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By Kia Dennis

An anonymous “source” drops a note into Madeleine Barton’s lap exactly when she needs it most.

The recently widowed single mother and freelance reporter Madeleine Barton is struggling to provide for her son while building her career. When she receives an anonymous note suggesting that the death of bestselling author Allegra Hudson was actually murder, it’s exactly what she needs to push her career to the next level. But the closer she gets to the truth, the more confusing and dangerous her investigation becomes.

In this interview with The Big Thrill, we talk to McElyea about her deliciously twisty debut ONE LITTLE WORD, where she gets her inspiration, and what’s next for her.  

Congratulations on your debut. Can you talk a little about your writing journey? Did you always want to be a writer? What was your path to publication?

Thank you so much. I’m equal parts excited and terrified for this book to come out. My background is as a corporate buyer for clothing and jewelry, so no, I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. I could probably write another novel about the road to my debut. But I won’t, don’t worry.

I felt like God was calling me to be a writer about 11 years ago, and I kept saying no by doing everything “except” learning to be a writer. But after a year or so of everything else blowing up in my face (I can laugh about it now), I finally said okay, and he blessed me with many mentors who helped me learn what to do/what not to do during my years spent working on my first novel, When Lilies Bloom. That novel eventually got shelved, but I learned so much through that experience, and I can honestly say I absolutely love writing more than any other job I’ve ever done. I didn’t get my agent or publisher until I started shopping ONE LITTLE WORD around many years later. All it takes is years of constant perseverance…no big deal, right?

It’s always interesting to hear about what leads an author to a character or plot. What was the spark that led you to Madeline and her story?

ONE LITTLE WORD actually came to me in a dream played out like a movie in its entirety and is the only book I’ve written out of four to do so. It was a gift. Thanks for that, God! I woke up and jotted the main plot down and thanked the Lord because I knew I didn’t come up with that crazy plot myself. I was so excited I wrote the first draft in one month. I’ve never written any book as quickly as I did ONE LITTLE WORD.

You set the story in Knoxville, Tennessee, which happens to be where you live as well. What are some of the challenges and benefits of setting a story in not only a real place, but in your hometown where, if you get things wrong, you will hear about it from someone?

I decided to set my book in Knoxville because it truly is a special city with a lot to offer, but some businesses are made up in ONE LITTLE WORD and some aren’t—that way I could play around a bit while still paying homage to the better-known landmarks like the Sunsphere and Sequoyah Hills.

Audra McElyea

Your bio states you’ve worked as a corporate buyer, magazine writer, and personal trainer over the years. How did your varied work experience influence you as you penned this novel?

It’s actually been helpful having such random experiences when it comes to forming characters and their varied occupations in my books. I have enough insight into enough careers to keep my characters entertained for a long time. For this book, it helped me get into Madeleine’s mindset with my magazine writing experience as she’s a reporter/journalist, and it helped me get into Allegra’s mindset as a fellow suspense author. You’ll have to see how it helps for my next few books later though…

What is your writing routine? Do you write every day? Are you a full-time writer now?

My writing routine is all over the place. That’s the thing I love about writing though…half the year you’re a hermit writing and editing by yourself every day, and the other half you’re your own public relations and marketing team, socializing and gearing up for a book release. Right now, I’m in full PR/marketing mode, and that is keeping me busy every single day. When I’m in writing mode, I do still try to write or edit most days as well. I’d say I’m about as full-time as I can be while also being a mom to a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old during COVID. That’s been quite the challenge for all of us parents.

When you’re not writing or caring for your family, what hobbies or activities do you enjoy?

I enjoy working out (as strange as that sounds, I know), reading, watching movies and TV, listening to music, canoeing, playing badminton, and hiking (if it’s not too cold). My husband is a huge outdoorsman, and my little boys have endless energy, so anything active we can do with them is always a plus.

Is there a genre, other than mystery/thriller/suspense, that you’d like to try writing in someday? Why?

I’d honestly find it difficult to write in any other genre and be as fast-paced as I like to be. So probably not. But never say never…

What are you working on now? When can we expect the next book?

I like to work a few books ahead, so right now I’m editing two more books I’ve completed while outlining another one. Counterplay is next, and will hopefully release in 2023, but I don’t have a release date from my publisher quite yet. I describe it as Gone Girl meets You meets Dear Wife. It’s a darker book than ONE LITTLE WORD for sure, but just as twisty and thrilling.


Audra McElyea loves to write suspenseful stories that read like a modern-day Alfred Hitchcock film. She’s a former corporate buyer, magazine writer, University of Tennessee head majorette, and personal trainer who has always loved to tell a story–whether it be through the movies she wrote and made her friends act out growing up, the secret songs she wrote and never showed a soul, or through the choreography she wrote for numerous dance and baton twirling teams. Audra has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Consumer Services Management. She currently lives in Tennessee with her husband, two boys, and their dog and cat. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, exercising, and listening to Taylor Swift songs over and over.

To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.