Meet Author K.J. Gillenwater

K. J. Gillenwater has a B.A. in English and Spanish from Valparaiso University and an M.A. in Latin American Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara. She worked as a Russian linguist in the U.S. Navy, spending time at the National Security Agency doing secret things. After six years of service, she ended up as a technical writer in the software industry.

She has lived all over the U.S. and currently resides in Wyoming with her family where she runs her own business writing government proposals and squeezes in fiction writing when she can.

In the winter she likes to ski and snowshoe; in the summer she likes to garden with her husband, take walks with her dogs, and take trips into the Big Horn Mountains nearby. She has written multiple books, including several short story collections.

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What is something unique/quirky about you?

I am multi-lingual. I studied Spanish all through high school, made it one of my majors in college, I studied abroad in Mexico my sophomore year and then got a master’s degree in Latin American Studies. Then, I joined the Navy and went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California where they taught me Russian.

Then, I got an assignment to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Maryland where I held a top-secret security clearance and did things of which I cannot speak!

It sounds more exciting than it actually was…as some of my fellow sailors ended up on submarines or on recon flights picking up signals and translating, while I was just sitting behind a desk in a room with no windows for three years. LOL.

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing for almost 20 years now. Since my children were very little. I’ve always wanted to be an author, but didn’t think I had a full-length book in me. When NaNoWriMo was barely anything, I read about it in the newspaper of all things, and I thought I’d give it a try. I had never written a full book, only short stories, and wanted to give it a go. I had no plot in mind, I just sat down at my computer and made myself write whatever I wanted to.

I ended up with almost 40,000 crappy words written that November, which turned into a book I finished. But it will stay on my hard drive never to see the light of day. Really, that’s the best place for it. Trust me!

From there, I followed my muse and eventually ended up with a publishing contract with Samhain Publishing for my paranormal suspense book, The Ninth Curse.

I took a break from writing for about eight years after a divorce to focus on my children as a single mother. But dove back into writing a few years ago with a passion and haven’t looked back since.

Describe your writing style.

I have been told my many an editor that I have ‘choppy’ style. I am not the kind of writer who writes long, gorgeous descriptive sentences. I think that is because I love writing action and suspense. And things happen quickly in those genres, so you don’t want to slow down the action with lots of words.

Editors will usually combine my sentences into one connected piece, which I typically accept. But this is how the story comes out of my head and onto paper, so it can feel a bit strange to smooth things out for the reader.

If I can keep a bit of the choppy, I will do it! LOL.

I also have a great fear of writing something ‘corny.’ Not sure how people decide if something is corny or not. I want realistic dialogue and realistic thinking and decision-making. Maybe I’m not successful to some readers, but I want them to know it is important to me to be as real as I can when I’m writing my scenes and characters.

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If your book Illegal was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?

Oh, what author doesn’t fantasize about her book being picked up for film?

When I started writing Illegal I wanted it to be like a romance version of The Bourne Identity. Selena is a quick thinker who has some guts, and she takes this embassy worker on race across Mexico to get away from bad guys who come after her for a reason unknown to her. So a very similar feel to The Bourne Identity when Jason wakes up with no memory of who he is and must figure things out alone and on the run.

For the heroine, I’d love to see someone like Lindsay Morgan, Raven from The 100, play Selena. She can play tough, smart and sexy all at the same time. And for the hero? Well, in my mind he looked just like Jensen Ackles from the early days of Supernatural, but I suppose he’s getting too old to play Wyatt. Guess I’m showing my age with my casting! LOL. So, I guess Connor Jessup, Tyler in Locke & Key on Netflix, would be a better age match and has a similar look to me.

But seriously, I wouldn’t be picky. I’d be over the moon if Hollywood came knocking and wanted to take my book and film-ify it!

What is your favorite part of your book Illegal and why?

My favorite part of Illegal is when the two of them, Selena and Wyatt, become separated (I won’t give away how or why). That’s when the action and danger really picks up. I so much enjoy writing scenes with a lot of tension and drama. So once I build up the background of the story and introduce these characters, to put them in a horrible situation and just let ‘em go is so much fun for me as an author.

Also, at that point in the book, a lot of secrets are revealed and questions are answered. Everything comes together in a big explosive WOW ending…I want my readers to love that part as much as I do.

