Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Need of a Good Wife & Giveaway with Kelly O'Connor McNees

I love discovering new authors. Kelly O'Connor McNees has made me a fan with her book In Need of a Good Wife. The title and the cover pretty reveal that this is going to be a book about mail-order brides (of which I am very fond). The twist on the plot, though, is that Clara Bixby is the woman who turns this marriage venture into a business. . .

"For Clara Bixby, brokering mail-order brides is a golden business opportunity-- and a desperately needed chance to start again. If she can help New York women find husbands in a far-off Nebraska town, she can build an independent, new life away from her own loss and grief." 

The book is ultimately the story of Clara and two other women, all willing to take risks and start anew in the year 1866. McNees has a wonderful way with words, and I found myself taking notes on my favorite words and phrases. I enjoyed the little details, the characters, and the romance- which was not overdone and added to "sell" the story. The tension surprised me, and there were nights I could not put it down! The letters that go back and forth between the potential husbands and the New York women are so funny-- definitely a highlight for me.

Yes, I decided I needed to find out a little more about this author. Welcome to A Story Club, Kelly!the journey west is a struggle and the new life that waits for them in Nebraska is far from what they expected. These travelers soon learn that they must leave their pasts behind in order to lay claim to the women they want to become.
or Clara Bixby, brokering mail-order marriages is a golden opportunity—a chance to start again. If she can help New York women find husbands in a far-off Nebraska town, she can build a new life away from her own loss and grief. Her ambitions are shared by a quiet Bavarian immigrant named Elsa, who hopes to escape servitude and make the most of her remaining years. And by Rowena, a once-wealthy widow who jumps at the chance to marry a humble stranger and repay a heartbreaking debt.
But the journey west is a struggle and the new life that waits for them in Nebraska is far from what they expected. These travelers soon learn that they must leave their pasts behind in order to lay claim to the women they want to become.
What has surprised you most about having a published novel?
Kelly O'Connor McNees (photo by Kate Emerson)
I'm still surprised that it happened! I really never dared to think it might. In some ways, getting published changes everything. Of course it is wonderful to get that validation from the world--a few people like the thing you made. But in other more important ways, it doesn't change much. It doesn't make the writing itself any easier. Each day you still have to sit down and type one word after another. You still feel all the same doubt and anxiety about how the novel is going.
Was there anything you learned from your first novel that helped you when writing the next?
I learned that outlining really helps me piece a first draft together. Somehow I had gotten the idea (maybe from creative writing classes) that outlining was cheating somehow. That if you were a real writer, the novel would just spill forth fully formed. Maybe that's how it works for some writers, but I found that a rough outline (which I was free to deviate from at any point) helped me get past that blank-page terror each morning: I knew what was coming next. 
Where and when do you write?
My most productive time of day is first thing in the morning, and the earlier I can get started, the better. I wrote my first novel between 5:30 and 8:30 am, before I went to work. I was a little more relaxed about the schedule for my second, sometimes writing in the afternoons when I had time. Then I had a baby. Needless to say, I now write whenever the hell I can! I almost always work in my little alcove office off our bedroom. I have a secondhand table that came from a school--it still has petrified gum stuck to the bottom. 
What are your dreams for the future?
Most of my dreams involve things I look forward to doing with my daughter, who is just ten months old. I can't wait to swim in Lake Michigan together. When I was pregnant I bought this beautiful illustrated edition of The Secret Garden. I can't wait to read that with her. When she's big enough to enjoy them, I look forward to going to the museums and out for her first grown-up lunch, to riding the train, going to the movies. Every fun "first" is ahead of her.
What have been the best books you've read lately?
Kelly's debut book- on my TBR list!
Stephen King says that if you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write. I really believe that. Reading is very important to me--it's why I started writing in the first place, because I love stories and language. I recently read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and loved it. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is wonderful. The Flight of Gemma Hardy was really good. Everything by Barbara Kingsolver and Alice Munro...
Three random facts about you?
I am from a huge family that includes about seventy first cousins, and endless stories.
If I could live anywhere, it would be northern Michigan.
I moved eight times in nine years before settling in Chicago, and I never want to move again!
What is your advice for aspiring authors?

