It’s Friday! This week in our “Each One Teach One” Author Interview, Middle Grade Author and professional writing instructor Kami Kinard, of South Carolina, shares with us tips, plus thoughts on “mistakes that new authors often make."Kami has taught professional writing classes to adults for years at Technical College of the Low Country and the Arts Council of Beaufort County. Her classes include courses on writing for children, novel revision, and how to critique, and she has led many poetry writing workshops across the state. Her recently released middle grade novel The Boy Project is already receiving rave reviews. On May 18th she’ll be teaching a Master Class on "The Road to Publication for the Children’s Market" at the SC Book Festival in Columbia SC and she’ll be a panelist in the discussion on YA and MG books. She’s also a featured speaker at the SCBWI New Jersey Conference this coming June and a panelist at the SCBWI Carolinas Conference in Sept. 2012.
So Kami, tell us, who was the author who “reached back” to help you when you were first starting out?
When I was first starting out, I was living in Morehead City NC, which is a fairly remote area on the NC coast. I couldn’t find any other children’s writers to share things with, but I knew I had so much to learn. Then I heard about a writer named Joan Carris who lived in Beaufort NC, the next town over. I looked up her number and called her cold. Joan had written a lot of things, including the first ever book on how to improve SAT scores called SAT Success. She was nice, but told me she was straying away from children’s writing. A few months later I called her again. I begged her for help. I offered to pay her. I think she heard the desperation in my voice and said, “Come on over.” From that time until I moved away a few years later, we met regularly in Joan’s kitchen, overlooking the beautiful Bogue Sound. She never took a penny from me, but she gave me so much! A master wordsmith, Joan helped me learn how to edit my own work – how to take out words and phrases that weren’t needed in order to make the remaining words more powerful. I will always be grateful to her. Joan, in fact, did not give up writing for children. She has three adorable books out in her Welcome to the Bed and Biscuit series with Candlewick. I was lucky enough to read the first one as part of our early writing exchanges. Her website it packed with information: http://www.joancarrisbooks.comDoing those difficult edits is definitely an important skill that we all have to learn! Kudos to Joan Carris for taking time to help you learn that skill. And hooray for you for being persistent in seeking a partner to help you improve your craft!
So, how have you used those revision skills you learned back then on your more recent writing?
When I finished revising my novel THE BOY PROJECT, I took self-editing a step further than I ever had before. I went through the revised manuscript (and by revised I mean that I thought it was ready to send out) and I looked back at every single word. Then I made a decision about whether or not to keep it in. That’s over 40,000 decisions, folks. I ended up shortening the manuscript by about 2,000 words. Sometimes I deleted entire paragraphs. Sometimes whole sentences. Sometimes just a word. When I sent it back to my agent, she was very pleased. She said the writing was much tighter. And the manuscript sold shortly thereafter. I think Joan helped give me the vision to cut the unnecessary.
You cut 2000 words after you thought it was already perfect! Wow. That’s a great lesson for all of us who love our extraneous words too much to chop them out and make our chapters better. What a great example!
Now, as your writing career continues to progress, how have you intentionally “reached back” or “reached out” to other new authors, to help them learn new skills and give tips? Why do you think doing this is important?
I was born to be a writer. But I was also born to be a teacher, and I had a successful teaching career before I started writing full time. I still love to teach and now I teach writing classes. I also do pro bono work. Recently I met with a high school writing club and shared some of the things I have learned, and answered their questions. I try to answer all questions directed to me by aspiring writers. And every critique group I have formed (there have been a few because we’ve moved a lot) has included a mix of new and experienced writers. This is important because writers must learn their craft, and they can’t learn it if no one is willing to teach them.I absolutely agree! Newer writers can’t learn if no one will teach them! And we’re all at different points in our careers, so there’s always something new that we can learn about writing or the publishing industry, from those who are ahead of us on the path.
That’s definitely the idea behind these “Each One Teach One” interviews as well. I hope that we’ll all keep learning great strategies for improving our writing and publishing success via these interviews. So many great writers have signed on to be interviewed and give tips! (Alan Gratz, Kelly Starling-Lyons, David Greenberg, Kate Reilly, and Joyce Moyer Hostetter, are just a few of the diverse authors who will be showing up here over the next few Fridays.) So it’s getting very exciting!
So Kami, is there an additional gem of wisdom that you’d like to give to other authors about writing, or logistics of the profession?
Invest in your career. Take Classes. Join SCBWI. Go to conferences. Purchase books like Hooked and Novel Metamorphosis.
Great advice. I’ve not read “Hooked” or “Novel Metamorphosis” yet, but I plan to go look them up immediately. Anything with “morphosis” in the title has got to be good! : ) The idea of “change” (aka morphosis) as we move from first drafts to subsequent drafts is so essential in making our manuscripts ready for the bookstore shelves.
One special question I’d love to ask you, Kami, is this: since you’ve been teaching professional writing classes for so many years, what is one of the most common mistakes you see new writers make?
One of the biggest mistakes I see some (not all) new writers make is being too close to their subjects. Every time I teach a writing course I have at least one writer in my class who wants to write fiction, but who also insists on sticking to his or her own life experiences. THE BOY PROJECT is based on my own life experiences, but it is fiction, so I reached beyond my experience to create situations that never happened to me and to create characters I had never really met. I see many new writers who are married to their own experiences and ideas, and because they are unwilling to expand those ideas into unknown territory they are crippled. These writers never get published UNLESS they overcome this. Not all do. So new writers need to be open to learning and to trying new things. They also need to be open to suggestions, but this doesn’t mean they need to take every suggestion offered!
Oh boy… so true. Those last two sentences are exactly how I would have said it!So, one last FUN question: Who was your favorite author when you were a child, and who are 2-3 children’s or MG/YA authors/illustrators whose books you love now, as an adult? Why?
I’d have to say my favorite author as a child was Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew series. (Whether she was one author, or many authors writing under a pseudonym, didn’t matter to me as a child.) I think I had read every book in the series before entering fourth grade.
As an adult, this probably changes for me from week to week and I tend to have favorite books without loving all of the books by a given author. I just read Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater and I loved it. I thought it was beautifully written. She does a wonderful job of creating a setting that is integral to her story. I also really liked Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I was introduced to this book at a writers’ workshop and I was the only writer in the group who liked it. I couldn’t believe this because I thought the book was great! If you want to read a book by someone who has mastered the art of writing a scene, you should take a look at Ship Breaker!I was right there with you with the Nancy Drews – finished them all in the 4th grade myself! Ship Breaker and Scorpio Races will go on my reading list now, for sure.
Thanks so much, Kami, for your great thoughts on revision and being open to critique and change to make our manuscripts stronger!Here’s a link to a fun youtube post by a middle grade girl who doesn’t actually know Kami (or me,) but who apparently has discovered and begun enjoying sharing Kami’s recent book with the online world. : ) Ah…hooray for young readers! There's another great link below it posted by another middle grade girl as well. Both show different aspects of what middle graders love about this book. Go Kami! In many ways, youtube-love from your readers is the highest form of praise!
2nd Video: "My Favorite Book: The Boy Project" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLJ2SJufJco
Thanks again, Kami, for sharing this book and your wisdom!
We'll see everyone next Friday again for our “Each One Teach One” Interview with experienced Children’s nonfiction book and adult magazine and MG fiction writer Kathleen Reilly, right here, on writermorphosis.