Local Author Profile: Kelly Simmons

[img_assist|nid=823|title=Kelly Simmons|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=175|height=326]Like most writers, novelist Kelly Simmons admits to having some anxieties. But instead of letting them get the better of her, she has found a way to translate them into a haunting and compelling novel of tension and self-discovery. Standing Still, Simmons debut novel, describes the ordeal of journalist Claire Cooper, who suddenly finds that her anxieties have a real world focus. When an intruder breaks into her home and attempts to kidnap her sleeping daughter, Claire immediately offers herself instead. For the next several days, she will face the terror of living with her unknown captor, trying to uncover the reason for the crime and, perhaps most significantly, struggling to make sense of her own life, her anxieties, and her identity as a wife and a mother.

[img_assist|nid=695|title=Standing Still|desc=Standing Still is available wherever books are sold. To find an independent bookstore near you, visit booksense.com|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=234]Standing Still received advanced praise from Entertainment’s Weekly, which credited the novel for having “invigorating prose” and Publisher’s Weekly in a starred review naming the story “an electrifying debut” and “the perfect read for a stormy night.” And Philadelphia Stories was fortunate enough to publish excerpts of the novel in our premiere issue. For our exclusive excerpt from the novel, go here.

When asked about her success and her approaches to writing, Ms.Simmons showed herself to be as honest and engaging in her interview as she is in her prose.

What got you started writing fiction?

I've always been good at writing -- but it took me a long time to sort out what kind of writing I should pursue. I didn’t write a lot of fiction in college or my 20s, like most people. Journalism was my first calling but I did not have a good relationship with truth. It became clearer that I preferred to make things up!

How do you juggle your writing life with your every day responsibilities?
What works best for me is getting writing done first. I try to get up early and write for a few hours before the workday kicks in and people start calling me.

You mention on your blog (bykellysimmons.com) that one way to get motivated for writing is to include something intensely personal or autobiographical. How has this translated into your own novels?
For years, I avoided the personal -- but when something comes from the gut it sears on the page. I think that's the difference in the novel that finally got published--Standing Still. It has a raw quality to it that comes from honesty--I gave the main character one of my afflictions--panic attacks.

Could you say a little something about the challenges you had in getting an agent and what allowed you do continue to submit your work despite the difficulty?
When you know you can write (and it’s the only thing I ever knew for certain about myself) no ones opinion can take that away from you. Finding an agent can get very needle-in-a-haystackish. It’s a weird process that alternates between feeling like computer dating, a mass direct mail campaign, and total serendipity.

What authors do you enjoy reading?
I read and love a lot of modern authors, like Anne Beattie, Jane Hamilton, and John Irving. But I’ve probably learned the most, in terms of style, from studying F. Scott Fitzgerald.

What's the best writing advice you can offer for individuals embarking on starting his or her first novel?

If you write two pages a day, your first draft will be done in six months. But make sure you’re writing the right book. Is the premise original? Do the characters yearn for something? Is the plot and setting something you can fill a book with, and not just a short story?

Can you think of any writing missteps that actually taught you something important about the process?
My first book with my first agent was “sold” and then “unsold” in one weeks’ time. Someone tendered an offer and then had to withdraw it because her boss hadn't approved it. So I went from champagne joy to beer sorrow in just a few days. But ultimately, that person’s boss rejected it because she found the whole premise of the book to be unbelievable. It all hinged on one person’s action that she didn't buy.

Where do you get your material/ideas? How do you manage to sustain an interest in the characters and plot in each novel?
For me, a book starts with a certain kind of character in a situation or setting. I see that lead person first. Sometimes I just sit and brainstorm, sometimes something in the paper sparks something, and sometimes another person tells me a story about a friend or relative that makes me think whoa, I'd like to know more about that.

Can you tell us a little more about sponsoring the Philadelphia Stories First Person Contest that focuses on first-person essays featuring women triumphing over domestic violence or mental illness?

For years, I promised the universe that if I ever got published, I would share that good fortune by helping someone else who needed it. The lead character in Standing Still has a history of domestic violence, so I chose that as a theme and started building a donation program around it. I'm doing the contest, and donating a percentage of the books' advance and subsequent sales to a domestic violence outreach center.


Kelly Simmon’s 7 Quick Ways to Reinvigorate Your Novel

    * Think Small. Going deeper into the details of a room or scene will present more possibilities for action.
    * Make It Personal. Combine the lead character's actions and persona with some intensely autobiographical element      of your own. Your understanding will shine through.
    * Write It As A Short Story. If you're getting lost in your plot, condense it to ten pages and see what it looks like.
    * Start Differently. Open your novel later, or earlier, or in a different setting.
    * Play What If. Brainstorm lots of possibilities for each character. See if any two characters have common ground.
    * Rearrange Your Chapters On The Floor. Does moving things around make it better?
    * Put Your Characters In Therapy. See what the therapist tells them to do.


Read an excerpt from
Standing Still

Read an excerpt from the earlier draft,


Aimee LaBrie’s stories have been published in many literary journals.
She recently received the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction,
which will publish her short story collection in December. Aimee serves
the Philadelphia Stories Planning & Development Board.

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