Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A - Interview with my hero Michele Ashman Bell

Michele Ashman Bell grew up in St. George, Utah. In fourth grade her

teacher wrote on her report card that she had a tendency to daydream

and would probably do well with creative writing. As a young girl, she developed a strong love and passion for reading and always had her nose in a book, even sometimes during important classes like math, science and history. (She’s paying for it now!)

Her passion for books and her love for keeping a journal helped her develop an understanding for the power of the written word, not only to express feelings and imagination, but to touch others and move readers.

Once the writing bug bit it took ten long years of submissions, rejections, workshops, critique groups, and community education classes, before her first book, An Unexpected Love, was published and she was able to make her teacher’s prediction come true.

Michele enjoys doing research for her books and feels that it is during this stage of development when the story really comes alive. As often as she can she will travel to the places she writes about so she can immerse herself in the history, landscape and culture of the area. Her goal is to provide an accurate reflection of people and places and provide the reader with an “armchair vacation”.

Michele is currently the author of 18 books and 4 Christmas stories. She is married to her college sweetheart, Gary, and is the mother of four children, and a grandma of one incredible granddaughter. Aside from supporting her children in all of their many activities, and teaching aerobics, she loves to travel and do research for her books. She also loves hearing from readers and promises to respond to everyone who contacts her. Her website is www.micheleashmanbell.com, her blog is www.micheleabell.blogspot.com and her email is micheleabell@gmail.com.

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Michele: I knew long before I started writing. I have always loved books and reading and could spend hours in libraries and bookstores just browsing and absorbing the atmosphere. Also, I have always rewritten endings of stories in my mind if I didn't like how a book or a movie ended. I think that's where the author in me was born. Wanting to have control and being able to created my own stories, characters and settings is what drove me to finally give it a try.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Michele: I did not pursue writing in college (which I regret) but there weren't a lot of creative writing classes offered, in fact, I'm not sure there were any offered. Most classes were literature classes that weren't as enjoyable for me, I wanted to create, not analyze symbolism and the meaning of other people's work. Once I decided I wanted to write, I read "HOW TO WRITE" books and took a community education class. I then joined the League of Utah Writers and Romance Writers of America, as well as a critique group. These support groups offered classes and workshops to help me learn the craft of writing. I learn by doing rather by being told so this approach was much better for me.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Michele: There was a time during my learning and submitting phase that I was so discouraged I decided to take a break from writing, but soon realized that I couldn't not write. Even if I wasn't at my computer writing, my brain was always spinning stories and gathering ideas. For me, the creative process and really digging into the psyche of my characters draws me in. I become very attached to the characters in my book, the settings where the book takes place and the theme and conflict of the story. I am emotionally invested in every story, that's where the passion comes from. I write from my heart, not my head, and it takes a lot out of me sometimes. I'm a very visual writer, meaning that I can see the story in my head, like a movie, and then I just record it onto my computer. It is such an incredible experience and is thrilling every time it happens.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Michele: Long. Hard. Frustrating. So worth it. I tried to break into the national market first with women's fiction and romance, then, when that didn't work out I tried to YA market, then went to middle-grade readers and then to children's. At a Romance Writers of America conference I heard an editor speak about the LDS market and how it was exploding. I decided to give it a try. It took a couple of years but it finally happened. Overall it took me 11 years to get my first book published.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Michele: I was very discourage. Every time I sent a manuscript off I was convinced this would finally be the one that got accepted. I would start on my next project while I waited to hear back from publishers, and then, when the rejection slip arrived, I would crumble and cry for a few days, then pick myself up and try again. It isn't talent that gets a book published, it's persistence! The best authors and stories won't get published without hard work and persistence!

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Michele: Sporatic. When I'm really in the writing groove and have a book in the works, I try and spend a few hours every morning on the actual writing of the book. During the rest of the day I am working on plot ideas and character development in my head. I find that if I can get in a couple of hours a day, I can get a book written in about 6 months. That first draft. Then the real work begins. Revisions!

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Michele: That is the million dollar question. My ideas come from everywhere! Personal experience, other people's experiences, places I visit (several books have been born while on vacation and being inspired by my surroundings), things I heard in the news, or read on-line. Ideas are abundant, the difference is that a writer constantly has their antennae tuned to gathering ideas. Knowing if an idea is good enough to write an entire book about it is the bigger question. I find that if I get an idea and I can't stop thinking about it and I am dying to write the story and can "see" scenes in my head and become attached to the characters, there is no way I can't write the book. I think I would explode.

Deirdra: Can you tell us about your newest book Summer in Paris.

