Today’s author spotlight features author Kennedy Ryan, a Top 100 Amazon Bestseller of romance featuring remarkable women.
Introducing Kennedy Ryan
Kennedy Ryan is a Southern girl gone Southern California. A Top 100 Amazon Bestseller, Kennedy writes romance about remarkable women who find a way to thrive even in tough times, the love they find, and the men who cherish them.
She is a wife to her lifetime lover and mother to an extraordinary son. She has always leveraged her journalism background to write for charity and non-profit organizations, but enjoys writing to raise autism awareness most. A contributor for Modern Mom Magazine, Kennedy’s writings have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, USA Today, and many others. The founder and executive director of a foundation serving Georgia families living with autism, Kennedy has appeared on Headline News, Montel Williams, NPR and other outlets as a voice for families living with autism.
Hi, Kennedy! We are so thrilled to have you on All The Kissing! Like everyone in the romance world, we are huge fans of your work. Can you tell us how you came to be a romance writer?
Gosh, I’m sure my appeal is not quite that universal! LOL! But I’m glad YOU guys love me! That means a lot. <3
My background is journalism. I wasn’t writing fiction. I was working with non-profits and freelancing for parenting magazines writing about autism, writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul and other outlets. A lot around autism. My son had been diagnosed a few years before and I dove into the community, writing and advocating. I started a foundation for Atlanta families living with autism. It felt like my whole life revolved around autism. LOL! I needed something just for myself, and started writing a story that came to me. I loved reading romance. Writing it became as much of an escape as reading it. I was in the Georgia RWA chapter, and my friends there encouraged me to pitch at our local conference. I pitched, kind of just as practice. LOL! I had no expectation that anything would come of it. I pitched to an editor and she ended up acquiring my too-long book and splitting it into two long books. And the rest is history. I wrote 4 books traditionally and then ventured into self-publishing where I’ve focused for the last few years.
Your series, The Hoops Series, has taken on a life of its own. What sparked the idea to not only do a sports romance, but one that has such intense storylines?
Honestly, I had never thought to write sports romance. I saw the viral video of Ray Rice, the football player, knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator, saw the subsequent media circus, and decided I wanted to write about domestic abuse in professional sports. I didn’t have a plot or characters or even an idea beyond shining light on that issue. Later as I started crystallizing an actual story around what was essentially just my outrage, secondary characters emerged and I realized I had a series on my hands. LOL! I wasn’t very strategic about it. I knew I had to write Long Shot, and then the hero and heroine for Hook Shot, book 3 stole a couple of scenes in that first book. And then the hero’s stepbrother piqued my interest and he got book 2, Block Shot.
I’m an avid basketball fan (Okay! Obsessed!), so I knew that would be the sport I would be able to speak with the most authority about. I wanted to be fluent and demonstrate a deep understanding for the sport I chose, though not so deep non-sports fans’ eyes would start glazing over. LOL! I think a lot of people assume “sports romance” equals light, and these books are not that. None of my books are that, so I always have to warn readers that they are not “typical” sports romances in the way many readers expect and have experienced them before.
Everything you do is perfection, but your characters are another level. They are so well rounded and just vibrant. What is your process in creating such real and relatable characters?
I devote a lot of time to characterization. I don’t write until I feel I know my characters pretty intimately; until it feels that I’m not “writing a story” as much as telling their story, if that makes any sense. This also makes me slower than some of my writer friends. LOL! The research and info gathering process for me is often longer than the actual “writing” or “sitting down and typing” part.
Maybe because of that journalism background I often draft a list of “subjects” or “sources” I interview before I begin writing. Usually people whose real life experiences closely reflect my characters, especially when the experiences are beyond what I’ve lived personally. I love details, even seemingly insignificant ones. I want them to feel like people, not characters, and one of the easiest ways is to assign them quirks, habits, favorite books and TV shows—whatever grounds them as someone you could know. Someone like your sister or cousin or best friend. I think…I hope…those details make them live more vibrantly for readers.
The research you did for Long Shot is well known. Was that research common for you or was it special to that book?
Like I said, my degree is journalism and I did a lot of freelance writing that required me to interview. People’s stories have always fascinated me. I had done it some for previous books, but when I started Long Shot, I quickly encountered my own biases and preconceived notions about women in situations of domestic abuse and knew this project would require me to dive even deeper. I had never been slapped, assaulted, violated, and my imagination wasn’t enough and it wouldn’t be fair to lean solely on that. It wasn’t fair to assume I understood, so I closed the laptop and hit the streets, so to speak. I needed to hear from the women who had lived through those things; needed to hear the things that made them stay and learn about the systems that trapped them in such perilous situations.
It was eye-opening in a way nothing else I could have done was. I tend to write about “heavier” topics; issues of social justice and the deeply emotional human experience. I often want to shine light, but if mishandled, I could do harm, too. So I feel like speaking to people who have lived through these things is my due diligence. Digging into the information and making sure I have a good grasp feels like the responsible thing to do. To not do that, considering some of my subject matter, would smack of arrogance.
How difficult was it for you to dive so deep into the trauma your character experienced?
Incredibly difficult. As I mentioned, I conducted interviews with survivors, social workers and shelter staff. Those conversations were very emotional as the survivors bared the most painful and treacherous parts of their lives for me. I would hold it together until we got off the phone or until I was alone and then just sob for them. Hearing about them sleeping with butcher knives to protect their children, or having their cars deliberately wrecked so they wouldn’t have transportation, or any number of ways their abusers managed to isolate and trap them, was wrenching.
