The debut novel by Addison McKnight, the pseudonym of West Hartford residents Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells, was released on May 10 by Lake Union Publishing on Amazon.
By Ronnie Newton
Neither Krista Wells nor Nicole Moleti had “write a psychological suspense novel” on their wish list, but somehow, amid their own already busy careers and personal lives, and while managing the schedules of their six children together, “An Imperfect Plan” became hatched.
As the May 10 release date neared, the culmination of a journey that grew well beyond two friends who teamed up for a side job, both first authors said in an interview that they felt they had to pinch themselves.
“We met at the hair salon,” Moleti said. “She had foil in her hair.”
The friendship between the two women blossomed. Moleti, who is a makeup artist, did Wells’ makeup for a military ball. Moleti’s husband coached Wells’ son’s baseball team.
Both have extensive non-fiction writing experience, Moleti as the author of a humorous parenting blog and Wells as a blogger for the military spousal community.
Wells was working on her blog one day when Moleti came to visit. “She told me something shocking and I said if that’s true I’ll write a book about it,” Moleti recalls. One thing led to another and before long they were working together on An Imperfect Plan.
Between the two, Moleti and Wells now hold six jobs, including relaunched careers as fiction writers under the pseudonym Addison McKnight (a nickname they chose with help from their publishing team, who suggested the last name should be a little obscure). Moleti got her real estate license when she needed a backup plan because nobody was wearing makeup during the pandemic. Wells is a life coach and writer for the military’s spousal community.
Both have long been interested in what drives people to do the things they do.
As a makeup artist, “I’ve dedicated my life to making people look perfect,” Moleti said. If a woman wants to wear red lipstick, even if it’s not the right color for her, she said, it can be a red flag that points to an underlying fear.
As a life coach, Wells works to make people feel better about not focusing on what’s missing in their life, but on what’s good. “The common denominator is people who strive for perfection,” she said.
“All it takes is a lie for the best of plans to go awry,” reads the first line of the description of “An Imperfect Plan” on the back cover of the book.
The story follows the lives of Collette De Luca and Greta O’Brien, women from very different backgrounds, strangers, both coping with past trauma and following different paths in their journeys through life and towards motherhood.
Hope, disillusionment, despair, deception and a shocking event bring their lives together and force them to confront the choices they have made.
“The emotions are visceral, the heartbreak and suspense almost unbearable, and it all leads to a stunning ending,” said best-selling author Luanne Rice in her review of An Imperfect Plan.
The idea and the research
Wells, whose four children range in age from 12 to 19, had secondary infertility after the birth of her first child and happened to have a conversation with Moleti about the research she had been conducting on the subject. “There are so many ethical choices. What are you doing with the eggs…to what extreme are you going…I can understand the feeling of wanting a child at all costs.”
The novel is not only about infertility, but also about mental illness. There are stigmas attached to both, and addressing these issues in the context of a thriller sets the story apart.
Writing the book soon became all-consuming.
Wells had already done her own extensive research on infertility, and when the two decided to co-author the book, she did extensive research on the courts. Craig Raabe, a West Hartford attorney, was extremely helpful with advice, she said.
“I love the research side of it,” said Wells, who admitted to approaching cops at places like the grocery store and peppering them with questions. “I once approached a woman in Hall’s Market who worked in a burns department,” she recalls. “She bought Triscuits,” Wells said, but wore a badge and provided valuable insight used in the book.
Tennis is also an important subject in the book, but that didn’t take much research as they both play.
Wells, who has a degree in industrial psychology, said she reads mostly nonfiction — lots of business and self-help books.
Moleti said she is a fiction reader. She had always loved James Patterson’s novels and fell in love with the psychological thriller genre after reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. “I want to be shocked,” she said.
They worked every moment they could spare from January to April 2019. They kept writing to get the story out, but once they had an editor, “She helped us a lot,” Moleti said.
Two voices united and where they come from
Moleti is the voice of Collette and Wells is Greta, but it’s not obvious that each character was written by a different author. They edited each other’s chapters—sometimes mercilessly—and the collaboration was a success.
Greta, a wealthy hedge fund manager living in Greenwich, is an amalgamation of many people who know both Wells and Moleti and was easier to profile. “She’s like people we know in upper-middle-class Connecticut towns,” Moleti said.
Colette, who has a dysfunctional upbringing in rural Connecticut, is all makeup on. Moleti said she and Wells had some lengthy discussions about the specifics of Colette’s lifestyle, down to the type of shampoo she used. “I said I wasn’t going to put a suave on my character,” Moleti said after Wells objected to her reference to the use of Pantene. They only decided on “shampoo”.
The book is primarily set in Connecticut, and West Hartford readers will be thrilled to find some local references — like Iris Photography, the Delamar Hotel, and “Beachland” (although it’s a tennis club, not a park). Characters Nellie and Chelsea were named by people who know them both locally, although not in the same roles.
Character naming was actually a challenge that they took very seriously. “We name our characters like your babies,” Moleti said.
Writing and publishing a novel doesn’t happen overnight. Each phase lasts months or even years.
“You have to let things go,” Wells said, like homemade meals or laundry. They continued until the book was written, writing in free moments, on the sidelines of sporting events while waiting to pick up children from school.
And then came the rejection.
“We have to get through this,” Moleti kept saying. “And when we got 55 rejections from agents, I kept saying that’s no excuse for not doing it.” A local writer suggested attending a writing conference.
“So we went to ThrillerFest,” Moleti said. “It’s a pitch fest, like agents speed dating.” She said it was terrifying.
But there they succeeded, because eventually 13 of the 15 agents they put on wanted the book. They signed with Victoria Sanders & Associates in July 2019, and then when the book was almost done, COVID hit and her agent, Bernadette Baker-Baughman, suggested waiting.
They sold the book — quickly — right after President Biden’s inauguration in 2021. Not only did they sell An Imperfect Plan, but “We got a two-book deal,” said Moleti of Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing.
“None of this feels like work because we’re doing what we really love to do,” Moleti said. They find time for writing, but also for their other jobs and activities. On the day of the interview, both had been working out, and Wells said she still finds time to play tennis and curling, a sport she picked up a few years ago.
Addison McKnight’s second book is in the works.
“It’s set in Martha’s Vineyard,” said Moleti, a place both have previously lived but in very different capacities.
Moleti ran a nonprofit called Time for Life that brought people to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer. “It seems like an idyllic island, but it’s not always what it seems,” she said.
Wells visited the winery with her family over the summer, but knows there are many cases of domestic violence and substance abuse that nobody talks about. During the pandemic, the incidence of both skyrocketed.
The book has a similar style but an entirely new story, Wells said.
A draft of the second bop was reviewed by the editor of a Martha’s Vineyard newspaper and a police officer’s wife, and so far the reactions have been very positive.
They also got a movie agent who is in the process of buying An Imperfect Plan.
An Imperfect Plan was released May 10th and is available to purchase online at amazon.com, target.com or barnesandnoble.com. Moleti and Wells are planning some local book signings, including a May 25 event at the Wampanoag Country Club.
Moleti and Wells will be returning to ThrillerFest in a few weeks – this time as debut writers. They also plan to attend a writing workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.
Both have kids in school and say writing fits in well with their lifestyles. What started as a side hustle is now much more than that.
“Sometimes we pinch ourselves,” Moleti said.
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