Kimberly Diede - Stories of Optimism and Hope
Kimberly Diede writes contemporary and historical novels that weave together family, hope, and romance. She writes family sagas, suspense, and women’s fiction that you’ll find hard to put down. She truly believes we are never too old for second chances at love and life. Kimberly enjoys spending her short summer months on the lakeshores of Minnesota and North Dakota. Nothing is better than time with family at the cabin. Her love of tradition and all things vintage comes through in her stories. She’s still learning to navigate adulthood with her high school boyfriend turned husband, and is the lucky mother of three amazing kids plus a brand-new grandson. In a world too often filled with sadness and tragedy, her mission is to offer stories of optimism and hope. If she can keep you reading past your bedtime, she has accomplished what she set out to do. As a life-long reader, she loves to get lost in the pages of a great book and strives to give you the same experience. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Whispering Pines.
Please give us a short introduction to what Whispering Pines is about.
Whispering Pines is Book 1 in my Celia’s Gifts series. This book kicks off a set of novels that focus on the opportunities four siblings have to reinvent themselves, thanks to the legacy their dear Aunt Celia leaves behind. We travel along with Renee, a forty-five-year-old single mother of two teenagers, as she navigates her way through massive life changes following an unexpected layoff.
Her twenty-year career was never exciting, but it paid the bills. The only friends she had time for were co-workers. She’d even drifted away from her extended family, too busy with work and motherhood to maintain those important relationships. When the career and co-workers disappear in a single day, Renee is set adrift.
The story asks the age-old question of “what if?” What if Renee is brave enough to start over, in a brand-new place with a completely different career, thanks to the heartfelt gift her recently deceased aunt leaves to her? Is it fair to uproot her kids? Does she dare put her heart on the line again? Taking chances is hard at any age, but it can be especially difficult later in life, when others depend on you. Renee’s story shows us that the risks are worth it, and it’s never too late to reinvent ourselves.
What inspired you to write about someone who has to start over in life?
Writing my first full-length novel, Whispering Pines, started out as a fun way for me to live vicariously through Renee, the story’s protagonist. I found myself bored with my lengthy career in corporate America, facing the reality of a soon-to-be empty nest, and dissatisfied with the idea that this might be all there was to my life. Many of my older co-workers were biding their time until they could retire in their mid-sixties. They’d have fun later, but in the meantime, they were settling. I hated the idea that I was turning into one of those people, too.
As an avid, lifelong reader, I’d alternate between reading non-fiction books meant to inspire me to “someday” make the changes I knew I needed to make and contemporary fiction that allowed me to escape my day to day. But so many of the novels I picked up had younger protagonists, and I was losing my ability to relate to them. Why couldn’t I find fiction that I could relate to?
I began to notice a variety of quotes that challenged me to write that book I wanted to read but couldn’t find. Eventually, this led to what I thought would be nothing more than a fun hobby, but writing fiction has evolved into a passion for me.
I needed to find the inspiration to quit my job and focus on work I love. Writing this series gave me that inspiration. In late 2021, I left that corporate job to pursue my newfound dream of writing full time.
Now nothing excites me more than developing interesting, relatable characters and giving them the gift of a fresh start. Maybe I’ll inspire a few readers to take some chances, too.
Why did you pick a Minnesota lake resort as the backdrop for your story?
I love stories set near oceans, lakes, and rivers. I’ve lived in North Dakota and Minnesota my whole life. While I’d love to spend more time at the ocean, I felt better equipped to use a more familiar setting in this series. There is something so inviting about relaxing on a sandy beach, or around an evening campfire, surrounded by tall pines. They call Minnesota “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” so the possibilities were endless for creating a fun lake setting.
When our kids were younger, we spent many summer vacations at family-owned resorts around Minnesota. One particular property was the driving force behind my fictional Whispering Pines resort. Our extended family enjoyed a fun-filled week in two adjacent cabins on that property, but there were three additional cabins on a back lot that were no longer used. Uncovered windows revealed the run-down little structures were full of old castoffs and lake memorabilia, but I’m not sure anyone could salvage them. I’ve often wondered whether those cabins are still standing.
Setting these novels in Minnesota also allows me to incorporate so many of the midwestern values and traditions that I hold dear into my storylines.
What, would you say, is so magical about new beginnings?
New beginnings allow us to grow, to experience new things, and to build relationships with people we might never have met without making a change. Comfort zones are dangerous. I’ve spent too many of my own precious years stuck in ruts. The beauty of reading stories that take us along with a fictional character on his or her new path is that we get to experience the journey without the real-life risks. Regardless of whether their change is by choice or by necessity, we get to experience the inevitable lows and invigorating highs with them. We’ll see that the costs are worth it as he or she eventually find new ways to thrive. We may even start to believe it’s possible for us to improve our own lives, too. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m notorious for accurately predicting the ending of movies well before the halfway point. I can’t keep my guesses to myself, and it drives my husband and young-adult kids nuts. They complain it ruins the movie, but they still let me watch with them. People are also surprised to learn that I used to be a number cruncher. These days, I use the written word to tell my stories, but for over thirty years, I worked as an analyst in the financial industry and used numbers instead of words to paint my pictures. I didn’t realize it then, but now I can see the creativity at work using that approach, too. I still love a good spreadsheet.
Family values play a prominent role in your stories. Why do you take this approach?
I was blessed to grow up in a tight-knit family. My commitment to family has always been a significant factor in how I lived my life, and I truly believe my life is richer for this focus. I love when my characters can also enjoy this level of support. My mother’s aunt was an amazing woman and was my inspiration behind Celia.
