Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Author Interview: Michele Ashman Bell

It's my great pleasure to have as my guest today LDS author Michele Ashman Bell. Michele is known for both satisfying LDS romances and children's books in the "Latter-day Spies" series. Her newest book is A Modest Proposal. Michele lives with her family in Utah.

Welcome, Michele. You've had success in several areas of LDS fiction. What made you start writing?

For me, writing evolved out of my love of reading and books, and my diligence in keeping a journal as a youth. Growing up, reading was a passion for me. In fact, I used to get in trouble in high school because I would hide my novel inside my text book and read during class. Not always a smart idea. I devoured books and still count reading as my favorite past-time. As for journal writing, I realize now that writing my emotions and feelings down in my journal was a natural and comfortable way for me to express myself. In fact, I distinctly remember a time in high school when a boy I was dating really hurt my feelings. I was sad and mad and extremely upset. I didn’t have the guts to let him know how I felt, so I wrote a six page letter telling him exactly what I thought about him and what he did to me. I never gave him the letter because once I got it down on paper, it was out of my system and I was over it. And him! Great way to clear one’s thoughts and vent one’s emotions.

Skip ahead a few years and the thing that started me writing, or at least attempting to write, happened one day when I was a young mother with two small children. While they were both napping I sat down to read my issue of Good Housekeeping. At the time, they used to include short stories in their magazine. This particular time I read the story and was amazed at how dumb I thought the story was. As I threw the magazine down, I remember saying out loud, “I could write a story better than that!” This became a personal challenge for me and I decided to see if I really could. I took my kids and off we went to the library in search of “How to Write” books. The rest is history.

How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?

Great question. I started writing twenty years ago. (When I was five.) (Okay, I was ten.) (Never mind.) Anyway, I am always a bit bugged and jealous when I hear about people who got their first book published. It took me ten years! I have a stack of rejection letters that is over an inch thick. I kept every stinking one of those rejections because I thought that one day if I ever did get published I would be able to look at them and realize how wrong they all were. My first book sold in 1998. Now that I look back, those ten years were really my education and refining years when I really figured out how to write and what kind of books I enjoyed writing. I wouldn’t trade them for anything because of all I learned. It also helped me become very thick skinned, which is helpful in this line of work.

Robert Newton Peck said ten years is about right for a writing apprenticeship. What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

I am a control freak so it’s probably no surprise that I plot my stories and work off an outline. I compare it to a person going on a trip without a map. You know where you want to go but without a map it’s difficult to find out how to get there. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t take little side trips and explore all the possibilities, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t find another route, if it begins to work better or fits the story better. I like the structure of an outline, but I’m always revising it and changing it. As freaky as it sounds, my characters take on a life of their own and surprise me all the time. They are like children, they don’t always mind. But sometimes that’s a very good thing.

I know how it is, dealing with stubborn characters. How do you choose your characters' names?

It’s a lot like naming a child. Certain names fit certain characteristics and names are very important to me. Depending on the character some names are trendy and current, some are traditional and common. I’ve borrowed names from family members, friends, my kids, my kids’ friends, and people in my ward, in my stake, and out of the phone book. I am careful not to give a bad guy or jerky character the name of a loved one, because I wouldn’t want them to think I think they are like the character. You have to be careful. But I like to have fun with names.

What is your daily schedule like?

I “try” and spend time writing every morning. Of course, I’m a mother; therefore I don’t always have control of my time or my life. I usually get beds made and dishes done, then I’ll go to my office and catch up on email (which can be a mistake because I get distracted) then I get to work. I am not able to spend more than two or three hours a day writing, if that. I do start with prayer and I believe Heavenly Father helps make up the difference. I can never, ever put my writing in front of my children or my calling. That’s a promise I made to myself and my family.

How do you handle life interruptions?

Unless I have a killer deadline, I make myself walk away from my computer if someone in my family needs me. That doesn’t mean my mind stops working on the story and I’ll usually jot thoughts and ideas down for when I can get back to the computer. I try really hard not to answer the phone if I’m working, but I am curious and always look to see who might be calling. People don’t always get it when they call and ask what I’m doing and I tell them I’m writing. They don’t understand and of course continue to talk. I try to be patient and nice, but sometimes it eats up my writing time. I try not to let it make me crazy, but it is a challenge to keep it all in balance.

Do you write to music? If so, with lyrics or only instrumentals?

I get too distracted, so I don’t write to music. I tried, and I ended up daydreaming and listening to the songs.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?

