Name: Katrina Kittle
Based In: Dayton, Ohio
Education: BA in English, BS in Education, & minor in Theatre from Ohio University, MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky
Favorite Read: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Author Crush: Barbara Kingsolver
Pet Peeves: When you’re with a friend and they can’t stop looking at their phone, when people post stupid political BS on Facebook without checking the facts, and closed minds.
Fiction How-To-Book You’d Recommend: Stephen King’s On Writing
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…Where do I start? In addition to being a writer I’m an actress, a children’s theatre director, and a creative writing teacher. If I weren’t any of those things, I’d be a veterinarian…or a set dresser…or a special effects makeup artist…or a bazillion other things I’d love to do…(and the beauty of the writing life is that you get to “live” all those jobs by giving them to your characters).
What You Have Lined Up Next: Finishing up years of revision on my second young adult novel, currently called Strange Katy, and plowing through the next adult novel, which is causing me to research ghosts, pandemics, and raising backyard chickens.
Have you ever thought of using the pen name Kit Kat?
Haha! Nope, but many a student and fellow cast member has called me that! Quite frequently I go by Kat, as you do.
You’ve said that you finished Traveling Light by writing for two hours every Saturday for two years. How can other writers come up with a writing schedule that works for them?
I tell people it has to be like being in love. You have to be in love with a project enough to carve out time for it where there really isn’t any. If you can’t do that, maybe you don’t really love it? Lots of people say they want to write a book, but very few will actually ever sit down and write it. Some tips: Look at each week and plan your writing schedule. Look for any place you can squeeze in some writing time, whether it’s half an hour here or 3 hours there or whatever you can find. Then: keep that schedule sacred. Actually, put it on your calendar and defend it from all the millions of ways life will try to interfere. If you don’t take your writing time seriously, no one else ever will. Pay yourself first with writing time! You’ll find time to do all those pesky other tasks later because you have to. If you say you’ll write after you finish all the other tasks, trust me: you won’t.
Was The Kindness of Strangers a difficult book to write?
Yes, but not nearly as difficult as dealing with child sexual abuse in real life (which, for the record, I have never done). I worked with a lot of experts who helped me get it right and treat this subject accurately and responsibly—social workers, police officers, pediatricians, child psychologists. There were plenty of days when I stepped away from a couple hours of bleak, dark writing and knew I needed to go see some light comedy or action movie just to remove myself. But what kept me going was thinking of all those amazing, dedicated experts who didn’t have the option to step away. For them, the children weren’t fictional, but real.
So, you bake while writing. Have you ever gotten flour on your computer or on manuscript pages?
Fortunately, no! I don’t actually bake while literally writing…that would be an absurd scene I’d like to see! Rather, I tend to bake—and do all kinds of cooking—more often when I’m deep in a writing project. Things have a way of “simmering” and “cooking” both literally and figuratively. I figure out a lot of plot twists out while stirring and chopping.
You tend to dream about animals…a whole lot. Was The Blessings of Animals inspired by one of such dreams?
Strangely, no, I realize to my surprise. The main animal cast of Blessings is stolen shamelessly straight from my life. I’m lucky to have known the angry horse who eventually became a big ol’ softie—his real life name was Degas, the escape-artist smart-as-a-whip goat—his real life name is Humphrey, and the three legged cat—a composite of feral cat George and three-legged cat Peggy Eileen. Peg-gy I-Lean…get it? I know, I know…
As someone who teaches writing classes and workshops…from what you have seen and observed, what aspect of writing is most difficult for new writers to grasp?
One, that you need to honor your apprenticeship and care about craft. That you can’t be in a hurry and you’re not “done” when you type “the end.” Just like a dancer, a musician, or any other artist, you need to study the craft, honor the craft, make mistakes, produce a lot solely for the sake of learning, and not even concern yourself with an agent or the business of publishing until you’ve created and revised & revised & revised the best work you possibly can and have cut it to the bone and polished it to shine. Two—You have to read a lot. A lot. It will teach you. Writers who are life long, avid readers always, always have a stronger grasp of the craft of fiction even if they’ve never taken a formal class. Readers understand how a scene naturally unfolds, how a plot is like a machine chugging toward the climax, what natural dialogue sounds like—as well as how it looks on the page, what makes a fresh original voice, and a bazillion other vital ingredients of good fiction. When I read an early manuscript from a beginner writer, I can immediately tell who is a reader and who is not. Three—It is never to late to become a reader.
