Kimberly Belle joined us in our Behind the Pages Goodreads group to talk about her newest book Stranger in the Lake. Kimberly Belle is so thoughtful and one of my favorite authors to chat with. I love to share the love for her and her books. It’s easy to see how much she loves to talk about her books and share her love for her stories and characters. Today I am excited to share some of our Q & A with you all!
Lindsay: Hi Kimberly! Thank you for being here with us. I just finished Stranger In The Lake last night and LOVED it!!! Wow – it was fantastic!
That setting was fabulous – such an atmospheric read. The atmosphere in the book almost felt like a character of its own to me. Did you plan for it to be that way?
Kimberly: Thank you, so thrilled you enjoyed! And I’ve wanted to write a book set on a remote Southern lake for a while now. I grew up near this area (Lake Crosby is fictional but it’s modeled after the lakes near Highlands/Cashiers NC), and I love the small-town, rural atmosphere, the way the water can be both beautiful and dangerous. I find it the perfect setting for a suspenseful story – you just know something bad is going to happen there! And yes, I knew going in the setting would be as important as a character. The story demanded it
Lindsay: I’m curious to know if you plan your novels out ahead of time and have a good idea of how things will come together. Or do you start with an idea and let the characters and setting take you where they want to go?
Kimberly: My stores are very plot driven, and they always begin in my head with a what-if scenario. What if a woman marries way, way up and then her brand new husband is accused of murder? What if it looks like he’s guilty? How much of a role would her newfound wealth—and her fear of losing it—play in her decision to stick by him? That was basically where I began building the plot for Stranger in the Lake. Character came much later, after I’d thought through all the plot points and had them mapped out into an outline. Only at that point in the process do I really start thinking about what kind of person is best dropped into that situation, someone with plenty of blind spots and issues to work through, problems the plot will really shine a spotlight on. For Charlotte, it’s money and everything that comes along with it—security, status in the community, respect. She will have to untangle all these internal issues before her story can be resolved.
Brenda: Would you say you it was more the setting, the character’s motivation and development or the mystery of the strange in the lake that guided your writing more? As a reader, the magic here was the setting for me and it really set the mood to the story for me and I felt a connection to some of the characters through the setting
Kimberly: The setting really is the star of this story, for sure. Like I said, I’ve wanted to write a lake story for a while now, but I needed the right plot. Once I came up with the right one, and developed Charlotte and Paul and Jax and dropped them into the setting, the story fell together. But to answer your Q, setting and character and plot all go hand in hand for this story; one can’t exist without the other.
Lindsay: I adored Charlotte/Charlie’s character. How did you come up with her? Her trailer park childhood felt so real to me. How did you research for the background of her character? I enjoyed seeing both “sides” of her life. So many layers to her character.
Kimberly: I love Charlotte because she is a survivor. She was born into the worst possible family, an absent father and an emotionally abusive mother who left her home with a baby for long periods of time, but instead of turning bitter or following in their footsteps, she emerged stronger. She figured out a way to grow into a smart and kind and loving and trusting—maybe too trusting–person. She wants so much more out of life than what her parents offered, and she’s not afraid to work for it.
And I did do some research for her, but most of Charlotte came out of me knowing people like her. Like I said, I grew up in this area, and unfortunately, there are many Charlottes in the Appalachians, where opiate addiction runs rampant. My research showed that not many kids in Charlotte’s shoes can dig themselves out of such a life, unfortunately, which is why I made her smart and driven so she could. I’m so thrilled you loved her as much as I do
Brenda: I also loved Charlotte/Charlie’s character and I loved how you were able to capture both sides of her too, showing us her vulnerable side and her strength. How much time did you spend developing her character and how did you go about capturing her voice?
Kimberly: I know when I’ve got the character right when I hear them in my head. Charlie talked to me (and in my head she was always the authentic Charlie, as Charlotte was someone she was *trying* to be), and her voice came with accent and speech patters. I’m not alone in this. A recent Guardian article talked about how most authors hear their characters’ voices in their heads so I’m not crazy lol!
Brenda: I read that article and I love that characters speak to authors. You are not crazy, I have asked a few authors if their characters speak to them. I also remember you mentioning that in the Q & A we did with you before this one. I think in turn we as readers can hear their voices in our heads. I really felt that with Charlotte and Jax. I often find myself speaking to characters. lol
Kimberly: I’m not the only crazy one, lol! And it’s not just book stuff they talk to me about, but everything. Some are louder than others, but I always welcome their voices because it means I got them right. 🙂
Brenda: I would like to talk a bit about Jax. I really felt for him right for the start and I went back and forth with the questions I had about him You create some suspense for me there with him. When in your writing process did you develop his character? Did you have the idea of him right away or did you create him after the main plot here with Charlotte and Paul? Did you develop his character as you wrote or did you know what direction you wanted to go with his flaws or character from the start?
Kimberly: So Jax was always in the present story, but his chapters really began as a way for me to explore his character. I started writing what happened more for me than for the reader, but the deeper I got into his backstory, the more I realized it was a story that was not just for me. He is a complicated, tragic character, and the second I began writing his chapters he really took form in my head, and I knew they needed to be part of the main story. It added so much to the main story with Charlotte and Paul, and to the understanding of who Jax is and why he became the crazy man in the woods. Really, Charlotte and Paul’s story began with what happened with Jax, so I kept his chapters in
Brenda: I thought everything came together so well in the end. You brilliantly layered and weaved a bit in there and created some great tension once we hit a major turning point in the story. I couldn’t read fast enough to find out the outcome for the characters. I was very excited to discuss the ending in our group read.
Did you know the outcome for the characters once you started the story? How would you say you went about creating that tension in the story?
Kimberly: Thank you! I do know the ending when I sit down to write, though how I think I’m going to get there can change as I’m writing. And tension… that’s always a hard one to get just right. I think it’s a combination of pacing and plot, plus always adding in more and bigger twists and complications to keep the reader flipping the pages. It’s hard work to build tension and hold it high, so thank you – I’m so thrilled you thought it worked in this story!
Brenda: Is there anything you would like to share with us?
Kimberly: Hmmm, well we didn’t really talk about this but I feel it’s worth mentioning: the Highlands/Cashiers area of North Carolina is a place of stunning beauty, but where there’s a huge gulf between rich and poor. Wealthy outsiders have come in and completely transformed the area, carving out golf courses and building shops and restaurants and million dollar homes on the lake…and then you have the people who have lived there for generations—the ones flipping the burgers and scrubbing the toilets. This polarity makes for some very interesting dynamics, because when there’s money involved, when people have too much or their basic needs aren’t being met, morals can become questionable. This is something I really dug into for this story, and it’s a real-life issue. But if you ever get the chance to visit that area, definitely go. It’s GORGEOUS
Brenda: Are you working on anything you can share with us?
Kimberly: I am currently working on a story about a home invasion. It’s a premise that has always terrified me, and it hits awfully close to home as it happens a lot here in Atlanta. I even know a family that survived one. I’ve pulled in a few details of their experience for this story, then mixed in plenty more from my imagination. No title yet, but out sometime in 2021.