Author Spotlight: Kim Taylor Blakemore
This month’s author spotlight is Kim Taylor Blakemore. Kim writes historical novels that feature fierce and often dangerous women, thieves and servants, murderesses and mediums, grifters and dancehall girls—the women with darker stories, tangled lies, and hidden motives. Her latest book, After Alice Fell, launched in March and was an Amazon First Reads monthly pick, catapulting it to the top of the Amazon charts in historical fiction!
I spoke to Kim about the book, her writing process, how she conducts research, and what she’s writing about next . . .
Regarding After Alice Fell:
What are five adjectives that describe this story and/or its heroine?
Haunting, harrowing, tense, taut, layered.
What was the hardest scene to write?
Near the beginning of the novel, there is a scene where Alice’s death deeply affects her sister Marion. I really wanted to capture how grief feels in the body – the sear of it, the way it’s a punch to the gut and a deep ache. And I wanted the reader to also grieve for Alice, so they, too, are committed emotionally to finding out what happened to her.
What was the most fun scene to write?
The most fun scene was actually a very dark scene in the asylum—but I jumped right in and a new character showed up—the warden who oversees the women’s floor where Alice last lived. And how she showed up! Starched skirts that hissed, blank face, so contained and afraid to tell the truth. She led Marion up the stairs and into the ward, with its locked doors and muffled voices and showed her the horrifying treatment Alice endured. It was a gothic ride…
Did you edit anything out of the book? If so, can you tell us?
I didn’t edit anything out – though I did, on the second draft, bring in more back story about Marion’s relationship with her husband and early scenes with Alice and her brother.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Trying to make every sentence and scene perfect before moving on. I’ve been guilty of it myself. I have ten chapters of a rich and gorgeous novel sitting in my drawers. Those ten chapters are damn beautiful. It took me two years to make them so. And I edited the life out of them. To the point I won’t ever pick up the novel again.
Be wild! Let your characters take the reins. Don’t worry if everything doesn’t seem to fit, is rough around the edges. If you want to make a change to early pages, write a note and return to fix it later – pretend you’ve already done so, and write on. In fact, some of the notes won’t mean anything when you get to the end and see the arc of the story.
How many unpublished and/or half-finished books do you have?
See common traps above. Add in a historical set in 1905 Kansas I set aside last year that only needs 20,000 more words to complete—I ran into a rather large plot hiccup, didn’t know how to write my way out of it, so set it aside to let it marinate. I know what needs to change, so I’ll pull that out and finish it after I complete The Maid of Sorrow and Light.
Also, I purge my files every year, so I review old pieces and bits I’ve written, auditioning them again to see if they will remain in my files another year. Generally, the majority gets tossed.
What kinds of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I am an avid believer in primary sources. So, while my characters on the whole are made up, I do want to understand the milieu and mores of their time and region. Once I’ve picked the year of the book, I choose the dates in that year and filter my research of newspapers and such to that specific time period. So, for After Alice Fell, I knew I wanted a dripping humid summer in 1865. My newspaper research centered on August 1865. Railroad schedules, maps, coach schedules, recipes, Godey’s Ladies book, asylum records—all from that time.
I research before I begin, enough to get a sense of the place and period—then research continually, as so many specifics need to be answered as I write. Muslin, linen, poplin, serge? Ice blocks under a body that will lay at rest in the dining room for mourners to visit and not retch at the smell? What buggy or carriage and which exactly is made for a single horse? Lots of little things that can take hours to locate and yet be of use for a single sentence in the book.
How many hours a day do you write?
It varies depending on where in the process I am. Early on there’s more research, with spurts of writing and notes (I’m not an outliner, but I do jot down the main points and ending), and I usually feel like a lazy slob. But then the schedule shifts to very consistent stretches—four or five days a week, four to five hours a day of steady writing with research woven in. By Act Three, it’s long days, as the story is all coming together and the words come out at a fast clip. The last day I wrote After Alice Fell was an eleven-hour day—because I was so close to typing THE END. And I so wanted to type those two small words!
What is the most important part of the artistic process?
Listening to your characters, giving them a space to speak, and getting your author self out of the way. They will lead you well, if you let them.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on another historical thriller, The Maid of Sorrow and Light. It’s set in 1877 New Hampshire at the height of the Spiritualist movement. It’s about a medium who’s lost her guide and her livelihood, and in a fit of desperation hires a woman known in clairvoyant circles as “The Helper.” But she’s not prepared for the fraud and deceit that comes with the deal, nor the whispers of murder and veiled threat. You know, good old-fashioned mayhem, murder, faith, and fraud…
More about After Alice Fell:
Until she discovers the truth of her sister’s death, no one will rest in peace.
New Hampshire, 1865. Marion Abbott is summoned to Brawders House asylum to collect the body of her sister, Alice. She’d been found dead after falling four stories from a steep-pitched roof. Officially: an accident. Confidentially: suicide. But Marion believes a third option: murder.
Returning to her family home to stay with her brother and his second wife, the recently widowed Marion is expected to quiet her feelings of guilt and grief—to let go of the dead and embrace the living. But that’s not easy in this house full of haunting memories.
Just when the search for the truth seems hopeless, a stranger approaches Marion with chilling words: I saw her fall.
Now Marion is more determined than ever to find out what happened that night at Brawders, and why. With no one she can trust, Marion may risk her own life to uncover the secrets buried with Alice in the family plot.
Kim Taylor Blakemore is the author of the Amazon bestselling historical thriller After Alice Fell, and The Companion, lauded by Publisher’s Weekly as “a captivating tale of psychological suspense.” She is also the author of Bowery Girl and the WILLA Literary Award for Best Young Adult novel, Cissy Funk.
Recipient of a Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award and three Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grants, she is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.
Outside of writing, she is a novel coach (www.novelitics.com), a history nerd, and gothic novel lover.
She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and loves the rain. Truly.
To connect with Kim and check out her books:
Kim's books: Follow on Amazon
Tonya Mitchell is the author of A Feigned Madness. For more on her and her book, visit her website. To order her book about Nellie Bly and her 10-day undercover stay in an insane asylum in 1887, click here.
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