Today I have another treat for you, friends! I’m so excited to welcome special guest Michelle Keener to the blog. You may know Michelle from her memoir, Shared Courage, about her experience as the wife of a U.S. Marine during the Iraq War, or perhaps you’ve been encouraged by one of her tweets to the writing community on Twitter. If she’s new to you, let me introduce you to this fabulous Christian romance author.
Michelle’s first fiction book, a sweet, uplifting romance called Mission Hollywood, debuts tomorrow. *Cue cheering.* (You can preorder your copy here.) In the midst of all the book launch excitement, I was able to catch up with Michelle and ask her a few questions. And, she gave me a special sneak peak just for you!
Hi Michelle! Thanks so much for joining me today. I love the premise of this story: A Hollywood bad boy. A pastor’s daughter. What could possibly go wrong? Ben and Lily’s relationship captured my heart from the first chapter. What inspired you to write their story?
Michelle: I’m a sucker for Christian romance novels. I love stories that combine faith and romance, and I had been playing around with the idea of writing a faith-based love story for a long time. I played with different possibilities until I had an image suddenly pop into my mind about a movie star bumping into a Christian woman and how that one meeting could change his life. I fell in love with the idea as soon as it danced into my head, and during National Novel Writing Month in November, 2017 that idea turned into a first draft.
My readers know I’m a sucker for a good romance too! One thing that sets Mission Hollywood apart is the setting and the glamour of Hollywood life. Did you get to visit Hollywood as part of your research? How did you learn about movie premieres and the inside scoop on being an actor?
Michelle: I was born in Los Angeles and my family moved to Northern California when I was four. After high school I moved back to the LA area for college where I studied Theatre. I had big dreams of becoming an actress and I spent a lot of time in Hollywood. I got to see the glamour and beauty of the movie business, and I still have friends in the entertainment industry, but I also saw a dark side of Hollywood. I’m so grateful that God has allowed me to use my experiences in Hollywood, the good and the bad, to tell a story about love, faith and redemption.
Ha, I bet you never would’ve guessed you’d turn that experience into a novel one day! I love those moments when God uses things from our past in unexpected ways. What do you hope readers will take away from Mission Hollywood?
Michelle: I hope readers will see the unconditional, unchanging, never-ending love of God. Ben Prescott spent his life running from God, but God never gave up on him. To me, the biggest love story in Mission Hollywood is God’s love for us.
What a beautiful reminder! When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What prompted you to switch to fiction?
Michelle: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. My first published work was a poem I wrote in Middle School that was picked up by a Christian magazine. When I was growing up, I filled every notebook and scrap of paper I could find with poetry, plays, and stories.
I actually started out writing fiction. When I first got married I wrote a historical romance novel that was just terrible and got rejected by everybody. I switched to non-fiction when I wrote Shared Courage and then my devotional book You Are… So Mission Hollywood feels a bit like returning to my first love.
Wow, published in middle school! That must have been very motivating for you. I think a lot of first novel attempts end up being terrible. Lucky for us, you didn’t give up! What’s your favorite part about writing? Do you have any tips for would-be authors?
Michelle: My favorite part about writing is this part…finishing a book and seeing people read it. My second favorite part is the first draft. I love finding the story and seeing it come to life. I’m a true pantser when it comes to fiction so I’m usually just as surprised as everyone else to see how the story will end.
My biggest tip for writers is to keep going. Writing, and especially publishing, is a marathon. It’s a long process filled with ups and downs and it’s very tempting to give up when things get hard. But don’t give up. Just keep typing, even when every word is a battle.
I love this advice. The path to publication can feel like an endless roller coaster, but the only way to get there is to keep going. What about your writing routine? Do you have a favorite place to write?
Michelle: I have a small office in our house that I use for writing. I’m surrounded by bookshelves, which is really inspiring, and it’s right next to the kitchen so I have snacks close by. Snacks are very important when I write.
Snacks are critical for me too! And hot tea. It’s almost a requirement for me to write. Do you have any quirky rituals?
Michelle: Quirky rituals? Probably my obsession with saving. I save repeatedly. When I’m ready to close a document, I save it at least three times. And even then I still worry about losing it. Which is probably why I end up with twenty different drafts of the same book.
Ha ha, that’s so funny! I’m pretty sure you’re not alone as a compulsive saver. Now that Mission Hollywood is almost out, what’s next for you? Can we look forward to a sequel? Can you give us any teasers about who the main characters will be?
Michelle: Mission Hollywood is the first book in the Red Carpet Romance Series. Book Two, Made in Hollywood, is scheduled to be released in February of next year. I’m super excited for that book because Lily’s brother Noah gets his turn in the spotlight and his own chance at love.
Made in Hollywood… I love the title! I’m so glad we won’t have to wait an entire year for the next book. How can readers connect with you and stay up-to-date on your work?
Michelle: I love to hear from readers! I spend a lot of time on Twitter so you can always find me there. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram and my handle is the same on all of my social media sites: @MKeenerWrites
Thanks so much, Michelle, and congratulations on your new release! And now, dear readers, here’s your sneak peak of Mission Hollywood…
She blinked again, certain her eyes were playing tricks on her. How could one of the biggest movie stars on the planet be sitting next to her? Opening her eyes, she found herself staring into the face she had glimpsed on posters at the movie theatre and passing buses chugging through the crowded downtown streets. Her heart skittered.
He was staring right back at her.
Outside, the paparazzi yelled and the limo rocked. Noah cleared his throat. “Mr. Prescott I think there’s been a mistake. I’m not your driver.” He nodded his head towards Lily. “I’m hers.”
Ben Prescott tilted his head as he turned the intensity of his gaze on her. “And who are you?” he asked.
She stuttered and for a second, she forgot her own name. Nobody, she thought, I’m nobody. She opened her mouth and hoped words would come out. “I’m Lily. Lily Shaw.”
Ben smiled and took her hand, shaking it once. “Hi, Lily Shaw, I’m Ben Prescott. It’s nice to meet you.” She felt the heat of the contact zip all the way up her arm. “Do you mind if we get out of here?”
A reporter slammed his camera against the window and she jumped. “No. I don’t mind at all.”
“Great.” Ben turned to Noah. “I will give you a thousand dollars to drive me anywhere but here.”
Noah hesitated, his glance darting back to his sister.
“Please,” Ben looked at her, desperation coloring his words, as he gripped her hand, the warmth of his touch enveloping her fingers. “Please don’t make me get out of the car.”
Flashes popped and not even the solid walls of the limo could stop the sound of the endless questions being thrown at Ben. In the dim light of the limo, Lily could see the weariness in his eyes, the lines of fatigue that crossed his face. He held her hand solidly, like it was a lifeline he was afraid to lose. Turning to her brother, she prayed she wasn’t making a huge mistake.
“Get us out of here, Noah.”
Michelle Keener has a Master’s degree in Theology and has served in prison ministry, homeless outreaches, youth groups, and women’s ministries. She is the author of three books. Michelle lives in Southern California with her retired Marine husband, their two children, and one spoiled dog. When she isn’t writing, she is busy homeschooling, teaching creative writing workshops, or baking something involving chocolate.
Image credits: Michelle Keener and Ambassador International, used with permission. Header image: pixabay.com, CC0 license.