* I was born March 19, 1970
* I grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley and now I’m back living here again.
*I lived in Augsburg, Germany for four years. My husband was stationed there with the Army. While overseas I was able to travel and visit all over Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, France, England, Denmark, Poland, The Czech Republic and Egypt. And yes, it was awesome.
*I’m the Mom to three boys and they are the reason that I haven’t been finished with laundry in over a decade. LOL!
* I LOVE chocolate and have a particular devotion to chocolate ice cream. I’ve made Wednesday nights my ice cream night, but calories don’t count on weekends, right?
* I’m a work in progress.
Writing and Publishing
* Do you have an agent?
I have a fabulous agent, Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary.
* How hard was it to get an agent?
It was a long process with a lot of rejection. In fact, thirty-two other agents passed before Michelle offered representation.
I officially started the querying process in April of 2009. I learned about Michelle and queried her in August of 2009. I was thrilled when she immediately asked for a partial. Unfortunately I sent my requested pages in the wrong format. I was a little embarrassed, but she was so nice about it that I was really hopeful. I was so disappointed when I didn’t hear back from her, I assumed that no response meant no. Happily it didn’t–in June of 2010 she requested a full. Yay! At this point I was doing a big revision on TOUCHING THE SURFACE, so it was my turn to make her wait. LOL! I then sent back the revised manuscript in October of 2010 and we talked on the phone in November. She gave me some revision suggestions and the opportunity to resubmit. This was a no brainer for me. I made the changes and sent them back in December and then we fell in love and lived happily ever after. Yes, it felt just like that, but what really happened was that I signed with Michelle on January 6, 2011 and she sold TOUCHING THE SURFACE to Anica Rissi of Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) on February 11, 2010. I’ve been smiling non-stop ever since.
* Did you always want to be a writer?
I absolutely wanted to be a writer as I kid, but then I became very self-conscious about people reading what I wrote. I realized that if they read my words, they would know what I was thinking, and I didn’t feel brave enough to defend my thoughts. Instead of being so vulnerable and honest, I switched to writing things that didn’t have much emotional depth. Not surprisingly, it didn’t feel good, so I let it get away from me. I also think that I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to believe I really could be a writer. I’ve always considered writers to be amazing and talented people and I just didn’t see myself that way. It feels very good to know I belong here in this world.
* What’s your favorite thing about writing?
I love, love, love the moment when I realize that there are unintended threads in my writing, and that they’ve woven themselves throughout the story in a way that is beautiful and deep. It’s like magic. My subconscious seems to know more about me than I can ever imagine–it’s as if it let a little bit of my heart and soul leak out onto the pages.
* As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?
I’m a mom of three boys and they were six, four and two when I started to write TOUCHING THE SURFACE. My dad had passed away when I was pregnant with my youngest son. Right around that time, a lot of things were pointing me in the direction of writing. A friend took me to an author luncheon. I needed to have an outlet for my feelings about my Dad and I was inundated with motherhood and I think I need a tiny corner of the world to belong to me.
One of the best things I did was find the courage to join the SCBWI. I noticed there was a local conference coming up and it was practically in my hometown. The only problem was that it was on my youngest son’s 2nd birthday. To this day, I believe my Dad must have been pushing me from behind, telling me to go. Of course I fought it, “mommy guilt” is a real affliction, but I’ve always been so lucky to have the support of my family on this journey, so I went. I’m so glad I did.
Inspired by the conference, particularly Laurie Halse Anderson and K.L. Going, I signed up for an intimate workshop and critique with Kelly (K.L.) Going. I went home and started to write TOUCHING THE SURFACE in order to have something for her to critique. Making that time for myself never scarred my kids, it’s allowed them to see me have passion and determination. They witnessed a dream in the making and I think that’s one of the greatest gifts I could give to them.
