I recently discovered Kennedy Ryan’s work after having my eye on her books for quite a while. Of course, I vacillated on whether I should tackle her series as new books were added to my TBR list, but then she released My Soul to Keep, and I just had to read it. The planets aligned, and after much harping from a few trusted book peeps, I downloaded it, read it, and immediately put her on my list of ‘impressive writers’. I should’ve read her stuff a long time ago. Now, the follow-up to My Soul to Keep has released (which I loved), and I’ve made it my mission to get more people to read this woman. She’s amazingly talented, and a truly interest human being. Read the interview and see. It’s long, but I think it’s meaningful, plus there’s a reward at the end!
H: Tell us a little about yourself: Who are you? Where are you from? What do you like? What do you do?
KR: I’m still getting over the fact that you’ve always wanted to interview me. LOL! Let’s see. I’m a wife and mom. I’m originally from North Carolina. A no-name town that didn’t even have a stoplight. We had a general store that sold pickled pig’s feet, if that gives you any idea of how country I am! It was a great childhood, though. Lots of reading time. Being outside. Very communal with everyone taking care of each other. I love reading and writing, obviously. I love working. I’m a little bit of a workaholic. I have to be careful because sometimes I only have one gear – DRIVE! It makes my husband batty. I split my time between writing and running a foundation I started nine years ago. We lived in Atlanta for almost 20 years before relocating a few months ago to San Diego.
H: When did you start writing? Why?
KR: Gosh, I started really early. I remember “publishing” my first book of poems when I was maybe in the 5th grade. It was called FALLING PHRASES. And I remember using the word “ominous” in just about every poem. LOL! My mom was freaked out by the dark stuff that was coming from her little 5th grader. I’ve always been really passionate about words. My father, who was a professor, used to assign me letters of the dictionary to read! So he would come home and ask me about what I read in the Letter P that day. It was unconventional, but it sparked my love for language. I’ve really focused most of my life on non-fiction. When I was a sophomore in high school, I got my own column in our local paper, and never looked back. Went to school for my degree in journalism, and really loved digging into true stories and writing for non-profit organizations. But I knew I had stories to tell. When I was a little girl I told on my grandmother’s back porch using a long-haired mop as my heroine while the other kids played kick ball. And as a child everyone thought I was weird because I talked to myself all the time, but I was telling stories even then. About two years ago, I finally turned to fiction.
H: What would you say your writing style is like? Are there any authors that may have influenced your style?
KR: It has evolved some over the last year or so. I shifted from writing third person POV to first person, and I love how much closer to the characters’ bones I feel. I think my voice is pretty much the same; my style, which tends to rely heavily on metaphor and word pictures. It can wander into flowery, so I have to be careful! LOL! I enjoy fresh, vibrant writing. I don’t know if they’ve influenced my style exactly, but there is something I admired and gleaned from Emily Bronte for the emotional intensity of Wuthering Heights, Zora Neale Hurston for presenting a strong, self-determining female heroine who made her own way in a world that allowed her very little, even Kathleen Woodiwiss, who got me started reading historicals in the 7th grade, for the sheer romance of her books! And more, but those are a few.
H: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
KR: Maybe 5th grade when I published FALLING PHRASES! Maybe a little before that. In high school, I literally would read until the sun came up and go to school with no sleep. I always had dark circles under my eyes from exhaustion because I read every spare moment. I tucked books under my mattress and bed so I would always have something close at hand to read. Anything that held that kind of power to grip me, I wanted to do.
H: What do you read for fun? (If you read for fun).
KR: I read romance for fun. I actually haven’t had time to read as much as I did before I started writing. I used to read at least 4-5 books a week. Between deadlines and the work for my foundation, there isn’t as much time. Lately it’s been more like 2 books…a month. But I love Karina Halle, J.M. Darhower, A. L. Jackson, and recently Sarah Mass. And, of course, many more.
H: Whom do you write for?
KR: For myself. Unequivocally. I don’t check trends, though I will say, “Oh, let’s see if something I want to write fits the market or runs along those lines.” Writing is too hard not to do it for yourself. Not in a self-indulgent way, meaning so inaccessible that there is no commercial appeal or potential value, but not to write things that compel you, interest you, fascinate you. Because those are the things that will compel and interest and fascinate your readers. Your readers. Those readers who connect with your voice and your style. So ultimately you end up writing not only for yourself, but also for them.
