Listening In is a series of author interviews, featuring authors whose works have been transformed into audiobooks! Best-selling author Anita Kelly’s latest contemporary LGBTQ+ romance, Something Wild & Wonderful, features a “sullen-meets-sunshine” romance featuring two men as they travel across the Western USA. The audiobook version of this title features stellar narration from Mark Sanderlin. Listen to Something Wild & Wonderful and get excited for Kelly’s next release, How to Get the Girl, out in February 2024!
Originally from a small town in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Anita Kelly now lives in the Pacific Northwest with their family. A teen librarian by day, they write romance that celebrates queer love in all its infinite possibilities. Whenever not reading or writing, they’re drinking too much tea, taking pictures, and dreaming of their next walk in the woods. They hope you get to pet a dog today.
Please tell us more about Something Wild & Wonderful! Why should we listen to it?
Something Wild & Wonderful is the book of my heart. It combines my love of hiking and the outdoors—particularly the beauty of the West Coast of the United States—with my love of queer romance. It contains a lot of my favorite writing I’ve ever done, and Mark Sanderlin did a fantastic job translating both the tenderness and the joy of Ben and Alexei’s love story into audio.
Could you please tell us about your career as an author? What first drew you to writing?
I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, although it took me a while to get around to seriously writing romance. I’ve always used writing to process my emotions, so it makes sense to me now that I sat down a few years ago to write my first book after experiencing a traumatic loss I was struggling to understand. That book never got published, but it led me to writing the adult romances that did.
We’d love to hear about your writing process. Please elaborate!
I usually start with a basic concept and the two main characters I want to dig into. Then I start a very messy combination of notes both in a Google Doc and in my notes app with ideas and snippets of dialogue that come to me as I’m mulling over the story. I have a template document I made for myself that outlines basic romance novel beats that I try to fill in after a few weeks of mulling, to make sure I have enough for a full book, but typically I’m not a huge plotter—I have to just start writing to really feel out the characters and what makes sense for them. I always start with the very first line (which very rarely changes throughout all my revisions) and then plod forward linearly from there.
What drew you to Contemporary LGBTQ+ Romance? When did you know that it was the genre you wanted to write?
I was late to the game in appreciating romance as a genre overall; I never really read it until I was in my late twenties. I was hooked right away when I did, but it wasn’t until I read Alexis Hall’s first works—his Spires series and then his Arden St. Ives series—that I really felt seen and inspired in a way that felt like, maybe I can do this. As a queer person, I feel like there are an infinite amount of queer love stories out there still waiting to be told. I think the queer community is especially hungry for HEAs right now, as anti-LGBTQ political sentimental rears its predictable, ugly head around the world once more.
What does representation in literature mean to you personally?
I think what has struck me as I’ve published more things is how—no matter how worried I always am when I’m sitting alone writing what feels like a niche, personal thing—upon publication, there are always other people who will say, this. Thank you for writing this. Even if everyone feels and expresses gender and sexuality differently, we’re all less alone than we think we are. To me it just feels so exciting and reassuring to confirm how we’re all both alike and different, to both be able to write various shades of queerness and to learn more about other people’s shades as I read. I have learned so much about other people’s interpretations of things like transness and asexuality through queer romance in the last few years, and that feels like such a gift.
Where is your favourite place to write?
I used to be a big coffee shop person, but the pandemic forced that to shift a bit. Now I most often write at my kitchen table, which is right next to a lovely view of my backyard. I still head to a coffee shop occasionally, when I really need to focus, but most of the work gets done here in the kitchen.
Describe your writing style in five words or less.
Soft, queer, and character driven.
Any advice for emerging writers?
Trust in your own voice! It’s hard for me to read some of my favorite writers when I’m drafting because I will want to sound as sharp and witty and devastating as, say, Casey McQuiston or Alexis Hall, but in order to actually get the book out in the way it’s meant to be, I have to trust that just sounding like Anita is actually enough. There is someone out there who wants to read your voice.
What do you do when you experience writer’s block or reader’s block?
Oof, this is so hard, but truly just taking time away is always the best for me. Which is…not easy for me to do. But if I force myself to keep writing or reading when I’m not feeling either, it only torpedoes my brain to an unhealthy place (and when it comes to reading, is highly unfair to that author when it’s not their book that’s the problem but my brain). Taking walks, making time for real life adventures and friends and family, letting my brain watch TV or movies instead of the written word. Eventually, the words will come back. (And if they don’t? Your life is still important and not dependent on how many books you read or write.)
What has been the most exciting part of having your novels transformed into audiobooks?
Oh gosh, hearing my words in audio form was truly something I never expected and it is always such a deeply emotional experience. Thinking about how, as with my editor, other people—the narrators, the producers—are taking all this time to live in the world of my characters and honor their experiences. It’s just sort of overwhelming and humbling.
You have a worked with different narrators for each of your books. Mark Sanderlin for Something Wild & Wonderful, Lindsey Dorcus for Love & Other Disasters, Aven Shore & Yvonne Roberts for Sing Anyway, and Diontae Black & Griswold Addams for Our Favorite Songs. Do you have any say in the initial casting of a narrator? What made each narrator right for each book?
Recently, I have been sent audition clips of each narrator for my feedback, and it’s a real struggle to choose, because every narrator I’ve ever heard always does such a good job. But in the end it always comes down to what kind of feeling their tone and cadence gives me, whether it matches the tone and cadence of the book, and also how dynamic I think they could be in expressing different scenes and emotions.
Please recommend an audiobook you absolutely adored!
I’d love to recommend the audio of With Love, from Cold World by Alicia Thompson, narrated by Lindsey Dorcus. This is perhaps a bit self-indulgent, because Alicia specifically asked her audio team to seek out Lindsey after loving how Lindsey read Love & Other Disasters! Which I just thought was very neat when Alicia told me, but Lindsey does an equally wonderful job with Lauren and Asa’s workplace romance, one of my favorite books of the year.
What are you reading (or listening to) right now?
I just finished Jacqueline Firkins’s upcoming The Predictable Heartbreaks of Imogen Finch which I absolutely adored, and I’m currently catching up on Angelina M. Lopez’s most recent series, starting with After Hours on Milagro Street, which is full of high drama and sizzling tension. I’ve really had a great reading streak this summer; nothing feels better!