What inspired you to write your book Illegal?

A news story inspired me, plus my own background and experiences. I read a news story about a young man who had been deported to Mexico. He’d lived most of his life in the United States, but had been born in Mexico and had been brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. He was struggling to survive in a country that he had no memories of and in which he had few connections. I couldn’t even imagine being in his situation and thought about how I would handle such a shock.

In college, I was a Spanish major and had studied at La Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico for a semester. So I have an affinity for Mexico and did a lot of traveling by bus all over the country when I was there. I seem to be drawn to Mexico as a setting for my books…as I have another contemporary romance set in Acapulco. I imagined a story that would intertwine this immigration theme with some of the other problems Mexico currently suffers from…the drug trade, cartel wars, police corruption. It had all the elements of a really suspenseful story.

After I wrote most of the book, I wanted to find out more about our immigration laws, how that affects people here in the U.S. and what their options are to become legal citizens. I enlisted the help of a really lovely immigration attorney from southern California to ensure the details of my book were accurate to the laws we have now.

My hope is that readers will be entertained by my story of Selena and Wyatt, but also learn something in the process.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I currently am working on several projects at once, as my mind wants to jump to the next new thing. It’s fun to juggle projects, so I never get bored of a story. I can always write a scene in a book that my creative self wants to write and then write something else in another book as the muse directs me.

My main projects are:

  • The Genesis Machine. This is a work of serialized fiction that will be available in the new Kindle Vella app that will be coming online soon. I describe it as: ‘when NCIS meets the X-files.’ It’s a science fiction technothriller with some romance.
  • Aurora’s Winter. This is a sequel to my book Aurora’s Gold. It takes place in Nome, Alaska and features an underwater gold dredging heroine who falls in love with a damaged Navy veteran with a past. Its part adventure, part suspense, part romance and will be a trilogy of books when I’m done. This book should be out by the end of 2021 if all goes according to plan.
  • Revenge Honeymoon. This is a contemporary romance with a rom-com feel to it. A woman gets left at the altar and decides to take her maid-of-honor on the honeymoon cruise she’d booked for her and her fiancé. The cruise is for honeymooners only, so there are some misunderstandings and fun things that will happen as these two women come to grips with their love lives and their decisions. And, of course, we will have a cute romance!

What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?

I started out as a full-on pantster. I plotted nothing. I started with an idea for a book, an opening scene and knowing where I wanted to end things. The rest was up to me to figure out along the way. This resulted in a long, painful writing process, and I’d get stalled out…sometimes for months. I think it took me two years to write The Ninth Curse from beginning to end, including the edits.

Then, I went on a writers’ cruise several years ago, just as I was getting back into writing again. The speaker said this: if you are a pantster, you will eventually become a plotter.

I mulled that one over and wondered if my difficulties lay in the fact I didn’t at least come up with a simple plot ahead of time. Since that time, I have attempted to refine my process. I have written simple outlines of 1 to 3 pages to give me at least a path to follow. Sometimes I expand on that outline to get into the deeper elements of the story, which has seemed to help me with my writing.

I wrote Illegal in about seven months from beginning to end, so maybe this has helped! I used the process outlines in Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes for that one. And I recommend that book to anyone who might be struggling with the plotting or pacing of a romance.

But these days I am of the mindset that I write what I feel like writing. That is why I now juggle multiple books at once. I have ideas in my head that get me excited, where before I’d see them as distractions from completing the current project I was working on. I see these ideas as a ‘strike while the iron is hot’ opportunity. Whenever I come up with an idea or a scene, I write it. No matter if it’s out of order from the plot of if I’m in the middle of writing something else.

I want to encourage my creative side more by getting as much as possible down on paper while it’s in my head. I also have started to use a voice-to-text app on my phone and tablet when I don’t have time to type things up.

In fact, I’m writing a whole three-book series (at least I think it will be a three-book series) using voice-to-text 95% of the time. I want to stop limiting myself, slowing myself down and getting in the way of my creative brain. I am trying whatever I can to get down those ideas on paper as quickly as possible.

My goal for the next year is to finish five separate projects. I don’t know if I can do it, but I sure as hell want to try!

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