7 minute read

INSIDE VOICES with Robert Gwaltney

INSIDE VOICES with Robert Gwaltney

Originally from the Ozarks, Paulette Kennedy now divides her time between her Missouri hometown and Los Angeles, where she lives with her family and a menagerie of rescue pets. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys tending to her garden, knitting, and finding unique vintage treasures at thrift stores and flea markets.

As a history lover, she can get lost for days in her research—learning everything she can about the places in her stories and what her characters might have experienced in the past.

Robert: Your first novel, PARTING THE VEIL, was released November 1, 2021 to much acclaim, and just two years later, readers are fortunate to have your second novel, THE WITCH OF TIN MOUNTAIN, in their hands. I am always interested to learn an author’s journey. If you would, please highlight your road to publication.

Paulette: My road to publication began in childhood, probably, with the silly little stories that I wrote in elementary school. But in my late teens, in college, I started exploring the craft of writing commercial fiction. I took a long and winding road through life and abandoned writing during most of my thirties to pursue photography. When I came back to writing, in my forties, it was with a sense of focused determination. I dove deep into learning craft and wrote and rewrote the manuscript that would be become PARTING THE VEIL until it became as close to perfect as I could make it. I was pleasantly surprised by the response from agents. I received my offer of representation from my agent shortly before my 45th birthday and PARTING THE VEIL was published the following year by Lake Union Publishing. The day that my debut launched, I finished the draft for THE WITCH OF TIN MOUNTAIN, and my agent sold it to my publisher the same week. I’ve been incredibly lucky with my journey. I don’t take that for granted, and I try to pay things forward whenever I can.

Robert: In a podcast interview, I recall hearing you say that publication can be a matter of luck and timing. For our readers, do you mind sharing what you mean by this.

Paulette: I liken publishing to standing in front of a craps table at a casino. It takes skill and knowledge to play the game, and the odds are better than most of the other games in the house, but luck is still an undeniable factor. I think success in this industry can look lots of different ways, but much of getting traditionally published is down to timing—presenting the right manuscript at the right time, when it’s exactly what a publisher wants. It’s almost impossible to write to market, which is why having an agent is such a boon—they know the industry and what is selling much better than authors do. I try to present three different ideas/pitches to my agent at a time, and together, we choose the one that has the most market viability. It’s an interesting combination of art and business strategy. Even though luck is a huge part of getting published, hard work is always a factor, too, much more than talent. I often tell authors to focus on what they can control: writing the best story they can write. A story they’re passionate about. Perseverance is key.

Robert: I am huge fan of Gothic fiction, and this is why I am drawn to your writing. How do you define the Gothic genre, and what about it fuels your own interest?

Paulette: And I am a big fan of your writing for the same reason! I think the Gothic is many things, but really it can be summed up by its reliance on sensuality and fear. And with sensuality, I’m not just talking about sex! Although that is often a factor. It’s more about engaging the senses—about creating a palpable sense of simmering menace and atmosphere. My friend Kris Waldherr sums it up perfectly, and I’m paraphrasing her here, but she says the Gothic is “dread and desire.” That desire doesn’t always have to be romantic—it can be a desire for ambition, power, freedom. Lots of things. It’s a very human genre, with characters who are often flawed and broken in many ways. I think that’s why it appeals to me. It’s an opportunity to explore the spectrum of human emotion. Also, I love the aesthetics. Crumbling churches, old houses, fog, cemeteries, small, insular towns with secrets. It’s all catnip for me!

Robert: From where do you draw inspiration for your writing in general, and more specifically, from where did the idea for THE WITCH OF TIN MOUNTAIN come?

Paulette: I have lots of inspirations—music, film, visual art. I also get a lot of my ideas from my research. I’ll be reading a piece of non-fiction for a work-in-progress and see a thread that I have to chase! Often those threads become story ideas. For THE WITCH OF TIN MOUNTAIN, I wanted to write about the Ozarks, which is where I’m from. It’s an area of the country that people are very interested in. We’re part of the South, but we also intersect with the Midwest, and it has always been a liminal space in the sense that ideologies often collide and combine and clash there—sometimes literally, as they did during the Civil War. I felt the setting would be perfect for a witch story—it’s a beautiful place with an ethereal feel, but there are problems, too. I wanted to be honest about that, while at the same time telling the story of these three deeply bonded women who share their wisdom with one another through generations. Gracelynn’s character and voice came to me, first. Writing her felt almost like channeling a real person’s spirit. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt that way with a character.

Robert: If you had to trade places with one of your characters in either of your novels, with whom would you trade, and why?

Paulette: Goodness, that’s a tricky question, because I really put my characters through some difficult things! I think if I could trade places with anyone, though, it would be Deirdre in THE WITCH OF TIN MOUNTAIN, so that I could have her not make some of the choices she makes in the novel. Mostly because she reminds me a lot of myself as a young woman, and heaven knows I’d like to go back in time and shake myself! But if I did that, there wouldn’t be a story, then, would there? Deirdre is flawed for a reason.

Robert: Paulette, it has been wonderful having the opportunity to sit down and chat with you. In closing, when reflecting back on THE WITCH OF TIN MOUNTAIN and the creative journey, what would you say this novel taught you?

Paulette: THE WITCH OF TIN MOUNTAIN taught me to write what I know. It’s a deeply personal book for me, and the closest thing I’ll ever have to a coming of age/coming out book. There are parts of it that were difficult for me to write for many reasons. Writing that book taught me to be brave. To take chances. And that’s something I’ll carry into every novel, going forward. Thanks so much for having me, Robert. It’s been a pleasure.

Robert Gwaltney, award winning author of southern fiction, is a graduate of Florida State University. He resides in Atlanta Georgia with his partner, where he is an active member of the Atlanta literary community. Robert’s work has appeared in such publications as The Signal Mountain Review and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. His debut novel, The Cicada Tree, won the Somerset Award for literary fiction.