H: Let’s talk about My Soul to Keep and Down to My Soul. Why did you write these books, and why do you think people should read it?
KR: I woke up with the first chapter fully formed in my head. Not sure where that came from. I woke up from a dream about this deathbed scene of a young woman and her mother. I couldn’t write fast enough, and that scene, of all the things in that book that were edited, remained almost untouched. From there, I just started asking myself questions about the girl. How did she feel taking care of her mother all those years? What had she denied herself, and from there my love for music began shaping the journey. I was in the band from elementary school until college, and sang my whole life in groups and on a few professional projects over the years. This girl was hungry and climbing toward her dream of entertaining. I wanted the hero to be her counterpoint; already famous, but not your typical rock star. And I just kind of started thinking about them constantly until their story made sense to me. I’m not a pantser; someone who just sits down and starts writing, but I’m not really an outliner, per se. I just…dream for a long time. I identify a few key scenes, usually act them out before I write them, and start putting things together. I think people who want to see a relationship actually build and unfold would enjoy this story. Rhyson and Kai develop a friendship around trust and companionship with this persistent attraction underlying their every interaction. They really come to care for one another before they take those steps toward intimacy and a romantic relationship. And most of all Rhyson. LOL! I think his intensity and genius; his unwavering love for Kai is one of the most appealing things about the story.
H: Do you write your books with any message in mind, anything you want to convey to your readers? If so, what? Do you write to connect, or mainly to entertain?
KR: I definitely write to connect. I think entertaining is a means to connect. Meaning, I want to entertain you. Make you laugh. Make you swoon. Make you…fill in the blank. Whatever lowers the reader’s guard so that they lean into the story. So they are listening or reading carefully and closely. And I think that is when, if there is a message, it begins to take root. In the Soul series, I deal a lot with the transformational power of forgiveness.
H: Which of your books do you think is your best work?
KR: Until I’m Yours, Bennett Series book #4, is probably the book I’m most proud of. If the Soul series could be classified as NA (New Adult) this would be GF (Grown Folks) – 🙂 . The characters are older, more mature, more sophisticated. Very certain, but still growing. I love what that book says to women and about women. That we are survivors. That the world doesn’t get to define us by our mistakes or by our flaws. We are self-determining and self-defining. We can choose what we make of ourselves.
H: Which is your favorite?
KR: Rhys and Kai are my favorite couple. I think it’s the chemistry. How gifted they both are in very different ways. To the outside world, they seem mismatched because he’s rich and famous and she’s “nobody.” But they recognize one another as equals and, as trite as it may seem, soulmates.
H: What else are you working on?
KR: I am fiddling with another couple in the Soul series. I may have some more content form that series late summer. I’m in “dream phase” about an embattled couple whose love has taken a beating while they struggled to raise a child with special needs.
H: Where do your ideas come from?
KR: Usually from life. Some aspect of life, maybe even subconsciously. A conversation overheard. A story on the news. A poem. It could be anything that snags my imagination and doesn’t let go.
H: I thought that The Soul duo was as romantic as romance gets. As in, they have heart and they have soul. I read in a previous interview that you like straight romance (Reading Books Like a Boss), but do you ever fantasize about more gritty plots? Maybe ones with more tragic circumstances, similar to the Kai’s mom’s storyline? You have skills, so you could do some serious damage.
KR: Ah, I love Megan! (RBLB) It’s funny you ask because a lot of my work verges on women’s fiction. Some people who read it say it’s like romance PLUS. Moreso the Bennett series than the Soul series. Because there are always these very weighty issues at some point in the book. Usually some complex issues that aren’t just about the romance, but adjacent to it. The book I mentioned before about the embattled couple raising a child with special needs – that book will have a lot of grit and difficulty. I think it will really stretch me. I hadn’t written much fiction when I started. I’d focused on journalism and true stories. Romance was an easy segue for me into fiction because I love it and read it more than anything else, but I do believe I’ll write other things.
H: I haven’t read your Bennett series. Tell us a bit about it. I heard there was a love triangle… I don’t like those.
