INTERVIEW WITH MICHELE ASHMAN BELL
BEST-SELLING ROMANCE WRITER
G.G.’s note: It wasn’t hard at all to choose who I wanted to interview on this “first” for my new blog. I admire Michele deeply, not only as a writer, but as a person and a friend. The first time I met her was at a signing in a remote and rather depressed area. It was my first signing since my fifteen year illness and break from writing. Of course, that made it “all about me”—would anyone buy this stranger’s book? But, Michele was amazing. She had a huge line waiting, but she gave each buyer her undivided attention, asking them questions about their lives, listening to them talk (even those without teeth), and making each one feel that for those few moments, they were the center of her universe. She has been teaching me ever since.
- GG:As I was coming out of my depression in 2006, the first LDS fiction I read was your Paradise romance (now I’ve written my own!). I remember how much I loved it. How long had you been writing (not publishing) at that point?
MAB: This is a two-part answer. First, Finding Paradise was my 8th book, which means I had been writing for fifteen years, eleven of those years unpublished. Second, I love how you reference reading fiction as you were coming out of your depression. As you yourself know, LDS fiction, by and large, contains many great doctrinal principals and has the ability to teach the gospel through stories. Isn’t that what parables were?
2. GG:How long after you started writing were you published?
MAB:Like I said it took me 11 years to get published after I started writing. I am a self-taught writer and I learn very slowly. I have seven unpublished manuscripts on my shelf and I kept every rejection letter (I have 67) I ever received. It was a long, frustrating road, but I don’t regret any of it. I learned so many important lesson through that journey.
- GG: What kinds of things did you learn in you “apprenticeship”?
MAB: I learned that persistence is more important than talent and that hard work pays off. Through all those years of getting rejected, I never gave up. Sometimes I thought about it but I couldn’t stop writing. My head is constantly churning ideas and dialogue and descriptions and “what if” scenarios. I also learned that even though it’s important to listen to the “helpful” criticism of others, ultimately you need to listen to your instincts and do what you feel is best.
- GG: Did you work alone or with a group?
MAB:I started with two critique groups, but eventually pulled out of both of them because I came away feeling so discouraged it took me an entire week to build up my confidence again enough to go back. When the dynamics of a writing group are ideal, and the critiques honest but also positive and encouraging, then I think writers groups are a great idea.
5. GG: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite? Why?
MAB: I will never really be able to answer this question. I don’t think I can have a favorite book any more than I can have a favorite child. I love each of them for different reasons. BUT, if I had to say which of my books has all the elements I like in a story, then I would say it is my book Without a Flaw. Romantic suspense is my favorite genre and this story has all the elements to make the story riveting and exciting. It also has a wonderful setting and captivating characters. I love the main character, Isabelle, who goes from being an abused wife to a strong, confident woman. She’s my hero.
6.GG:I just love your Butterfly Box series. Will there be another sequel?
MAB: There were going to be 5 books in this series, one for each girl, but it looks like for now the series is going to be finished at 3. Hopefully circumstances will change and I’ll be able to finish the series. If not, I will be haunted by Emma’s and Chloe’s stories the rest of my life.
7. GG: Sell us on The Perfect Fit, your newest and extremely successful novel.
MAB:At BYU Women’s Conference one year I began asking women who stopped at my table who they were there with. Most of the women were there with a group of other women made up of family members, ward members or friends. I realized that women need other women in their lives. The Perfect Fit is the story of a group of high school friends who bond for life when one of their friends dies on graduation day in a car crash. But, the questions remains, was it an accident? They vow to stay close and help each other through life. They create a symbol of their friendship by taking a wooden box that has a jade butterfly inlaid on top and inside they each place items that represent their friendship. Each summer they meet for a friend reunion “The Butterfly Girls” reunion, and the box is to one of the girls to keep with them until they meet the following summer.
8. GG:When, with your horrific schedule, do you find time to write?
MAB: That is probably the biggest challenge of my life. Every day I have big plans to write and then . . . life happens. A lot of it is because of the decision I made when my first book was published. I decided I would never put my writing in front of my family or my church obligations. Occasionally I have tight deadlines that make this a challenge but I don’t want them to ever resent my writing so I do my best to do it when it doesn’t interfere with family time. Plus I teach about 13 Zumba classes a week which makes it tricky. Sometimes I sit down to write and fall asleep. BUT, I have to say, if you love something enough, you find a way to make it happen. I pray every day for Heavenly Father to help me make the most of the day. I couldn’t do it without His help.
9. GG:What are your goals as a writer?
MAB:I still feel like I have so much inside of me that I haven’t even tapped into. I am very content writing for the LDS market, but there are some stories I want to write for the national market as well, so I am hoping to make that happen. I also dream of having a book made into a movie. That is definitely a dream I have.
10.G.G.:What role does writing play in your life (where does it fit)?
MAB: During the 11 years I was learning to write and I was submitting manuscripts and getting rejections, I kept saying, “Maybe it’s time to give up.” But I just couldn’t do it. Somehow I just picked myself up and my determination to make my dream come true would kick in. I would go to sleep at night visualizing that moment when I got that phone call from an editor telling me they wanted to publish my book. When that day actually happened I had bruises on my arms for weeks because I pinched myself over and over to make sure it wasn’t a dream. I am a writer. I knew it in 4th grade when my teacher wrote on my report card, “Michele has a tendency to daydream. She would probably do well at creative writing.” Instead of being labeled in a negative way, that ability to daydream allowed me to be imaginative and creative. Even if I wasn’t published I would still write.
- G.G.: What are your long-term writing goals?
MAB: I actually dare to dream of writing for the national market, getting a book on the New York Times best-seller list and having one of my books made into a movie. Yikes . . . I’d better get busy!