Welcome to The Cover Contessa's stop on the Deadwood blog tour!There’s something evil in Deadwood Park.
Martin Cruz hates his rotten new town. Then he gets a message from a tree telling him it’s cursed — and so is he. It’s not just any tree. It’s the Spirit Tree, the ancient beech the high school football team carves to commemorate the home opener. And every year they lose.
But the curse is no game, and it gets worse. Businesses fail. Trees topple like dominos. Sinkholes open up in the streets, swallowing cars and buildings. Even people begin to fade, drained of life.
Martin teams up with know-it-all soccer star Hannah Vaughan. Together they must heal the tree, or be stuck in Deadwood Park at the mercy of the psycho who cursed it
Welcome Kell! Take it away!
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I started college as a creative writing major. But somewhere along the line I lost faith that I had my own stories to tell. I stayed in the field but went in different directions, working a writer and editor on everything from music websites to college textbooks to trade magazines to university copywriting. Along the way, I read Harry Potter, and I realized that the stories I wanted to write were for kids, and that’s where this part of the journey started.
How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
I need a long buildup to write – lots of research, outlining, and frankly, procrastination! But once I start writing, my novels have taken about five months to draft and another five months to get query-ready. And then from there, there is plenty of editing – with an agent or editor. It’s hard to add that part up because there’s a lot of waiting between rounds.
How do you come up with themes for your stories?
When I’m looking for ideas, I try to be inspired by something in the natural world or my life and put a magical twist on it.
I have a lot of unpublished works now, and I’ve noticed that there are the same themes in many of them – environmentalism, humor, magic derived from nature, individuality, a streak of anti-authoritarianism, and girls defining themselves amid societal expectations.
If you read them all together (and only I have, since most are unpublished!), they form a pretty good map of my brain. And that might just be a scary thing.
Do you have a schedule of when you write?
This is a sore point because I’m having trouble finding novel-writing time lately. When I’m in a groove, I typically need one large block of time per week (about three or four hours) to get momentum, and then the rest of my writing can happen in the evening in hour-long chunks. It hasn’t worked well, but I have a big chunk today and I’m hopeful.
I also write picture books, and those can be drafted in much smaller bits of time. Perfect for short attention spans like mine, but I still tend to have a lot of lead time – a long time from idea until it’s fully formed and I get to write it out. I have a long list of story ideas and I’m never sure which will be next.
How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
The biggest demand on my time is my children, who are six and nine. I really treasure our time together and put writing behind them. I know lots of writers balance this really well, but I’m not yet as good at it.
I also have a day job as an editor/writer (or in the current lingo, content manager) for a university marketing and communication office. That takes up plenty of time and energy but it’s a necessity.
What elements do you think make a great story line?
I like high emotional stakes within medium-sized external stakes. I love a mix of magic with a really strong grounding in reality. And I’m not going to lie – I love a romantic storyline amid the action. Even in my middle grade, I have a small element of romance because I think it’s a big part of what tweens think about.
What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
The hardest thing is to do it. That’s the biggest hurdle. Making it GOOD is another, but if you can do it often enough, eventually you get to good.
How many books have you written so far? Do you have a favorite?
I’ve written two novels, a chapter books, and about a dozen picture books. Just one novel published so far, Deadwood.
My favorite book is an unpublished picture book called Ava the Big. It was once rejected by an editor who said it was too close to the main character – it was too involving and poignant. I was surprised because A) I didn’t know that it was possible to be too close to a character and B) I thought it was a funny story about an interesting girl in a real-life setting with a happy ending.
But obviously this is a book of my heart – my heart was laid open a little too bare amid the humor.
Do you have a favorite character?
Aside from Ava the Big, I have to speak up for Martin Cruz, one of the 12-year-old main character of Deadwood. He’s a little aloof because he’s trying to protect himself from being hurt while moving into a new town – his mom is deployed in Afghanistan, he’s moved a lot, and he doesn’t want to risk any losses. But he’s funny and proudly geeky in the best way – driven, smart, and individualistic. I thought I’d have a hard time writing a boy’s POV, but I really loved living in his head.
Where do you write?
I write anywhere! I like large blocks of time but I can write at the kitchen counter, a café, my sofa. It doesn’t matter.
When deciding on how to publish, what directed you to the route you took?
I didn’t know much about publishing when I wrote my first book and I didn’t expect it to be published. I was shocked when my first query yielded an offer of representation.
That was the last time things were easy! That book didn’t sell, and my agent and I parted ways. I queried my next novel, Deadwood, to more than 150 agents, but no one wanted to represent it. So much for my beginner’s luck!
I still had faith in the book, so I submitted directly to publishers and got a contract from a brand-new small press. I knew it was a risk, but I thought it was worth taking. In the meantime, I got a new agent, Kathleen Rushall, for my picture books. My book came out and it was doing pretty well.
My publisher folded three months later. Ouch.
But Jennifer Carson, my wonderful editor, accepted a job at Spencer Hill Press to help grow their middle grade list, and she offered me a contract to take the book there.
So now I have a debut redux – a second life for Deadwood. It’s been a long and weird path, but it’s exciting to have a shot with a bigger press with great distribution and marketing.
Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
My family has been so supportive – they love the book and my writing. They’ve been my best ambassadors so far.
What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
I read too much (I should be writing more!), especially fantasy and historical fiction for adult, YA, and MG. I also love gardening and walking in the woods, and I spend way too much time at the beach.
What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
If you want to do it, just try. Everyone has a book in them, but it’s hard to get the book out. Just try.
What is your favorite book? favorite author? Do you have an author that inspired/inspires you to write?
I have a lot of favorites, but one of the best is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s such an imaginative blend of fantasy, scifi, and romance with wonderful characters and some moments that really blew my mind. She’s a big influence and has inspired me a lot.
Do you have any go to people when writing a book that help you with your story lines as well as editing, beta reading and such?
I don’t have a set critique group these days but I’m lucky to have a network of writers and friends, most of them online, whom I trust to read drafts, offer critique, and support me in the endless angst that seems to accompany writerdom.
Are you working on anything now?
I’m working on a sequel to Deadwood – I thought it was a stand-alone but I found an idea that really grabbed me. I hope it works! I also have a lot of picture books in various stages of completion.
Thanks so much for being here with us today, Kell. So great to have you on the blog!
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