Kris Bryant interviews M. Ullrich:
You have a new book coming out and it’s fantastic! I read it in one sitting. Fake It Till You Make It is the story of Genevieve Applegate who is searching for something bigger in her mundane life. It’s a cleverly written, whimsical love story that encompasses humor, big decisions, big realizations, and love. What made you write this story?
I had just come off of writing an emotionally heavy book and wanted to do something lighter with more humor. Something I heard often after a few people close to me read my first book, Fortunate Sum, was that they expected it to be funny because I'm a goofball. But we all know being funny throughout the day is very different from trying to be funny on purpose. I wanted to see if I could pull that off while still writing a heartwarming romance. It was a new challenge for me.
As someone I consider very original with your writing, where do your ideas come from? Your books are all very different. I know there are writers out there who write the same happily ever after books, but yours are always the non-traditional version of happily ever after. They aren’t what the reader normally expects and finish with a twist. A good twist. Why?
I consider myself a non-traditional version of many things, so that probably has something to do with it. I’m constantly trying to think of what I can do differently with my stories and how I can make a book uniquely mine. Even something as small as labeling chapters can make a book stand out, which is exactly what I went for with Fake It Till You Make It and Life in Death. As far as the variety of my books goes, that was a decision I made from day one. I wanted to be a bit of a wildcard, writing stories that cross many subgenres but all share the beating heart of a romance. I want to leave readers guessing what I’ll come up with next.
Speaking of, what are you coming up with next?
I have a December release lined up which I’m very excited about. It’s called Time Will Tell and it’s a romance with the twist of time travel. If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be? is a classic question. I took that and built a love story around it. I’m also working on a novella for a collaborative collection that’s due out in the spring of 2018, and have a couple other projects in the making that I can’t speak of just yet. Kris Bryant side note: I read the early version of Time Will Tell and had to call Megan immediately to discuss. Saying it’s unique is such an understatement. Fantastic read!
Does writing energize you or exhaust you?
Planning a book energizes me, writing that book exhausts me.
How often do you write?
As often as I can. The only time I stick to a real schedule is when I'm getting close to a deadline. Otherwise, I spend the days I have off from my day job writing as much as I can, and some nights/mornings as well.
I’ve seen your outlines. They are massive. Is there a lot of research with your books?
I do love to outline! I try to stick to writing things I know, or something someone close to me knows so I can keep research to a minimum because I hate research. I know that's a terrible thing for an author to say, but it's true. I do it, of course, because while fiction may be flexible, you can’t say New Jersey is known for its oranges and hope people believe you.
Are any of your characters based on you? I want to say Genevieve’s personality reminds me of you. Is hers the closest to your own? (If you say Suzanne from Life in Death is, this interview is over.)
Poor Suzanne, never gets any love from you! I've been told that Catherine from Fortunate Sum and I are similar, but I really don't see it. Genevieve is much more outgoing than I am! If I had to pick, I'd say a character from my December release, Time Will Tell—Casey McClellan. As an adult she's scared of a lot of things, but when she knows what she wants, she hits this confident groove. I can identify with that.
What’s the longest time you’ve gone without writing?
Not very long. I’ve been going nearly nonstop since I started writing Fortunate Sum back in 2014. I told myself I was going to take a break after Fake It Till You Make It, but that lasted about a week.
Why do you write?
Because I have to. Yes, you can roll your eyes now. I feel like writing is one of those things—once you get the feel for it, you just can't stop.
How do other writers you know help you become better at the craft? Or do they?
Having another writer you trust, with skills you admire, look over your work when you're a little unsure is very helpful. Even a small compliment or bit of advice can help bolster your confidence when you need it most. But that’s not to say my insecurities keep quiet—sometime I think these other writers are too good for me to share the floor with! Ultimately, I’m very lucky to have gained some wonderfully talented friends during my time with Bold Strokes Books and it’s amazing how we all support one another.
Let’s talk about issues of comfort. I think you enjoy writing uncomfortable situations and characters who are flawed. What is the attraction there as a writer? It is more challenging?
You think I enjoy it? Whatever made you think such a thing…*giggle* I do. I really do. I love the idea of affecting a reader deeply, whether with positive emotions or negative (I'm evil, I know) because some of the most memorable books/movies/shows/songs did that for me. As far as flawed characters go, they’re the most real for me, the most relatable. The biggest challenge is doing it differently each time, and being able to make a good character do bad things. I fought myself constantly while I wrote Life in Death because I was tempted to soften some of the hard blows of the story. In the end, I shook some sense into myself.
Your sophomore book, Life in Death, is up for a Goldie this year. Congratulations. It’s a wonderfully written book that touches on a subject that is almost taboo, the death of a child. You handled it beautifully, but a lot of your readers had a hard time with it. What do you want to tell your readers that you haven’t had the chance to tell them about it? Why did you do it?
First, thank you! I’m incredibly honored to be a finalist. I’m still wrapping my head around that. The idea came to me out of nowhere, and I knew I had to write it. Life in Death was a tough story to write, so I knew it would be even harder to read. Especially considering the majority of my audience is women, and some of them mothers. I made sure to be very up front about the loss of a child in the book because I didn't want that to be a surprise to any sensitive readers. But what I haven’t had the chance to say, is that despite the subject matter, I think wary readers should give it a try. There’s a balance to the storytelling that keeps it from hanging on a dark moment for too long.
Book reviews. What do you think of them? Why are they important to you?
I love getting feedback from readers. Even if I get a lower rating, a thoughtful review helps me grow and learn. Reviews are also crucial for helping spread the word about the books you’re discussing and lesfic in general.
Who encouraged you to write? Is it something you’ve always done or are you a late bloomer? Who encourages you now? Do you have the support of your family and friends?
I’ve always wanted to write, but didn’t believe I could. Then a few people started to tell me I could and I dabbled in fanfiction for a bit. My wife has encouraged me from day one and continues to push me when I need it. As recently as a week ago she was kicking me when I was down. My family and friends have been great, even the ones who don’t read often went out of their way to buy my books.
Are you a private person or a socialite?
A little bit of both…? I feel like this is one of those questions where either answer can be pointed out as wrong by the people who know me best.
What is your spirit animal? And why?
A sloth because I can appreciate slow movement or not moving at all for lengthy periods of time.
Who, out of all of your characters, would you date and why?
Imogene Harris from Fortunate Sum, and I think I speak for a lot of my readers with that answer. Quirky, gorgeous redhead that has a positive outlook on life and a big heart. And she has a faint Southern accent. Come on, who wouldn’t want to date her?
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I'd love to write a spin off for a Clarissa from Fake It Till You Make It. I even have a rough plan in place just in case I get the chance. I think there's an opportunity to tell a good story, but it's ultimately up to the readers if they're interested.
Breakfast foods. Talk to me about breakfast or brunch and see how excited I get. Just typing this answer has me daydreaming about waffles and omelettes.
You are known for your extensive sock collection. Do you have a favorite pair?
That's like picking a favorite child! I love them all, but there's this one pair of yellow knee-socks that have bees on them that make me smile every time I wear them.