Chatting with Speak Up Talk Radio

I’m so excited to share that I was interviewed by Pat Rullo with Speak Up Talk Radio back in November. Speak Up Talk Radio is such a great, unique offering. Their mantra has always been this:

Speak Up–your words can change the world. Your words and your books are a rare treasure and they act as a powerful source of light for readers. You never know whom you touch or how your words affect those you may never meet.

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I’ve uploaded the 30-minute interview for your convenience below, but you can also listen to my interview by subscribing to Speak Up Talk Radio and looking in the November 2020 archives. I also typed a transcript, which you can read below.

We covered topics including what is user experience design (my day job), how and why I picked a pen name for my historical fiction publications, how Haunting Miss Trentwood (2010) came to life, explored the behind the scenes of The Last April (2017) and how we came up with the cover, and a teaser for my upcoming gaslamp fantasy, slated for release sometime in 2024.

Listen to the Interview

Author Belinda Kroll chats with Pat Rullo on Speak Up Talk Radio

Transcript

Pat: Welcome to the Speak Up talk radio network. I am your host is Pat Rullo. We bring you hand selected hosts, podcasts, and talk radio programming with listening options 24/7 streaming or listen on demand. We also feature one-on-one segments with important guests. People who have something to say that you need to hear and if you have something to say and would like to be featured on the network, please visit speakuptalkradio.com for all of the details or contact us at pr at speakuptalkradio.com.

Well today, I have a fellow Ohio author with me, she is Belinda Kroll. Belinda is the author of three historical novels and in addition to being an author, she is a user experience design professional, a hobbyist photographer, and an unapologetic Ohio State Buckeye fan. She enjoys dancing lindy hop, finding inspiration from cooking shows, and petting every dog that allows her to do so and I love that. I’m excited to bring her on so welcome to the network, Belinda.

Belinda: Thank you very much, I’m glad to be here.

Pat: I am glad to have you here too. Now before we begin, I just want to know, what is a user experience design specialist?

Belinda: Yeah, so user experience design is essentially someone who is… I like to call it as someone who likes to make software and websites intuitive for people; meeting the needs of why they came to that particular software or website. So, anyone who is trying to, you know, make the navigation make sense. Trying to make sure that if you went to Amazon, is that buy button right there where you need it or are you hunting around the screen for it? I’m the person that tries to make sure you’re never hunting for something, that everything is where you expect it to be.

Pat: Yes, everybody needs that, I mean I know what it’s like to try to try to do that yourself, there is quite a learning curve to that, so to have somebody like yourself—and I guess during these times it’s… well, any time actually—it’s easy for you to work at home. Remote is not such a problem, right?

Belinda: Yeah, you know, it certainly helps to be in the office with the developer teams and other stakeholders to make sure we’re communicating clearly and all understanding the problem we’re trying to solve, but certainly working remote, we have, I think, we’ve been able to transition pretty well.

Pat: Good, good. All right now, Belinda. You use a pen name sometimes and sometimes not. I think that’s interesting. I know a lot of authors kind of toy with that idea. Before we get into your books, talk about that for a bit. Why did you decide to use it? When do you use it? how does that work for you?

Belinda: That’s a great question. My given name is Binaebi and when I first started publishing, I knew I wanted to start publishing historical fiction. And you know, I wanted… I was thinking I wanted a name that really sort of implied the genre. And so what I did is I took the first letter of my first name, and I picked my middle name and that’s basically “Belinda.” And then I picked my mother’s maiden name. When I put those two together, that just felt like a nice, solid, easy to remember and spell author name. Whereas my given name, especially at the time when I started back in 2003, I just wasn’t sure whether my given name was really going to “speak” historical fiction to readers. Especially given that I wasn’t necessarily writing historical fiction about persons of color at the time. So, this separates my different genres.

With Belinda Kroll, that’s all historical anything, historical fiction. I’m currently working on and brainstorming a historical fantasy, and then my other titles, like Beatrice Learns to Dance, which is a children’s story book, and then some of my nonfiction—I was invited to do some cameo work for the sketchnotes field guide, er, the Sketchnotes Handbook, actually—and then I did a small pamphlet with Sketchnotes Field Guide and those are under my given name of Binaebi Akah.