I wrote Long Shot over the course of two years, putting it down to write my Grip series, and then picking it back up when I was ready to resume. I’ve shared before that by the time I was done with the book, I had a bald spot. I couldn’t write for a while after that. It took me about three months to write again when I started Block Shot, book 2. I hear some readers talk about how difficult of a book it is to read. I understand that because it was so very difficult to write.
Long Shot is up for a RITA at this summer’s RWA conference! Congratulations! What was finding out you’ve been nominated like?
It was rather surreal. I entered kind of on a whim. It was my first time entering the RITAs, believe it or not. I wasn’t even an RWA member before entering. I had been really involved in and helped by the Georgia chapter when I lived in Atlanta, but I moved to San Diego at the same time I started self-publishing. At the time, I had a lot of transition with my cross-country move and didn’t plug into the chapter in Cali. And when I started self-publishing, I just didn’t re-engage right away and my membership actually lapsed.
I heard chatter about there not being enough POC representation in the RITAs the year before, and saw a few comments about us not entering and that being part of the issue, which I knew to be an oversimplification of a really complex problem, but I for whatever reason, said I’m going to enter just because if we don’t, we can’t ever win. I had no sense that I had a chance. I guess I entered on principle, which if you know me…that sounds right. LOL! I literally had to renew my membership to enter.
One of my good friends, Ginger Scott, texted me the day the finalists were announced, that she had finaled. I thought that was incredible because she’s an excellent author and so deserving, but I hadn’t gotten a call and really hadn’t expected one. I was headed to Apollycon and almost didn’t answer the unknown number when my phone rang. When she (cannot remember who called me I was in such a daze! LOL) said she was calling from the RWA board, I literally said no, you’re not. She laughed and assured me she was. I feel honored that this book in particular, Long Shot, which is so special and significant to me, and which I dedicated to the survivors who allowed me into their lives, is the book that finaled.
A question all writers must be asked: are you a plotter, pantser, or a little bit of both?
I’m a little of both, I guess, but mostly plotter. I never sit down with no real sense of where I’m going. As a matter of fact, I don’t sit down UNTIL I know exactly where I’m going. I’m a sucky formal outliner, but I will lay out each chapter with a sentence or two summarizing what will happen. And even when I’m not formally “writing” yet, scenes come to me, and I capture those to plug into the chapters when I reach them, since I don’t really write linearly when I start the book. I’ll write the scenes that come to me more easily or that move me. But, of course, things happen that I don’t plan on. I learn things about the characters I didn’t know when I first started, and those things, those secrets the characters kept from me, are my favorite part of the process.
If there is any piece of advice you could share with an aspiring writer, what would you tell them?
Read great writers! Inside and outside of the genre you write. The caveat would be don’t try to imitate any of them. LOL! I have a very strong sense of my own voice and don’t look to the left or right to see what other people are writing. Marketing, yes. I always want to see what’s working to reach readers, but I write from inside. That’s not to discourage others from writing to market, or having a sense of what is “selling.” It’s just not at all how I approach my books.
I believe in something and then I write about it. I feel something is missing or someone is not seen or heard enough, and I write about them. A lot of my readers say they can read something they didn’t know I wrote and still tell it’s me. That’s the highest compliment. I have my own voice. It is crystal clear in my head, and I’m very protective of that. I write from what I call creative conviction. I wouldn’t tell anyone to do what I do, but I would encourage them to do whatever it takes to find and make their own voice clarion.
On top of being a fabulous author, you are also an amazing advocate for autism awareness. Can you please share with us your journey and how we can support your efforts?
My son was diagnosed with autism about 16 years ago when he was two years old. My husband lost his job the next day, which made the already expensive prospect of getting our son the proper care and services, even that much more difficult. That profoundly affected me, my marriage and our family’s journey. There were so many parents ahead of me on the autism path who reached back and pointed me in the direction of funding and services and helped navigate what was really very daunting.
I wanted to do that for other families who might be struggling, especially lower income families who had trouble accessing or weren’t even aware of the services available. I started an autism foundation, which I’ve run for thirteen years, but am now dissolving. I started it for Atlanta families before I moved to San Diego and then to Charlotte where I live now, and before I started publishing. Running the foundation and taking care of my son, who is on the severe end of the autism spectrum, and maintaining an aggressive writing schedule, is a lot. Also, when I started the foundation, I focused on areas where there was no support. There are other organizations now that serve those same purposes, and I’ll support those. But I remain active and advocating in the autism community.
Ginger Scott, a fellow author, and I organized LIFT 4 Autism, a charitable initiative that partners with national non-profits to raise money each April, which is autism awareness month. We raised nearly $40,000 this April, all of which went to Kulture City and their amazing work serving the autism community. Details about LIFT are here: http://lift4autism.com. We’ll be back next year and cannot wait to do even more!
Any possibility you could share with us what we can expect next from you?
I’m so excited about and terrified by my next project. LOL! It’s a duet. It could loosely be called a political romance…I guess? But it’s not divisive or about left or right necessarily. It is more about power and how it can be leveraged to change the world, for good or not. We follow the hero and heroine across about 15 years, and during that time we see how their ideals, their deep desire to change the world, weathers the machinations and compromises that reality often requires.
I know. It doesn’t sound very romantic. LOL! But I promise it is an epic love story, and touches on a lot of current concerns. My books are often rooted in the modern and urgent, in what is right now, and this one is no different. That, along with inclusivity/diversity, is one of the hallmarks of my books, I think. I’m just calling it the POWER duet right now, but will announce official series and book titles later this summer.
Thank you so much for being here, Kennedy!
Feature image courtesy of the author’s website