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Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Wife, mother, spy. Anna is hiding a dangerous secret from her family, especially her Confederate General husband. However, it is not her covert work for the Union that she finds the most daunting, it is dealing with her spoiled Southern belle daughter. When Kady discovers that her mother has been leading a carefully constructed double life, she must choose whether to work by her mother’s side in the shadows or return to the pampered life of a Southern planter’s daughter.
Cast into the bloody fray of one of the deadliest wars in our history, In a Time Never Known is the story of women who courageously defy the expectations of the era to do unprecedented things, altering the course of American history and their own lives.
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“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of…” Martha stopped speaking to stifle a rising sob. She knew she had to stay strong for her children, but she could not get past that word. Another scream pierced the air and even the young Confederate soldier, guarding the door with his gun at the ready, flinched at the sound. Biting her lip, she swallowed past the lump of fear lodged in her throat, let her eyes fall shut, and started again.
“Lord, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”
About the Author:
Kat Michels lives in Los Angeles, CA, with her two puggles. She is the author of a historical fiction novel, three children’s book, and a series of mini-biographies about extraordinary American women. Kat has received multiple awards for her writing, including two regional Emmys for her work on short-form documentaries.
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Thanks for doing an interview! Could you tell our readers a little bit about your writing journey?
I’ve been writing stories and poetry for as long as I can remember. My life has been a series of scraps of paper and napkins with brilliant, spur-of-the-moment ideas hastily scribbled on them. Despite this, it took until I was in my mid-twenties before it occurred to me that not only was I a writer, I wanted to write as my profession. From there I started dabbling wherever I could. I wrote the narrative to a couple of short-form documentaries. I was a theater critic in Los Angeles for four-ish* years. I discovered the joy of uncovering and writing about historical American women who did extraordinary things, but received little to no recognition for their work. And the need for a heartfelt baby shower gift plus the chorus of a show tune getting stuck in my head became my introduction to the world of children’s books. While I have a place in my heart for all of these things, I have learned that it is really in the novel that I feel most at home. I love a good sweeping story that carries you away – to watch, to read, and to write.
* I say “ish” because I still get pulled back in by the siren song of live theater and write a review when I see something that truly blows me away.
How many books do you currently have published?
Four – three children’s books (Children Have Got to Be Carefully Taught, 10 Cheeky Monkeys, Monsters in the Night) and one novel.
What has been your favorite book to write so far? Why?
The novel is my favorite medium to tell a story, but children’s books are my favorite to write. I get to play around with rhymes and poetic structure and they are way less work than a novel. As much as I love writing, it is work. When the entire book is less than 100 words, it feels less like work and more like play.
Are you currently working on a book? Will this be your next release?
I am actually working on four different books right now, which didn’t seem crazy until I said it. Now it sounds a little crazy. I don’t know which one will be my next release, but the smart money is on one of the children’s books. I work with two different illustrators, so I’m working on the text for a prequel to Monsters in the Night for M. McCune to work on, and a book called Because I’m a Girl, for A. Sutton to work on. Then I am also working on the sequel to In a Time Never Known, as well as a non-fiction book about the Civil Rights Movement as told through the eyes of the women who fought for the movement.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I get to write the stories that I’ve always wanted to read.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
I have come to realize that I don’t get writer’s block, I get writer’s fear. The ideas are flowing and I have words to put down, but I am afraid that what I put down won’t be good. That I won’t be able to make the words on the page match the idea in my head. This fear builds to the point that I become paralyzed and incapable of putting anything down on the page. At those times, I turn to friends for encouragement. There was one piece of advice/encouragement that has really stuck with me. I called a friend one night and told her all about this book that I wanted to write, but was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. She said to me, “The first draft may suck. But you have the talent, the passion and the dedication to fix it, so that the final draft will be great. Just start.” Those words are now my mantra when the self-doubt starts to creep in, “Just start.”
Have you ever had one of your characters to take a twist you weren’t expecting and surprise you?
Yes – Jacob. No matter what I threw at that guy, he would always come out on top. He’s just one of those characters that can see where he will benefit in every situation he’s faced with. In early drafts I fought against that, because I wanted him to have some sort of comeuppance. It never worked, and I just wound up with chapters that felt false. Eventually I gave in and let Jacob be Jacob.
Which of your characters is your personal favorite? Least favorite? Why?
