This episode of the Crime Cafe podcast features my interview with crime writer Addison McKnight, the pen name for co-authors Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells.
Check out our discussion of how they got started and their process as collaborators.
Before I bring on my guest, I’ll just remind you that the Crime Cafe has two eBooks for sale: the nine book box set and the short story anthology. You can find the buy inks for both on my website, debbimack.com under the Crime Cafe link. You can also get a free copy of either book if you become a Patreon supporter. You’ll get that and much more if you support the podcast on Patreon, along with our eternal gratitude for doing so.
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Download a copy of the PDF transcript of this episode here.
Debbi: Hi everyone. Today my guests are two writers who collaborate on writing novels, two authors. They each have freelance careers and have written for a variety of publications, but they write fiction together as a team under the pen name Addison McKnight. Their names, their actual names are Krista Wells and Nicole Moleti, not Noelle, Nicole. In any case, I’m very pleased to have with me Krista and Nicole who write as Addison McKnight. Hi guys. How are you doing today?
Nicole: Good. Thank you for having us.
Debbi: I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to have you here too, and I’m happy to focus on the two of you as we speak. I got it to work. Let’s see. Your debut novel is called An Imperfect Plan. What’s it about? There you go. Cover and all Excellent. Nice cover too.
Nicole: Yes. Well, it’s about a lot of different things and a lot of different themes, and the main thing is centered around perfection and women’s—and not just women’s—the cultural obsession with perfection in all different aspects of life, and particularly it’s about a woman who saves her eggs. She’s working in New York. She’s saving to have a family later, and she ends up getting divorced and when she goes back to get the eggs, she realizes that they’re gone, and the only thing she could figure out is that her ex-husband sold the eggs.
Well, it’s about a lot of different things and a lot of different themes, and the main thing is centered around perfection and women’s—and not just women’s—the cultural obsession with perfection in all different aspects of life …
Debbi: Hmm, wow.
Nicole: So that, yes. Scary.
Debbi: Interesting and legal question there. Wow. That’s fascinating. So how would you describe it in terms of genre? Is it like domestic suspense, thriller?
Krista: I would say it’s a hybrid between women’s fiction and a thriller.
Debbi: Cool. Cool. And are you working on another book?
Krista: We are. We just finished our second book, which is called The Vineyard Remains, and it’s also a thriller/soapy drama, kind of another hybrid that will be coming out next year.
Debbi: Excellent. Do you plan to continue collaborating on writing fiction?
Nicole: Yes, definitely. We have a lot of jobs and kids between us. You could see right now I’m in between baseball games. We do try to cram in writing and all of our jobs and kids and everything and make it happen. So we always say we’re so lucky to have each other because we really only have to write half of a book, which is nice.
Nicole: We end up doing it all together, obviously, but I write a chapter, you write a chapter. Okay, I’ll write this part. You write that part. It’s nice when you have a lot of other things happening, you know. It makes it a little bit easier and we have so much fun doing it.
Debbi: That’s great. What drew you toward the suspense thriller genre in particular?
Krista: I would say that the reason is because Nicole read a lot of thrillers. So when she actually came up with the idea of An Imperfect Plan and came over, I had gone through infertility, so I helped her with one of our themes, which was infertility, secondary infertility, and I think part of the reason that the book became a thriller was because she was such a big fan of thrillers and had been reading so many. Would you say that’s true, Nicole? I feel like I’m speaking for you and why we picked that genre.
Nicole: Yes, definitely. I was obsessed and it’s not just books. I think too, we always were watching these dark, deep and twisty shows on Netflix, and it was becoming that whole Girl on a Train/Gone Girl time where all these women were becoming obsessed with true crime and shows on Netflix and these books. So I was really loving it, and I was saying, oh my God, you have to watch this show. We were trading shows, trading books, and I think I just love as a reader those books where you get completely blindsided. That’s like my favorite thing and shows too, and so when I had this idea for An Imperfect Plan, I really, really loved mostly the twist. I love a good twist. So when I thought of it, I’m like, I have to write this book. I have to write it. It’s going to be so good, and it is.
I was obsessed and it’s not just books. I think too, we always were watching these dark, deep and twisty shows on Netflix, and it was becoming that whole Girl on a Train/Gone Girl time where all these women were becoming obsessed with true crime and shows on Netflix and these books.
Debbi: That’s so cool. I’m with you there. I love a show or a book that keeps you in such suspense that you have to find out what happens next because you know there’s going to be a big twist or something in there somewhere, and you don’t know exactly what, but it’s coming. It’s always great. It’s almost like riding a rollercoaster or something.
Nicole: Yes. You’re reading and you’re trying to solve that psychological puzzle that you feel like you sort of know some of the pieces. A lot of people, when they read An Imperfect Plan, the feedback that we got was we kind of knew something, but we didn’t know when or how, so we felt excited that people weren’t able to guess the ending.