As a primary caregiver, I also recommend putting things in perspective. Stop being so hard on yourself. My code word is flexibility. I’ve stopped beating myself up about my inability to keep a specific writing schedule or even having enough butt-in-chair time. I write in my head while I’m at the playground. I develop characters while I’m running and I listen to audio books while I do the laundry or take a shower. I don’t apologize when I have a week when the kids are sick or obligations have to get done. I also don’t beg forgiveness for the times when I rent a movie or I when I tell the kids that it is not my job to entertain them. Besides, kids are better off using their imagination and playing anyway.
My last piece of advice is to stock up. One day, several years ago, my boys told me that they had no clean socks to wear to school. I did what every short-for-time, over-worked, forgot-to-do-the-laundry, aspiring author does. I made them wear my small, stretchy socks. Problem solved! Until my oldest boy reminded me, that he was also down to his last pair of underwear. He firmly suggested that I do some laundry–very quickly–because he had no intentions of wearing MY underwear to school the next day. I got it done, but now we have a supply of underwear and socks that could take us through the apocalypse. Not a bad thing. LOL!
* Do you outline before you write?
I do not. I’m a pantser–a definite fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of a girl when it comes to a written outline, but that doesn’t mean I don’t plan ahead. I’m also a mullet girl–I mull over my story, characters and plot in my head for long periods of time before I write them down. Perhaps, you could even call it a mental outline, because when I finally sit down to write, I do have very strong ideas about where I’m headed. Additionally, flexibility is very important to me because I’m really open to going where the story leads me. This is when it’s advantageous to be a mental outliner because it’s very easy to make corrections to the master plan. All I have to do is head in the new direction and start my mulling all over again. I swish my imagination around until the new ideas are real to me. So in case you’re having trouble keeping track–I’m a Flexible-Pantster-Mulletizer!
* Why do you write for YA?
Technically, I don’t write for young adults, I write for me. It just so happens that my emotional growth kind of got stunted in my teen years. There was no earth shattering traumatic event, but I think I didn’t listen to my own voice enough. I was an extremely passive kid and I had a tendency to push things down and blindly do what other people told me to. I pretended not to see the girl who had so many questions to ask and things to say. I feel like I owe her the chance to have that time—that voice. Now, when I write, I feel like I’m picking up where I left off. But just for the record, I’m honored to be writing for young adults. I think they are some of the most interesting and innovative people in the world. They are smart and undervalued and I know I can learn as much from them as they do from me. *fist pump*
* What has surprised you about the publication process?
Hands down, it has been how amazingly wonderful everyone in publishing has been. I know that publishing is a business and there is a bottom line, sometimes with less than favorable aspects to it, but the people I’ve met are fantastic. They’re as passionate about their jobs as I am about mine. I can’t imagine better folks to collaborate with.
* When should you trust your instincts and when should you listen to the professionals?
I’m a HUGE fan of listening to agents, editors and more experienced authors. I HIGLY encourage it. Listening and taking professional advice is, without a doubt, what has put me in the position to be published. BUT…
Yes, there is always a but. Professionals make mistakes. Professionals have different tastes and needs. Sometimes we just have to trust our own instincts.
A couple years ago I was at the NY SCBWI Conference, waiting my turn to pitch an agent. After two hours on line, I nervously pitched…
TOUCHING THE SURFACE is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who’s died for the third time and is stuck in the afterlife until she can figure out what she needed to know in order to move on.
The agent wasn’t impressed. He told me dead girls were out. I decided I could take his advice and put my manuscript in the drawer for at least 10 years, or I could figure out why my pitch didn’t express what I wanted people to discover in my words. After a lot of thought I realized that my story wasn’t really “about” a dead girl. I discovered that the afterlife was just a setting for a deeper idea—an idea that could occur anywhere, but just happened to take place in Limbo. I figured out that TOUCHING THE SURFACE is about how life-altering mistakes are meant to alter lives. It’s about how we all screw up. What would happen if our mistakes weren’t failures after all?
Touching the Surface
* What was it that made you go for it and write TOUCHING THE SURFACE?
