Interview with LDS Author Michele Ashman Bell
When I started reading LDS fiction about four years ago, Michele Ashman Bell’s books really appealed to me. Her characters were so well developed. Coming from the world’s idea of a romance novel to Michele’s, I was unexpectedly charmed. Then I sat next to her at a signing. She radiated kindness and warmth. Every person who came up to her to talk received her full attention. She asked them all about their lives, their hopes, their dreams. She radiated the Spirit. I am truly honored to call her a friend. This interview reveals a little bit about how she became the woman and the writer that she is.
Michele: Good heavens, GG, you’re even poetic in the way you ask questions! Since I don’t perceive myself as a person who radiates anything (except heat when I’m having a hot flash) I am not really sure what the answer is. The only thing I really know is that I believe we choose each moment of every day whether or not we are going to let our circumstances dictate our happiness. I always try and find the positive in people and in life situations. I think that once you internalize this attitude it really does project outwardly. Plus, I live in a fantasy world, that might have something to do with it.
GG: If it isn’t too personal, how do you prioritize your life?
Michele: I learned this lesson the hard way. Whoever is reading this, please learn from my mistakes. When I first started writing I put my writing in front of a lot of important things – namely, callings and even time with my family. For ten years I worked at getting my work published and became so frustrated because it just didn’t happen.
GG: Why do you write?
Michele: I write because I can’t not write. My mind is constantly whirling and spinning stories and scenes and book ideas. It has since I was a little girl, as far back as I can remember. I’ve always been a daydreamer and had a big imagination. It’s gotten me into trouble plenty of times, but it is the source of creativity and every chance I get I encourage children and adults to embrace their imagination and let their creativity soar, even if it means sometimes you have to crash and burn. Even though it took me ten years of rejections before I got published, I don’t regret anything I learned during that time.
GG: What do you picture your life to be like in ten years?
Michele: I’m finally realizing that having children grow up doesn’t mean life gets easier. I think it gets more complicated, so I’m thinking I’m going to still be very involved with my children and my grandchildren, enjoying time traveling with my husband (and good friends) and I know that I will be doing my best writing then. I still have so much to learn and so many ideas inside of me. I get excited when I think about what the future holds.
GG: How do you nurture the writer within?
Michele: I’m not the best person to ask this because I’m not doing very well at this. I think that ideally the best way to nurture the writer within is to feed our creativity by experiencing new and wonderful things; places, people and cultures. Reading, researching, taking time away from the craziness of life so you can really let your thoughts gel and ideas take shape and form, then spending time to write and let it flow, would be like a dream come true. Going to workshops and conferences, writers’ retreats and research trips, all would feed the muse. With my busy life and family I’m lucky to get an hour or two a day to write. But, as long as I keep my priorities straight I do believe strongly that the Lord is making up the difference.
GG: What is your writing process?
Michele: Once I get an idea for a story, usually as a result of discovering a great setting, becoming interested in finding out more about a certain social issue, or creating a character that really fascinates me, I start brainstorming. I will research and find out all I can about a place or an issue or a person. From that research I’ll get more and more ideas. I will work up an outline and revise it constantly until I feel like all the components of the story are the way I want them. Then I begin writing. I always begin with prayer (I need all the help I can get). I never write on Sundays, either. I will usually revise my outline throughout the writing process because the characters sometimes have minds of their own and mess it up.
GG: How do you manage to be the mother of such creative children and to keep your own creativity alive?
Michele: Not very well. I’m tired. I get such fulfillment and joy seeing my children make their dreams come true that I forget to take care of myself. I think this is a mother’s curse and blessing. I do everything I can to help them but I try not to push them. When the desire comes from their heart, then I become passionate to help them. Their success means more to me than my own success. But, bottom line, if I could get more sleep at night I would be a lot more creative and productive. Seriously.
GG: I know you are an aerobics instructor. What do you feel this pursuit adds to your life?
Michele: Teaching aerobics does wonders to help me feel strong and healthy, not just physically but mentally also. I hate getting up at 6 a.m. to work out, but when I’m done I feel like I can conquer the world, until about 2:00 in the afternoon when I almost fall asleep at stoplights or at the computer. I also love the ladies I teach. They are a source of strength, support and therapy for me. Exercise is crucial for our bodies and minds. The quality of my life is better because I exercise regularly.
GG: What advice do you have for those of us who are creative, but struggle with balancing our lives?Michele: Good luck! Just kidding. Like I said earlier, it is all about priorities. If you do the things that matter and are most important, then you can ask for heavenly help to make up the difference. That’s the only way I can explain the success I’ve had. Once you understand and believe this principle, and have enough faith to do it, things become much simpler and good things start to happen.