Debbi: Exactly. Yeah. That’s really sometimes the best you can get, you know, where people kind of get it but they don’t completely get it, so that there’s still that element of surprise. What advice would you give to any writer who wishes to do what you’re doing? Collaborating?
Nicole: Just do it. Oh, collaborating. I don’t think you can force that. I think that we have seen it become a little bit of a trend. When we started it, we had two sets of authors that we were looking at and saying oh, we can do that, and it was kind of a new idea in the thriller/suspense genre that these two women were doing that. And since we started, we’ve seen it become more of a thing where people are collaborating. They already have their career, and they’re like, oh, I’m going to write a book with this person or that person. It’s really, really hard, and although I said there’s a lot of benefits to it, it is very difficult. I mean, you’re not on your own timeline. If I say, well, we have this due by Friday, but I’m working these two days, and Krista says she’s working and I’m at a double header and you’re at a swim meet, and it’s trying to figure out when we can carve out time to work together. And also, artistically, creating something is very different and difficult when you have a vision. You have to then have a shared vision, and a lot of times I think we run into that. We have to sway each other and convince each other we have to do it this way, and sometimes we always say I don’t like that, but if you can convince me. You have to build your case, and then we have to
[A]rtistically, creating something is very different and difficult when you have a vision. You have to then have a shared vision, and a lot of times I think we run into that. We have to sway each other and convince each other we have to do it this way, and sometimes we always say I don’t like that, but if you can convince me.
Krista: Yes, or sometimes we’ll bargain. If you give me this person in the court, then I’ll give you that she could be pregnant or something like that, and we’ll negotiate in the comments.
Nicole: Yes. Yes.
Krista: We’ll do sort of a trade.
Debbi: Well, I can see you guys have a rapport, that’s for sure, and it probably plays out a lot in your writing. It reminds me a great deal of screenwriting because often screenwriters will collaborate, especially in a TV setting. Always you have that writer’s room and that sharing and the bouncing of ideas off each other. It’s similar, but different, very different.
Nicole: Yes. Have you done that before? Have you …?
Debbi: I’ve had an experience where I did collaborate with several writers on a short film recently.
Nicole: Yeah. Oh, awesome.
Debbi: It was like a contest type thing, so it was like, wow! To me, I felt more alive after I did it. It was like, whoo. I really connected with these people and got in a few lines and jokes. Wow, this is great.
Nicole: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Debbi: There’s something about…
Nicole: It’s like when we have a really good brainstorming session, I think we both feel really good, and we feel… You’re right actually the way you’re describing it. Krista, do you agree? You feel like, oh my God, this is great.
Krista: And I feel like different authors are going to collaborate in different ways, and we’ve heard several co-authors do it with a different style where they sit down and write every sentence together, or they’re working on a piece together. Nicole and I typically each take a character in the books, so that is a little bit of our unique style within the collaboration is that I’m one character and she’s another so we give each other a little bit more leeway with our own character. I think the important thing when you’re collaborating with someone is that you can usually work through the nitty gritty of the editing and the storytelling, but you have to have, I think, a deeper shared values with that person, and I feel like Nicole and I might argue over how a chapter is going or our styles or things like that, but I think like at a deeper level, if you have shared values and the same type of work ethic, you’re going to be able to get through each individual project more effortlessly.
I think the important thing when you’re collaborating with someone is that you can usually work through the nitty gritty of the editing and the storytelling, but you have to have, I think, a deeper shared values with that person …
Debbi: Yeah, absolutely. That’s absolutely true. Finding people you’re copacetic with to work with is very important in your collaboration. You are both so busy – the baseball games, the marriages, the kids, the work. How do you find the time to write? How do you find your writing time? How do you balance it all?
Nicole: Well, a couple things….
Krista: We have a saying. We call it pockets of time.
Nicole: Yeah, yeah. We found that the first time we wrote our first book, we were so… You know, a lot of people say, I have writer’s block. I don’t want to write, or you stall. I sometimes find myself with an article or something like that. I’m like, oh God, I gotta write this article and you don’t feel as motivated. But with this book idea, there was nothing else I wanted to do more, except get this story out on paper. So, any spare moment. We stopped going on Facebook; we stopped watching TV. You know, if you cut out all those time wasters, you have all these little pockets of time and you could get a lot done in those pockets of time. So that’s really how we did book one. I think we’ve changed. I think our whole life has changed. The way we operate our days now I think are just different. Do you agree?
