Interview with Kelly Sokol

I consider myself lucky to have had an opportunity to interview Kelly Sokol. Her latest novel, Breach, is releasing on 17th of May, 2022. Let’s see what Kelly has to say about Breach.

Hello Kelly and welcome to my blog, The Book Decoder. Please tell me and my readers about yourself. 

Hi, Rekha! Thanks so much for having me on your blog. 

Like you, I have spent much of my life with my nose in a book. I’m almost always reading, writing or exploring the natural world anywhere I can. Reading and writing are my tools for making sense of the world. 

Like plenty of women, I wear a number of different hats in my life. I’m a novelist. (My father likes to joke that my talent is “making a short story long.”) I also dabble in personal essay and other forms of creative nonfiction. I’m a mother of two teenage daughters, and that is never dull. I teach creative writing at The Muse Writers Center (www.the-muse.org) in Norfolk, Virginia, and through an arts outreach program. Helping other writers tap into their creativity and the countless stories buzzing inside of them is an absolute gift in my life. When I’m not writing, parenting or teaching, you can generally find me trail running anywhere I can get my feet in the dirt/mud/sand.

Your latest book, Breach, is releasing on 17th May 2022. Please tell me more about it. 

Breach is the story of a woman deserving of every good thing in this world–love, safety, a family, stability–and the man she loves risking everything for one another. Marleigh Mulcahy is a fighter, raised in a cinder-block boxing gym. Amidst the sweat and funk of Box-N-Go, Marleigh meets Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist Jace Holt, a highly and expensively trained bomb diffuser with three successful deployments behind him. With a heady mix of hope, carelessness, and a ridiculous amount of courage, they begin a family. A roadside bomb Jace encounters on active duty threatens the life they’ve built. Marleigh and Jace bet it all on love. They’re determined to change the trajectory of their lives. Marleigh has to discover how far she’ll go to keep her family whole. 

I can hardly believe that the pub date for Breach is so close! This book has taken more than four years from the night I first sketched Marleigh Mulcahy out on the page until it will find its place in readers’ hands. And the characters haunt me still. 

Is there a story behind choosing this particular title?

There is a story behind the title. First, I’m terrible with titles. For the longest time I referred to the story as Marleigh–I tend to do that with manuscripts, name them initially for the protagonist. But Breach came about after a long conversation with my husband, actually. He’s a lawyer and loves teasing apart the shades of a word’s meaning. The world “breach” is freighted with meaning. In the Navy special forces community, there are specialists called Breachers. So that resonates. One can breach an agreement or a promise. A perimeter can be breached. And, of course, the words breach and breech are homophones. A breech birth is dangerous, unexpected. In each case, the stakes are high and potential for tension and conflict is limitless. Breach simply resonated.

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Were Jace and Marleigh’s characters inspired by real people?

They were not. However, the greatest endorsements of this novel have said that Marleigh and Jace felt like people they have known. 

I discovered Marleigh Mulcahy, and this whole novel sprung from a writing prompt given to a group of writers one hot summer night in July 2017. My friend and mentor Janine Latus led a class called Write Now. She gave us a verbal cue: home. For fifteen minutes we sat in silent, scribbling community. One of the writers had a plastic water bottle that expanded in the heat enough to crackle. I began writing a prose list that sprung from that sound of a young woman swirling the last sips of warm water to spit toothpaste out on the ground. One hand held  the water bottle, the other braced the young woman against the trunk of a car. The car had an “I heart my sailor” sticker stuck to the rear windshield. Small boys slept inside the car. And on. I had to figure out who this woman was, how she’d arrived at this desperate moment, and what she was going to do next. It wasn’t long before I could hear Marleigh and see her, and I knew I was onto something the moment she made a decision that I didn’t expect. She took control of the plot. Breach was her story from the jump.

Jace Holt was a tougher character to crack. From the sticker I imagined on Marleigh’s car, I knew she’d loved an enlisted man. He was the man who changed her life. He finally became real to me during an arts residency. I was awarded a National Parks Artist Residency in the wide-open, windswept Nebraska panhandle in April of 2018. The power of that natural space connected me to Jace Holt–a young man from rural Nebraska who was desperate to escape his traumatic childhood and turn his suffering into a critical military skill. I don’t think Breach would have become the book it did if not for those transformative weeks I spent at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Every writer should look into these opportunities for time and space to write.

As the story ends, we see Marleigh become more resilient. I am curious to know how things end up for Marleigh in the long run. What do you think happened to her after the book ended?

Marleigh is a brawler and a survivor. She will never stop fighting for her boys or for herself. My heart tells me she made it back to Mitchell and is slowly building a life better than anything she’s ever known, surrounded by a family only Jace could give her. I want that so much for her. 

What’s next for Kelly Sokol? What are you currently working on?

I’m in the sweet spot of my writing life at present. I’m revising a novel about a woman, blindsided by a divorce, who dares to enjoy her life and her body in a second act she never asked for. It’s a coming-of-middle-age thriller. My newest, early draft project is a memoir about the importance of running in my life. And I’m researching for a historical fiction project. Write one, revise one, and research one. That’s my favorite way to work. 

What does a day in Kelly Sokol’s life look like?

I’m a consistent four-to-five day a week writer. I think it’s important for every writer to find the practice that best suits her. I’m an early morning writer. (If I tried to stay up late and write, I’d never get anything done.) And my weekends belong to sports–either my daughters’ soccer or my trail runs. On the weekdays, I spend an hour before anyone in my home wakes with my coffee, a snoring dog (Bella, a beloved and spoiled rescue) at my feet, and my newest creative work. I pick up from the day before and see where my characters take me. I’m too muzzy and relaxed to be critical, and can usually slip right into the work. 

After that peaceful hour comes the grumpy teen-rushed-breakfast-where’s my uniform/water bottle/iced coffee/why are you wearing my shirt-get out the door on-time sprint. Once my blood pressure normalizes, I check my email for anything urgent and flag what I need to attend to later in the day. I spend an hour or two revising a manuscript. Then I head out for a run or go lift heavy sh*t in my garage. My time running on trails balances out my mind and my body. After a few hours at my desk I’m itchy to move. (I only lift to reduce my risk of injury and prolong my running days as long as I can and because I’m barreling toward midlife and want to stay strong.) I finish my writing day with reading and research for my next project. Reading always feels like a reward for my writing efforts. 

I finish my work between 1 and 2pm. On my teaching days, I head to the classroom. On my non-teaching days, I answer emails and play around on social media. Since I’m in publication month, I have some interviews in the afternoons as well. Once, I thought I had to spend eight hours a day fully immersed in my work or else I wasn’t doing it right. My body and brain don’t work that way. And, I love the busyness of this season of my life–the soccer tournaments and team dinners, walks with my girlfriends, a sunset glass of wine with my husband. My life is richer when I allow space for all of it, and I’m a better writer, too. 


Many thanks, Kelly. 🙂

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