KR: Well, tell me how you really feel, Cristal. LOL! The first book does involve a love triangle. Actually it carries over into the 2nd book, too. I love that story because it is so much more than just that love triangle. It’s about the family we are born into and the family we choose. Healing from our pasts. How our past experiences shape our decisions, sometimes adversely. And how we have to take responsibility for our actions. How we have to deal with the consequences. There are two best friends, as close as brothers, who fall in love with the same girl, Kerris. She actually marries one of them, and is in love with the other, and that goes about as well as you would expect it to. I’m less interested in the fact that she makes a dumb decision than the WHY behind it. So, yeah. It won’t be for everyone, but I think it is a rich, layered story. But I’m biased! The 3rd book is the story of the odd man out from the love triangle.
H: What scares you as a writer?
KR: The same thing that scares me in real life. Being average. Not being extraordinary. Being mundane and not even realizing it.
H: You spend a lot of time outside of writing as an advocate for your son, who has ASD, and have founded a charity. Tell us a bit about that. What is your mission?
KR: I started the foundation 9 years ago. The mission is to provide emotional and financial support for families living with Autism. It serves Georgia families. We have three anchor programs where we focus our energies and resources. A program for ASD married couples in crisis or on the verge of divorce. A Christmas program for single parents to ensure their needs are met during the holidays. And a scholarship program to assist ASD families with medical and therapy expenses.
H: What scares you as a woman?
KR: The same things that probably scare a lot of moms. That I’m not doing enough to prepare my son for the future; for the world. That he’ll be taken advantage of when he is out of my care and away from my protection. I think his condition probably exacerbates and exaggerates that feeling, but it’s the same as any mom would have.
H: Who is your favorite author?
KR: That depends. I have a few. Zora Neale Hurston, Candice Proctor, Toni Morrison, the Bronte sisters, Laura Kinsale. Tiffanie DeBartolo. For poetry, Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Robert Frost. Such different voices that I love for different reasons.
H: Do you know how your books are going to end? Or how they’re supposed to end? If so, have you ever gone against that?
KR: Like I said, I’m not a pantser. So I do typically have a good sense of where I’m going. I actually don’t sit down to write until I know, even if it’s all in my head, and none on paper. I actually went against the ending in Down to My Soul. I won’t tell how! LOL
H: What’s the last book that blew your mind?
KR: The Bronze Horseman. Just wow. The most epic love story. And all those layers of history and romance and adversity. Just incredible. I’ll never forge it! My book group read it together, and thank God I had someone to hold my hand! Sura!!!
H: What’s your favorite dessert?
KR: Chocolate or sweet potato pie.
H: Which of your books was the hardest to write? Which was the most fun?
KR: The most fun to write was My Soul to Keep. It just flowed, and Rhyson is so funny to me. I love his voice and his intensity, his sarcasm. I like smart heroes. Intelligence is important to me, and you see it a lot in my guys. I don’t just mean book smart. There are at least seven kinds of intelligence, now I think 8 have been documented. I like seeing various expressions of intelligence, and Rhyson’s musical genius and hyper-focus was a lot of fun to create. The hardest book to write was Cam’s story, Bennett Series, book #3, Be Mine Forever. He was tortured by a really dark past. And to be in his POV was emotionally exhausting for me, but I think worth it.
H: If you could recommend only one book for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
KR: It probably sounds like a pat answer, but probably the Bible. I come from a “religious” background. I grew up in church and my parents are pastors. But I think you have to find faith on your own for it to be your own, whatever that looks like for you, if you choose it. My 30s were extremely difficult. Like one decade-long winter, and there was no peace except what I found in my faith.
H: What’s going on between Bristol and Marlon? I need a sneak peek.
KR: Oh my gosh. So much! If I told you, you might hate me. I will just say that I don’t think Bristol will appreciate Marlon (it’s interesting to me that you call him Marlon instead of Grip. Only Rhyson does that – smile) until she really feels like she might not be able to have him. Their story is so different from Rhyson and Kai’s I have to let the books kind of breathe on their own for awhile. I need readers to give them their own space. I wasn’t sure I would write their story. Some days I’m still not sure! I woke up this morning thinking I will. So it’s a “yes” day! 🙂
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