Pat: Got it. I love that. B-Linda, right? Your middle name’s linda?

Sidenote: It’s actually “Lynn,” but my audio cut out.

It’s good to understand how and why you decided to do that. Now, you’ve written novels, short fiction as you mentioned, non-fiction… but historical fiction seems to be your main interest. Why is that?

Belinda: You know, historical fiction… well, first off, I grew up reading, you know Louisa May Alcott and L. M. Montgomery, Jane Austen… I picked up Elizabeth Gaskell in college, and at the time there was something that was really sort of escapist for me. You know, people wearing these sort of grand outfits from my perspective, but a lot of the thoughts and fiction was about interpersonal relationships, and I felt I was learning so much about people even while I was reading fiction.

You know, you read Pride & Prejudice and you learn, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s not good to run away with someone without talking to your family about it’ when you’re thinking of Wickham and Lydia. Or how Jane and Bingley, if their family members hadn’t told them to talk to each other, they may not have gotten together. So there’s a lesson there, and there’s just something really interesting to me about looking at historical eras as a way to learn about what’s happening today. And I think that is also partially why I like to read historical fiction. And I’m also considering moving from kind of the more genre to even now trying to jump into persons of color in historical fiction since I am also a person of color. That is something I’ve been nervous to do, but I think this is a good time for me to embrace that and try it out.

Pat: Oh, absolutely, now is the time for that. Absolutely. Yeah, I look forward to that, and maybe we’ll maybe talk about what your upcoming fantasy that’s going to take place in Columbus, Ohio. We’ll talk about that in a bit. Let’s go backward. Let’s see, in 2003 you wrote Catching the Rose, an 1861 novel in Washington DC, in 2010, Haunting Miss Trentwood, that takes place in the UK. Let’s start with one. We’ll pick a couple today and highlight those. So tell us about that.

Belinda: So Haunting Miss Trentwood is a fun fiction. It starts out a little, well, very much in the gothic realm. The first chapter really sets up this gothic feel of this woman in her mid-to-late 20s, so think of the main character’s situation. She feels like she’s lost her opportunity for living her own life or finding love. She’s been taking care of her father who has been ill the last X number of years, and her mother died previous to the story. So the opening chapter starts with the funeral of her father. It’s a blustery day out, it’s just cold and wet and she’s sort of in shock that it even happened… and then she actually sees her father crawling out of the grave and no one else can see it. No one else sees him. And then she wakes up in bed, her aunt is taking care of her, saying she’s been out of it for three days and then Mary thinks, “Gosh, it’s been a rough time and I’ve had a lot to go through, maybe I imagined the whole thing.” Then the chapter ends with her father standing at the foot of her bed, saying, “Really, you think you imagined me?”

And it goes from there. Mr. Trenwood is hilarious, he’s a very funny ghost. So the story quickly pivots and becomes more of where you’re starting to see me blend historical fantasy a little bit, because you have this funny ghost who’s basically trying to parent his daughter as she is moving through her grief and also figure out, “What is my place in this world? Who do I want to be and who do I want to be with… who do I want to invest my time in?” And will she find love?

Pat: Oh my gosh I would love to be in your head. There’s so much going on. Don’t you wonder where all this comes from?

Belinda: Yeah, I do! You know, at the time, because I was thinking about this the other day… what in the world made me think about that. At the time, I was watching a lot of shows like Dead Like Me, and the pie maker show, what was it called… Pushing Daisies… and you know there were just something about these quirky shows about death and how death isn’t necessarily the end if your story. I think there’s something about that I wanted to explore. I also was, at the time, growing up. I was in college when I was first writing the first draft of that story. I published it while I was in grad school and that was my coming of age era.

