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Author Q&A with Houstonian Kristen Bird

Cindy Burnett
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Kristen Bird

Houstonian Kristen Bird's recent book Watch It Burn is set in a fictional Texas small town, and has already hit the USA Today Bestseller List.

Houstonian author Kristen Bird’s latest novel, Watch It Burn, published recently and immediately hit the USA Today Bestseller list. Set in Texas, the book opens in the small Texas town of Edenberg where the body of sixty-seven-year-old Beverly Hoffman is discovered in the Guadalupe River—drowned in only two inches of water. After elementary school teacher Nichole Miller discovers the woman's body, she makes two phone calls: first to the police, who call Beverly's death a slip and fall, and second to her best friend, journalist Jenny Martin. Jenny is attempting to revive her flailing marriage and her all-but-DOA career, and she knows foul play when she sees it. The two women enlist the help of Beverly’s daughter-in-law, Robin, who’s eager to expose the truth.

Author Polly Stewart says: "Kristen Bird’s Watch it Burn is a scorching tale of revenge and an unflinching look at what women will do when pushed to their limits. Bird has a pitch-perfect ear for the rhythms of Southern life, but be warned, these women are no steel magnolias. They’re raw, real, and mad as hell, and I would follow them anywhere."

Kristen is a USA Today Bestselling Author, a teacher, and a certified book coach. She has lived coast to coast, but with her extended family in north Alabama, her roots run southern deep. She teaches high school English and writes in local coffee shops near her home outside of Houston. In her free time, she likes to visit parks with her three children, watch quirky films with her husband, and attempt to keep pace with her rescue lab-mix. Find out more about working with Kristen on your own novel at www.kristenbird.com.

Kristen answers some questions that I posed to her about Watch It Burn:

1. What inspired you to start writing Watch It Burn?

When I begin planning a new novel, I always start with setting, and the Texas hill country is a place that I’ve loved ever since my first visit to Gruene when I was in high school. (I came to Texas in ninth grade, but it’s now home to me.) My fictitious town of Edenberg, which hosts a cultish self-help organization named Genetive, is based on Gruene, a touristy town where so many people come to visit but few come to live.

The Guadalupe River lined with willow and hackberry trees has also always held a kind of gothic mystery for me, and as I began researching the area, I found out that in 1987, there was a flash flood that overturned a bus carrying children to summer camp nearby in Comfort, TX. In the end, ten children died as a result of the river rapidly flooding the banks. Though a version of this tragedy isn’t the central element of my story, it definitely serves to contribute to a backdrop where suffering has happened and hearts have been torn. 


Watch It Burn is set in the Texas hill country and inspired by real-life cults like NXIVM, as well as other cultish organizations.

2. What kind of research did you have to do?

My primary research involved finding information on cults or organizations with cultish elements. I wanted to both understand what made the leaders and ideology attractive to members as well as how they practically functioned. I listened to podcasts and read articles on the real-life NXIVM, listened to Amanda Montell’s nonfiction book Cultish, considered my own very evangelical upbringing in a Southern Baptist church in north Alabama, and—probably most interestingly—took a trip to the headquarters of The Improved Order of Red Men in Waco, TX. This organization describes itself as a “patriotic fraternity chartered by Congress” and claims to precede the Masons.

I showed up at their headquarters with my husband in summer of 2021, and they allowed me free rein of their museum and archives. It was eye-opening and disturbing to read the racist ideas, mostly involving cultural appropriation of Native traditions, that ran as a thread throughout their seemingly innocuous publications. The women’s branch of this organization is The Degree of Pocahontas, which involves its own goals that sound fairly sexist. This helped inspire the patriarchal ideology in the cultish company of Genetive in Watch It Burn. 

3. Can you share something with me about your book that is not in the blurb?

I included mixed-media elements in the novel that enhance the reader’s understanding of Genetive and the man who founded the organization, Dr. George Hoffman. There are early versions of websites, excerpts from his self-help books, and newspaper articles from the Edenberg’s newspaper. George’s wife Beverly also appreciates and collects art, so there are descriptions of paintings—mostly involving a strong woman’s victory over a bad man—that act as a symbolic backdrop for the story. Though these certainly don’t overtake the story, they provide the reader with key details that help to increase the tension and create the atmosphere in Watch It Burn.

4. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

The most difficult part of writing for me is allowing the process to unfold. I am a discovery writer who wants to be a plotter, so I’m trying to find a way to merge parts of these two styles by writing my way into the story while also planning a few chapters ahead. When I’m drafting a new book, I’m often wishing I was revising, but when I’m revising, I miss drafting. I’m trying to learn to be content in the place I’m in at the moment and give myself time to figure out the story. 

5. Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?

I have a “fun mystery” on submission with editors, a kind of Miss Congeniality meets Agatha Christie, and I’m drafting another darker mystery novel set off the coast of Georgia on Jekyll Island, the winter playground of the Vanderbilts, the Morgans, and their set in the early twentieth century. At the beginning of the year, I also started book coaching so I can pass along what I’ve learned to other writers.  

6. What are you reading now and what have you read recently that you loved?

Forgive my lengthy list, but as an English teacher and avid reader, I usually have several novels going at once. I’m reading and loving Claire Mackintosh’s Game of Lies and Megan Miranda’s Daughter of Mine for an event at Murder by the Book on April 19. A couple of my favorite books that I had a chance to read early and would definitely recommend preordering have been Made For You by Jenna Satterthwaite and The Body Next Door by Maia Chance.

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