kimberly swaak book coverWelcome Kimberly Belle!

The Last Breath, released Sept. 30th, MIRA

From a remarkable new voice in suspenseful women's fiction comes an emotionally searing drama about a woman who risks her life to discover the devastating truth about her family.

Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living. Sixteen years ago, Gia's father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he's come home to die of cancer, and she's responsible for his care—and coming to terms with his guilt. 

Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town's most infamous murderer. She learns all the lies that came before—may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated.


Kimberly SwaakI’m beyond thrilled to feature Kimberly Belle here today!


Kimberly is a four-time Immersion grad. I know her well. I know her writing well too. As clichéd as this is, to know Kimberly’s writing is to love her writing.

Margie Asks Kimberly:

Tell everyone about your road to publication. Short, straight shot? Long, winding drive? Did you write other books along the way?


Kimberly Responds:

Thanks for having me on your blog, Margie!


My path was pretty standard. I wrote a book, queried the heck out of it, and got a buttload of rejections. I kept at it, got more rejections. Enough to wallpaper an entire house. But none of them gave me very useful feedback, so I entered the manuscript into a handful of contests. Thankfully, the contest judges were a lot kinder; I finaled in almost every one. One of them was the Georgia Romance Writers’ Maggies, and since Atlanta is my hometown, I registered for their conference and signed up to pitch to agents--something that terrified me, by the way, but that I figured would be a whole lot easier with a “finalist” ribbon on my nametag.


By the time the conference rolled around in early October, I was almost done with my second manuscript, The Last Breath. I pitched both books to three agents, and by Halloween it was official; I signed with Nikki Terpilowski of Holloway Literary Agency. Nikki was a new agent at the time, but she was young and eager, and she didn’t prove me wrong. She sold both manuscripts to Harlequin Mira within a year.


One thing I wanted to add about The Last Breath… I knew about a quarter of a way in that it was special. It was the one. The manuscript that would get me noticed, land me an agent, earn me a book deal. By the time I pitched it to Nikki at that conference, it was nearly perfect ~ thanks to four Fab 30s and one Immersion ~ and it was published almost entirely as is. There were very few edits. Thank you, Margie!


Very few edits? Wow! Impressive!


Oh, and that first manuscript? THE ONES WE TRUST is slated for publication next August. 


Kudos to Kimberly! Well done!


If you’re a Margie-grad, you know I teach writers how to write fresh.

Enjoy this passage from The Last Breath.


The Set Up: Gia’s father has been in prison for killing her step-mother.


           My father looks over, and our eyes meet for the first time in sixteen years.


I drop my gaze, and I have the sudden urge to cry. Eyes burning, throat squeezing shut, sob pushing up my chest. I want to fall into a ball at Dad’s knees and feel his skinny arms around me, and I want to run away from him, from this house, from this town, as far and as fast as I can. But mostly, I want to believe my father without a sliver of a shadow of a doubt when he says he didn’t harm Ella Mae Andrews.


I take a breath, haul air deep into my lungs and blow it out slowly, once, twice, again, and drag my gaze to my father’s. If I can’t give my father my unwavering belief in his innocence, the least I can do is look him square in the eye. Around him the room fades and spins.


“Where’s everybody else?”


His voice cuts through the ocean roaring in my ears. I try to answer but my mouth won’t work. Neither will my lungs, which are burning a hole in my chest.


Kimberly – Huge stimulus. Empowered response. You treated the reader to several visceral responses, and a rhetorical device too. Well done! Want to share how you developed that passage?


Kimberly Responds:


That passage was one that came out of an Immersion, and originally, it was much shorter. The second paragraph ~ the one that starts with “I drop my gaze…” ~ didn’t even exist until after my session on Margie’s couch in the cozy room, when she sent me back to my computer with the assignment to power the moment up.


If you’ve ever taken a Margie course, you’ll know what I mean by “power it up,” and you’ll recognize some of the techniques I used. I added power to this passage with a couple of rhetorical devices ~ anaphora and asyndeton ~ and I showed what’s not happening.


Thanks to Margie, I have a whole slew of tricks like these to empower or super-empower a passage and make my words shine.


Yes! You made all those words shine.

Love the way you used those rhetorical devices. Smart, smart, smart!


Kimberly is a master at writing fresh dialogue cues and body language. I’ll share some of my favorites.


FYI for Blog Guests: Dialogue Cues – my term. Dialogue Cues do more than tag the dialogue. They describe the voice. Share subtext. Add power.


His nonanswer sends me over the edge, and gives my volume knob another sharp twist.


Ray grew about four inches in the wicker chair, and his tone took a turn for the nasty.


“Lexi.” My tone is weighed down with enough warning to sink a ship. “Don’t even think about bailing.”


“There’s my birthday girl.” It was Ray’s pharmacy voice, animated and sing-song and loud enough they could hear him clear up by the register.


Cal’s tone has cooled by a thousand degrees, and I hear a new note in it, one that sounds strangely like relief.


