Monday, December 12, 2011
FEATURED AUTHOR: Kimberly Reid
Kimberly Reid is the author of the Langdon Prep series for young adults starring Chanti Evans, a fifteen-year-old girl trying to navigate her new school and solve crimes. Like her main character, Kimberly grew up the daughter of a police detective, attended a prep school where she did not fit in, and always wanted to help her mother solve crimes. She earned a M.A. from The George Washington University and currently lives near Denver, Colorado, where her series is set. Please visit KimberlyReid.com to learn more.
How did you start out your writing career?
At a writing conference that included literary agent pitch sessions, I pitched a coming-of-age novel to an agent and she asked me to send the manuscript to her. I told her I was also starting a memoir about growing up in 1980s Atlanta during a two-year long serial murder investigation. She ended up rejecting the novel because she didn’t feel it was marketable, but she liked my writing style and asked that I send her the memoir when it was complete. It was ready a year later, she read it and offered representation. Several revisions and another year and a half later, No Place Safe sold to Kensington Books. It was my first published book, but the third book I’d written with serious intent to publish. Now I’m writing fiction for young adults, though I hope not so young adults will give the book a try.
What did you learn while writing this book?
I learned my long-held ideas about who I am, what I expect of myself and what I enjoy writing were outdated expectations that didn’t fit where I wanted to be right now. I’m a big planner, but sometimes I get so caught up in executing the plan that my brain misses the moment when the plan no longer works. Fortunately, my heart pays better attention. Once I let go of what I ought to do, I was able to do what I really wanted to do, which was write this new series.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
I wanted to create a fun teen series with multicultural characters who aren’t defined only by their race or ethnicity. I wanted my characters to go to school, deal with family drama, solve mysteries, fall in love just like everyone on the planet does, except they happen to be people of color—both good guys and bad guys. Mostly I just want readers to have a good time, to put down the book feeling entertained and looking forward to the next one.
Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
MJ was fun to write. She and Chanti keep dancing around whether they’re friends or not. Chanti is a by-the-book kid of a police detective, MJ is a cop-hating former juvenile delinquent serving probation, and they are fascinated by each other’s lives even if they won’t admit it. I look forward to learning more about MJ in future books.
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
I was surprised by how many other people want to become published authors when I tell them what I do.
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
The best part of writing is being able to do the thing I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a kid – creating people, worlds and stories out of my head and having real-life people join me for the ride. Even on a bad day, it’s good, and I absolutely love it when I hear from readers that they enjoy my work.
The part I most hate is the lack of control I have over most aspects of the business side of writing—whether a book is published at all (although self-publishing is changing this); whether booksellers will carry it on their shelves; whether critics and readers will like it. I used to be in corporate management in a start-up tech environment where decisions were often made quickly and unilaterally. Publishing is very different—at least from my view of it—many people are involved in decision-making so it can sometimes take a while. It has taught me patience, a lesson I needed to learn, anyway.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
1. After her writing skills, a writer’s most important tools are patience, perseverance, and thick skin.
2. Writing for a living will most likely not make you rich, or even earn you a full living.
3. Enjoy every step along the journey as it happens, even the not so great moments, instead of worrying about the next three steps down the path. There are many firsts, but you only get to enjoy them once. I’m still learning this one, but getting there.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
1. Do learn to accept editing and criticism—both will make you a better writer. You don’t have to accept every suggestion (and shouldn’t), but be open to the idea that everything you write is not absolutely brilliant and occasionally may even suck.
2. Don’t let rejection make you bitter. It is part of this business—you will be rejected by agents, publishers, booksellers, book reviewers and readers. It will happen on your first, third and twentieth book. Not everyone will love your work. It isn’t personal; a variety of tastes makes the world more interesting. Enjoy a minute of self-pity and indignation (privately, not on your blog, in an e-mail to your editor or in retaliation to a bad Amazon review) then let it go. Move on. Be a professional. Write the next book and make it better than the last.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I write every day, but once in a while I go into the writing zone and the world I’m creating is as real to me as the one that demands mortgage payments and family commitments. The zone is like an unpredictable lover—it visits when it wants to; I have no say over it. It may stay a week or only a few hours; I have to enjoy it while I can. If I seem less attentive, it isn’t because I’m in a mood, I’m just in another place. But day jobs and bosses will be given 100%, dinner will be cooked, appointments will be kept, though I may seem a little odd while I handle my business—sort of like I just fell in love.
