Q&A with M. Billiter,A Divided Mind
Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Hello! I’m M. Billiter. “A Divided Mind,” is my 15th book, but my first work of domestic fiction. After writing more than a dozen romance stories, the universe brought a different type of story into my life that I knew had to be told and one I was uniquely qualified to write.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
“A Divided Mind,” started with a phone call. It was the day before a major college kickoff event I had helped plan for more than a year. I was crazily finalizing last-minute details when my son, Kyle, called saying he needed to talk. I still remember my exasperation from being bothered at work. What? What could it be now? With four children to support, I was finally getting my boots on the ground as an adjunct professor. My placement on the planning committee was a huge step forward in my career. An interruption at work meant a disruption in what I was trying to build.
When I pressed Kyle for an answer, he started to back away from the conversation. That's when I knew. I knew it was more than a phone call. And suddenly, I couldn't breathe or stop my mind from racing - pregnant girlfriend, drugs, failing a class? What I heard in reply wasn't at all what I expected.
“I’m hearing voices.”
I didn't understand what was happening to my son. I only knew I wanted it to go away. The campus event no longer mattered. In trying to build "something," I let what truly matters - family, children, home life - break down. As I sat in the waiting room at the counseling center while Kyle saw an emergency intake specialist, my only focus was on my little boy.
At, 6'1 my 18-year-old was far from little. He was my gentle giant, my brave heart. Together we navigated the world of mental health without any clue what was ahead. During this time, the journalist in me surfaced. I asked a lot of questions, which I wasn't always sure I wanted to know the answer.
By delving into the darkness, Kyle shared with me demons I never knew he battled. It was heartbreaking and heroic. The story we lived became the story we told - with a twist. What started as a quest for answers turned into, “A Divided Mind,” a fictionalized, chilling story of what could happen if a divided mind was left untreated.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Lately, I’ve traveled a lot for work. When random pockets of time present themselves, I’ll pull out my phone and start writing. The “Notes” section on my iPhone is my go-to for writing. Whether I’m in line for coffee or the Metro, a note is open and I’m text/typing or voice messaging into the folder. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish in a short period of time - like answering a Q&A for a book tour! I cut and paste the questions into the note section, answer them and then email myself the file. That’s key! I backup my work by emailing or texting myself the file.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
When Oprah began her book club, I discovered a lot of great authors – Tawni O’Dell (Backroads), Elizabeth Berg (Open House), or Wally Lamb (I Know This Much Is True). Her monthly book selections that focused on domestic fiction, women’s issues, and literary works were gems that expanded my library.
I’m also a admirer of short stories. Benjamin Percy’s short story work is phenomenal. Authors like Percy, O’Dell, Berg and Lamb, who are at the top of their game with superior craftmanship – character development, engaging plots, and emotion that is palpable – challenge me to put my best work on the page.
What are you working on now?
“The Divided Twin,” is a stand-alone work of domestic fiction. For readers of, “A Divided Mind,” the story picks up four years later in the lives of the Kovak family.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Hmmm. My sister likes to remind me of all the authors who didn’t hit it big until much later in their career, which always makes me laugh. However, what I’ve always remembered was something Alexandra “Bo” Fuller said during a writing conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, “Write to keep drunks awake around a campfire.” If I can do that, then I’ve done my job!
What are you reading now?
“What We Keep,” by Elizabeth Berg
What’s next for you as a writer?
The New York Times Bestseller’s List and a featured spot, in Oprah’s magazine. You know, nothing too big – just everything I dream and hope will happen!
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
“Time Traveler’s Wife,” by Audrey Niffenegger
“Open House,” by Elizabeth Berg
“Back Roads,” by Tawni O’Dell
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Chose to stop listening to that doubtful voice in your head. That voice is a bully that stops you from thinking and worse, creating.
Stand up to that voice. If your little brother or sister were being bullied, you’d stand up for them. Do the same with that voice. Talk to that doubt – address that doubt – with all you’ve already accomplished. Let all those certainties become your guiding belief.
Doubts are traitors that steal from us. Choose to stand up to those doubts. It’s our choices that show who we really are.
“On Writing,” by Stephen King
What inspires you to write?
I’m not going to lie – when I meet a reader, who shares with me something about my work they connected with – it makes the long nights, lost weekends, and all that time I devote to writing worth it. I’m so immensely grateful when readers take the time to approach me, email or leave a review – those connections feed my writer’s soul and inspires me to bring my “A” game.
Tell us about your writing process
I steal pockets of time – while I’m in line at Starbucks, in between work meetings, and always during my lunch hour – I write. Whether it’s on my phone, scribbled on meeting minutes, or on my laptop – I write. I don’t have a set number of words I write in a day, but I do focus on completing chapters within a day or two of starting one. Once I begin a new chapter, the storyline and characters consume my thoughts until I finish what they’ve started. And honestly, THAT’S the best part of writing – when the characters take over the story. I’ve often described myself as a stenographer because it often feels as though I’m simply transcribing what they show me.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Good question. Since my first book was agented and published in 2011, I’ve seen great changes. Authors have more accessibility to agents, editors, and publishers. As with any growth in an industry there are advantages and disadvantages. Vetting the source that will market your work and you as an author is paramount.