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An Interview with Author Kelli Dunaway

Dunaway 1

I have been a writer my whole life. Early in my life, it was academic and short story writing. These days, it varies. Sometimes my work is of the professional sort, other times political, sometimes well researched, other times opinion or experience, but always in a voice uniquely my own. My articles and letters have appeared in legal industry magazines and newspapers, publications local to St. Louis, and in blog posts going back to the beginnings of blogs. Most of it is nonfiction.

Now I write novels too.

For more than three decades, stories have asked me to write them; stories of the women around Cleopatra—her sisters, her mother, their witch. Always there, swirling in the back of my mind while I built a career, family, professional reputation, and loads of political capital. These stories and their characters gained color and clarity as I met and lost friends and adversaries, moved around the country, and traveled the world. They further deepened when I became a mother. My villains and heroes gained new depth and darkness traversing the local political scene. Sometimes these stories sat silently, showing up in dreams and passing thoughts. Other times, they yelled so loudly that I took notes, wrote whole chapters, and sketched out plotlines. Now I’m writing 85,000-word novels.

Thanks to the sage advice of well-intentioned advisors, I am a lawyer and coach by training. In practice, I have a few different gigs that pay the bills. In the afternoons, I help people aspire to their potential by designing and delivering training and coaching and consulting with companies doing the same. By night, I am an elected councilwoman. In the mornings, I write historical women’s upmarket fiction.

The rest of the time, I am mom to Bella and Liam, an avid reader, a world traveler, a magic maker, and a lover of brunch and happy hour.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to write or read something written by someone else. Most recently, as I’ve begun my journey as a novelist, Marie Benedict has probably had the greatest influence on me. She has pulled women from the pages of history, ones misremembered if remembered at all, and told their stories with grace, power, and courage. I hope my fiction does for my forgotten heroines of history what Marie Benedict’s does for hers.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

The protagonist in this novel plays a tragic role in my first novel, so by the time I finished the first, I was ready to jump right into this one.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Title-making is my biggest challenge as a writer. I haven’t come up with a title for this novel and I don’t love the one I’m using for my first novel. If anyone has any ideas, please help me out!

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“Traitor” by Olivia Rodrigo

“Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift

“I’ll Stand by You” by the Pretenders

“Closer” by Nine Inch Nails

Describe your dream book cover.

It’s got a mysterious vibe. The background is a sandstorm with some Egyptian monument barely visible. In the foreground is my strong, capable protagonist fighting through the storm with determination and courage (for the life she wants).

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I pay the bills by delivering leadership training and coaching. I’m a councilwoman in St. Louis County where I try my hardest to slay the status quo. I’m also a witch and I use the magic around me to help people reconnect with their divine feminine and build the life of their dreams.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Steven King’s On Writing has been the most amazing resource of my journey. Learning about his process and how he came to be who he is as a writer was fascinating, insightful, and inspiring. I can’t recommend this enough to other writers out there! Otherwise, I’ve read nearly every fiction and nonfiction book, article, and publication that exists on Cleopatra and her family. I’ve read books on life, health, magic, and religion in Ancient Egypt (and the broader ancient world), and I love reading historical fiction about strong women as inspiration and fuel.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I want to move my readers; I want them to feel the ups and downs of my leading ladies, and I want them to feel inspired to work through their own challenges to build the life of their dreams.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below.