Author Spotlight – Graciela Kenig

Vintage typewriter with lamp on wooden table at wooden wall background

Award-winning author Graciela Kenig joins me for this month’s Author Spotlight. Graciela’s political thriller, The Plans They Made, features a strong female protagonist and offers action-packed adventure! Read on to find out how Graciela comes up with the trials and tribulations her characters experience in the novel.

On to the interview!

Photo of author Graciela Kenig
Author photo of Graciela Kenig
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

At a very young age, maybe 10. I used to find a quiet place and write poems. It was my private world.

How did you get started writing?

I went from poems to short stories and even kept a diary when I was 14. But then my family moved to the United States and my primary language changed from Spanish to English when I was 17. Freshman year in college, an English professor saw something in my writing and encouraged me to keep doing it. I wrote two novels and a memoir I never published. Then I got serious and started taking writing classes.

What genre do you write in and why?

Thrillers. I always enjoyed reading suspenseful books and watching nail-biting movies, especially those pinned to actual events. So thrillers came naturally to me. But I also write thrillers because I grew up in Argentina where politics was part of our daily diet. Some coups and government changes affected my family and people I knew well—before and after we emigrated. 

How do you get the ideas for the stories and books you write?

Some of my ideas come from lived experiences, places I visited, things I read about and learned from, things that happened to people I knew. Also, my ideas can be sparked by unrelated conversations, unresolved feelings or memories, or even a news item that seems fascinating and leads me to think about new twists and possibilities.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Too long. My stories tend to require lots of research and I’m not a fast writer. About three years, I’d say.

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?

Usually I’m intrigued by characters in unique situations. So the plot comes afterwards.

What is your favorite part about being an author?

Coming up with relatable ways to express a character’s conundrum. 

What is the most challenging part of writing a book?

Some days things don’t flow as easily as others. The most challenging part is recognizing and conquering resistance.

Do you have a writing ritual or routine that you use?

Yes, I have a writing routine. At a minimum, I write for two hours every morning with a group via Zoom. Then I meet with an editing group once per week. Having both vehicles gives me external and internal accountability. And their feedback helps me grow as a writer.

If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?

I’m not sure spending a day with a popular author would teach me much about their writing. But it might be interesting to meet Anne Tyler, Harlan Coben or Louise Penny.

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a book? 

I share the news with my son and my husband. Usually neither of them reads anything I write until I’m finished.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?

Learn the craft. I was always told I was a good writer. But I never wrote anything publishable until I took courses and joined writing groups.

What advice would you give new writers?

Learn the craft from reputable teachers and work with groups who understand how to offer constructive feedback.

How do you come up with character names for your stories?

Depends on the setting and historical period. Sometimes, I google popular baby names for the time in which the novel takes place. If the setting is another country, I do something similar, making sure the name isn’t trite but common enough. In that case, I check with someone from that part of the world. Other times, I find pictures online that look like I want my characters to look. Then I give them names that fit those images. 

How do you handle bad reviews? 

I swallow hard and move on. It’s never easy. But understanding that I can’t expect everyone to like what I write really helps.

What are your favorite books to read?

Books that take me to faraway places and show me how other people live and feel. I find cultural differences and similarities fascinating.

Do you have any book recommendations? 

My tastes are eclectic. The Banyan Moon by Thao Thai, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, Dinner at The Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian, and Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow.

What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?

Being able to write without having to run book promotions and social media campaigns.

If you had to describe yourself in just three words, what would those be?

Persistent. Talented. Writer.

What other pastimes or hobbies do you have?

Read, write, go to the beach and walk along the seashore.

Tell us a bit about your WIP. 

My most recent release, The Plans They Made, is best summarized in the blurb as follows.

    Her best friend is dead. A terrorist cell threatens to bomb London. Can an American journalist save hundreds of lives?

    Kate Brennan is devastated. After months of planning a reunion in London, the Chicago-based, award-winning investigative reporter turned novelist is shattered to learn that her dearest friend is dead. But when she realizes that the circumstances are suspicious—and that even looking into them could imperil her own life—she feels compelled to act.

    Teaming up with a man who knew her friend, Kate embarks on the most extraordinary and hair-raising fact-finding mission of her life. With a terrorist cell stalking her every move and under the constant threat of suicide bombings, she fears both she and hundreds of people are about to run out of time. Can Kate outfox the terrorists and save their targets from certain doom? Or will she die along with them, never getting justice for her best friend?

    THE PLANS THEY MADE is a pulse pounding international thriller that will keep you turning pages until the very end.

    How did you come up with the title for your book? 

    It’s a line from a James Taylor song, Fire and Rain, that felt emblematic of Kate’s situation at the start of the novel. But it also applied to many other parts of the story.

    How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?

    Someone who enjoys page-turners, likes strong and resourceful female protagonists who are also relatable, and appreciates the nuances of friendships.

    What is the story behind the cover of your book? 

    The cover represents the pivotal moment in which the protagonist helps catch the villain. It’s nighttime; the car lights blind her (and she’s hurt). But she brings him to justice thanks to her resourcefulness.

    What would you like the reader to take away from reading your book? 

    To understand that life is ephemeral. Stay in touch with your loved ones, hug them and care for them every chance you get.

    More about Graciela and where to find her work

    Graciela can’t remember a time when she wasn’t reading or writing stories—or partly covering her eyes during the most gruesome parts of famous thriller movies and plays. An explorer at heart, she has traveled to many corners of the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. Her favorite experiences include walking among friendly penguins in Patagonia and having lunch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Santorini.

    Graciela has extensive experience as a features journalist, online forum contributor and careers columnist. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, along with several national publications. The Plans They Made, Winner of the 2022 Page Turner Award for best genre writing, is her debut novel.

    Born in Argentina, she’s completely bilingual in English and Spanish and has lived in Chicago with her husband most of her adult life. Her son, wife and two adorable grandkids are always nearby. You can sign up for her newsletter at https://graciela

    Until next time…