Family dynamics fall along a vast spectrum. Many real-life families are rife with heartache and separation. Lots of novels build on this disfunction. I choose to build stories where strong family ties can provide a safety net for my characters. No one is perfect. But they support each other. Readers that grew up within a supportive family network can relate to these books, often enjoying the way the storylines nudge their own forgotten memories. Others that didn’t experience a close family circle often tell me that they love to feel like they are part of Renee’s family.
In all the Celia’s Gifts books, family is blood, but friendships can feel like family, too. I’m exploring this in more detail in future novels.
Interesting cover. Tell us more about how it came to be.
I wanted the cover to portray important elements of the setting for Whispering Pines. Dense pines hugging the shoreline is how I’ve experienced my favorite lakeside properties in Minnesota. I experimented with including a cabin or a woman on the cover, but I ultimately left those images to the imagination of my readers. To me, Renee’s many universal experiences, thoughts, and fears are what make her so relatable. I didn’t want to pigeonhole her with a certain physical look on a book cover. The dock plays a prominent role in each book in this series. The overall mood of this first cover is hazy and foggy, matching Renee’s mindset as she begins her journey. I especially love the unique water droplets because of what water represents. Water can cleanse away the old and bring new life to something that has become dry and desolate. Covers on future books in the series lighten and brighten, which I believe represents the progression of Renee and the other main characters, too.
Tell us more about Renee. What makes her so special?
Readers tell me all the time how much they can relate to Renee. I believe part of her appeal is her age and maturity. There aren’t enough novels with strong women protagonists in their forties, fifties, sixties, and up. It’s an underserved niche.
Renee, like so many of us, feels she has lost vital parts of herself as she’s worked hard to raise her kids, build a career, navigate the loss of a spouse, and so many other dynamics that come with living through multiple life stages. She isn’t exactly unhappy, but she isn’t thriving either. It’s easy for many readers to step right into Renee’s shoes because her life could be their life. When Renee is ripped out of her comfort zone two weeks before Christmas, we can actually feel her despair. But there is also that glimmer of hope. What if she uses this unexpected pothole in her life to make some much needed changes? We cheer for Renee because if she can succeed, maybe we can, too.
Whispering Pines is the first book in the Celia’s Gifts Series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
You can read Whispering Pines as a standalone. The story follows Renee on her journey of self-discovery from her current, somewhat lackadaisical existence, to the point where she’s grown into a woman no longer afraid to allow things into her life that can bring her true happiness, despite the risks. There are no cliffhangers, but Renee’s story continues to build in future books.
Whispering Pines tells Renee’s story, and how she incorporates an inheritance from her great aunt into her life. It sets up future journeys her brother and two sisters will also take with help from Aunt Celia. Tangled Beginnings, Book 2, follows Jess on her own journey of self-discovery after her husband’s many transgressions. Rebuilding Home, Book 3, is Ethan’s story. His family is falling apart, but he’s committed to stepping forward to be a better father to his three teenagers. Capturing Wishes-A Whispering Pines Christmas novel falls between Book 3 and Book 4, and reminds us all of the magic of second chances (I like to refer to this as book 3.5 in the series). Choosing Again, Book 4, explores Val’s challenges in raising four boys within a long-term marriage.
Initially, I expected Choosing Again to be the end of the series, but I realized we needed to hear Celia’s story. It was the only way to understand what a truly remarkable woman she was and how she built the powerful legacy that she passes on to her family. Celia’s journey spans two books. Celia’s Gifts, Book 5, picks up with Celia as a college student and her first visit to Whispering Pines. We learn how a single woman came to be the owner of such an amazing lake resort. Then we’ll find the answers to all the lingering questions raised in the first books in the series in Celia’s Legacy, Book 6. This final (for now) book was just released at the end of January 2022.
What is your favorite quote from the book?
I added a quote to the beginning of Whispering Pines that came to me as I was completing the edits of that first manuscript: “Sometimes the roadblocks, setbacks, and heartbreaks of life turn out to be the greatest gifts of all.” Everyone’s life comes with unexpected twists and turns. We sometimes learn more from the trials than the triumphs. I took that quote one step further and named each chapter “Gift of…” because I felt like each chapter in the book contained at least one life lesson. Examples include “Gift of Intuition”, “Gift of the Tropics”, and so many more. It turned out to be such a fun exercise, I carried that naming convention through to all the books in the series. I loved not only the continuity but also the way it forced me to think about the messages revealed throughout Renee’s journey. I even wrote many blog posts using those chapter names as prompts. You can find those posts on my website if you are interested.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
This is a timely question, as I’m at this point right now! The best way for me to start is with the characters. I put lots of time into developing my characters, even though most of their backstories are never directly included in the finished novels. I’ll continue to use protagonists at midlife and beyond, and I want to “understand” at least some of the most pivotal points in their lives that brought them to the start of my story. Then I develop their current state of mind, before moving on to the best part: crafting a new story for them, full of daring chances and rich rewards. For me, it’s characters first, then the plotlines develop to aid them on their internal journeys.
What are you working on right now?
I’m developing my new series, and after being immersed for the last few years in a family of characters I came to love like real people, this fresh start is both exciting and intimidating. But the new cast is taking on lives of their own, and I can feel the beginnings of a new love affair with each of them, too.
Celia’s Gifts is built on a strong, supportive family unit. This new series will continue to explore family dynamics, but with a greater emphasis on the multi-faceted types of friendships that sustain women throughout their lives.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
When you visit my website at https://www.kimberlydiedeauthor.com , you can find out more about all my books and sign up for a free novella. Travel back to 1980 and Renee’s first visit to Whispering Pines as a young girl. I’ll keep you updated on my current writing projects, new releases, and fun books I’m reading through my periodic newsletter. You can also find me at: