Penny Crenshaw’s divorce and her husband’s swift remarriage to a much younger woman have been hot topics around Atlanta’s social circles. After a year of enduring the cruel gossip, Penny leaps from the frying pan into the fire by heading back to Kentucky to settle her grandmother’s estate.
Author interview with Hope ~
Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.
I was born and raised in Scottsville, Kentucky,
but now I live in Tennessee with my husband and my persnickety Shih Tzu,
Harley. I’m the mother of five grown children, and I love playing competitive
tennis, singing karaoke, reading multiple books at a time, and playing board
I have a B.A. from Western Kentucky University, and I’m a member of the Women's Fiction Writers Association, a Bookish Road Trip Tour Guide, and a member of the Women's National Book Association.
As for how I started writing, I actually stumbled into it. A few years ago, I started re-evaluating my life. I had been a stay-at-home mother to five children for almost two decades after leaving my corporate job to raise my family. At that point, it hit me. My children would soon be leaving for college. So I started "journaling" on a laptop. That lasted about a week before I noticed I wasn’t writing about my feelings or goals—I was creating a character. A few months later, in church of all places, my minister mentioned a song title by Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue. At that very moment, I knew I had a story for this character.
What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
I love to play tennis. I’m on several teams throughout the year (this spring my number is seven). I’m usually on the court five to six times a week, playing matches or practicing. But lately, I’ve also taken up pickleball. My husband is an avid player, so it’s a great way to spend time together now that we’re empty nesters.
Do you have a particular writing routine?
Not really. I wrote my first book when I was still juggling a busy home, so I wrote when I had the chance. In the beginning, it was usually after dinner, when the kids were busy with homework, but I’ve been known to pull out my laptop at basketball, lacrosse, and soccer games when there was a break. Having a house full of active children who played multiple sports, I took every "free" opportunity I could get. I’ve even written during changeovers in tennis matches.
Is there anything major that changed in this novel from when you first plotted it out?
Looking back at my first draft, I barely recognize it in the sense of the writing. I was so new, I didn’t obey "the rules." But it’s still the same story I set out to write. One woman’s journey to either accept her turbulent past by embracing the power of forgiveness or risk losing a second chance at love in a small Kentucky town.
Finish this: "I can’t write without…"
COFFEE and my little dog Harley, only because he won’t tolerate being left alone for a second. I’m his emotional support person.
If I had to spend a week on a deserted island, I would need…
One, coffee. Two, my husband, because he makes my coffee most mornings, and three a trunk of books. There’s nothing better than reading next to the water with sand covering your toes.
What career did you think you’d have as an adult?
As a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a writer—for soap operas. Every Friday afternoon, since that was "cliffhanger" day, I created and wrote little storylines for my favorite characters. Not exactly age-appropriate entertainment, but it certainly stoked my creativity.
Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
Now that my children are grown, I’m writing full-time. But that’s only one part of my “writing life.” I’m also a tour guide for Bookish Road Trip, an upbeat community of book lovers, authors, and bibliophiles. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and on their website. I’m in charge of the Author Take the Wheel program. It’s a week-long "takeover" by an author I’ve selected. Then, on Thursday of that week, I interview the same author for a thirty-minute Facebook Live event. We talk about their books, their writing process, and their own path to publication, as well as take questions from the BRT audience.
What was the original title of this book?
Originally, it was Tangled Up in Blue, but I had to change it after I signed my deal with Red Adept because there were several books with that same title. Plus, it’s also a Bob Dylan song. For two weeks last summer I was scrambling for a new title, but I’m so happy we changed it.
Where do you get your ideas, or what inspired this book plot?
Music has been a huge part of my creative process. It really inspires me and allows my mind to go places, creating new worlds. Also, running and exercise. Some of my best ideas happen when I work out.
Do you have a manuscript(s) in your drawer? If so, will it ever see the light of day?
I’m almost finished with my second book, Ashes to Ashes, and I’m already plotting out books three and four. So many ideas, not enough time in the day.
