Thursday, August 31, 2023

Chatting with Kristin Kisska

By Steve Weddle

I had the pleasure recently to chat via email with Kristin Kisska, whose The Hint of Light has been called "shimmering" by Adriana Trigiani.

While The Hint of Light is Kisska's debut novel, you may already be familiar with her short stories, which have appeared in a number of award-winning anthologies.

The new domestic thriller published August 29, 2023.

In this heart-wrenching exploration of unconditional love, what a mother finds in the aftermath of her son’s death could put her family back together—or tear them apart for good.

In the wake of her son’s sudden death, Margaret Dobrescu struggles to keep it together in the face of her grief…and her guilt. She can’t help but blame herself for Kyle’s own lifelong struggles—namely, the alcoholism that plagued him.

But within mere days of his funeral, secrets and suspicions begin to surface, and Margaret’s husband admits that Kyle once confessed to having a daughter. Clinging to the hope that some part of her son is still out there, Margaret embarks on a search to find her rumored granddaughter.

What Margaret hasn’t prepared for, however, is the deluge of secrets that keep coming. And as she digs deeper and deeper into her son’s life to find the truth, what she finds instead is that her own secrets can’t stay buried forever.


Steve Weddle: The Hint of Light is so full of twists and turns and family secrets that I don’t even know where to start. Where did you start? Did you know what was around each corner or did you ever surprise yourself?

Kristin Kisska:  That’s a good question! I’m a big fan of bullet-point plotting, which I do with the help of my dining room table and colored sticky notes (one note per chapter, one color per POV). Since I’d loosely plotted the main points of The Hint of Light before I’d started writing it, I already knew most of the shocking details and twists. That said, while I knew the ending ahead of time (no spoilers!), I changed the reason behind it during my editing phase, which I think added richness and complexity to the novel.

Once I started drafting it, I decided to write the chapters chronologically so that I never messed up what each POV character knew and, more importantly, ensured they only touched on details that were already revealed in the story. I wrote all the Before chapters, followed by all the After chapters, and then adjusted anything that was off when I braided them together.

For me, Ally’s chapters were the hardest to keep straight because she is in both the Before and After timelines. I ended up making her a high school senior in the before chapters and a college freshman in the after chapters to help readers avoid getting confused.  

SW: Margaret Dobrescu starts out looking for one thing and ends up with much more than she’d bargained for. Some people might not react in the same ways that she does when faced with so many surprises. Why is she the perfect character for this story?

KK: To me, Margaret, the matriarch, is a core character because she’s the glue that keeps the Dobrescu family together. As Kyle’s mother, she’d be the person who would grieve his loss the most, and she would be the most invested in finding her unknown granddaughter. That she’s willing to endure such a painful emotional journey on the remote chance her rumored grandchild is true is a testament to her unconditional love for all her family members.

I think—I hope—most readers can pinpoint someone in their family who they consider to be like Margaret, the glue, and therefore find her relatable. And if not, that could make for a lively book club discussion!

SW: You are an author who seems fairly active in various groups and events -- Sisters in Crime, Malice Domestic, etc. How important is it for writers to connect with each other?

KK:Writing is, by and large, a solo adventure. But it doesn’t always have to be. Over the years, I’ve found tremendous support, camaraderie, and help learning craft and publishing from other writers. I’m always amazed at the time and talent that seasoned thriller and mystery authors offer to those of us who are rookies. I’ve benefitted from their generosity in spades.

Networking, both online and in person, has really made all the difference in my writing career. I belong to International Thriller Writers, the James River Writers, Sisters in Crime (both national and the Central Virginia chapter), The Authors Guild, and WFWA. I also try to attend at least two writers’ conferences per year, such as Malice Domestic and the WFWA conference in 2023. I expect to add ThrillerFest next spring as well since I’ll be featured as one of ITW’s debuts. In my opinion, almost every fiction writer will benefit from networking within the writing community.

I even credit networking for having achieved my first published writing credit. A writer friend forwarded me the call for submission to Bouchercon’s mystery anthology, MURDER UNDER THE OAKS, in 2015. Without that lead, I’d never have submitted “The Sevens,” thus embarking on my journey of writing and publishing short stories of suspense.

SW: Having an MFA degree is more common for a novelist than having an MBA. How did you end up writing this “heart-wrenching” domestic thriller?

KK: I have a surprising confession. My MBA helped me refine my fiction writing. Seriously. In business school and in corporate banking, I was trained to distill my memos from big concepts into succinct, actionable bullet points, or no one would read my content. So, I was already in the habit of using strong words, keeping my prose to the point, and deleting anything that got in the way of the story I was trying to write.

Don’t get me wrong, it still took a lot of trial and error before I ever wrote anything that would qualify as readable. After my first attempt at drafting a novel, I found blog posts on the craft of writing and found a critique group. I made every clichéd rookie mistake in the books, including info dumping, opening my novel with my character assessing herself in the mirror, and over-writing about fifty thousand words than the standard thriller. Fifteen years, four polished novel-length manuscripts, hundreds of queries, and a dozen published short stories later, I’m represented by a literary agent, and my debut novel is published…even without an MFA!

SW: LynDee Walker called your debut “stunningly crafted.” What is your writing process like?

KK: As a morning person, earlier is better. So, when I’m drafting a novel, I try to hit my daily word count goal as early in the day as possible. Usually, that involves working in the dark, with night lights on and a strong pot of coffee brewing. You’ll find me Tweeting with other #5amWritersClub members. I also refuse to edit anything until I have a complete draft. Throughout my draft, I’ll make stage-direction notes to myself in mid-text, such as: [In Chapter X, add this super-twisty detail]. Finally, if I am drafting in the fall, I tend to participate in NaNoWriMo as that deadline never fails to give me a boost in discipline and energy to draft 50,000 words in a month.

Thank you for interviewing me on the Do Some Damage blog, Steve. I’ve enjoyed being in the author hot seat and wish everyone out in fiction-writing-land happy wording!

Kristin Kisska is a native of Virginia, where she currently resides with her family and their moody tabby, Boom. She holds a BS in commerce from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Northwestern University. She is the author of a dozen short stories published in anthologies. The Hint of Light is her debut novel. Kristin loves hearing from friends and readers at

Find out more about her books:

1 comment:

Kristin Kisska said...

Thank you for hosting me on "Doing Some Damage," Steve!