My father passed away in early 2005 and I always felt that he had big dreams that he never accomplished. He was an amazing guy, but I felt that deep inside he wanted to be someone different or something more. I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps—never chasing my dreams. I also didn’t want to die one day filled with want. I may have started to write to make some sense out of losing him, but I also picked up the pen again because I was tired of being afraid and pushing things down. There was no place left in my life to hide my voice. Suddenly, I felt as if my Dad left me a little extra courage when he went away. I’m proud that I wasn’t too blind to grab it.
* What inspired you to write about the after life?
Besides needing to come to terms with the passing of my Dad, I’ve always been fascinated by bad things happening to good people and the power of the choices we make. What do we have control over in our own lives? As a young adult, I worked very hard to be “perfect.” After all, my nickname IS Kimmiepoppins LOL! But I know in my heart, that I acted the way that I did because I was afraid of taking a misstep–of making a mistake. In many ways, the fear of living my life the wrong way is what drove me to explore what happens when you do the unforgivable. For too long, I allowed other people make choices for me and about me. I allowed myself to be battered by other people’s opinions and I recognized this in my father too. I always hated that he sold himself short and then I realized suddenly that I was my father’s daughter. I was doing the very same thing. This book was a very safe place for me to begin dancing with some of these issues.
* What was the hardest thing about writing TOUCHING THE SURFACE?
The hardest part of writing TOUCHING THE SURFACE was learning how to write a novel while writing the novel. I’d never tackled anything this long or complicated before. There was a massive amount of trial and error on the journey. If I were to print off all the drafts that I’ve created over the years, I’m sure I could wall paper my whole house from top to bottom.
The good news was that there was a wealth of information out there for me to learn from. I attended conferences, found local and cyber critique partners, and read a ton of books on the craft of writing. Because I found all these amazing resources, I was able to grow and improve my manuscript.
One moment that really stands out was when I had my manuscript critiqued by a professional. The author gave me amazingly insightful suggestions on how to make my novel better. Unfortunately, I was too much of a newbie to properly implement her advice. I tried and made minor surface changes, but that was all I was capable of doing at that point. Over a year later I had an agent give me some suggestions about how to improve the manuscript. Everything she suggested immediately resonated with me and the ideas began to rush through my mind like white water rapids. Within 48 hours I knew I needed to add a whole other character to my story. Out of curiosity, I pulled out the notes from my original critique, and much to my surprise, they were almost identical. What had changed in that space of time allowing me to be able to effectively revise my work? I grew as a writer. I was developmentally ready to take the next step. I had practiced and practiced and practiced.
* How long did it take you to write TOUCHING THE SURFACE?
I started working on it in the summer of 2007 immediately after I attended my first SCBWI conference. I sold it to Anica Rissi of Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) in February of 2011. I’d worked on the book for about 3 ½ years by the time I sold it. TOUCHING THE SURFACE was then published on October 30, 2012, making it a 5 ½ year adventure.
* Which character do you relate to the most?
There is so much of me in each and every character of TOUCHING THE SURFACE, it would be hard for me to pick just one. I think that I have a huge connection with Elliot, because we’ve spent so much time together, but I can just as easily recognize pieces of myself in everyone–even the hardest to love character—David. I can relate to his need to always be right and his desire to rub salt in other people’s wounds when he’s feeling vulnerable. I’d like to think I don’t allow my insecurities take hold the same way that David’s do, but I also know that I could be him if I let myself go there. Scary–but if I’m honest–it’s the truth. Damn. Now you’re giving me funny looks. Was that too much information? You still love me, right? Maybe I should edit this?
* What was it like building the world in TOUCHING THE SURFACE?
This was one of the harder things I had to do. I think I improved along the way, but I don’t know if I’m anywhere near the skill level that I would like to be. Consider me a work-in-progress at world building. What I did love about it, was the ability to let my imagination take the lead. It felt very magical to be able to manipulate my own reality, but I was also overwhelmed at times, trying to remember the ramifications for the decisions I was making. I guess I’m going to have to leave it to the readers to decide if I did an okay job.
* What message do you want people to take away from TOUCHING THE SURFACE?
