Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Q&A with K.L. Cerra




K.L. Cerra is the author of the new novel Such Pretty Flowers. She is also a marriage and family therapist, and she lives in the Los Angeles area.


Q: What inspired you to write Such Pretty Flowers, and how did you create your character Holly?


A: I had just unsuccessfully queried my last manuscript (that is, sent it out to agents looking for representation) and wanted to turn my attention to something new.


I was having trouble coming up with a premise, though—so my sister, who is an editor, recommended I try writing down snippets of inspiration and pair them together. I jotted down a bunch of terms in a notebook and did just that. Such Pretty Flowers came about from a combination of “obsession,” “Savannah,” and “florist.”


Holly emerged pretty organically. I suspect I pulled from some of the feelings I had at her age—feeling lonely and kind of purposeless and adrift—which of course set the perfect stage for Maura to swoop in.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Holly and Maura?


A: Twisted, but addictively so. Holly is entranced by Maura: her confidence, poise, beauty, and mystery. And yes, there’s something dangerous about Maura, but Holly can’t quite put her finger on it. This fascination quickly morphs into an obsession.


And on the other side, Maura drinks in Holly’s attention—she really feeds off the feeling of being needed and is desperate to secure it. It’s a very unhealthy, co-dependent relationship, but like a car crash, it’s almost difficult to look away.


Q: The writer Layne Fargo said of the book: “A lush, seductive Southern Gothic that’s deliciously queer in every sense of the word. Holly and Maura’s mutual obsession made me shiver and sweat in equal measure, and Cerra’s gift for gorgeous, gruesome atmosphere had me spellbound.” What do you think of that description?

A: I was so utterly flattered to hear such high praise. Layne really seemed to get what I was trying to do with the novel. Yes, it’s a story about a woman investigating her brother’s mysterious death, but at its heart, it’s about this very dysfunctional, obsessive relationship between two women.


As for the compliment about the “gorgeous, gruesome atmosphere,” I felt really proud to hear that. When my agent and I went out on submission, an editor who passed on the manuscript mentioned that she wished it had been “lusher.”


I challenged myself to do that—I had a trip planned to Savannah for a family wedding and I went around obsessively writing down every detail about the city (down to the way I saw an oak tree root making the sidewalk buckle). Then I wove all those details into the manuscript during my next round of revisions. So whenever anyone calls Such Pretty Flowers atmospheric, I’m thrilled!


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I made many, many changes throughout. In fact, I would say that 30-40 percent of the manuscript was scrapped and rewritten from the draft I queried with agents, to the final version of the book that’s about to be published.


The ending was one of the parts that changed along the way. Originally, it was much more open-ended, and my agent (rightly!) encouraged me to give readers a more satisfying ending that offered closure.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently knee-deep in edits for my second book, another gothic suspense I’m super excited about. It centers around a coven of modern-day witches/artists working under the guise of the wedding industry to “save” women from losing themselves to wife- and motherhood. They are single-minded in this mission—and in their fierce commitment to creative living—and, like Such Pretty Flowers, it gets pretty dark.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: No, I think these were some great questions! As a therapist, I love that you asked about relationship dynamics, since that’s (clearly) an interest of mine. Thanks so much for interviewing me!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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