An Interview with K. K. Weil and At This Stage

At This Stage by K. K. Weil

Today I'm excited to introduce my fellow author K. K. Weil (@kk_weil), who will be giving away one free copy of her new adult crossover romance, At This Stage, to the commenter of the day. The lucky person's name will be drawn from those who comment on this interview, and the winner will be notified by Saturday.

K. K. grew up in Queens, a subway ride from New York’s theater district, which had her hooked early on a mix of major musicals and low-budget one-man shows. Weil, a graduate of N.Y.U. and former teacher, now enjoys writing her own dramas. She lives near the beach in New Jersey, where she is at work on her second novel.

Q:  Welcome, K. K.! We delighted to have you here today. Please tell us about your latest release. Do you have a review and excerpt you could share with us?
A: At This Stage is a story about two people who were unexpectedly thrown together and developed a bond neither one was looking for.

The attractive man sleeping on her couch was never like a father to her. That would’ve been much easier…
Outspoken seventeen-year-old Kaitlyn Fowler loses her mother, gets taken in by a gorgeous family friend, and discovers her mysterious biological father has always known she existed. All within a few months.
At twenty-three, Jackson Wall lives without a single obligation. That is, until the daughter of his late public relations manager and dear friend is threatened with foster care. Shocking even himself, the rising playwright volunteers to become her guardian. Eloquent and incredibly talented, Kaitlyn comes to mean more to Jackson than he ever imagined. Or wanted. Jackson struggles with their friendship as it develops into something much more complex. While Kaitlyn can’t deny her feelings, she knows what will happen if she pushes him too far. As they search for Kaitlyn’s unknown father, she wonders if Jackson will reject her, too, or if she can convince him that something wrong to begin with can become right over time.

One 5-star Amazon review by Mary describes At This Stage this way…
What a great story! I devoured this book in about 2 days and enjoyed every minute of it. It's a perfect summer read -- it balances young love with a weightiness that makes you feel deeply invested in the lives of the characters. The protagonist's voice so perfectly captures the spirit and nature of an 18-year old girl, that any one who has lived through this trying and difficult period of development cannot only relate, but will be left rooting unconditionally for her to find her way through to the other side of her dark period. Highly recommended! Enjoy!!

            I’m not getting out of bed. I refuse. I don’t often indulge this way in self-pity. In fact, I almost never do. But today,damn it, today I’m giving myself the whole day to stay in bed, eat crappy food and feel sorry for myself.
            I had no clue today would turn into Self-Pity Monday. Thought today would be like any other day. Get up, eat, work out a little, take a shower. Generally uneventful.
            But as soon as I turned on my computer and saw it, I knew otherwise.
Where Has Jackson Wall Gone?
            That’s how the review began.
         Lost in the Afternoon opened tonight, written and produced by Jackson Wall. Wall, who has often been referred to in the underground Off-Off-Broadway world as the Heart Slayer, fell flat with this one. Not only has this story line been done at least a million times before, but there was not a single character in this play who made a connection with the audience. The dialog was dull, the plot weak and the general tone of the play was nothing short of sleepy. The only saving grace was the beautiful Amanda Taylor, the female lead. Even if Wall didn’t give her anything interesting to say, at least she’s good to look at.
            This play did not feel at all like any of Wall’s other plays. It’s as if the writer has disappeared and replaced his work with a subpar version of itself. Fans of Wall are advised to skip this one and await the return of the true Slayer himself, who, hopefully, will rear his tortured head the next time around.
           Panned. Panned by every critic in New York City. I read them all. More than once. Every review said the same thing. They used words I never thought would refer to me. Lackluster, trite, boring, hackneyed. They asked if I was washed up, if I’d peaked at an early age and needed to retire.
          I sleep most of the morning and around one, I indulge in a few beers.
          Around 5:00, there’s a knock at my door. It must be Cole. He texted me earlier after he read one of the reviews. I ignore the knock and turn on the TV. Another knock, louder this time. More insistent. I ignore it until it’s loud enough that I want to put my fist through the door. I storm over to the door, swing it open and yell, “I told you I’m not going out!”
            “I figured that,” Kaitlyn says calmly. “That’s why I brought dinner in.” She walks past me, take-out bags in her arms.
            I sigh. Part of me can’t believe she’s here, but the other part doesn’t even want to see her. I don’t want to see anyone. Pity on their faces. But I can never be mad at Kaitlyn.
            “I got ribs and mashed potatoes. They always feel like comfort food to me.” She pays no attention to the fact that I haven’t gotten dressed today, or that I smell like a brewery and it’s only 5:00.
           She doesn’t mention that she walked out of my life.
            “I’m not hungry,” I say weakly.
            “You are. You just can’t feel it behind all the self-loathing,” she says, deadpan. “Sit.” She motions to the other seat. I do what she tells me because I don’t have the energy to argue. She makes me a plate and puts it in front of me. “Eat. Then we can talk.” She starts gnawing on a rib.
            I look at my food but don’t touch it. We sit for a few minutes in silence, Kaitlyn devouring her dinner, me staring at mine.
            “Jackson,” she says finally. “You need to eat something. You look like crap and I’ll bet you haven’t eaten all day, aside from your liquid lunch.” She tilts her head toward the empty beer bottles on the table.
            I stare at her. At her huge blue eyes that sparkle like stars when she’s happy. Right now they look cloudy and ominous. She’s worried about me. Her words may not tell me but her eyes do.
            “It sucked,” I say to her flatly.
            “Then why did you do it?” It’s her confirmation she knows it was terrible too, and I’m relieved she’s not pretending it was good. But she can’t understand why I’d let such an awful show open in my name.
            I lock my hands on my head and stare up at the ceiling. I let out what I mean to be a deep breath, but it comes out as more of a tortured groan. “I needed to write something. I needed to get past…” You, the emptiness I feel because of you, the way I’m tormented all the time now because I can’t be with you. “My writer’s block. I thought if I just pushed something out, everything would be okay.”
            She stares at me for a minute, then scoots off her stool and walks behind me. She puts her arms around me and clasps her hands together at my chest. She rests her forehead between my shoulder blades and sighs, “I’m sorry.”
            I breathe deeply but she doesn’t let go. Her arms remain tightly folded around my rising and falling chest. I close my eyes as she holds me and think even with all the terrible reviews and critiques, this might be the thing that breaks me.

