Kristin Lambert grew up the perpetual new kid in a series of small Southern towns, singing Disney songs in the shower and getting bitten by lots of mosquitoes. She attended the University of Alabama, where she made a detailed study of local speakeasies. (Also, journalism.) She adores live music, red shoes, David Bowie, and rainbows. She still lives in the South with her husband, two daughters, two cats, a sewing machine, and a truly absurd amount of creepy old dolls.
Amelia Diane Coombs: Hi Kristin! I’m excited to get to interview you as you celebrate the release of THE BOY IN THE RED DRESS!
How much of your stories were inspired by your real life?
Kristin Lambert: The first novel I wrote (but never queried, because it was awful) was heavily autobiographical, literally taken from the journals I kept in high school. I still have them and read them occasionally and shake my head at my clueless teenage self. Since then, very little of what I’ve written has been drawn from my real life. I have never solved a murder, but I still hold out hope that I will solve some kind of real-life mystery some day.
ADC: Music while you work? Yay or nay?
KL: I mostly find music too distracting, though I keep meaning to try listening to movie scores. I did listen to a Shotgun Jazz Band album on repeat while writing early drafts of TBITRD. I bought it after hearing them play in a small club in New Orleans, and it put me in the right frame of mind for my speakeasy story. Lately though I always listen to a white noise app, always the “driving in the rain” sound. It’s become my signal to enter Writing Mode.
ADC: What kind of research did you have to do to write THE BOY IN THE RED DRESS?
KL: Historical fiction requires a lot of research, but fortunately I LOVE research. For this book, I read all the non-fiction websites and books I could get hold of on queer history, New Orleans history, and Prohibition, but my favorite source was my subscription to the historical archives of New Orleans newspapers, where I could read articles from the actual time the book is set. From those, I learned so much stuff about how Prohibition worked, who was arrested for what, how police and politicians spoke about the lawbreakers of the era. I also read lots of Society pages (and their adjacent ads) to get a sense of what the upper crust girls were up to, what kinds of names they had, and what the fashionable young people of New Orleans were wearing. I even read 1920s movie reviews! (Research is my favorite way to procrastinate!) I’m also fortunate enough to live a few hours’ drive away from New Orleans, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world, so I have done plenty of visiting to soak up the atmosphere, and of course go to the cemetery where my book’s murder victim would’ve been buried. I mean, why not?
ADC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve Googled?
KL: I’ve googled a LOT of strange things, but the ones most likely to have the FBI visit me are the ones about how long it takes to strangle someone.
ADC: What embarrassing moment from your life could be a scene from a book?
KL: Once, I saw one of my favorite bands play at a small local dive. I’ve been to a few of the band’s shows over the years, but I’m usually too nervous to talk to any of them, because I always turn all shy and super weirdo around anyone “celebrity.” But this time they had this new guitarist who was AMAZING, and for SOME REASON I decided this was my moment to finally say something to one of them. And what I said was something like “you were amazing on the bass!” He kind of chuckled and said “thanks.” And only as he walked away did I realize what I had said. ON THE BASS. DUDE WAS NOT PLAYING THE BASS GUITAR. HE WAS PLAYING LEAD GUITAR. I feel like to this day his other bandmates probably say “great bass playing man” after he finishes a not-bass-guitar solo, and they all have a good hardy-har about it. Anyway, this is exactly the kind of thing that happened to me like every other week in high school and I’d obsess about it forever, so maybe I’ll put it into a contemporary someday.
ADC: How is your main character different from you?
KL: Millie is like me if I didn’t have anxiety and wasn’t raised by a very polite Southern woman.
ADC: What advice do you have for unpublished writers?
KL: Don’t give up! I wrote two unpublished novels and umpteen zillion drafts of THE BOY IN THE RED DRESS before I finally got an agent and a book deal. I started seriously trying to become a published author NINE YEARS AGO. Persistence is absolutely key. Early on, I refused to even contemplate the thought of having to abandon a manuscript I’d worked on so long and hard, but eventually I realized no words are ever wasted. They all helped me become a better writer. I think of those old manuscripts and drafts as my writing education. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.
ADC: Why write an LGBTQ historical story, and why are such stories important?
KL: The moment I read that there was a drag craze in the late 1920s/early 1930s, I couldn’t let go of the idea to write a book set during that time. Especially after I followed up with reading some non-fiction books about queer history, my main goal for this story was to show that queer identities and queer communities didn’t just pop up recently. We’ve been here all along, even if the words we used to describe ourselves, or our freedom to be ourselves in public, wasn’t always the same. I live in a majority conservative place, where many young LGBTQIA+ people might feel alone, or like they have to sit at the dinner table on Sunday listening to their own relatives say they think “the gays are just going too far trying to get married.” I wrote this for them, so they could see themselves on the pages of my book and FEEL seen, even if everyone in their real life is trying to pretend queerness away.
ADC: What are your favorite kinds of books to read?
KL: Number one, I love suspense. Murder mystery, thriller, domestic drama, survival story, whatever — if I’m on the edge of my seat wanting to know what happens next or what the Big Secret is, then I’m a happy camper. My close second favorite is anything that makes me cry. I’m a huge weeper since I had kids — I do not know what happened to me, but it was like WATER WORKS ON the instant I had my first child. I don’t necessarily like books that are intentional tearjerkers, like the whole point is to manipulate you into tears, but I LOVE the ones that have huge, fully-earned emotional impact. They are the ones that stick with me forever and that I shout about to everybody in the world.
ADC: What’s the best part of being a writer?
KL: Emotions are so fleeting and nebulous, and writing is a way to capture them, outline their shapes, and process them. Writing makes me feel like I’m helping humans see themselves (including myself!).
Congrats on the release of your debut novel, Kristin! You can visit Kristin’s website to learn more and follow her on Twitter and Instagram, as well as order THE BOY IN THE RED DRESS on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound. And don’t forget to add it on Goodreads!