Pretty much anything. I have nothing specific. I find that if I get sleepy or experience any writers block, I will take a break and go get a snack, then go back to my story and usually sort things out and move forward. Depending on the time of day, I’m always up for peanut M&M’s or Hot Tamales. I am a snack food junkie so I will eat a handful or pretzels or crackers too. I am a gum chewer so I keep plenty of that handy.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

I love it when you get so lost in the story you don’t even realize you are writing because it is like you are watching the movie of your story in your head and you are merely acting as scribe and writing down what you are watching. There are times I’ll go back and read what I’ve written and not even remember writing it.

My least favorite part of writing is revisions. Even though revising always strengthens the story, it is a chore trying to make changes and make everything flow and be consistent with changes you make.

Tell us about your new book, A Modest Proposal.

I got the idea for this series as I sat at book signings and marveled at how many of the wonderful women I met were either with, or talked about, their women friends and/or family, their support group, so to speak. As I realized this I began asking women about it. Nearly all of them had a group they were very close to. Either it was sisters and sisters-in-law, or friends from school, from their ward, work or neighborhood. I love this about women and wanted to write a series based on this. My story is about five friends in high school who experience a traumatic incident on graduation day that bonds them together for life. They realize that they are all heading out into the world, going their own directions, and they wanted to stay in touch. So they promise to meet once a year and have a reunion.

The book skips ahead to when they are turning thirty and picks up on where they are in their lives. Each book in the series will be the story of one of the women in the group. The first book, A Modest Proposal, tells about Lauryn, who becomes a dress designer in New York and is convinced that she can design high fashion clothes that are still modest. I chose this theme because I have daughters and we get frustrated with this all the time. It’s difficult to find clothes, especially prom dresses, that are beautiful and stylish, but also modest. My book is dedicated to all the moms and daughters who have spent time in dressing rooms crying because they are so frustrated.

What is your next project?

Of course, I will be writing the next book in my series, but I am also going to write sequels to some of my existing books. I’ve had many wonderful fans request sequels and I’ve promised I would write them. I’m excited to go back and visit old friends (characters in books) and see what’s going on in their lives. I also want to continue my children’s series.

What is your advice for other writers?

Other writers, meaning people who want to become writers, or people who are writers? I have no advice for people who are already published, because I feel like I am still learning the craft and draw inspiration from the wonderful books and successes of my peers. For those who want to become writers, the best and only advice I would give is to write what’s in your heart and don’t ever, ever give up if you want it badly enough. I am not the most gifted writer, but I am a very hard working writer. You can make up for talent with hard work.

Thank you for being my guest, Michele.
Thanks for having me.

Michele Ashman Bell has a long list of published work:
An Unexpected Love, 1998 - Covenant Communications
An Enduring Love, 1998 - Covenant Communications
A Forever Love, 1999 - Covenant Communications
Yesterday’s Love, 2000 - Covenant Communications
Love After All, 2000 - Covenant Communications
Love Lights the Way, 2001 - Covenant Communications
Written in the Stars, 2001 - Covenant Communications
A Candle in the Window, - booklet 2001 – Covenant Communications
Without a Flaw, 2002 - Covenant Communications
Pathway Home, 2003 - Covenant Communications
Finding Paradise, 2004 - Covenant Communications
Timeless Moments, 2003 - Covenant Communications
Forget Me Not, 2005 - Covenant Communications
A Cardboard Christmas - booklet, 2005 - Covenant Communications
Perfect Timing, 2006 - Covenant Communications
A Candle in the Window, - hardcover 2006 - Covenant Communications
Happily Forever After, 2007 - Spring Creek Book Company

Children’s Books
Latter-day Spies: Spyhunt, 2004 - Covenant Communications
Latter-day Spies: Dragon’s Jaw, 2005 - Covenant Communications
Latter-day Spies: Rescue, 2006 - Covenant Communications


  1. Fabulous interview. I enjoyed it immensely.

  2. I absolutely loved this interview. I am a huge fan of Michele's books! I loved learning about her writing schedule and priorities. It makes me feel much better about being a mom and writer.

    Thanks so much for your post!

  3. What a great interview, Marsha!
    I just ordered a signed copy of "A Modest Proposal" from Michele this week and am looking forward to reading it.

    Michele gave me some things to think about in my own writing. As the poster child for Adult A.D.D. (and Marsha, you are probably my twin on the poster??? ~ and yet I marvel at all of your accomplishments) I am so easily distracted so I like her idea of checking the caller ID but not answering when writing, etc.

    Thanks to both Marsha and Michele.


  4. Marsha,
    I love all of your author interviews! They are so enlightening. I'm a fan of Michele's and it was fun to read about her path to writing. Thanks for sharing the great wisdom and encouragement!

  5. Marsha,
    Great interview. I enjoyed reading about Michele. And it tickles me that you always ask what the author snacks on while writing! I love knowing that little tidbit.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Ladies. Michele made it easy for me.


I welcome your comments.

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