If I wasn’t an author, I might be…?
A chef. I love to cook. I’ve practically lived in my kitchen for most of my adult life. One of my greatest joys is preparing holiday meals for my family or whipping up a buffet for my children’s friends.
Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?
Actually, only three people read Where the Grass Grows Blue before I began querying it to publishers and agents. One, I was very protective of it since it was like my baby, and two, I really didn’t believe in myself enough as a writer to share it with others. For my next book(s), I might work with CPs (critique partners) and beta readers, but I think I will keep the group small. Too many cooks in the kitchen might overwhelm me.
Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
Elin Hilderbrand. She’s the reason I started writing in the first place. I adore her. I even traveled to Nantucket last fall with a group of girlfriends to have the Elin "experience." It was an absolute blast, plus I met her! On my website, you can find a blog post I wrote about that trip.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published (or this book?)
To be honest with you, I had no idea what I was doing. I spent about three and a half years writing, rewriting, and editing my novel, WHERE THE GRASS GROWS BLUE completely by myself. This was the first book I had ever written, so there was a lot of trial and error there. Finally, in late July 2021, I felt it was ready to start the process. I compiled a list of agents and started submitting. I was getting requests for partials and fulls, but I was also receiving several rejections at the same time.
In August, a friend suggested I join the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. That was one of the best decisions I made. First, it connected me with hundreds of other writers, some of whom have become dear friends, and second, it was a treasure trove of publishing advice. I started consuming all of their informative posts, articles, and webinars.
One webinar episode in particular changed querying for me. It was about alternative publishing. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I thought there were only two ways to publish a book: through traditional publishing houses that required an agent, or by self-publishing. After that webinar, I discovered “Hybrid” Publishing and submitted my manuscript to four of them that day. A month later, I had three offers on the table, but I waited because I’d also discovered, because of the WFWA, small presses. I submitted my manuscript to Red Adept Publishing in early fall, and by the first week of December of 2021, I received an offer. Of course, I jumped at that deal because I knew and respected their writers and staff.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?
Before I sent out that first query letter, I wish I had set up an author website and accounts on social media sites. Also, I wish I had blogged BEFORE I signed my deal. One, it gives you a body of work, and second, it really hones your skills as a writer. Having a footprint as a writer on the internet is helpful, especially if it’s your first book.
How do you market your work?
Right now, mainly through social media and word of mouth.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing my upmarket fiction book, set in the south of course, that focuses on a tight-knit group of women whose world is rocked after the death of their dear friend, Ellen, who has died unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances. But before they can even process their grief, they stumble across a web of secrets and lies, unraveling Ellen’s perfect life—the one she tried so hard to project to the outside world. Now they must rely on each other to find out who the real Ellen Foster was, while grappling with the idea that they never really knew her at all.
What is a bestselling book you’ve been itching to read?
It’s not a bestseller yet because it comes out in a few weeks, but The Five-Star Weekend by Elin Hilderbrand. I always look forward to June when she releases a new book. I’m in awe of her commitment and speed.
Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?
Of course there are characters and scenes I’ve taken from my own experiences, but they are reimagined into something entirely different.
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
My epilogue is one of my favorites. It’s funny, because in the first draft it was in the second chapter. I worked with an editor who loved it but told me to cut it because I needed to get my character to Kentucky sooner, that’s the heart of the story. I was so attached to it, I rewrote it and made it my epilogue. It’s so much better as an ending than at the beginning.
Do you have a favorite character?
Of course, I’m emotionally attached to my protagonist, Penny Ray Crenshaw. I mean, she’s the reason I have a book. Then there’s her love interest, Bradley Hitchens. I think I developed a literary crush on him. But some of my favorites are the "colorful" secondary characters. Two stand out for me. One is Dakota, Penny’s salty best friend in Atlanta. She’s blunt, crass, speaks harsh truths, but has a heart of gold. She’s Penny’s biggest cheerleader and pushes her to fight for herself. The other is Miss Ada Pickert from Kentucky, an elderly spinster, Methodist-hating pot stirrer who antagonizes Penny throughout the story. She’s a hoot and was such a fun character to create.