If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?
That’s a hard question. Even though I spend several hours a day pretending to be other people while I write, it’s hard to imagine being anyone but myself. When I first read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and its cast of characters who were each strong in their own way, I was just becoming a woman myself. Those women stayed with me. I’d try being a composite of them: Shug Avery’s adventurous spirit; Sofia’s fight; Nettie’s desire to see the world beyond the little piece offered to her; and Miss Celie’s ability to move past fear and all the wrongs done her to eventually find strength and happiness.
When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
My favorite things are food, music, and traveling. I’m a Food Network junkie and love trying out new recipes while enjoying a glass of wine. Good food, music and conversation with people I like and love make me happy. Traveling can be all of that, wrapped up in a brand new setting. I also watch more television than I probably should. OnDemand cable is dangerous when I’m on deadline.
What do you do to interact with your readers?
I’m still trying to get the hang of that. I prefer face-to-face interaction, but I realize you can only meet so many people at book events, plus they’re expensive and hard to come by when you’re a new author. I still enjoy attending conferences and book events, but now I’m using e-mail, blogging, Facebook and Twitter. I’m not yet convinced about Twitter, probably because I’m not very good at it. But I like the other methods and hope to become better at using them to connect with readers.
Our theme for this month is CHILDREN BOOKS. What inspired you to make children’s literature the focus of your career?
After my memoir was published, I felt very exposed. I should have seen that coming, but didn’t think about it while I was writing. So I wanted to return to fiction, my first love, and my agent suggested I try writing for young adults because she thought I had the right voice for it. I thought she was crazy until I realized every manuscript I’d written for adults had a teen narrator. My first effort was a darker YA about online predators. It felt forced because it wasn’t my voice, and we didn’t even try to sell it. Then I realized that while I liked reading dark, I wanted to write something fun. I wanted to write books that reflect real-world diversity without heavy messages about morality or race.
Of course those books are necessary and important, but when I went to the bookstore, it seemed publishers thought, with a few exceptions, that was the only kind of book teens of color wanted to read. But if they were anything like me, I figured they also wanted to find books like those of YA writers Sarah Dessen, Meg Cabot or Ally Carter, but with characters that look something like them in settings they can better relate to. I also hoped to write books readers of those authors would want to try, the same way I “crossed over” to enjoy those writers. I think teens today are more savvy about knowing what they want to read without genres or the skin color of characters on the book cover limiting or defining their choices. As for choosing to write mystery/suspense with a little romance thrown in, I always liked Nancy Drew and I’m addicted to cop shows and thrillers, so I drew from my personal experience growing up the kid of a cop to create the backbone of the series. Each book will have a main crime for Chanti to solve and her detective skills will grow, but we’ll also see her mature and develop emotionally. Last year, my agent sold my first YA book—My Own Worst Enemy—as the first in a series, in a three-book deal to Kensington Books’ new YA line, Dafina KTeen.
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
The only thing I can control is the writing. The rest I’ll try to influence the best I can, deal with what comes my way, and appreciate how wonderful it is to be doing what I love.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
Creeping With the Enemy is the second book in the Langdon Prep series. Here’s the cover copy:
There’s nothing like having someone in your corner when you’re the new girl in school, but Chanti can’t help suspecting that everything about her new friend, Bethanie, is a lie—especially once she starts skipping classes and blowing Chanti off for her mysterious new crush, Cole. Chanti really doesn’t need the trouble of finding out the truth. She’s busy enough trying to convince her hot almost-boyfriend Marco that her amateur sleuthing won’t come between them again. But when Bethanie disappears with Cole, Chanti has only one chance to find her—even as her investigation puts her love life, and everything else, at risk…
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
I welcome contact!
My Own Worst Frenemy
Chanti Evans is an undercover cop’s daughter and an exclusive private school’s newest student. But Chanti is learning fast that when it comes to con games, the streets have nothing on Langdon Prep. With barely a foot in the door, fifteen-year-old Chanti gets on the bad side of school queen bee Lissa and snobbish Headmistress Smythe. They’ve made it their mission to take Chanti down and she needs to find out why, especially when stuff begins disappearing around campus, making her the most wanted girl in school, and not in a good way. But the last straw comes when she and her Langdon crush, the seriously hot Marco Ruiz, are set up to take the heat for a series of home burglaries—and worse. . . .
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