You know, I would say I led a really fun childhood. My parents let me remain a child without a lot of responsibility through high school, you know my job was to be a student. I helped work for the family business but I wasn’t necessarily out working in retail or restaurants picking up those sort of life skills where you’re dealing with the general public and trying to figure out how do I interact with people? So college was really that for me. I had this theme of I was having my coming-of-age story a little later than maybe other people would have, and that was also something interesting I wanted to explore. What if your coming-of-age story happened when you were 22 instead of 15, 16, like most fiction?

Pat: Right, isn’t that fascinating how most writers are kind of writing themselves and writing about their lives and learning about themselves, and growing and becoming through their writing. And it’s almost a secondary thing, putting it out there and publishing it for others to read. It’s almost more important the fact that you were able to participate in that and write it down and do that for yourself.

Belinda: Yeah, you know I think to me, I feel like that’s how I interpret the ‘write what you know.’ It’s not necessarily write what you know from a factual perspective, but write what you know from your life experience. What rings true for you as an individual and a human being, someone else in the world has probably had a similar experience or similar emotion or reaction. Maybe their exact details of their situation was different, but that sort of visceral reaction, that’s probably a very human thing that many people can relate to.

Pat: Yes, it’s a double gift, one to yourself and one to your readers. Now, your most recent was in 2017, The Last April, and by the way I love the cover of that, I want to talk about that in a minute. So that’s an Ohio Civil War drama. Give us a little peek into that.

Belinda: Yeah, so this is a fun story, basically what ended up happening is the war is over… it’s set in April 1865 and the war has literally just ended days before. And we’re in Columbus, Ohio, and there’s a girl, her name is Gretchen. She lives on a farm just south of Columbus proper, so with today’s map you could probably think someone close to Grove City, which is part of Greater Columbus. So she’s on her farm, in her garden, and then she looks up and see this guy collapse right in the middle of her garden. She’s like, well, who’s this guy, and what’s going on? He has his head bandaged, and he’s dressed like he’s a confederate, and she’s wondering what’s a confederate doing in my garden in Columbus, Ohio? It goes from there, because then her mother comes back from the market saying, “Hey the news just came out and they’re saying President Lincoln has been shot.” They think he’s dying or dead, and now there’s a nationwide manhunt happening. So now Gretchen is asking the question of whether this guy was part of the conspiracy, what is he doing up here? So it’s a little mystery.

Clearly, if you know history, you know no one in Columbus had an particular activity with President Lincoln, but for the audience that this story was, really it’s more middle grade and adults reading escapist fiction, it’s still an interpersonal story that’s really more navigating the politics and emotional response of a nationwide tragedy that happens. How does that effect individuals?

Pat: All right, that’s called The Last April. Tell us about your covers, that one in particular, I don’t really know, I can’t explain it to you, but there’s just something about that cover that just calls me. It really strikes me. I love that cover.

Belinda: I commissioned that cover from a local Columbus, Ohio cover artist. She does hand lettering, illustrations, and book covers. I gave her my specs—my specifications—I wanted to make sure that I had Gretchen with her braid over her shoulder because that’s how she wears her hair, and I wanted a confederate soldier with his head bandaged. I wanted to appeal to the fact that the majority of the story is happening on this tiny little farm in Ohio, so that’s where we got some of the corn stalks, and then the implications of the American and Confederate flags with the stars behind the characters. So it’s a very patriotic-looking book. The red, white, and blue does speak to us in general as Americans. And then you know, when you have the book in your hand, the book has a really soft, matte cover. It’s not a glossy cover, so it’s something very soft in your hand and it just feels good to hold. I mean, everything about the production of this book is just great.

Pat: Oh I love that. Well, like I said, when I saw that cover I was just so taken by it, so congratulations to you and your illustrator on that cover, it’s perfection.

Belinda: Yeah, the cover artist is Seedlings Design Studio, I think that’s what she goes by, she’s fantastic to work with.

Pat: You found a good one. Now forthcoming in a couple years, you say 2023, it’s an untitled gaslamp fantasy taking place in Columbus, Ohio in 1873. Where’s that coming from and where are you in the process?

