Agents dream of finding writers like Kari. Writers who with the stroke of a pen–or a keyboard in the modern times–can write a sentence that will haunt the reader. It didn’t hurt that Kari totally wrote a book that was in my #AuditoryMSWL. Her Swan Lake retelling will blow you away, and I am so lucky I get to be here for the ride.
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
I was able to spend a couple years working part-time while writing the first draft of my current manuscript. I would spend either the first or second half of the day in a coffee shop or at the library, and the other half at home. Nowadays I work fulltime and I’m also a new parent, so I snatch my writing time in the evenings, or on weekend afternoons when my daughter naps.
Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g. burning a candle if you’re having trouble getting started at the computer or writing longhand first if you’re feeling uninspired.)
If I’m stuck or procrastinating, the number one thing I do is read other novels—I always have a book with me along with my laptop. I find that reading even a few pages gives me that jolt of inspiration I need to go back to my computer.
What do you love about writing YA fairytale fantasy
With young adult fiction in general, there’s something so compelling about characters who are learning how to fend for themselves, but who don’t yet have a settled, adult place in the world. There’s a loss that happens—a loss of a home, a time and a place—and the only way to find a new home is by leaving your past behind to some extent. The pain of that change, and the wish to belong somewhere, is such a fundamental experience that I think all of us have.
As for playing around with fairy tales, I think I’m drawn to the “stripping away of the inessential,” to quote J. K. Rowling, that often happens in fairytale plots. There’s a timelessness and an emotional poignancy to the characters’ struggles—Cinderella’s father was alive, and now he’s not. Her home was her own, and now it’s not. Those are heartbreaking, painful things. And sooner or later, young readers need to process heartbreaking, painful things. The New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot speaks to this really well: “Children need the dark materials of fairy tales because they need to make sense—in a symbolic, displaced way—of their own feelings of anger, resentment, and powerlessness.” Whether or not the ending is “happy,” the darker parts of life are there in the shadows. My interest in fairy tales has a lot to do with this bittersweet tone; I find it cathartic to spend time with characters who have experienced real loss, yet find a way to keep hoping.
Why did you choose the genre you’ve chosen?
The “golden era” of 90s Disney movies happened when I was at just the right age to be very impressionable. I was that kid who dressed as Belle for Halloween and insisted on trick-or-treating with a whole baguette in my hand! I still can’t hear those songs without welling up. I also remember being mesmerized by those Japanese fairytale imports we had, the Adventures of the Little Mermaid and Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics by Saban, if anyone remembers those. That fairytale landscape—the castle by the sea, the cottage in the woods—sunk pretty deep into my psyche. I think it will always be connected with my sense of awe and magic and romantic ideals.
I found my way to fairytale ballets in particular while studying abroad during my undergrad degree. I had a break before exams, and I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in St. Petersburg with my old ballet teacher and a group of young dancers. We went to a ballet practically every night, and I was so struck by their plots. The storylines were so oddly flat, and the love plots were pretty much identical—young beautiful boy, meet young beautiful girl. Sitting there in those theatres, I started imagining an outsider character observing things from her home in the forest, looking in on a romance from the outside. When I decided to try writing professionally, that idea came back to me.
If you’re not reading or writing fiction, what would we catch you doing?
Working as a copywriter, running my toddler to and from daycare, carving out time with my husband. At a barre fitness class (the closest I get to ballet now) on the rare day I can make it to one. Or at the movies.
Where can readers find you on the web and social media?
I have fun with Instagram. There’s something lovely about seeing and sharing little stories within the bookish community (and who doesn’t love a geeky hashtag?). I’m also on Twitter and Facebook and I have a website as well.
What’s your favorite quote about reading or writing?
“I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp.” – J.K. Rowling
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice you’ve received?
When I was in my mid-twenties, I cold-emailed the incredible Canadian children’s author Kit Pearson. (Impulsively and in the middle of the night, which I wouldn’t advise.) I asked her if she had any guidance for balancing work and writing, and she was kind enough to write back the following:
“It’s always hard at the beginning. I don’t think it really matters what career you have besides writing – the trouble is, you have to have something to support you while you get started. So I would look for something you like to do – in your case, that sounds like being a persuasive writer. It really helps if you can work part-time and if you don’t have much work to take home. Then you have to be very strict with yourself about a schedule of writing that fits in with your work schedule. It could only be half an hour a day – as long as you do it regularly, you will eventually get something written! It’s hard to be disciplined at first, but soon it will become a habit.”
I’ve found this to be so true. I’ve tried on a few hats in my professional life, and it became clear that for me, if I wanted to write creatively in any productive way, then my day job couldn’t be something that took up too much of my creative heart. Copywriting lets me have that quiet time with words that, as an introvert, I crave in a work day. But there’s still enough of me left over creatively at the end of the day to put into fiction writing.
Do you get inspiration from any TV shows or movies? If so, which ones?
Yes—ah, so many! And I’m a big re-watcher. I fear this interview is going to be too long already, so I’ll just say Mad Men for TV and One Day, Little Women and An Education for movies. And Jane Austen adaptations of any kind.
Drink of choice when writing? When not writing?
I drink tea all day long when doing work of any kind, though I refuse to “hot the pot” like my mother and grandmother do. (What a waste of water! And time! A tea cozy gets it plenty hot, in my humble opinion.) I love a good latte as well, to mix things up.
What advice would you give to other authors in the query trenches?
Focus not just on agents with big sales records, but on people who really and truly share your literary taste, even if they’re newer to agenting. As long as the agency is reputable, I think that finding someone as passionate about your story as possible is what’s important. I really recommend the website Manuscript Wish List to get a sense of what specific agents are looking for.
What excites you most about joining the BookEnds family?
I couldn’t be more excited about working with Natascha. Not just because of her work ethic, enthusiasm and editorial background, but because she shares so many of my loves, from literary fairytale writers like Robin McKinley right down to Anne of Green Gables. It’s heartening to have found an agent who loves female characters in YA who aren’t necessarily “strong” girls in the sense of being Arya Stark-style warriors—and she even had a childhood fascination with classical ballets! I’m doubly excited because Natascha puts her clients in contact with each other and encourages them to be critique partners for one another. Everyone on #TeamNat happens to be a woman, which is neat. It’s exciting to be part of a group of new female voices.
If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would you want to meet and why?
Let’s say Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery and J.K. Rowling. So that I can fall at their feet in thanks, and maybe have a good chat over some tea.