Krista: Yeah, I feel like I tend to still write more in the mornings, and Nicole tends to write late at night, so she’ll send me a chapter and I’ll typically edit it in the morning, and then if I wrote something, like I wrote something today during the day and she’ll probably in one of the next couple of nights edit it and send it back. So I feel like people tend to have a natural time that they like to write, whether that’s… I mean, we both work, so it’s either early in the morning or late at night. But I’ve talked to authors that have transitioned from working and writing to full-time writing, and they said they still write about the same amount per day, so I feel like that’s encouraging to people that think I have to quit my day job to become a writer. I feel like you can carve out some time to get it done. But yeah, our schedules have changed. I think what Nicole said is true. In the beginning we were just writing on fire, just getting the story out, and now we know a little bit more about the writing rules, so we might write at a little bit slower pace because we’re learning as we go.
I think what Nicole said is true. In the beginning we were just writing on fire, just getting the story out, and now we know a little bit more about the writing rules, so we might write at a little bit slower pace because we’re learning as we go.
Debbi: I think that’s another thing about writing fiction. It’s a continual learning process, really. Each time that you do it, you get better, I think, and if you’re doing it right. It’s something you have to decide. I want to do this. But do you have any advice for anyone who is starting out and would like to be a writer for a living? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Nicole: I think for me for my personal journey, I went to college to be a writer many years ago, and I got some internships that were in New York City revolving around writing, and I quickly became disillusioned because to really graduate college and say I’m going to be a writer is really difficult, and to really get a career and sustain yourself in that world is just like… I very quickly realized that it was not going to be possible, or I just didn’t have the drive for it at that time. So I ended up doing PR writing, grant writing. I was always writing, and then I would write nonfiction articles for parenting and beauty, and I did writing. It was always something I was doing, so I feel like if you really want to write, you’re going to write. But this fiction… I went to school for screenwriting and I never did anything, and then when I got this idea, I think it took me that long to believe in my idea and to believe in myself and to really say okay, I’m ready to try this. Unfortunately, I wish it didn’t take 25 years …
I went to school for screenwriting and I never did anything, and then when I got this idea, I think it took me that long to believe in my idea and to believe in myself and to really say okay, I’m ready to try this. Unfortunately, I wish it didn’t take 25 years …
Debbi: Tell me about it.
Nicole: To say I’m actually good at this. But the point of the story is I think all those years of writing brought me to the point where I could do it, because you do have to write a little bit all the time. You have to keep writing and kind of hone your skills, and really, when I started – I’m taking over this Krista. You can answer too – but when I started blogging a long time ago, I had a parenting blog and that was my first time getting feedback. I did a blog for 12 years. It went viral many times. I had up to a million readers all over the world, and so to have that feedback was very good. So I would say if you don’t want to do a blog—blogs are kind of obsolete now anyways—but podcasting or however you want to do it, to have feedback or join a writing group or whatever it is, just accountability and to have feedback and to kind of hone your craft, I think just do it. Just do it.
Nicole: And Krista, I bullied her to it.
Krista: She said, you should write one of the characters, and I was like, I don’t know. I’ve only been writing nonfiction for 10 years, so I had not written fiction. My degree was not in writing; it was in psychology, and then I owned a magazine business, so I was reading other people’s articles and editing them and putting them in the magazine that I owned, and then I started writing for other military spouse magazines and the military spouse community blog. So I was writing a lot of nonfiction and when Nicole and I got together, we both were writers, but we hadn’t written a novel. But if you think about it, we had both been writing for about 10 years when we met. It wasn’t like our book was the first thing we had ever written.
So I was writing a lot of nonfiction and when Nicole and I got together, we both were writers, but we hadn’t written a novel. But if you think about it, we had both been writing for about 10 years when we met. It wasn’t like our book was the first thing we had ever written.
Debbi: Yeah, absolutely. All those years really do go into making you a better writer because you have all that experience to draw on. Let’s see, who are your favorite authors? Nicole, who are those thriller authors that you love so much? And Krista, who are your favorite authors?
Nicole: Well, I love Harlan Coben. I just read his latest book of the summer and I always say, oh my God, is he really going to be able to push out another great book? And every time it’s better than the last. I always loved him. We both just read a book that we loved called Stone Cold Fox, and I believe she’s a debut author, but she also worked in magazines and had nonfiction experience. Rachel Koller Croft is her name, and we both loved it so much.
Debbi: I’ve heard of that book, actually.
Krista: Yes, and Nicole and I both like Greer Hendricks and …
Nicole: Oh yes. Yeah, yeah.
Krista: I’ve been reading a couple beachy reads. I just read Someone Else’s Shoes by JoJo Moyes, and we both read Ms. Demeanor by Elinor Lipman, and that was a really cute, clever, fast paced, fun beach read. Ms. Demeanor, and we got to meet that author. We love when we go out and meet authors that we like. We try to kind of look at which of our favorite authors. So Nicole, tell them one of our very favorite authors that we’ve scheduled to go and meet later this fall.