Michele: Summer in Paris is my first national release, which is such a thrill. It's a "riches to rags" story about a spoiled 16 year-old girl in New York City who ends up spending the summer in Paris, Idaho because her parents declare bankruptcy and decide to get separated. Her experience on a farm in a small town in Idaho not only teaches her what is really important in life, but that she has talents and strengths inside of her she never even knew. The story has romance, mystery and a lot of laughs as well as some drama. I love the growth the main character, Kenzie, goes through as the summer progresses. It's a very satisfying and entertaining read.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

Michele: With every book I want to make sure that the story grabs the reader right from the beginning and holds them captive until the last page. My stories are value based, meaning they have a theme that is usually faith-promoting or provides character growth, and I want those messages to inspire and uplift readers so they come away feeling enriched and elevated.

Deirdra: When we last meet you talked about how important and fun physical fitness is for you. How does physical fitness and nutrition affect writing?

Michele: Right now it causes me to fall asleep at the computer! I am teaching 6 a.m. Zumba classes 4 days a week and literally I nod off while writing. Go to bed earlier, you say? Hmm, I'll have to try that. The hardest is convincing my family to be quiet so I can actually sleep. Anyway . . . For me, eating healthy and regular exercise is just part of who I am. I feel it keeps my mind sharp and keeps me healthy. For the most part I do feel energized and enthusiastic about life and crave learning and being a participant in what is going on around me. A writer who can really experience and be involved with research will be able to right a much more convincing story.

Deirdra: What is your favorite physical fitness activity?

Michele: Zumba, for sure. I can't get enough of it!

Deirdra: What advice would you have for authors who don’t think physical fitness is important to them because their job is relatively stationary and not physically demanding?

Michele: I would say start walking. Even if on your lunch hour you walk stairs or go outside for 15 minutes you will energize and supercharge your body, feed your brain, improve your circulation and kick your metabolism into a higher gear. Quality of life. When you feel good you perform better.

Deirdra: Aside from writing novels what other projects are you working on?

Michele: I always think I'm going to go through all my storage rooms and closets and de-junk, but I never get around to it. My goal is to do that after the holidays. Massive garage sale in the spring. My other goal is to travel to England and France. My husband is totally on board and we have such a fun time traveling together.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Michele: My most recent mentor/cheerleader is my dear friend, GG Vandagriff. She gives me honest feedback but always builds me up. She knows the business of writing and marketing like nobody else, and she coaches me and encourages me constantly. I have a great deal of love and respect for her.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Michele: Ha, how about that, I answered part of this in the above question. GG Vandagriff is a powerful writer. I have to say that within the LDS community I am a big fan of Jennie Hansen, Kerry Blair, Gale Sears, Stephanie Black, Betsy Brannon Green, Nancy Campbell Allen, Jeri Gilchrist, Sian Bessey, Lynn Gardner, Cheri Crane and Anna Jones Buttimore. I enjoy Jane Austen, JK Rowling, and Nora Roberts, to name a few.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Michele: Raw almonds and Wheat Thins. Chocolate when I'm feeling frustrated or have writer's block.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Michele: Know your market! Study what's out there and know what works. Then, make sure you send your manuscript to the best publisher for what you write. And finally, don't give up. A rejection doesn't mean your manuscript isn't good, it just means it wasn't right for that publisher.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Michele: I'm spinning some ideas for some more YA stories that a sci-fi, but I'm currently working on a horror story. I love to genre jump and reinvent myself and I'm excited to try new things.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Michele: Amazon and Barnes and Noble will have all of my books, some of the used ones sell for eleven cents! Deseret Book and Seagull for my LDS books.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Michele: I am always so thrilled when I have a chance to discuss my books and talk about writing. I love being able to encourage others to dream big and then work hard to make their dreams come true. Also, I want to thank you, Deirdra, for taking an interest in me and my books. I know how talented you are and how hard you are working to get your stories published. You are a perfect example of how to make it happen!

Picture of Michele and Deirdra


  1. Thank you Deirdra for hosting Michelle. It's nice to meet you Michelle. You are certainly an inspiring person to meet. Your book sounds interesting. It would be a challenge to write a character who was rich and spoiled and must learn to adapt to a humbler lifestyle.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  2. Awesome interview, Deirdra! I love Michele, and I love your interview style. Very nicely done. :-)

  3. Great interview, Deirdra! Michelle's book sounds terrific, and i'm going out to buy a zumba DVD tonight!!!!

  4. Awesome interview and review, Deidra and Michelle!


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