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Author Deep Dive: Kennedy Ryan

Friday, November 18, 2022

Bestselling author Kennedy Ryan’s latest novel, Before I Let Go, released earlier this week. This book is an unputdownable love story that highlights both the joys and difficulties of relationships as well as the realities of tragedy, depression, and loss.

Our Book Talk editors loved this book and were thrilled to interview Ryan about how her personal experiences informed the subject matter of the novel, how she crafts a true-to-life love story, and what she hopes readers will take away from her book.

Be sure to check out Diana Tramontano’s book review here!

Where do you find inspiration for your novels?

Usually in real life. Once it was a pipeline protest on protected lands. Another time a football player who abused his girlfriend with too few consequences. I often joke that my stories come more from inciting incidents than inspiration. I’ll see something that makes me mad or indignant or just fascinated, and decide I want to write about it. And since it’s romance. . . they kiss!

Have any of your own personal experiences shown up in your writing?

Sometimes. Definitely with Before I Let Go. The heroine Yasmen battles depression, which I was diagnosed with while writing the book. That informed a lot of her journey, and I believe gave me more empathy and compassion for her experience. I felt really protective of her and of the women who might read this book who have experienced similar challenges. I wanted them to see something that was real and also hopeful.

You write in the acknowledgments of Before I Let Go that it is actually the first book you ever wrote! What prompted you to return to the project and publish it now?

My husband actually! He had read the original (AWFUL!) version from years ago and encouraged me to revisit the story. I had never planned to publish it. At the time, it was more an exercise just to see if I could write a full-length novel. I put it away and didn’t think it should ever see the light of day. It needed a lot of work. I basically reconstructed most of the story, changed names, added elements that really reshaped it almost beyond recognition. I think this story was waiting for me to grow and evolve. I could not have written this current iteration of it 15 years ago. I wouldn’t have taken as much care as I did this time around. I didn’t know the things I do now as a mom, a wife, a friend. And those lessons inform this story tremendously.

How do you strike the balance between writing a love story and also weaving together a deeply emotional and raw story with real-life difficulties?

Top-tier beta readers! I’m often too close to the story to recognize when I’ve gone too heavy or added so much of my research that it’s bogged down the romance. But as I’m writing, I weave those real-life issues in naturally because the world doesn’t stop for us to fall in love. We fall in love while a relative battles cancer, while student loans are due, while we fall out with old friends, while we receive an unexpected diagnosis. Real life never stops life-ing, and the more I keep that in mind, the more the “balance” kind of finds itself. Then as insurance I check to make sure the “romance beats” are there and that the pacing feels good and the characters feel fully developed. If I find myself getting bored as I read my own book, that’s a sure sign!

The restaurant, Grits, is such a fun backdrop to the story in Before I Let Go, and many foods play a central role in the novel. Do you enjoy cooking? Do you have a family member that inspired the character of Aunt Byrd?

I actually don’t enjoy cooking. I’m an adequate and infrequent cook. I don’t know that it’s one person Aunt Byrd is based on, as much as several. My grandmother, my Aunt Evelyn (whose corn pudding is in the recipes listed at the end of the book), my mother. People who wove delicious food in with Southern hospitality, with family, and with community until they were all inextricable from one another. It made eating an experience. It was an expression of love and of community.

What are you most looking forward to on your pub day for Before I Let Go?

I most look forward to people who may have struggled with grief, loss, or depression, seeing themselves in the pages of this book triumphant. Feeling resonance with these characters and situations, and recognizing that it’s okay to not always be okay. That there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Normalizing therapy is a big theme in the story. And I look forward to introducing this family, the Wades, to readers. They love fiercely and are resilient and loyal. I hope folks fall for them the way I did as I wrote their story.

Before I Let Go is the first Skyland book! What can you tell us about other books to follow?

There is a friend group with three women—Yasmen, Soledad, and Hendrix. In Before I Let Go, Yasmen is the main character. Soledad and Hendrix will each have their turn in the spotlight, getting their own stories in the other two books of the Skyland series.