I nod, pity for my father comingling with pity for myself, blending into a bitter brew that seeps into my voice.


            My voice is quiet, barely a whisper, and sounds as exhausted as I suddenly feel.


“Hey!” Dad’s voice, fueled by anger and something more desperate, something that shoots through my veins like ice water, cuts Cal off mid threat.


I shared so many dialogue cues, I’ll only include two facial expressions. But they’re both beautifully amplified.


I look up now, and Cal is watching me intently. His courtroom mask has softened around the edges but is still guarded, and he remains silent. I wonder if he already senses the words that are building in my throat, threatening to choke me.


But if the Tennessee Tiger has taught me anything at all, it’s how to give good poker face. I wipe all traces of hope and distrust I’m feeling from my expression and blink up at him.


Margie Asks Kimberly:


Do you write simple dialogue cues and facial expressions on your first pass?


Kimberly Responds:


My first stab at a scene is typically just getting down the basics--the structure, the dialogue, the bare-bone transitions. I try not to worry about the mechanics until I’ve gotten everything out of my head and onto the paper. Only then do I go back and fix the dull and crappy first draft, infusing it with life by adding the fun stuff, the dialogue cues and body language and viscerals, making everything shiny and fresh.


I wish I could say writing fresh dialogue cues and body language came easy for me, but I have to work really, really, really hard at it. It usually takes me multiple passes to get a scene to where I want it to be, but in the end, it’s so worth it. Each pass adds layers and context, deepens character, powers up passages with stronger and better word choices. It’s what takes a story to the next level, and really makes it shine.


Margie Asks Kimberly:


How did you develop the following passage? Do you remember what you had in the first draft, and what you layered in last?


From the moment Cal arrived on the scene—before my father was a suspect, before he signed on as my father’s attorney, even before Ella Mae’s body had been photographed and bagged and carried away—his belief in my father’s innocence has been unwavering.


For me, the situation was never that clear. If I thought my father was capable of murder, that he premeditated and carried out a plan to suffocate Ella Mae Andrews, his wife and my stepmother, I’m not certain I could forgive either him or his behavior. In fact, I’m not certain I would even be here, that I would have traveled all this way for a last goodbye.


But I came all this way because I’m not certain. In my father’s case, the evidence is unclear, the testimony conflicted. The shadows of my doubt run in both directions.


Such a powerful passage. Every time I read your last sentence it grabs me.


The shadows of my doubt run in both directions.


Do you remember writing it? Any idea what you’d written that conveyed that message in an earlier draft?


Kimberly Responds:


That passage (from Chapter 1) was one of the very few ones that came out that way. I didn’t change a word from the earlier drafts until the final one.


But I do remember referring to one of Margie’s Harlan Coben examples while I was writing it. Margie will know which one I’m talking about, Coben’s passage from THE WOODS: “I have never seen my father cry before—not when his own father died, not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he first heard about my sister, Camille.”


I followed Harlan’s example and used anaphora (“before my father was a suspect, before he signed on as my father’s attorney, even before Ella Mae’s body had been photographed and bagged and carried away”) to slip in backstory.


Ah.  You learned how to deep edit well, and it shows.


You slipped in backstory so smoothly by using the rhetorical device anaphora. And you used polysyndeton too. Your cadence is incredibly compelling. Masterful writing.


And I loved that last sentence so much – the shadows of my doubt run in both directions – one of the titles I considered for this story was “Shadows of Doubt.”


Margie Asks Kimberly:

What are some of your favorite tools that you learned from me?


 I adore rhetorical devices, especially alliteration and anaphora. Backloading and scene and character-themed word choices are also go-to tools I use regularly and almost without thinking.


Good for you!


If I’m having trouble with a scene, I’ll pull out my highlighters and send it through your EDITS System. And I pay special attention to cadence, reading each scene aloud numerous times before putting a story to bed.


I knew you were smart!


But hands down, my favorite tool is having Margie on my shoulder. I channel Margie when looking at a scene, picking out the moments that need empowering, thinking “what would Margie say?” about my prose. I know this isn’t something you actually teach as a technique, but it’s one I use all the time. Thanks for sitting on my shoulder while I write. :-)


It's so fun sitting on your shoulder, and reading everything you write. I love it when you deep edit and add all that fresh cadence-driven power!


Thank you, thank you, thank you to Kimberly for sharing The Last Breath.


Want to WIN a copy?

Kimberly has generously donated two print books.

Just LEAVE A COMMENT on the blog to enter to win.

Winner will be drawn Sunday evening.



Want to connect with Kimberly? Here's how:


Facebook  Twitter  Goodreads  Website



The Last Breath is already getting great reviews!


Belle’s a smooth writer whose characters are vibrant and truly reflect the area where the novel is set.