Belinda: In true Belinda fashion, I started this book a year ago for NaNoWriMo, which anyone who doesn’t know stands for National Novel Writing Month, you try to write about 1600 – 1700 words a day so that by the end of the month you get 50,000 words. Now, I tried to do this because I had just had my first child the previous April and I was really missing my creative outlet, which was writing at the time and has always been my primary outlet. So I thought, NaNoWriMo it is. I’m gonna try to write something and you know November a year ago, I was really curious about writing about someone who looks like me, someone who is a person of colors. And I wanted to write again about my hometown here in Columbus, because this town is a hidden gem. On the surface it’s a nice midwestern town, maybe not a lot to talk about except the Buckeyes and our food scene has really explored in the last couple of years, but then I started reading more about the history of Columbus.

In particular, 1873 started to stick out to me. It was the year The Ohio State University was founded off the land grant from President Lincoln’s announcement during the war, and then it was the year of our first public library and reading room… so there was something going on about 1873 in Columbus having to do with education and literacy that I just thought was so interesting. And then I started reading about the first graduating classes, of which at the time I think it was called the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, I don’t think it was quite The Ohio State University yet, that’s what it would become. The first graduating classes… I think the first class had a woman in it, and within the first 10 graduating classes, there were people of color in those graduating classes. That’s not necessarily what you think of when you think of the 1870s and 1880s, really, anyway in the United States it’s not entirely what we’re taught in our public schools so I thought that was so interesting… what was it really like back then that our history books maybe either don’t pay attention to or don’t have the space for because you have to get through so much in your curriculum.

And you know, the more I lived with the story over this last year, magic just kept popping in. A year ago, the magic was very library focused, I was playing up the literacy aspect that I was trying to explore, but over time, I started learning more about the educational opportunities for persons of color back in the 1870s. a lot of those educational opportunities were centered around artisanship and craftsmanship. Today we might call them technical colleges where you’re getting a degree, you might be an associates degree, but you’re using your hands and you’re problem solving. You’re making things for people so I think my magic system has shifted from being library and literacy focused to now being more about crafting and then seeing how you can push the bounds of reality through your crafting.

Pat: So you’re kind of growing with this book, or its growing with you as its morphing through different phases.

Belinda: Oh yeah, none of my stories come out fully flushed. I think that’s why it takes me about seven years to write these stories. Because I’m… I’m doing historical research, I’m letting the characters tell me what actually rings true to them or not, and it also takes a while for me to even understand who the characters are. I mean, my main character, her name has changed four times and I think finally, we’ve hit on the right name because now she’s talking to me, and I’m seeing her interact with these other characters, and she’s got her attitude figured out. So yes, it’s a very organic sort of process for me. I’d say I’m a plantser. I mostly a pantser but at some point you do have to plan and think out what’s going to happen next.

Pat: Oh, you’re a hybrid, oh that’s funny. You know, also because your genre requires so much research. I know myself, what I’m doing research I get lost in the research and then that takes you down one rabbit hole and then you go somewhere else and you could research forever, so I imagine that writing a novel, that requires so much research obviously takes a lot of time.

Belinda: Definitely and you do have to have a threshold for yourself. Do I have enough information to at least get a first draft down? And then there are times where I will have enough to get a chapter but then maybe I have a placeholder within square brackets, like [look up street name] or [look up guy who did thing] like I know he did a thing, I can’t remember what his name was or I can’t remember the details of it, so go back and look it up so that way I don’t necessarily lose momentum of writing fiction.

Pat: Right, yeah, there’s a fine line with how much research you do and then how much you present to your reader. I know for me, I want to give everyone all the information I can, and then you’ve got to go back and pull back and say, well that’s just too much.

Belinda: For sure, and I think that’s definitely something I learned while writing Catching the Rose. I wrote that one in high school, so it definitely feels like a first attempt at a book. Certainly, there are readers who like it, but really that is my learning book, did I go too far in one direction with the research, do they go too far in another direction with character development or describing what they were wearing. Do we really need to know what the character is wearing… if it’s not pushing the plot forward, things like that I think… I consider, well, I love Catching the Rose and it has a special place in my heart, but it definitely was my learning book. Haunting Miss Trentwood I consider my debut as an adult writer, you know, someone who has lived a little bit of life and understands how to pick and choose what is actually going to help move that story along.