This is going to sound strange, but I don’t want to send the reader away with a specific message. I’d like them to walk away having found something about themselves within the pages of my book. I’m the author, and still, that’s how it happened for me. The best way I can explain this is to tell you about what happened when my husband read TOUCHING THE SURFACE. He got to the end of book—a teen novel about life altering mistakes, best friends, and boys—and he looked at me and said, “This was a love letter to your Dad.” Yes, it was, but no one would know that unless I spoke of it. It isn’t a story about a father and daughter, but when I was done typing the last word, I knew I’d found what I needed, hidden within the story. My hope is that I’ve left enough room between the words for everyone to find what they need.
* How did your book change from the first draft to the final draft of TOUCHING THE SURFACE?
I had an initial vision of a girl dying the moment she dove into the water, then a hand pulling her out. At first, it would appear she’d been saved from drowning, but actually she would have crossed a threshold into the afterlife. To make this idea come alive, I started off picturing a high school competitive swimmer, diving into a pool and suffering from cardiac arrest. It was an idea that worked, but the problem I ran into was that I couldn’t connect with the character. She felt awkward to write. I was trying to make my MC fit my plot line. Finally I realized that I just needed to listen to Elliot. She wasn’t a swimmer at all. Once I realized that, things just started to fall into place. About halfway through the first draft, I got a good chuckle when I realized she was actually a hiker. Another big change happened when the character of Oliver went from being a four year old to being 16 year old. Talk about the butterfly effect! It took a lot of thought, but I really enjoyed growing a character that I already loved so much.
* What’s your favorite book of all time?
There are many that I love, but if I had to pick one, it would be Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER. I read it in 10th grade and I can remember clearly thinking that I was not alone in the world. There was someone else who had the same type of questions, floating around their head, that I did. I can never find the right words to explain what that felt like. And the end of the book–I LOVE an ending that makes me think, dream, and maybe even want to pull my hair out. There is nothing better than a book that lingers long after you’ve closed the cover.
* Do you judge a book by its cover?
I can’t help it–I know it’s wrong, but I do it all the time. I’ll always read a highly recommended book, n o matter how I feel about the cover, but when I walk up to a shelf and it’s a level playing field, the cover absolutely plays a role in my choices.
* Who has been your most influential writing teacher or mentor and why?
I want to talk a little bit about my 6th grade teacher. I had a series of hardworking, caring English teachers over the course of my childhood. Seriously, they were all great, but I’m going to tell you about the one teacher I hated.
I was scared to death of Mrs. Mignault. At the time, I was convinced that she was Satan’s handmaiden. Perhaps this was just an unfortunate side effect of spending too many years in Catholic School. Or maybe it was because she was strict and grouchy most of the time. Or perhaps it was because I adored my 5th grade teacher more than I’d ever loved a teacher before. I’m sure the truth is a jumble of all those things, but for the record, I was not optimistic about the 6th grade.
I specifically remember the English class where Mrs. Mignault had written a poem on the black board. (Yeah, I’m old school.) With her thin lips pressed tightly together, she made us copy it down and commit it to memory—groan. The poem was In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915. Mrs. Mignault began to recite the words. She walked us through each line. And we were quiet. We were listening. Instead of yelling at us, she was talking to us. It was the moment I realized she had poetry in her soul. The subject and the words moved her—she felt them deeply. It was about war and loss and I could picture it all so clearly.
From that moment on, I never looked at her or poetry the same way again. She taught me that words had the power to transform people. I never told anyone what a life changing experience I had that day in 6th grade. They would have laughed at me. Even so, I’m sorry I kept it a secret. I wish she would have known–that from that day on—a piece of me loved her.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
Perhaps Mrs. Mignault is watching me. Maybe she was there the day that I held my book in my hands for the first time. And if I’m lucky, she’ll know that I’ve taken her torch and I hold it high.
* What plans do you have for the future?
I would like to continue to explore stories that teach me about myself. I want to write books that I’m proud of, that make me feel like a better person for having written them. I want to write with bravery. I may not be courageous by other people’s standards, but I want to challenge myself. I aspire to be more and I never want to lose the feeling that I’m living my dream. Besides, if I do these things—I’m a better mom, wife, daughter and friend. So it works out pretty good for everyone. I also plan to eat a lot of chocolate ice cream.