Mary, Anna’s personal slave, is hands down my favorite character. She is so strong, both by necessity to live as a slave, but also as part of her nature. She has learned how to survive in the circumstances she was dealt without giving up her dignity and sense of self. Yet despite all of her hardships, her capacity to love and empathize with those around her is immeasurable. If I could sit down and have a chat over a cup of coffee with anyone in my book, it would be Mary.
I don’t know that I would call him my least favorite character, but definitely the character that I love to hate is General Bell. He has a set of rules by which he lives and he is going to stick to them even if it means turning on those he holds most dear. He is just so awful in so many ways, but underneath that cruel exterior is a sad little boy that didn’t get held enough as a child. There are times that I want to give him a hug, then punch him in the face, because he both needs and deserves both.
So far, what has been your favorite scene to write?
The battle scene was particularly fun to write. I studied stage combat for seven years, so I got up and acted out most of the fight to help me get the descriptions and the flow of the violence correct.
What lessons have you learned since becoming a writer? Do you have any tips for new writers?
I have learned so much about criticism. First and foremost, that any critique is simply one person’s opinion about the work in front of them. Outside of memoirs that work has nothing to do with you as a person. While the work may feel like your baby, it’s not, and a critique of that work is not an attack on you as a person. As such, it should not be taken personally. Which is definitely easier said than done. However, the only way to get better is to let people read your work, and comment. So this realization and acceptance made me more open to criticism. The more open I was, the more I actually listened, and the better my writing became.
The one thing that I always tell new writers is that they have to learn the difference between criticism (This sucks!) and constructive criticism (Jane reacting this way feels forced. Why is she so disturbed by the situation?). On the whole, the former can be ignored and the latter should be considered. But at the end of the day, it’s your work. Just because someone says they don’t like something, doesn’t mean you have to change it. Now if ten people all say the same thing, then you have a problem that needs addressing.
Do you have any extras you’d like to share, like a teaser about an upcoming new release, a summary of a deleted scene, or a teaser about a surprising plot twist or character?
My most recent children’s book was released on October 5, and I had a lot of fun doing a recorded reading of it for Youtube. https://youtu.be/VCWeDDSV4lY
Now it’s time to get to know you! What are some of your favorite books to read?
When I’m reading for pleasure my tastes run toward historical fiction, fantasy and young adult. I live in this world every day, so when I read I like to enter a different world. That being said, what gets me excited about a story is when an author can paint the world of their book so vividly that I can picture every aspect of it in my mind. I’m willing to overlook mediocre writing or shaky plots as long as the world-building is fantastic. Suck me into your world and you’ve got me till the end. Young Adult books are my guilty pleasures. They read quickly, often have better writing than adult books, and sometimes are downright silly. Sometimes you just need to read about a giant peach smashing some nasty aunts.
What about television shows? Movies?
I’ll watch just about anything by Joss Whedon. Years ago, I was reading an interview he did in a magazine and came across a piece of advice that has stuck with me. He said, “Give your audience everything they want, but in the worst possible way.” That concept intrigues me, and I love to see him play that out in his work. I also love how he is able to inject moments of comedy into even the most serious of scenes. As George Bernard Shaw said, “”Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” I’m also a huge fan of Criminal Minds. I find the psychology of deviant behavior fascinating.
Is there a book that you have read that you feel has made a big impact on your life? Why?
Loath as I am to admit it, I was not a big reader when I was younger. I read what was required of me for school or the summer reading program at the library, but no more. Books were often chosen because they contained the correct page count for an assignment, with little regard to their content. In 7th grade, I read The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye because it was so long, I could be done with the semester’s reading assignment after one book. I didn’t even know what it was about when I opened it and read the first page. Ironically, it was the first book that truly enveloped me in a story and made me fall in love with sweeping historical dramas. Looking back, that is probably where the kernel for historical fiction was planted.
The only other book that truly stands out to me is, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I read it in college and was completely absorbed in the concept of alternate truths, which was sparked specifically by her discussion of Shakespeare’s sister. What if she had been the brilliant writer in the family? What if she had tried to pursue that career? Would we have even a tenth of the canon that we do today, had the author been a woman instead of a man? I was fascinated by the ‘what ifs.’ I already had a love for history, and reading her words opened up a whole new angle of exploration.
If you had to sum up your life as a writer in ten words, what would you say?
Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Did I say rewrite? Rewrite again!