And then of course with The Last April, that is certainly my tightest writing so far. And I do love that book because it has some epistolary influences. I actually pulled newspaper snippet from the newspapers of the era. I spent a lot of time at the Ohio History Connection going over their archives and finding excerpts so that way you got a real feel of what it was like to live in Columbus in the days after President Lincoln was shot. No one really knew what was happening. The fastest communication you could get was the telegram, which is pretty fast, but when you’re literally playing the telephone game, things will get distorted the farther you are from the event. And so I just wanted to make sure to include… well, the war itself was huge, and then President Lincoln… this was like the 9/11 event of that era. On top of the war we’ve all just tried to close, or at least we all just said ok we think we’ve come to an impasse. General Lee has surrendered, so we think we’re done… so there’s an authenticity I try to go for, but again, it’s finding that fine line. I don’t need the entire article, but I do need maybe that one paragraph that would really speak to the emotional response.

Pat: Lots of work involved in your books, for sure. And speaking of work, something extra, you’ve got an Etsy shop called Bright Bird Press and I was impressed with that! Maybe share that with our listeners as well.

Belinda: Yes, Bright Bird Press is my umbrella company. I use it for my books, I also use it for creating journals and trackers for those who are creatives and caregivers. My shop is split between two categories: those who are trying to write fiction, and I have novel planners in the form of spiral notebooks and saddlestitch notebooks, and I have a couple printables you can print out for yourself and have as many copies as you need for that particular planner.  And then I have a category of products for caregivers, and that’s because I’m a relatively new mother, I have a young one. And then I have newborn trackers that will cover roughly the first three months of your child’s life so that way when you go to the doctor, you don’t have to worry about how many diapers is this kid soiling in a day. You know, those little stats you don’t want to have to keep track of. My first child, I used a mobile app and I think that was helpful, but you know, especially in this remote situation, if I can avoid being in front of a screen, I want to. So I created these newborn tracker logs to help with that. I have a journal I can reference instead.

Pat: Thank you, I love that. So that’s called Bright Bird Press on Etsy. All right, well we’ve kind of danced around many of your books and your work. I know there’s a lot more we could chat about today, but I want to make sure that we haven’t missed anything that you want to talk about.

Belinda: This has been a great conversation. This is the sort of thing that, over time, I know you mentioned in my biography at the beginning that I’m a lindy hopper and I swing dance, that I have a hobby photography business, but you know… ultimately, all of my creative pursuits are being funneled back into my writing. So when you purchase something from Bright Bird Press, you’re really supporting my next fiction so I can afford my cover artist, afford my editor, so everything is just trying to be self-supporting. Creative outlets supporting creative outlets is really how I look at it. So I really appreciate getting to talk about it.

Pat: Oh thank you, I appreciate it too. I was looking forward to this very much today and I want to be sure folks know where they can purchase your books and find everything that they need from you, so why don’t you share any and all of that?

Belinda: Sure, my website is worderella.com, it’s a play on Cinderella. That is also my Instagram handle, so if you want to follow me on Instagram, I’m at Worderella there. As you mentioned, my Etsy shop is Bright Bird Press, and otherwise you can even send me an email at worderella at gmail.com. In terms of my books, you can find my print books on Amazon, I have ebooks across the internet. So if you go to my website, that’s probably the easiest way.

Pat: Excellent, it’s worderella.com, a play on Cinderella, I love that. Worderella. That’s so cool, you’re so cool! I’m so glad we had this opportunity to talk. Any final words before we say goodbye?

Belinda: You know, thanks again so much and I hope to release this next historical fantasy sooner than later, but you know, I can read the math and see it taking about seven years between each book, so… just trying to set myself up for success there.

Pat: So hang on readers, read all the past books and by that time maybe we’ll have the next one out. Head over to worderella.com. Belinda Kroll, thank you so much for sharing you today.

Belinda: Thank you!