Author Kelli Stuart shares a window into her world of reading, writing, and motherhood in an interview with Josie Ortega.
Kelli, tell us about yourself and your work!
The short and pithy bio is that I'm a wife, a mom, the driver of a smokin' hot minivan, and an author. I have five children ranging in age from 16 to 4, so that is obviously my number one job, and it keeps me plenty busy from sun up to sun down—which is why you often find me working on my books before the sun comes up and after the sun goes back down.
I've co-authored two non-fiction books. The first is a devotional for teens called Dare 2B Wise, written with Dr. Joe White, director, and owner of Kanakuk Kamps, and it released in 2004. The second is called Life Creative: Inspiration for Today's Renaissance Moms. I wrote this book with Wendy Speake specifically for creative Christian moms who sometimes feel lost in their mothering days.
In 2016, I released my first novel, Like a River From Its Course, a historical fiction book set in World War II Soviet Ukraine. It's based on ten years of research and the true stories of former Soviet World War II veterans that I interviewed. It went on to win the ACFW Carol Award for Best Historical Fiction and was nominated for the Christy Award in two categories.
In 2019, I released A Silver Willow by the Shore, a generational tale of three women who long to know one another but are separated by secrecy and lies. From the gulags of Stalin's Russia to the heart of Soviet Moscow to modern-day America, readers are brought into a gripping and unforgettable narrative of the treachery of secrets, and the light that ignites the heart of a family.
Do you have any reading goals for the new year?
I always hope to read more. I don't necessarily set goals other than to make sure that I don't get too lazy and push reading to the side. Finding time to read in my busy schedule is more of a challenge than it has been in years past, but I find that if I keep a pile of really good books on my bedside table queued up and ready to go, I'm more proactive in my reading. So no—I don't really have goals other than to just keep reading! And I always make it a goal to read at least two nonfiction books per year since I tend to veer toward fiction naturally.
Tell us about your personal reading habits.
When I'm working on manuscripts, I tend to read less because I don't want another writer's voice or rhythm of writing to influence my own. But reading helps keep writer's block at bay, so I don't give it up altogether. When I finish a manuscript, I tend to devour three or four books very quickly, like someone dehydrated who needs to replace water loss.
I usually only read at night before bed, which means it can sometimes take me a long time to get through a book because I'm tired at night! I've tried reading midday in an attempt to let my children see that I'm reading as a pastime, but it's often too noisy and distracting in my house for such a lofty goal.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Historical fiction similar to your own work? Or something completely different?
Definitely fiction. I struggle to get through nonfiction. I definitely love a good historical fiction novel and enjoy learning about history through story. But I'm also very open to other genres and have a pretty wide base of genres that I read. If a book is well written, the characters are engaging, and the plot moves along, then I likely will read that book and enjoy it.
What are your recommendations for cozy winter reading?
You can never beat a classic for the cozy, curl-up-in-front-of-the-fire type reading. Books like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights or Anna Karenina (my favorite book of all time). There's something comforting about slipping into times gone by when you're cozy reading.
What audience do you imagine curling up with your books?
Those who appreciate good, character-driven type stories will gravitate toward my books. Like a River From Its Course is raw and gritty. In order to best honor the stories of the men and women I interviewed, I felt I needed to be as truthful about the horrors of those war years as possible without being so descriptive that readers were turned off. It was a very delicate balance.
A Silver Willow by the Shore will be most enjoyed by women who like generational stories with a little bit of history sprinkled in for the backdrop, and a side of romance to hit that sweet place in our heart.
You're a mom of five! Many of us with young families are trying to get back into reading for pleasure again. (Or perhaps for the first time!) What's your advice? How can we fit it in?
Well, as I revealed earlier, I'm not sure I'm the best one to ask for this advice! I struggle to fit it in myself. I've found that reading aloud to my kids has given me the opportunity to read some amazing books. I had never read Anne of Green Gables until a few years ago when I picked up a copy to read to my kids. We all loved it so much. Some of the most wonderful, magical stories are written for children, so reading those aloud is a win for everyone.
As for private mom reading time, the best advice I have is to find what you love to read so that reading doesn't feel like work. Then decide when your best time of day is for reading and protect that. It's okay to tell our kids, "No, I can't play with you right now because it's mommy's reading time." This shows our children that reading is a worthy pastime worth protecting.
Do you read with your kids? Any recommendations for family read alouds?
Yep! As mentioned above, Anne of Green Gables is a great book to read aloud. Others we have enjoyed as a family: Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux, June Edwards' The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place (there is a youth edition for this book for younger children).
Author Sarah MacKenzie put out a great book a couple of years ago called TheRead-Aloud Revival in which she lists groupings and categories of wonderful books that parents can read with their children. I highly recommend it.
As an author yourself, how do you feel reading others' work?
Because I know how difficult it is to write a book, I feel like most books at least deserve to be treated with some respect. I have a lot of friends in the writing world now, so I'm always cheering them on as they reach publishing milestones. I believe the best writers are the ones who respect the journey of the story. When a book is well told, you can read it without noticing the author at all as the story seems to tell itself and play out on the pages. That doesn't happen magically—it happens through a lot of painstakingly hard work on the author's part.
Tell us about what you're working on now! Or what you're looking forward to in the coming year.
I'm currently working on two new manuscripts, the subjects of which I have to keep a secret for a little while longer. :) One is strictly historical and has been deliciously fun to unravel. The other is a split time narrative that may be the most challenging thing I've tried tackling as a writer yet. I don't know if I'm pulling it off at this point, but I'll get there eventually. I hope to release a new book in 2021.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share with your reading audience!
Thank you so much, Kelli! Follow Kelli Stuart on Instagram for more reading inspiration: @kellistuartauthor
Let's follow Kelli's advice to stock our bedside tables with a stack of books from a favorite must-read genre. What's yours? Well-known prize-winning memoirs? Mystery sci-fi thrillers? Coming-of-age tales? Historical fiction? Your kid's graphic novels from the school library?
I can't wait to get into Kelli's first novel, Like A River from Its Course. I'm 100% here for historical novels from the World War II time period. If you're in a reading rut, try that one or Kelli's latest, A Silver Willow By The Shore.
As Kelli points out, whether it's a children's book or a classic or a romance—whatever—great characters and a compelling story will keep those pages turning.