When I learned that my debut novel was going to be released as an Audible Original audiobook, one of the first things I did was search for other authors that had taken the same path to publication. My search led me to the lovely Alex Kiester.
Alex’s debut novel—a fantastic and twisty thriller called In Her Skin—was released last October and it was thrilling to watch her publication process unfold. It gave me a real sense of what lay ahead for me, especially since we share the same editor at Audible (Hi Lara!).
Alex is a tremendously talented writer and I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in a Q&A. I know you will enjoy reading all of Alex’s writerly insights and expect you will all feel just as jealous as I was when you read how she starts every day. Enjoy!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer, and a novelist specifically, from the beginning. Some of my earliest memories, when I was probably six or so, are of wandering around my neighborhood, narrating my own life as if it were a novel. This meant my inner monologue wasn’t in first-person, but rather in third, and I was constantly throwing in fictional details to spice up my reality. Young, fictional Alex was a lot like me, but she had a complicated backstory, was surrounded by magical creatures, and was always on one adventure or another—usually stumbling upon a haunted house or crawling through a hole in a tree to a different world.
As I grew, so did she. Eventually, I began to write my stories down and expand my character list. I recently looked through some of my childhood journals, and they’re full of fiction, with properly punctuated dialogue and everything. I was a fully grown adult before it occurred to me that not everyone used their diary for half-baked novels or lived their life with a narrative voice in their head describing it along the way.
What was the first thing you did when you found out your book was getting published?
First, I called my husband and then my mom. She screamed very long and very loud. Then, in a cruel twist of banal reality, I had to rush out the door to meet a potential client for my day job. I did my typical consultation and somehow managed not to blurt out my news to the strangers across from me, but the whole time I held the secret inside me like a precious gem. Then, because my husband and I had already bought tickets to see Bohemian Rhapsody, I had to sit and not talk for the next two hours, but I did order a margarita and dance in my seat during every song. I think I had to work the next day.
As far as celebrations go, it was a bit… anticlimactic. But I could’ve been making sink faucets in a factory all day and I wouldn’t have cared; nothing could dim the shine of that gleaming gem inside me. After all, I was getting published.
How long did it take you to write your debut novel?
The entire process, from the day I began working on it, to the day it came out, was about three and a half years.
That timeframe included researching, writing, rewriting, editing, querying agents, submitting to publishers, production, all that jazz, etc.
What does your writing schedule look like?
For my job job as a writing/ESL tutor, I typically work in the afternoons and evenings, so I write in the mornings. My a.m. routine right now is so wonderful and luxurious, I hate to tell people about it for fear that putting it into words will somehow jinx it or that they’ll burn up with resentment, but here goes: First, my husband and I have “Breakfast Club” during which we sit on the couch, drink coffee, read our respective books (novels for me, business/personal development for him), talk, and don’t eat breakfast. (Actual food comes much later.) When our schedules don’t sync up, I do this alone, slightly lonelier but just as blissfully, because of the whole coffee-novel combination.
After, I make my way to my home office and get to work on my own writing, which I do in 45-minute increments. As my timer counts down, I’m unallowed to do anything but write—no emails, no making tea, no bathroom breaks (okay, sometimes bathroom breaks). When the timer goes off, I take a few minutes to do all the things I’ve been burning to do for the past 45, then I set another timer and do it all over again. Depending on my client schedule that day, I write between 1 and 4 hours, at which point my writing brain has usually melted and I’m grateful for an excuse to leave the house.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk or habit?
I heard somewhere that if your phone is even in the same room with you, your attention is split—which, from experience, I 100% believe—so before I sit down to write, I turn my phone on silent and put it on the other side of my closed office door. Sometimes, when I’m feeling extra paranoid and/or unfocused, I put my phone in a drawer in a bathroom down the hall, as if somehow multiple barriers are more effective than one.
Also, when I’m stuck on something plot-related, I spend a lot of time lying starfished on the floor, staring at the ceiling, every once and a while exclaiming out loud a fragment of a thought.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your books?
This shouldn’t have surprised me by any means, but it’s taken me a long time to learn the power of and appreciate others’ feedback. I used to believe that because I was the inventor of my own fictional world, I would always have the best ideas about what should happen inside it. But other people are really smart, and their different perspectives are invaluable. Now, when I’m struggling with a plot element that just won’t fit, I swallow my ego and talk it over with my team: my mom, my husband, and my agent. I’ve lost count of the times one of them has said something that finally knocks whatever I’m working on into place.
What is your biggest writing-related dream?
Oh boy, how much room do I have? I’d die happy to have one of my books adapted into a film or TV series, preferably starring one or more of the following: Andrew Scott, Zoë Kravitz, Domhnall Gleeson, Emma Stone, Michelle Dockery, Trevante Rhodes, and/or Olivia Colman, in which case I should probably start setting my books in England, as most of these are British. Needless to say, Reese Witherspoon would also star in it because her production company, Hello Sunshine, would have bought the film rights because her book club, Reese’s Book Club, would have read and loved the book.
Also, perhaps less ostentatiously, I think it would feel like the peak of success to have a book sold in an airport bookstore. To that end, whenever I’m in an airport, I go to its bookstore and “commune” with the other books. This involves me trying to inconspicuously touch all of the books as I telepath with all my might My book will be here with you one day. It’s hard, when doing this, not to look like a complete nut, but in the end, I think it’s worth it. After all, science is science, and communing with books definitely falls under science.
ABOUT IN HER SKIN
Meggie Meyer, an anxiety-ridden debut author, can’t bear to face her upcoming book tour, but she can’t give up on her writing career just as it’s about to really begin. She comes up with a plan that’s so crazy, it just might work: She hires an actress to impersonate her for the two-week stint. Sloan Buchanan, the spunky aspiring actress, jumps at the opportunity to use her intensive acting method to sink into this unusual role, and the line between her and her character quickly begins to blur. And Rachel Drake, the no-nonsense detective, is left to put the pieces together when Sloan vanishes after the tour’s end.
In rotating chapters from these three unique voices, we unravel the complicated web of secrets that Sloan left in her wake, working towards the shocking truth behind her disappearance.
ABOUT ALEX KIESTER
After graduating from Rhodes College with an honors degree in Creative Writing, Alex Kiester worked as a copyeditor for the Journal of the Texas House of Representatives, a romance novel editor, and a film actress. She currently works in Austin, TX as a writing and ESL tutor.
Alex’s debut novel, In Her Skin, won the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas international manuscript contest and came out as an Audible Original in October 2019. It’s been featured on Audible’s Fall Preview “Top Picks from an Audible Editor”, listed as one of November’s Top Ten Trending Audible Originals, and was included in Audible’s roundup of “Rave-Worthy Listens”.
Author Website: alexkiester.com
Facebook: Alex Kiester Writer
Publisher’s Website: audible.com