Kimberly Belle grew up in East Tennessee near the Appalachian Mountains. She attended Agnes Scott College in Atlanta before journeying to Amsterdam, where she sought to placate her wanderlust. After 12 eventful years abroad, Kimberly returned to Atlanta with her husband and two children. Her colorful novels are filled with love, laughter and tears. Predominantly set in the South, Kimberly’s stories reveal dimensional characters with challenges and achievements to which we can all relate. Her newest book, The Ones We Trust, is about a former journalist who becomes entangled with a case about a fallen soldier and his family, forcing her to make difficult decisions to protect those nearest to her.
What was your favorite memory of growing up in rural East Tennessee?
Hmm, it’s tough to come up with just one, but what sticks with me most is the accessibility of nature. The mountains are right there, everywhere you look, and they’re so gorgeous. In Atlanta or Amsterdam, the two cities I’ve lived the longest, green spaces are neat and planned, and you have to really work to find a serene spot. But all my favorite Tennessee memories happened outdoors — hiking the Appalachian Trail or camping in the Smokies or winding down a country road with the windows rolled down. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but looking back now, the setting is what made those memories stand out.
How did that environment inform your writing?
As beautiful as Eastern Tennessee is, I couldn’t wait to escape. I was so anxious to travel and see the world, preferably places that required an airline ticket and a passport. I left as soon as I graduated from high school, and for the longest time, I didn’t look back. That wanderlust translated into my first novel, The Last Breath. The main character, Gia, has a gypsy soul, too, and she flees her small-town Tennessee roots thinking she’d never return… until she’s forced to come home to care for her dying father. In the process, she ends up finding new appreciation for the peace and serenity of a small town set against mountains that are big and wide–which is exactly what I learned while writing it. The blue ridges and the green valleys still feel like home to me. No, I’ll never move back permanently, but like Gia, I learned I can have both roots and wings. I don’t have to choose.
Can you tell us a bit about your current book, The Ones We Trust?
Absolutely! The Ones We Trust is about Abigail Wolff, a former journalist who, in an attempt to revive her career, gets involved in the case of a fallen soldier and his family. But the more evidence she stumbles upon, the fewer people it seems she can trust, including her own father, a retired army general whose fingerprints are all over the case. Her investigation eventually leads to an impossible choice, one of unrelenting sacrifice to protect those she loves.
One reviewer called the book as A Few Good Men meets Scandal. I love that description and think it’s pretty spot-on.
You lived abroad with your husband for 12 years. How did travel bring a new perspective to your writing?
My travels impacted me as a writer because they changed me as a person. When I moved to the Netherlands, I knew exactly one Dutch person. For him (my husband), I left everything behind. My friends, my family, my mother language, and my culture – basically everything that made me me. I had to relearn it all from scratch, including how to define myself now that I was in a strange land, living among strange people. What I learned from the experience is this: if I can build a brand new life for myself and fill it with people I love just as much as the ones I left behind, I can do pretty much anything. That confidence came in handy when I sat down to write my first book, and every book since.
What’s your writing process like? Do you start with a big idea and work your way down?
I’m a planner, but I don’t plot every chapter out beforehand. When I start out with a story, I have a good handle on the characters, the conflict, and the major plot points along the way, but that’s about it. I don’t always know how I’m going to get from A to B to C, just that I need to figure out a way to get there. So I guess to answer your question, I start with a big idea, point myself toward a general sense of the ending, and let my imagination fill in the gaps as I go.
You now live in Atlanta with your two children. How has being a mother influenced your writing?
My kids would joke that it’s the other way around – that my writing has influenced my being a mother, because when I’m writing, I tend to forget things like buying food and cooking dinner. We eat a lot of takeout when I’m on deadline. But in all seriousness, being a mother has influenced my writing because it’s made me an efficient worker. I can write in quick bursts or long stretches, depending on my day. Whatever it takes to get the words on the page.
What’s your favorite way to spend the weekend in Atlanta?
After living in cold and rainy Holland for 12 years, by far my favorite thing about Atlanta is the weather, so an ideal weekend would be spent outside, on a terrace or in a park or by the pool. We live outside nine months out of the year, and we never complain about the heat.
Have you spent much time in Nashville? If so, where is your favorite place to dine, shop, play etc?
I ADORE Nashville. I love the honky tonks and the world-class restaurants and shopping. I love the walkability of downtown and cool, edgy neighborhoods like the Gulch. I love that there’s live music everywhere you go. Probably my Tennessee roots, but to me Nashville feels like the best of both worlds – big-city sophistication mixed with down-home living—and I’m so excited to spend a whole weekend here, exploring the new hot spots!
Which authors inspire you?
Oh my gosh, how much time do you have? I look up to so many authors – Jojo Moyes and Jennifer Weiner and Liane Moriarty to name just a few – but there are so many other good ones out there, and of all genres. In women’s fiction, Heather Gudenkauf, Steena Holmes, Colleen Oakley, Laura Dave and Allison Winn Scotch are automatic buys for me. Jonathan Tropper can always make me laugh out loud, and whenever a new Black Dagger Brotherhood book from J.R. Ward comes out, I will literally block off a day or two on my calendar to read it. I’ll read pretty much anything, and everything I read has an influence on my writing, from how the author builds suspense to their tight and fast-moving plotlines to the clever ways they lighten up dark subjects with humor. It’s every writer’s affliction; I read with an eye to writing.