Q&A: Kellie Coates Gilbert
High schools are a place for learning and growing. But, in one small town, the lessons being learned are betrayal, pain, anger, and maybe justice and healing as well. Mother Of Pearl is Kellie Coates Gilbert's debut novel.
WHAT WERE YOUR GOALS WRITING MOTHER OF PEARL?
People have many layers, and never more than in family dynamics and hard times. I’m intrigued with the coping mechanisms we employ to fill our empty places, the chasm only God can fill. I write poignant and emotionally compelling stories about women in life-changing circumstances. My goal for Mother Of Pearl was to let readers who sit in church pews and barstools alike know that these deep places can be conduits to His majesty.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH STORY TO WRITE?
I knew my first novel would focus on mothering and the perils women face in this role, especially during the teen years. I didn’t even know how many things there were to be afraid of until I had my first child. From the moment the nurse placed that tiny infant in my arms, a fierce need to protect bubbled from the deepest part of me. As a novelist, I asked the question: What would a mother do if suddenly life took a turn and she learned the child she thought she’d protected had fallen into the hands of someone unsafe? And what if she found out too late? Early, when the inception of this story was still noodling in my brain, I saw a sadly recurring event on the news, the story of a coach who had inappropriately been involved with a teenager. While the cameras honed on the major players, I couldn’t help but wonder if the girl’s mother stood just out of view. What was she feeling?
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES FROM THE STORY WHERE YOU DREW ELEMENTS FROM REAL LIFE?
Until I completed my research, I don’t think I was aware how prevalent this situation is in real life, where adults cross proper boundaries and engage in inappropriate relationships with minors. I spent time with Dr. Sherry Bithell, author of Educator Sexual Abuse, A Guide for Prevention in The Schools (Tudor House Publishing, 1991). Her book was cited in a U.S. Government study report on the issue. Her work helped me to understand how blurred the lines get in some situations and how often perpetrators are allowed to quietly resign and move to a new school, especially coaches. Nearly a year after I turned in my manuscript to my publisher, the Sandusky/Penn State situation hit the news—another sad reminder of how often people look the other way when a sports program is at risk. I’m not necessarily a “soap-box” novelist. I have no agenda. But, I would not be sad if readers close the last page of Mother Of Pearl with more understanding and a desire to keep an eye out for our kids.
IN YOUR NEW NOVEL, WHO IS THE CHARACTER IN THIS STORY WHO SURPRISED YOU MOST?
The protagonist’s mother, Elaine Taylor, ended up the most interesting character for me to write. She’s a tough cookie whose good intentions nick at Barrie’s self-esteem. I think readers will enjoy watching what happens when Elaine is forced to shed her layers of self-protection and how that alters her relationship with Barrie.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
I blog regularly at www.kelliecoatesgilbert.com. Fun, light topics that only take a moment or two to read. (check out the post where I tell readers how I discovered a soup pot makes a great safety helmet during a tornado scare!) And, I’m currently working on a manuscript about a wealthy Texas socialite who loses her Neiman-Marcus lifestyle when her husband is arrested for cattle fraud.