Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Interview with Author Kellie Coates Gilbert

 Mindy here, and today I'm excited to introduce you to my friend and debut author, Kellie Coates Gilbert. A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure. Her stories are about messy lives, and eternal hope.

Kellie’s just-released novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, Abingdon Press Sept 2012, tells the emotionally compelling story of a high school counselor who discovers her own teenage daughter had an inappropriate relationship with the football coach . . . and how she risks everything to bring him to justice.

Kellie, tell our readers how and when did you decided
to become a writer?

I’m a former legal investigator and trial paralegal, who worked on many high profile cases, including the Jack in the Box e-coli litigation in the mid-nineties and the largest cattle fraud in the United States. People are often at their most vulnerable in these tense situations where much is at stake, which has allowed me a unique perspective on the human psyche. Early in my legal career, I recognized there could be value in telling stories about people facing life-changing circumstances.

I made a serious commitment to pursue my writing in 2004, when I attended my first writer’s conference at Seattle Pacific University. Driving home, a deep longing formed and I awakened to what I was always meant to do.

What did you do when you found out Mother of Pearl, your first novel, was going to be published?

After telephoning my husband, I walked outside, looked up at the sky and said, “Well now, aren’t You something?”

Years back, I’d prayed and asked for the outrageous. He heard.

I love that. Why did you want to tell the story of Barrie Graeber?

I didn’t even know how many things there were to be afraid of until I had my first child. From the moment that tiny infant was placed in my arms, a fierce need to protect bubbled from the deepest part of me.

As a novelist, I asked the question: What would a mother do if suddenly life took a turn and she learned the child she thought she’d protected had fallen into the hands of someone unsafe? And what if she found out too late?

Early, when the inception of this story was still noodling in my brain, I saw a sadly recurring event on the news, the story of a coach who had inappropriately been involved with a teenager. The cameras were honed on the major players in the courtroom, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that girl’s mom was seated out of view. What was she feeling?

How did you prepare/research for Mother of Pearl?

Until I completed my research, I don’t think I was aware how prevalent this situation is, where adults cross proper boundaries and engage in inappropriate relationships with minors.

I spent time with Dr. Sherry Bithell, author of Educator Sexual Abuse, A Guide for Prevention in The Schools (Tudor House Publishing, 1991). Her book was cited in a U.S. Government study report on the issue. Her work helped me to understand how blurred the lines get in some situations and how often perpetrators are allowed to quietly resign and move to a new school, especially coaches.

Nearly a year after I turned in my manuscript to my publisher, the Sandusky/Penn State situation hit the news—another sad reminder of how often people look the other way when a sports program is at risk.

I’m not necessarily a “soap-box” novelist. I have no agenda. But, I would not be sad if readers close the last page of MOTHER OF PEARL with more understanding and a desire to keep an eye out for our kids.

Readers will be able to relate to this story on different levels. What do you hope readers will take away from it?

People have many layers, and never more than in family dynamics and hard times. I’m intrigued with the coping mechanisms we employ to fill our empty places, the chasm only God can fill.

When readers find themselves in the deep places in life, I hope they will think of Barrie Graeber and remember that life-changing circumstances can be conduits to His majesty.

How does your faith impact your writing?

St. Augustine tells my own faith story with this quote:

“In my deepest wound, I saw your glory and it dazzled me.”

I try to paint that sentiment on every page, but in a subtle manner. I want my books to appeal to all kinds of readers – those who sit on church pews and barstools alike.

What’s your ideal writing environment?

A quiet, organized place with lots of light streaming through the windows, Pachelbel’s Canon playing on the stereo, and a large glass of iced tea on a coaster next to my MAC.

Did you have any expectations for your experience as a first-time novelist?

Lots of hopes, but few expectations. I’d heard too many stories from other novelists to believe the publishing journey is a panacea.

I do long for readers to cry with Barrie, and cheer her on as she risks everything she holds dear to bring the coach to justice.

Women are busy people and time is precious. Anyone who spends their hours immersed in the pages of my book is a treasure. I write for these readers, and I hope they find the time well spent.

What’s next for you?

I blog regularly at www.kelliecoatesgilbert.com. Fun, light topics that only take a moment or two. (check out the post where I tell readers how I discovered a soup pot makes a great safety helmet during a tornado scare!)

And, I’m currently working on a manuscript about a wealthy Texas socialite who loses her Neiman-Marcus lifestyle when her husband is arrested for cattle fraud.

Thank you so much, Kellie, for joining us today.

If you'd like to know more about Kellie, go to www.kelliecoatesgilbert.com


  1. What a compelling story. Every parent should be aware of this sort of thing because it does happen more than people know.

  2. You are correct, Christina. We live in a scary world.