Q: What inspired this story?
A: I’m usually inspired by conversations I have with people. Thought-provoking questions without any right or wrong answers have always interested me. The topic of conversation one day was impossible relationships. Long after the conversation was over, I found myself wondering what would happen if two people were thrust into a situation where it was inappropriate for them to be together. And could something happen over time that would change their circumstance and make the relationship okay after all? Thus, the inspiration for At This Stage.

Q: How did your story’s setting impact your plot or characters?
A: I knew from the beginning that I wanted Jackson to have some connection to the art world so he could guide Kaitlyn towards her passion for drawing. With Jackson as a playwright and Kaitlyn as a budding artist, New York was the perfect setting, with its museums, galleries and great food.

Q: Which of your characters is most like you? Least like you? And why?
A: I’m definitely nothing like Kaitlyn. I was very shy when I was her age and would never have said or done the things she does. Even now, though I’ve outgrown a lot of my shyness, I’m not nearly as bold as she is. I’m not really like Jackson either. Strangely enough, I think I’m most like Griffin, a character I didn’t initially intend to be in the book. The more I wrote about him, the more I connected with him. So much so that I’m now in the process of giving him his own book.

Q: How do you choose names for your characters?
A: When I began picking names for At This Stage, I dug through my memory bank to find names that my husband and I wanted to choose for our children, but that never made it to the finish line. Jackson was the easiest. We both loved that one, but I had vetoed it because there were already too many derivatives of it in our families. For Kaitlyn, I knew I wanted a name I thought was strong, both in the full version of her name and her nickname. Many of the others were names we’d considered, too, with some alterations along the way.

Q: Did you choose the title of your book and if so how did you do it?
A: I actually had another title in mind all the way through my first draft. It was The Unlikely Guardian. But when I googled it to make sure it didn’t already exist, I saw that a bunch of books with the word guardian in the titles were recently published. So my husband and I started brainstorming. I liked the idea of the title being a play on words. So when we came up with At This Stage, which referred not only to Jackson’s career, but to their relationship as it grew, and even to Kaitlyn’s age progression, I knew it was the one.

Q: Where is your favorite place in the world?
A: I am definitely a city girl. I love Manhattan and everything to do with it. But I love being on just about any beach, too. I also have to throw in that after visiting Barcelona, Spain, years ago, I considered moving there for a split second. So that’s one of my favorites, too.

Q: Please tell us about your favorite character in the book.
A: I love Jackson. He’s definitely flawed and doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing with Kaitlyn much of the time. But he cares deeply about the people closest to him and always tries to do what he thinks is right, even if he gets tripped up every now and then.

Q: Which element of story creation is your favorite?
A: Right now I’d have to say point of view. I really enjoy experimenting with two people seeing the same situation completely differently and getting into the minds of both main characters. When I first started the book, I was only writing from Kaitlyn’s perspective. But as I got deeper into the story, I really wanted to experience how Jackson was feeling, giving up life as he knew it for this girl. So I began writing with a dual point of view and I found it a lot more fun. It also gave me a much richer understanding of Jackson than I had before.

Q: Which element of this story was the hardest for you?
A: It was definitely the development of Jackson’s brother, Danny. I wanted to make sure I depicted him the way I imagined him. Warm, loving, and as Jackson says, “awesome.” I also wanted to show how Jackson’s devotion to his brother influenced Jackson’s decisions. It was part of why he took Kaitlyn in to begin with and a big part of his writing. I even felt like Jackson was sort of testing Kaitlyn to see how she reacted to Danny. Luckily, she passed with flying colors.

Q: What is your writing process or method?
A: I’m definitely a pantser. In fact, at first, I don’t even start at the beginning of the story. I write down (yes, write - old school - with a pen and notebook) random scenes, out of order, as they pop into my head. Then, after I’ve compiled a bunch of them, I sit at the computer and start from the beginning. A lot of the notes get thrown away, but they give me an idea of where I want to go and who my characters will be.

Q: Thanks so much for sharing your insights with us, K. K. One final question: What’s next for you?
A: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I really felt connected to Griffin while I was writing this book. I became very curious about what made him tick. So now I’m writing Griffin’s story. Knowing his back story, about his family, what got him into sculpting to begin with and why he’s so brooding, makes me love him even more.

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