I’ve wanted to write a post about heart for a while now, but if I’m being honest, it isn’t my natural strong suit. I tend to start with a hefty dose of humor, then add in the feelings part later. (Like, way later. Roughly eight drafts in.)
So, I set out on an epic journey to find an expert on writing with heart. Really, it was more of a short skip, because one person automatically came to mind: my fantastic critique partner, Kelly Jordan.
It’s quite rare for a book to bring me to tears, but Kelly’s stories do this consistently. There’s just something about her writing that’s so sweet, lovely, and nostalgic—all those good things that just turn you into a puddle. So, without further ado, let’s talk to Kelly and find out how she does it!
LL: Hi, Kelly! I can’t wait to own your debut, The Little Blue Cottage, once it’s out on May 12. The cover is gorgeous. The language is lovely. And, it recently received a Kirkus star! Tell us all about it.
KJ: Thanks so much for the kind words and support! I am so excited about my debut.
The Little Blue Cottage tells the story of a relationship between a little girl and a place she cherishes—a little blue cottage. As each season passes, the cottage waits for the girl to return for the summer, until one year she doesn’t come at all. It tells the story of change, the passage of time, and loving a special place. And, as you might have guessed, it’s inspired by a real place that I’ve loved my whole life. It’s illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s gorgeous art, which not only complements my words, but also elevates them to a whole new level.
LL: Gosh, yes—her art is just stunning. I’m so fortunate to have had the pleasure of reading your work. You seriously have such a knack for tugging at readers’ heartstrings. Can you explain a bit about your process? What are you thinking about when you’re drafting these sweet stories?
KJ: Laura! I feel fortunate to be your critique partner and get to read your work. Thank you for saying that!
Articulating how I write heart is hard. Typically, when I sit down to write, I come with an idea. It could be a feeling, a character, an image, or a memory that I’m hoping to capture. My strengths tend to be lyrical language and heart, so, as I go through various versions of the text, I work hard to make sure those elements really shine.
While I write fairly quickly, it takes a long time for me to get my work to a place where it’s ready to submit. Often, the heart doesn’t quite come through until several revisions later, which is good, because I tend to struggle with putting conflict in my stories. By the time I’ve gotten the conflict sorted out, the heart is likely at a place where it sings!
This is going to sound cheesy, but when I get to a version that makes me tear up—or gets that reaction from my critique partners—I know I’ve hit the right dose of “heart.” Does that help?
LL: Yes, I think making your critique partners bawl like babies is generally a good barometer for “ample heart”! But it’s a lovely sort of crying, and you do this so well. Let’s talk about your other strong suit: lyrical language. Any tips for writers who are looking to make their words sing?
KJ: I tend to use a lot of visual language and emotive language, which by nature are often lyrical. I’m also a huge fan of alliteration. So, that helps. I also read my writing out loud and record myself with an app on my phone. When I listen back, I can hear spots that feel clunky or lazy. Then, when I go back and tighten the language, I can hear those places where I can tweak the words so they land just right.
Lyrical books tend to be the ones that I often gravitate toward, so I’d also say my work is informed by reading the work of others. I love Laurel Snyder’s work and Kate Messner’s. A book I’m loving right now that could be described as lyrical is Sydney Smith’s Small in the City.
LL: I am also a big Kate Messner fan! Your second book, Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle: A Hatchling’s Daring Race to the Sea, will be out in March 2021. What can we look forward to with that story?
KJ: Chase the Moon takes a look at the journey baby loggerhead turtles make from nest to sea. Told with lyrical language, this story follows a single clutch of eggs as they hatch, avoid various predators, and then begin the long journey ahead in the ocean.
I grew up in Florida and have always loved the water and wildlife, but this story was really inspired by two events. On my honeymoon in 2013, I watched in wonder as my husband and I saw hatchlings break out of their shells and hurry to the water’s edge. During the same trip, we watched several turtles dig their nests and lay eggs under the moonlight. It was a magical experience!
A few years later, my mom and I visited Jekyll Island and paid a trip to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where we got to see these animals up close and learn more about the journey turtles make as hatchlings. In this story, I focused on loggerheads because they are so common in Georgia, which is where I live!
LL: Okay, one last question: what are your top 3 tips for writers looking to incorporate heart into their manuscripts?
KJ: 1- If you read a book that makes you feel something, really study it. What is that author doing with language, story arc, and character that are eliciting this response?
2- We are always trying to come at things from new angles and to give editors and agents something “new.” One of the best ways to do this is to draw from your own life. As you think about people, pets, places, and events, I’d be willing to bet there’s heart just waiting to be incorporated into a story.
3- Find good critique partners to help you mine for heart and to call you out when you can do better. Laura, you recently helped me with this with a recent story when you noted a newer version lost some of the earlier emotion you connected with. Receiving honest, thoughtful feedback is crucial!
LL: Side note about that story: somebody had better publish it, because it’s seriously a gem.
Thanks so much for these fantastic tips, Kelly! Readers, if you’d like to support Kelly you can preorder The Little Blue Cottage from your local indie bookstore, or through IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.
Want to connect with Kelly? Check out her website or connect with her via social media: