Kai Strand writes fiction for middle grade and young adult readers. Her debut novel, The Weaver, was a finalist in the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards. She is a (very lucky) wife and the mother of four amazing kids. The most common sound in her household is laughter. The second most common is, "Do your dishes!" She and her family hike, geocache, and canoe in beautiful Central Oregon, where they call home.
VS: I want to thank you for being my guest here on The Writing Mama today, Kai. What do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life?
Kai: I try to set boundaries, like turning off the computer and putting down the book. I also include the family in my writing by asking for their input and dragging them to events. I find that if I’m engaged in their lives, they happily engage in mine.
VS: I think that is wonderful how you all try to support each other and share in each other’s hobbies and interests. How long have you been writing?
Kai: I’ve been writing on and off my whole life. It has always been my preferred method of communication. However, I decided to pursue publication back in 2004 when my youngest son started Kindergarten. So instead of just writing, I also began learning the craft, the industry and doing tons and tons of reading to see what I like best.
VS: What inspired you to write your books?
Kai: Save the Lemmings came to me while I slept. It wasn’t a dream, but my subconscious was working overtime that night. I woke before the sun with a fully formed idea in my head that I knew I had to write. Therefore, I pulled out my laptop and took notes so it wouldn’t disappear when the sun finally rose.
The Wishing Well: Another Weaver Tale was actually inspired by readers, which I LOVE! After my first book, The Weaver, was released, people asked repeatedly if the misunderstood gnome-elf, Unwanted, was going to make an appearance in another book. At first I thought, NO! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the lyrical format of The Weaver and the storytelling village it is set in was a great set up for another story.
VS: Can you share with us a little about your current book)?
Kai: About The Wishing Well: Another Weaver Tale; Molly Minstrel is treated worse than Cinderella by her mom and sisters. When Molly meets the magical creature, Unwanted, she wishes her problems away. However, you must first understand what you need before knowing what to ask for. Molly will have to look within for the solution to her troubles.
About Save the Lemmings, When Natalie’s Texty-Talky invention makes her an overnight sensation, the media digs until they find a way to smear her goody-goody image. When her best friends start believing what they read, Natalie’s sunny spirit is pushed to its limits. How will Natalie stop the lies and win her friends back? And who will SAVE THE LEMMINGS?
VS: I really enjoyed reading both books and loved how each was so different from the other. Your writing style and skill really shows in each one. What did you find to be the most challenging part of writing your books?
Kai: The editing is always the hardest part for me. The shiny newness and discovery of the story is over. I want to be off creating more sparkly new stories, but instead I have to go over and over and over the one I’m already familiar with. I have to trick myself by doing things like reading through the story backward and reading aloud in order to keep myself from just skimming over the words that I already know.
VS: Yes, editing can be a real challenge for many writers. The rules are always changing too. What part of your books do you feel really stands out to you personally?
Kai: In The Wishing Well, I’d say Chapter 11, Molly Weaves, is my favorite. Each chapter has a little anecdote at the beginning and Chapter 11’s is; The happy ending in the story isn’t always for you. I think this is the point in the story when main character, Molly, hits rock bottom. I know that sounds sad and depressing, but it’s really the point where she realizes that casting wishes and simply growing older won’t resolve her problems. It’s a turning point and I love turning points. Plus, the story Molly weaves and her best friend’s reaction to it cracks me up!
Save the Lemmings is a bit different because it isn’t a specific scene that most resonates so much as the arc of Natalie’s friendship with her three best friends. I remember how hard it was for me to keep the same friends through middle school because everybody was changing so quickly. Some kids just roll with those changes, but others don’t know how and instead end up feeling jealous or threatened by them.
VS: I loved both the main characters in each of your books. Which character is most like you?
Kai: The prissy Natalie in Save the Lemmings is most like me. I’m not as smart as she is and my interests are completely different, but I’m a hardcore priss. My sister used to call me Prissy when we were young and she reveled in doing things like chewing with her mouth open and belching just because she knew it made me die a little inside. I’m much better now – and so is she.
VS: Do you have any other works in progress? Can you share a little about them?
Kai: I have a young adult novel, King of Bad, coming out in 2013. Here’s the blurb: Sixteen-year-old bad boy, Jeff Mean, has a way with the girls and their mothers. He’d rather be off setting fires than following rules or observing curfew. Jeff wears his bad boy image like a favorite old hoodie; that is until he’s recruited to Super Villain Academy -- where you learn to be good at being bad. In a school where one kid can evaporate all the water from your body and the girl you hang around with can regularly perform psychic sex in your head, bad takes on a whole new meaning. Jeff wonders if he’s bad enough for SVA.
VS: There are many readers who become inspired by the authors they read. What tips can you give writing parents with children at home to help them see publication?
Kai: The balance that you asked about earlier is really important. If you have a toddler and/or pre-school aged child, it may not feel like your kids will grow and be gone before you know it, but it truly does happen that fast. Be sure to be engaged with your children so that you don’t regret sitting at your computer obsessing about publication and suddenly find nine years has passed. Plus all the writing material you get from your children and their friends will fuel your writing fire for years and years. Not to mention that you will be able to portray your characters more realistically because of all the research time you invested. So many benefits to balancing and not obsessing!
VS: The writing world is full of many different types of books. What do you think are the basic ingredients of a good book?
Kai: Strong characters, lush description, good editing. I recently read a book that – sadly - was horribly edited, but the characters were so strong that I cared enough to read through to the end of the book. Granted, it’s a series and I probably won’t take another chance on it, but the strong emotions and feelings of the characters overcame finding apostrophes around a period and tons of missing words.
VS: What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
Kai: I love emotion and feelings. When I want to comfort a sad character or high five a successful character, the character is a hit for me. This is an area I focus on during editing. I try to make my characters more human by giving them internal thoughts they wouldn’t share aloud. Give them physical reactions; their heart races or palms sweat. Psychological imperfections; maybe they stumble in front of a boy they like, or are shaking from fear of public speaking and tear their notes in half. After the first draft, I know the basics of the characters, and then through revisions I add more of their imperfections, worries and dreams. I think J.K. Rowling is a master at this. Within the first sentence of a character introduction we already know their quirks, their strengths and/or their weaknesses.
VS: What do you feel as parents we need to do to help our children see success?
Kai: Provide stability for your children so that they can learn and grow. And by stability I don’t mean you have to live in the same place the entire time they are in school or that you have to schedule their day hour by hour so they never miss a thing. What I mean is that YOU are the stable factor in your child’s life. We moved about four times in fewer than five years. No matter where we lived, we ate dinner together (sometimes in a circle on the living room floor) and talked about school, friends, and family. We played card games, told stories around a fire, walked the neighborhood with a scavenger’s list of things to find. While my husband and I were freaking out about how we were going to rebuild our lives, we stayed focused on our children, making them happy, and being together. THAT’s what being a family and raising kids is about. We’ve talked to our kids about that time period in our lives and they admitted that they new things were tough, but that they also saw that some of their friends had miserable lives even though they had new jeans and ipods. Focus on the who, not the what.
VS: You are an award-winning author. Can you share about your award(s)?
Kai: So far, I’m always the bridesmaid and never the bride. My first novel, The Weaver, was a finalist in both the Global eBook Awards and the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards. I’m not complaining though. It’s still a big thing for the book to have made it that far.
VS: Where can the readers of The Writing Mama find out more about and your writing?
Kai: I have links to published short stories, and downloadable companion documents for my books on my website: www.kaistrand.com. I post links to the interviews I give and reviews for my books on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KaiStrandAuthor and I post interviews of people involved in children’s publishing and my own anecdotes on writing for children on my blog: http://kaistrand.blogspot.com/
VS: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about being a “Writing Mama or Dad”?
Kai: Being a published writer is thrilling and an achievement, but being the mama of my four amazing children is by far the best thing I’ve ever done. I truly hope that my books can help your little ones escape and learn and grow because I know where your priorities are.
Thanks for letting me visit with you!
The World of Ink Network will be touring award-winning author Kai Strand’s juvenile fantasy adventure book, THE WISHING WELL: Another Weaver Tale, published by Guardian Angel Publishing and her juvenile contemporary fiction novel, SAVE THE LEMMINGS, published by Featherweight Press throughout October and November 2012.
You can find out more about Kai Strand and her World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/9vlepkd