The Street Singer Author Interview by Kathleen Neely
About the Book
Book: The Street Singer
Author: Kathleen Neely
Genre: Christian Urban Fiction
Release date: 2019
Trisha Mills, a student in her final semester of law school, has fond memories of listening to the music of Adaline, a once-famous recording artist. Trisha learns that Adda is now a street singer in Asheville, North Carolina where she lives in a storage closet she rents for her equipment. Adda’s sole means of support in her senior years comes from the donation box.
Along with her meager possessions, Adda has a box labeled, “Things to Remember.” Once Adda and Trisha become friends, Adda agrees to show Trisha the contents of the box, and reveals her journey from her beginnings as a sharecropper’s daughter, her rise to fame, and her fall into poverty.
Even while busy cleaning out the home of her deceased grandfather, preparing to sit for the bar exam, and planning her wedding, Trisha cannot overlook the injustices that Adda has experienced. Aided by attorney Rusty Bergstrom, Trisha convinces Adda to seek restitution.
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About the Author
Kathleen Neely is a retired educator and school administrator. She served as a principal at elementary schools in Pennsylvania and South Carolina. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling to see her sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren scattered throughout the eastern states.
More from Kathleen
I’d like to introduce myself and then acquaint you with some people who live inside the pages of my book, The Street Singer. I am a retired educator having taught preschool, fourth grade, and then moving into administration as an elementary principal. When I retired, I pursued my desire to write. My first novel, The Least of These, won first place in a contest titled Fresh Voices. That honor renewed my confidence, and I went on to write my second book, The Street Singer. Although The Street Singer was not my first novel, it was the first to reach publication. That holds a special place in any author’s heart. I’d love to introduce you to a few of my favorite people.
Trisha Mills is a law student, engaged to marry Grant Ramsey. Trisha’s grandparents raised her from her early teens when her parents died. As an only child, she’s left with no family following her grandparents’ death. Trisha longs for a sense of heritage.
Adda Marsh is the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers and has little education. What she does have is an amazing singing voice. Using the pseudonym Adaline, she experienced great success in the music industry in the era of Ella Fitzgerald. Her record company let her go when she aged and her voice faded. She never realized how the recording company duped her. Penniless, she sings on a street corner for donations.
Rusty Bergstrom is a lawyer who agrees to help Trisha in her quest to find justice for Adda. He brings both compassion and levity to a difficult situation. Rusty sprinkles lawyer jokes throughout the book, causing Trisha to laugh—an characteristic in short supply.
Grant Ramsey is a financial advisor working hard to build his clientele. His father is a state politician with aspirations for becoming governor. He learned to exercise caution in his words and actions so protect his father’s image. That guarded nature tells him that Trisha’s friendship with Adda is not a good idea.
There you have it. Trisha Mills’ story with the makings for a multi-generational, diverse friendship, the challenges of two very different men vying for her affection, and a legal battle to right a wrong. Oh, I forgot to mention, all this while renovating her grandparents’ old farm house. I hope you enjoy reading The Street Singer as much as I enjoyed writing it.
What role does God play in your writing career?
God is integral to all I do. As a Christian, God shapes every aspect of my life. In writing, I desire to write fiction that is clean and wholesome. I don’t force a gospel message into my stories, but allow it to enter when it’s appropriate for the plot. Beauty for Ashes is a good example of that because the setting is an afterschool ministry.
What one thing do you love most about writing? Why?
I love watching a story unfold. It begins with an idea; then characters take shape. Every scene further defines the novel. Sometimes it takes a turn that I hadn’t anticipated from the beginning. I love the creative output. It brings a sense of satisfaction.
Describe to me how you flesh out your characters? Do you have the story idea first or do you create characters and then design the story around them?
I love this question because characterization is the heart of fiction. I do a number of things to bring life to my characters. My husband knows that when I’m sitting silently, staring at nothing in particular, I’m actually hard at work. I see scenes and watch who emerges. I also have my main characters journal. When I write from their perspective in a journalistic fashion—free writing, no concern for form or mechanics, pouring out feelings and emotions—it helps me to stay true to each character when my writing returns to the manuscript. Have you ever read a novel where you just want to scream at the main character? Don’t go there! Stop saying that. That’s a bad decision. That’s why authors need to build a strong profile—so readers will understand WHY a character does what they do.
If you had to choose a best friend from all your characters, who would it be and why?
Some characters become very special to an author. I’d like to be friends with Stella from The Least of These. That’s interesting because she’s not the protagonist. She’s a secondary character but key to the story. Stella owns a café. She’s independent, a hard worker, and has a quick wit. But mostly I love her compassion and wisdom. So does Scott Harrington.
Are you a “punster” or a “plotster” or a little of both? What does that mean to you and how do you use that when writing a book?
I’m not a punster—one who flies by the seat of her pants; but neither am I a plotster—one who outlines every aspect of the story before beginning. I start a story with an idea, a theme, and a skeletal plot. I always know where I’m going, but don’t know all of the twists and turns until I’m writing. I like sub-themes. In The Street Singer, you’ll find Trisha renovating her grandfather’s old farmhouse. That has nothing to do with the story of Trisha and Adda, but it adds a realistic element to the story and allows me to show a deeper side of Trisha.
What kind of fiction do you like writing the most? Why?
