and composing on paper or screen. You can still be writing.

    I believe that thinking and talking about writing are still writing, because the process of creating a piece — especially a book — is so complex.

    Writing involves thinking, drafting, revising, brainstorming with other people, hearing and processing feedback, revising again, researching, visualizing, typing, scribbling, erasing, thinking, and so on. Then there’s the interactive, educational process of being edited. All this, IMO, constitutes writing.

    My husband, who is a mechanical engineer and machinist, does what he calls “staring” when he’s preparing to build or modify something. We both consider it a valid part of design and execution. Likewise with writing: There’s a lot of internal exercise going on when one’s seat is not in the chair and fingers are not on the keyboard.

    A quote on my wall says: “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.” (Burton Rascoe)