If you were publishing your first book now as opposed to then, what would you have done differently?
I would have done a lot more promotion and marketing on my own. I naively thought “the publisher will do that,” but even with a big, traditional publishing house the author needs to do a lot on her own. I feel like I learned by doing it wrong! But I paid attention and I haven’t made the same mistakes…just new ones each time!
Books clubs are an author’s delight and you have made no secret of your willingness to interact with book club organizers.
I love, love, love book clubs. Book clubs are keeping fiction alive out there in this increasingly busy and ADD society we live in. Plus, so much of writing takes place in total solitude, that it’s really lovely to engage with the readers and hear reactions and thoughts. It’s like opening a gift to hear them discuss a plot point, especially when they might disagree with each other. I like my books to be somewhat open-ended. I like to invite the reader to think about certain issues, but not to tell them exactly what to think. If it’s not black-and-white, then there’s something to truly discuss and readers can defend their views, which to me is one of the greatest delights of being a reader. It’s important to set some boundaries on book clubs, however—decide what you can reasonably commit to—you might not be able to say yes to everyone and still have time to actually continue to write and/or feed your family and/or do the job that actually pays the bills and/or do laundry, sleep a minimum amount to keep you sane, etc. etc. etc. It helps to decide limits in advance. For example, you might decide: I will do two book clubs per week that are within a half hour’s drive from my home —I loathe driving—or on Skype. Then, when the third one calls for the same week, you can politely say, “I’m only able to do two per week and this month is already full. Would you be interested in a date next month?” If you say yes to everyone, you will exhaust yourself…and it’s only worth going if you are excited, eager, rested, and think it’s fun. If it’s not fun for you, it will show, and you might as well have stayed at home. If you go and you connect with people and they think you’re fun, they will probably buy every book you ever write in the future because they’ve met you and liked you and feel connected to you. No one wants a tired, grumpy writer coming to their house and being whiney about “Oh poor me, too many people want to read my book.” Please. If you don’t feel comfortable going to stranger’s homes, I’m okay with it if I know someone in the group, or at least a mutual person so I’m certain this isn’t a serial killer—then invite them to meet you in a public place—lots of libraries and restaurants have meeting rooms, for example. Here’s something that can be touchy, but it’s an important teachable moment: writers only make money from sales. So, if the writer is coming to your book group, it is a common courtesy that as many members as possible actually purchase the book—rather than sharing a copy or loaning it from the library. Of course, no book club member actually purchases every single book the club reads in a year, but I’m saying if the writer is coming to your house—giving you an evening away from her friends and family, most likely traveling alone, not charging a fee—then that’s the time everyone should pony up, and you buying her book is your thank you to her for her time…and it allows that writer to keep writing and keep traveling to book clubs. Oh, one last tip: if you have a reading group guide for your book, let them know where to get it—mine are on my website. Lots of groups like the questions as a security blanket, but it’s important not to use them as a strait jacket. If they stray from it—or better yet, have their own questions— that’s fantastic!
We’ve all heard that even successful authors with a track record such as yourself have their moments. What do you do when you feel that your work is not good enough?
Gosh. Are there ever any days when you feel your work is good enough? Hmm. You just show up. Like any other job, there will be days that feel harder than others, but the secret is to be there and slog through it any way. That way, on the days you actually do feel inspired and on fire, you’ve kept yourself “in shape” and you have the stamina to catch that “muse” and use it. It always helps—for me—to have more than one project going at a time, so if I feel stalled in one work, I can spend a few days on the other—and still be productive instead of not writing at all…which is a very dangerous habit to get into to. It’s a habit. You just show up. On the days you feel your work is not good enough and on the days you feel your work kicks ass.