I write contemporary fiction, probably because I enjoy reading it. I don’t claim to write strictly romance, yet all of my stories have a romantic element. I prefer a story with a plot that could stand alone without romance. For instance, The Least of These is a story about a journalist who encounters three homeless men and sees them as more than vagrants. Beauty for Ashes is Nathan’s story about overcoming guilt and taking responsibility for of his actions from ten years ago. In The Street Singer, readers will see Trisha befriending Adda, an aged singer who went from fame to poverty. Yet all of these stories feature a romantic element.
Do you write full-time or part-time? How does that influence your writing?
I wrote four days a week for a few years. When my husband retired, that impacted my writing time. We travel more and frequently find at-home tasks that we do together. My writing time is less and I’ve found that I must be deliberate to prioritize it.
Describe to me the perfect writing atmosphere.
I have created an office space in a spare bedroom, but my preference is the kitchen table, provided no one is home to distract me. The kitchen floods with sunlight and depending on the time of year, I can see flowers showing off their beauty.
Describe to me your “ideal” day.
My ideal day is spent with family. I have three grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and two sweet grandsons. Unfortunately, we are in three different cities. It’s precious time when we’re all together.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I love being with people. Writing time is solitary, so I make time to spend with friends from my church and with my sisters. We enjoy playing games—Catch Phrase, Uno, Clue, Taboo. If we manage to gather a larger group, we play charades. When I’m not with other people, you can usually find me reading.
What inspires your stories?
I don’t claim any moment of divine inspiration, but I believe that God carves the path. Writers are always looking for ideas. We find them in many places. Once a story takes root, I work to develop it. With The Street Singer, I knew I wanted to write about a rags to riches story—or perhaps I should say, riches to rags. Internal questions help the story to take shape. What about a Grammy nominee who’s now a street singer? What brought her downfall? What if Trisha were an attorney? What if her fiancé disapproved for her friendship with Adda because of the socio-economic difference? Because of ethnicity? What if his family was in the political limelight? Those questions don’t always surface from the start. Sometimes they trickle in when least expected.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
Absolutely. There are days when it feels like I have no intellectual creativity. I heard a tip from another author, and it has worked for me. On those days, I make myself write 500 words. If at the end of that forced word count, it’s still not coming together, then I call it a day. The beauty of that strategy is that most often, that writing time is enough to tap into the dormant creativity. Ideas begin to flow.
What advice would you give your younger self? Before you started writing?
Don’t hurry. Give your novel the gift of time well spent. A wealth of resources wait for you. Mentoring authors, workshops, trade books. Connect with a local group. Join a critique group. Find what works best for your quest to improve. And as simplistic as it may sound—READ. You will write better when you’re reading a well-crafted novel.
What are some new projects you’re working on?
I’m working on a story about a troubled marriage amidst a life-changing illness. I live with Parkinson’s Disease and have long wanted to write a character with PD. In this story, Kate begins to have early symptoms while she and her husband are attempting to reconcile their marriage. Kate refuses to tell him of her diagnosis because she doesn’t want him back out of pity. Amid those life challenges, her attorney husband finds himself in some legal entanglements that threaten their family.
Do you ever ask your readers if they want more books about favorite characters?
I have not asked that question, but it’s been suggested to me. All of my novels are stand-alone. Perhaps one of these days I’ll plan a series. The other suggestion that many readers have made is that they would love to see a movie of The Street Singer.
How do you determine if it’s a stand-alone book or a series?
As I shared above, I have not created a series. If I were going to do one, I’d want to know that from the start so I could ready my character for the next book. I have enjoyed writing each as an individual story.
What’s one way God speaks to you personally in your daily life?
God speaks in a still, small voice. We must be listening and expecting His voice. I start my day with scripture and prayer. I confess that some days are more hurried than others, but the best days are when I speak David’s words. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
If you didn’t write, what would you do?
Before retirement, I worked as an elementary principal. Prior to that, I taught school. When I retired from my position as a school administrator, I knew I needed something to fill those hours. I told my husband I was going to look for a retirement job. I fancied myself scanning purchases in one of my favorite stores like Hobby Lobby or World Market. He cautioned me not to be hasty. What good advice that turned out to be. I joined a local writers’ group and dusted off my neglected manuscript. That was four books ago! So to answer your question, I’d be happily scanning purchases at Hobby Lobby.
What is your favorite time of day?
My favorite time of day is definitely morning. Here’s a quote from my novel, Beauty for Ashes. “Bookends. God gives us a beautiful time of quiet to start and end the day. It supports what’s in the middle.”
Would you rather always be an hour early or be constantly twenty minutes late?
I tend to run on early while my husband runs on late—a topic of frustration in our home. However, an hour early? Definitely not.
Would you rather have an endless summer or an endless winter?
I lived in Pennsylvania for most of my life. I’ve been a southerner for sixteen years now. I’ll take an endless summer anytime.
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Don’t forget to check out the other blog spots listed below for your convenience.
Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, September 4
Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, September 5
Texas Book-aholic, September 6
Inklings and notions, September 7
For Him and My Family, September 8
HappyWhenReading, September 8
deb’s Book Review, September 9
Locks, Hooks and Books, September 10
Adventures of a Travelers Wife, September 11 (Author Interview)
Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, September 11
Because I said so — and other adventures in Parenting, September 12
A Modern Day Fairy Tale, September 13
Musings of a Sassy Bookish Mama, September 14
Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, September 15
Happily Managing a Household of Boys, September 16
Spoken from the Heart, September 17 (Author Interview)
To celebrate her tour, Kathleen is giving away the grand prize of a copy of the book!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.