* Which author inspires you the most and why?
How do I pick just one? I consider myself lucky to simply read the books of my personal heroes, but now, to also be a part of the same industry–it makes me swell with pride. If I can only pick one, I’m going to pick Laurie Halse Anderson and here’s why… First, she is a brave and honest writer. I can only imagine the amount of reader’s lives she’s changed for the better and likely saved. She reminds me every day to speak out. She keeps me grounded about what is really important about putting a book out into the world. Second, she has never forgotten her roots and is a huge advocate for aspiring writers. The very first conference I attended, she was the keynote speaker. Just listening to her was enough to change my life, but when I stood on line to get her autograph, she asked me—“What do you write?” It was the first time I’d ever thought of myself as a real writer. I’ll never forget that moment and how I vowed to live up to her expectations for me. Third, she is an advocate of Librarians and a champion against book banning. Need I say more? Fourth, she leads an amazing life outside of her writer persona. To name just a few, she wears the hat of wife, mom, runner, and gardener. She reminds me that my whole life must be rich in in order for my writing life to have depth.
* When you are not writing, what are some of your other interests?
My favorite interest is my family, particularly my husband and three wonderful boys. They’re amazing people and I feel very lucky that I enjoy their company so much.
I’m also a dancer and a dance instructor. I take class–ballet, tap, jazz, modern in a workshop format and I teach 3 and 4 year-old beginner classes. It’s something that makes me happy from the inside out. It’s also a great way for me to get some pink and frilly little girl time once in awhile.
This always surprises me, but I’m a runner. I’m not sure how I went from a lifetime of hating it, to loving it, but I do! Besides physically feeling great, one of my favorite things about going for a long run are the ah-ha plotting moments I arrive at while I’m out pounding the pavement.
And I LOVE to read. Duh!
* What is one thing, looking back, you wish you had known in high school/ middle school?
Lets be honest, I’ve got a laundry list of things that I wish I’d known back in the day. If I had to pick one to pass along, it would be to dream bigger. All the choices I made back then were safe. There are benefits to being cautious, but I lose something by having my heart and soul always smothered in bubble wrap.
An example of this was my choice to be a teacher. When I allowed myself to dream, I aspired to be a writer, a dancer, a marine biologist and a whole bunch of other cool artsy and interesting things. What I chose to be instead was a teacher. Now, don’t get me wrong—teachers ROCK and I also think I was a very good one—but I know now that I picked that profession for the wrong reasons. I made that choice because it was what I knew. It was where I was comfortable. I’d been a professional student for my whole life. It was easy to visualize what I’d be doing. It was safe.
I convinced myself that it was my dream, because I was afraid to imagine something bigger.
This was not the only time I wished I’d aspired for more. As a child, I was a flagrant editorial writer. Somewhere I even have postcards from Doo Bee the star of Romper Room. I wrote to everyone. I wrote to my heroes and I wrote about my enemies. I was dedicated to righting injustice—or at least what I thought was unfair. I even wrote to the Bishop demanding better, nicer nuns for my Catholic school and outlined a plan explaining why this was not only reasonable, but also beneficial to everyone. Sadly, he blew smoke up my…whatever…you get the general idea.
That wasn’t the last letter I wrote, but it was close. I’m not sure why I stopped but I suspect it had something to do with feeling powerless. I think I assumed that being rejected for my ideas meant that I wasn’t supposed to have a voice or that the one I had wasn’t very good. I allowed other people to dictate what I should dream about. Part of me regrets it. Some days I can’t help but wonder who or what I would have been if I’d dreamt a little bigger—been a little more fearless. Other days I know that if I hadn’t been that girl, then I’d be writing completely different stories and that would make me sad. I’ve discovered I like my stories and my voice. I also like that now I dream BIG and once and awhile (don’t blink, you might miss it) I’m even a little fearless.