Read, read, read, read.

Thank you, Kelly! Thank you to everyone for stopping by A Story Club today. Questions for readers: Do you have a favorite period in history? Or what do you like about mail-order bride stories? The author is generously giving away a signed copy of In Need of a Good Wife. It could be you! (Winner drawn randomly on 1/19. US only).
The winner is Hallie! Thank you to everyone who took time to read this interview, and to those who commented. 

Go visit Kelly and become a fan!
Website: www.kellyoconnormcnees.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/kellyoconnormcnees
Twitter: @komcnees


  1. I do like mail order bride stories. The last one I remember reading was from Kaki Warner.
    mce1011 AT aol DOT com

    1. Me too, Maureen. Love Kaki's series. Thanks for coming by!

  2. I love mail order bride stories, I just reread Kaki Warner's first book in her latest series Brides of the High Country, because I got the second book of the series but it isn't a mail order bride story. There is just something about marrying someone that is a stranger and then coming to love them in the end. I do love the HEA in romance.

    A BIG congrats on your book. It sounds really good and I can't wait to read it. Thanks for sharing.

    quiltlady110 AT gmail DOT com

    1. This romance has the HEA for you, but then again, there are some unexpected things, too. True, Kaki's series is called "Runaway Brides," so they aren't all mail-order but still good. Thanks for coming by, Quilt Lady!

  3. I love the mail order bride stories, too! Actually my favorite books are settings in the "old west" theme, covered wagons, prairie homes. I read Kelly's books "In Need of a Good Wife" and the Louisa May Alcott book. I really liked "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott." I watched the "Little Women" movie again recently, have read the book several times - including the child's version. I have little women dolls and clothes that I try to get Allie (your girl and my granddaughter!) to play with me. We once sort of played out one chapter. It was fun to see how Louisa's life story came out in her Little Women book. Read it, it's great!

    1. You are ahead of me in reading both these books. . .she has a new one coming out in October. I probably inherited my love of these books and time period from you!

  4. Thanks, Christina, for another stellar interview.

    And thanks, Kelly, for sharing your wonderful writing journey. I love mail-order bride stories because you never know what twist and turn they're going to take. Also because I love historical fiction and the way it transports me back in time to awaken my six senses to the time, place, and people. "In Need of a Good Wife" sounds as though it has all of these elements. And I can't wait to read it! (Off to add it to my "to-read" shelf on Goodreads and "Like" it on Amazon).

    I wish you the very bestest, Kelly, in your journey with "In Need of a Good Wife" and your future writing endeavors!

    1. Thanks again for your support, Lisa! I think you'd really like this book, too. So much to read, so little time! Don't forget to write though-- we're eagerly awaiting the sequel to Sweet Glory. . .

  5. I love mail order bride stories! There's always that little element of "surprise" in them. As for my favorite time period . . . that would be really hard for me. I like everything from the medieval times . . . to the old west . . . to present. Books give me a few precious moments to "escape" the chaos. ;)

    1. True-- it's nice to escape into just about any time period! There's definitely surprise in this book, as far as things not always working out "perfectly." Put it on your list! Thank you for coming by, Cousin Ky.

  6. This book has been on my to-read list for a while. I love the 1850's to 1890's time period because it the midwest starts to show up and I like reading books that are set where I live. It gives me validation or something! ;)

    I am so happy you interviewed Kelly--she has been one of those people I've always wanted to meet. Thank you for helping me get to know her a little bit better.

    1. When "the Midwest starts to show up." I like that! I actually won this book from a drawing that Eleanor Brown did through Facebook. As far as matching what I love, it was probably the best book win ever. Maybe you'll meet up with her someday, somehow. Thanks for coming by, Hallie!