—Kirkus Reviews


As readers feverishly flip the pages of this painstakingly emotional book, they will get completely lost and consume it all in one sitting. It’s suspenseful, romantic, and will evoke all sorts of feelings. The characters are a spectacular fit to this storyline, which will surprise readers to the very end.

—RT Book Reviews


And don't forget--October Classes Start This Week on LWA! REGISTER HERE.

October, 2014: Madness to Method: Using acting techniques to make each moment Oscar worthy!
October, 2014: Scene and Sequel—Superpowered Writing Tool!
October, 2014: Taking a Book from Good to Sold
October, 2014: 30 Days to a Stronger Novel
October, 2014: Taming Twitter, and Facebook too! How YOU can use Twitter to market and promote yourself.
October, 2014: Create Compelling Characters
October, 2014: Creating That Historical Feel



# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly Belle 2014-10-03 12:57
Thanks for stopping by! I am thrilled and honored to be included on the Margie-grad blog today. I'll be stopping by regularly to answer questions and respond to comments, so please ~ comment and ask away. As always, thanks for reading.
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleMelanie Fry 2014-10-03 14:02
I would love to read this book. Sounds fascinating.
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly 2014-10-03 15:47
Thanks for stopping by, Melanie! If you read The Last Breath, I hope you'll let me know what you think. :)
# Yay Kimberly!Laura Drake 2014-10-03 15:04
I've watched Kimberly on Social Media for a long time, seen you tout her work, Margie, and know her from several writer's groups we belong to.

But WOW! LOVE the premise of the book, and with writing that strong, I'm leaving here, and going to buy it!

WTG, Kimberly!
# RE: Yay Kimberly!Kimberly 2014-10-03 15:51
Thanks, Laura, and lovely to see you here. Same back at you! I love everything you write, especially THE SWEET SPOT. Did you hear me screaming and cheering when it won the Rita at RWA this past summer? :)
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleMelinda Curtis 2014-10-03 15:16
Strong writing and great premise! Woo-hoo!
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly 2014-10-03 15:54
Thanks, Melinda! It's been a wild and exciting ride so far. :)
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly 2014-10-03 15:51
Thanks, Laura, and lovely to see you here. Same back at you! I love everything you write, especially THE SWEET SPOT. Did you hear me screaming and cheering when it won the Rita at RWA this past summer? :)
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleDarcy Crowder 2014-10-03 16:59
Hi Kimberly! So excited for you! Can't wait to read this. I LOVE your voice, and it's been a long time since I've read a great suspense novel.

Such powerful writing from such a lovely woman. You've worked hard and it shows! Congratulations !! Hope to see you at M&M next week.
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly Belle 2014-10-03 18:11
Darcy!! So sweet of you to stop by. Thanks for your sweet words, and I can't wait to hear what you think of The Last Breath. Let's get together soon to catch up. :)
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleSuzanne Purvis 2014-10-03 19:03
Hi Kimberly,

Love your passages and examples. So powerful and the cadence is stunning. I'm already a fan of Cal.
Congratulations on all your success.
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly Belle 2014-10-03 20:24
Thank you, Suzanne, and nice to see you here! How many Fab 30s have we had together? A handful at least. Good luck with your writing. :lol:
# Congrats!Piper Huguley 2014-10-03 21:57
How wonderfully generous of you to have this mini workshop presented as part of the blog post of your fascinating-sou nding story! Thank you very much for these hints and happy sales to you!
# RE: Congrats!Kimberly Belle 2014-10-03 22:50
Hi Piper! I love seeing all these familiar faces on this blog post. I think we should start a tribe ~ Margie's tribe. We could make t-shirts and have a secret handshake. :) Good luck with your writing, and thanks for stopping by!
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleBrinda Berry 2014-10-03 23:30
I love Kimberly's writing. Her voice is remarkable!
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly Belle 2014-10-03 23:34
Brinda! So lovely to see you here, thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I have Margie to thank for my writing ~ she's my guru. :) See you on one of her loops soon, I hope.
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleRhonda 2014-10-06 02:51
I've been reading raves about this on different blogs.high high on my wish list.
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleKimberly Belle 2014-10-06 12:54
Hi Rhonda, and thanks for stopping by! I love hearing that The Last Breath is getting rave reviews, I have Margie to thank for helping me get it there. :)
# RE: Margie Grad Kimberly BelleMargie Lawson 2014-10-06 15:11

Looks like you all love the examples of Kimberly's writing in the blog as much as I do.

You'll love Kimberly's writing in THE LAST BREATH too!

Two people who commented win a print copy of THE LAST BREATH.

Thank you Kimberly. We appreciate you!

The two lucky winners are:



Congratulations to Melanie and Melinda!

I'll email you two.

Thanks again to EVERYONE for dropping by the Pubbed Margie-Grad Blog.

Mark your calendars and click in again on Thursday, October 9th and you'll see another Immersion grad here, KENNEDY RYAN!

Can't wait to share her amazing writing!

© 2018 Margie Lawson

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