Do you have other books you’d like to talk about here?
My third book is called Tobacco Road. It’s set in Kentucky in the spring of 1973. Katherine “Katie Belle” Whitworth, is living on the couch of her ex-boyfriend’s Brooklyn apartment after refusing his recent surprise marriage proposal. Though in her heart, she knows it was the right decision, she’s lost without her best friend. However, before she can even begin processing the mess she’s made of her personal life, she’s been called back home to Kentucky after Katie Belle’s father abandons her family, leaving town with his mistress. Now it’s up to Katie Belle to not only console her stunned mother, but to take care of her grandmother, and ailing great-grandmother who’s living on the family’s massive tobacco farm, Windswept, which is knee-high in debt thanks to her father’s secret gambling habits. If Katie Belle fails in raising one last crop of tobacco, the bank will take over, leaving her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother homeless and in financial ruin. But the backbreaking work of tobacco isn’t the only obstacle in her way. In 1973, as a woman, Katie Belle cannot simply apply for a credit card, take out a loan, or even open a bank account without a man's signature first, making her task even harder.
But money is only half of Katie Belle’s problems. There's the deep shame of returning back home because the last time she was there, it was on the eve of her wedding. Now, she must return to her hometown, the place she’s known as the town's most famous runaway bride.
Because it’s historical, I’m doing a lot of research on the era and also making sure I write authentically about raising tobacco (even though I grew up around it). I’m having to read up on all the stages of raising and selling this particular crop.
What would your dream job be if you didn’t write books? (assuming this is your dream job!)
I think I’m living a dream right now, being able to write and actually call myself an author. I mean, that’s beyond what I ever expected to do.
Finish this sentence: "If I could write about anything, it would be…?"
Strong southern women.
What was some unique research you had to do for a book?
For Where the Grass Grows Blue, I had to do some serious digging into genetic diseases. All three of Penny’s siblings have three different ones. Also, because I wrote some chapters as flashbacks from the 1970s and 1980s, I had to make sure any pop culture references, like songs or movies, were in the right year.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write, write, write. It’s the only way to get better. Also, I suggest joining writing groups. I’m a member of the WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association). It’s been a wealth of knowledge and has connected me to so many authors and aspiring writers, who are the most generous people on the planet with their time and advice.
Another helpful hint is signing up for author newsletters, joining Goodreads and starting to leave reviews, and subscribing to Publisher’s Marketplace. That site has all the industry news and is a great way to stay on top of trends and find agents and publishers.
Finally, I tell writers to set up social media accounts or an author website dedicated to their writing early on. I had no platforms before I signed with Red Adept, so I had a lot of catching up to do. Also, I wish I had started blogging before my deal. I resisted doing it, but I’m so thankful I finally did because it’s helped me as a writer. It’s good practice and gives you confidence by letting the world see what you can do.
What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?
Well, I’m pretty early in my writing "career," but I would say one of the hardest parts is now finding the time to actually write my second and third books. I’m so busy with the other aspects of being an author: promotion, blogging, interviewing other authors, and my work at Bookish Road Trip, that I’m creatively exhausted by the end of the day to work.
Favorite band or music?
I love all kinds of music, but my husband would say I’m into sad chick music, whatever that means. But I have a wide range of musical tastes. My iTunes playlists have everything from bluegrass to 80s pop to gospel to Joni Mitchell to Run-DMC. I listen to it all. Tyler Childers is a favorite right now.
Favorite book and/or movie?
The Age of Innocence is one of my all-time favorite books. I also adore the movie.
Place you’d like to travel?
Italy and Greece. I’ve always dreamed of going there, and this fall, I will finally visit both!
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
I am so appreciative of this opportunity I have right now, being able to reach an audience of enthusiastic readers and showing them a little slice of small-town Kentucky. I really put my heart into this book and I hope readers will fall in love with this special place.
To connect with Hope ~