Features Up Close: K.L. Cerra
Spooky Vibes Through Realistic Characters
For fans of the dark and suspenseful, K.L. Cerra presents SUCH PRETTY FLOWERS, a Southern gothic psychological thriller about a strange relationship between two women. In this sapphic, claustrophobic story about a woman who begins to investigate her brother’s sudden death, readers will love the scary twists and fast-paced turns of a masterfully crafted mystery.
SUCH PRETTY FLOWERS follows protagonist Holly down a terrifying path that leads to an unexpected living situation with her brother’s ex-girlfriend—who isn’t nearly as innocent as she claims to be. When this opportunity to spy on her gives Holly the upper hand, she finds herself consumed not only with figuring out what happened to her brother, Dane, but also obsessed with this enigmatic roommate, Maura. With an ominous greenhouse and creepy basement, Holly must overcome the power of her fixation with Maura to learn more about the days leading to Dane’s suicide.
When asked about her own reading preferences, Cerra mentioned she’s a fan of the dark.
“Be it literary, thriller/suspense, or horror—as long as it has a strong psychological thread running through it,” she says.
Her debut thriller has exactly the right amount of all these elements.
Cerra recalls when she fell in love with storytelling. “My mom tells me I was dictating stories to my preschool teachers—so as early as I can remember! I experimented with different genres over the years,” she says. “As I teen I was really into fantasy, likely because it was what I was reading at the time. I veered more literary in my 20s, and finally settled into gothic suspense. I love spooky atmospheres and that creeping sense of dread, and it’s exactly what I gravitate to now as a reader.”
So how did this particular book come to be?
Cerra shares how she’d unsuccessfully queried a different manuscript and needed to immerse herself in something new.
“I was having difficulty thinking up a premise, though, and so my sister, who also happens to be an editor, suggested I jot down a bunch of things that interested me and match them up with one another,” she says. “The words I ended up pairing together to jumpstart SUCH PRETTY FLOWERS: Savannah, obsession, and florist.”
Cerra found her agent through Twitter after gathering a bunch of agent names and using tools like Manuscript Wishlist to filter for people whose interests might align with hers. She saw Chelsey Emmelhainz announce that she was launching a new agency with a colleague. Her wish list was uncannily aligned with the stuff that interested Cerra. She gave it a shot and sent her SUCH PRETTY FLOWERS. It was obviously a match—and the rest is history. After at least six revisions, this story will finally be available for readers to devour.
When Cerra worked in the corporate world, she’d daydream all the time about exploring professions that would get her away from the computer, either as a massage therapist, park ranger, or even as a florist. According to her, she ended up right where she belonged when she pursued a career in psychotherapy.
Given her shy personality, Cerra doesn’t feel as comfortable on social media but does enjoy working with people. As a professional therapist, she has the skills to connect with others and uses her talent in this area to create realistic characters. When she’s in the zone, she abandons all inhibitions.
The flexibility of Cerra’s job allows her to write on a schedule that works for her. She typically doesn’t have any definitive benchmarks but generally aims for at least a thousand words a day. Though she gives herself grace by checking in with herself to ensure her headspace and energy levels are where she wants them in order for her to let her creative juices flow.
When asked what inspires her and gives her that spark, she says it tends to be when she has just finished a good book or watches a show or movie that really resonates with her.
“I’m also lucky to have a sister who is both a writer and an editor, and we cheer each other on through texts, FaceTime calls, plus our new tradition of meeting up once a year for a writing retreat,” she says.
While flexing those artistic muscles can be exciting, authors who make it to the publishing phase will tell you it’s not easy.
“I didn’t realize how much rewriting would be involved. Editing I could imagine, sure, but I could never have anticipated how many massive revisions I’d be making—deleting and redrafting huge sections, chopping up the entire manuscript, moving things around like Tetris, and then stitching everything back together,” she says. “I’ve learned there’s really no room for you to be precious about your work.”
And once you’re finally done with edits and get a polished product out there, let’s not forget the fun part of having family and friends read your work. Will they like it? Will they think some of the characters have recognizable traits?
Absolutely. Cerra says this is a very real thing indeed.
“Before allowing my family to read my book, I had to stress to them that it was fiction. They all admitted to me that they scrutinized the characters to see if they could identify some grain of themselves,” she says. “My dad did jokingly say he was offended that the father in SUCH PRETTY FLOWERS is described as having ‘paunch’ on his stomach, convinced it was a backhanded remark about his own physique…(Reader, it was not).”
Cerra is happy to share her pearls of wisdom for new writers struggling with their step in the extremely slow process of publishing. When self-doubt and hopelessness kick in, it’s important to keep moving and use this advice to make characters feel more real.
“I’ll put on my therapist hat here: All of us are shaped by our experiences. Our childhood, family dynamics, relationships, etc. These experiences, in turn, inform the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are as people and about the world (‘I’m hard to love’; ‘The world is a cruel place’). I truly believe if you develop this kind of understanding about your characters, they’ll be richer and more likely to resonate with readers,” she says.
“This industry moves at a glacial pace, and I think we all need to adjust our expectations accordingly. Judging from what I’ve seen, it’s unlikely to get an agent with the first manuscript you query, and that’s okay and normal. Take the time you need to develop your craft.”
While drafting is her favorite part of the writing experience (addicting even!), Cerra doesn’t have to face the other stages alone. Lucky for her, Cerra has a mentor she trusts. “I was fortunate to find someone with extensive editorial experience in my agent. I’ve learned so much from her through the rounds of revision we’ve done together.”
SUCH PRETTY FLOWERS hits the shelves of local bookstores on February 7th. Grab your copy and enjoy getting lost in a world of Savannah spooks and carnivorous plants.
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