Nicole: So our book, the first book, we got 55 rejections initially, and we ended up changing our whole pitch and we said, you know what? Let’s try to pitch it live somewhere. So we did everything different and we ultimately got our agent and we got our deal. But the shift that we made in the way we pitched it was “Big Little Lies meets Fight Club”. And if you’ve ever read or seen Fight Club, you know what that means, and everybody loved that. So that author Chuck Palahniuk is our idol. We just love him so much and our dream is to meet him and he lives in Portland, Oregon, I think.
So our book, the first book, we got 55 rejections initially, and we ended up changing our whole pitch and we said, you know what? Let’s try to pitch it live somewhere. So we did everything different and we ultimately got our agent and we got our deal.
Krista: Somewhere out west.
Nicole: Yeah, and we’re like, oh God, we have so much going on. We’re never going to have time to go out there and stalk him.
Debbi: You should go.
Nicole: We are. This fall.
Krista: Well, he’s coming to Boston.
Debbi: Oh, very good. Excellent.
Nicole: We’re so excited. He’s doing a book tour and we bought tickets and we’re going to go meet him. But we were laughing because we said a few years ago, we would be this excited about a concert or going to the US Open or something, and now we’re meeting the ….
Krista: We’re going to meet the author of Fight Club!!
Debbi: Well, that’s a brilliant logline by the way. That pitch for your book. That’s just brilliant, the way you did that. Big Little Lies meets Fight Club. That’s excellent.
Krista: Yeah, really good. It worked.
Nicole: We got some help, but it was good.
Debbi: Well still, very cool, and you have a published book now. That’s great, and you’re going to have more. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish up?
Nicole: I don’t know. Did we cover everything that we have to say, Krista?
Krista: Well, I think one thing is if you want to write a thriller, just write it and don’t worry about the agent and the publisher and all of that. But Nicole and I actually … She had mentioned we pitched 55 agents and got rejections and we ended up going to an event called ThrillerFest, which if you’re a new writer, you might not have heard of it, but we ended up… First we went to the library and saw other authors that we liked and then we were told to go to ThrillerFest. There’s a part of ThrillerFest called Pitch Fest where you can pitch your book. It’s like speed dating agents, and I think that that’s a really good piece of information if you’re a new writer to look into writer conferences. I’ve seen some other ones. I think Gotham Writers does another type of pitching, but I think it’s good if you are really passionate about your idea. It doesn’t always come across in a query letter, but I think it can come across when you’re pitching people live and you’re meeting your agent. I think it’s important. Nicole and I have some good chemistry with our agent and right when we met her, she seemed excited about our idea and we were excited about her because we had read and you can read in the beginning of books that you like who the agents are.
So I feel like making that connection live can just spark the right motivation to get your book out into the world. The last piece of advice that I would leave is a piece of advice from our agent that said, you have to trust that your book is going to get out into the world in an organic way. We hit a lot of roadblocks towards the end, whether it was Covid or running out of paper in New York or whatever, all different kinds of things, and you have to sort of trust the process, which our agent would always tell us. Just trust that your book is going to find its way into the world when it’s supposed to, so not to get so discouraged by the little hiccups that come up inevitably in this industry.
So I feel like making that connection live can just spark the right motivation to get your book out into the world. The last piece of advice that I would leave is a piece of advice from our agent that said, you have to trust that your book is going to get out into the world in an organic way.
Debbi: I agree with you wholeheartedly on all of that. Wow. I mean, really before you start worrying about all that market/business stuff, focus on the quality of the writing first and as far as pitching. Yeah, definitely. I mean, when you’re meeting with people, you have a chance to be more interactive with them for one thing, and they’re seeing that you care enough to show up.
Debbi: These are all great, great attributes and I’m glad you brought them up.
Krista: So, the last thing, we are going to do a giveaway, so I just wanted to just share that with your podcast viewers because we’re appreciative to be on the podcast, so Nicole can share the details, but we’re going to give away one of the copies of An Imperfect Plan to one of your listeners.
Nicole: Yes. I think it’s posted on your website, right?
Nicole: So that’s good.
Debbi: I will put a link to the post where I have the giveaway details.
Debbi: Fantastic. Well, it was great talking to you guys, and thank you so much for being here today.
Nicole: Thank you for having us.
Debbi: I appreciate it so much. I don’t want you guys to go just yet because we’re going to do a little session after this. Very brief.
Debbi: Kind of a bonus session for the Patreon supporters, so I hope you’ll stick with me for that, and everybody I would just like to say don’t forget to please leave a review or hit the “like” button if you’re watching on YouTube, and we are also Patreon supported. So if you check out our Patreon page, you’ll see all the different tiers and perks that we offer. Our next episode will feature Gary Grossman and Ed Fuller in the hot seats. Until then, take care and happy reading