Interviewed by Sam Markham
Kendare Blake is the author of one New Adult and three Young Adult novels. She has an MA in writing from Middlesex University in London, and her award-winning teen horror novel, Anna Dressed in Blood, was recently optioned for film by Stephenie Meyer’s production company, Fickle Fish. The second novel in her current Goddess War series will be released later this year, and she’s also written short stories.
Kendare is a fan of classic Stephen King, saviour of multiple animals roadside, and the author of a fantastic blog that includes tags like “Tyrion Cattister” (her second feline) and “pre-lasagna procrastination.”
I contacted her after being blown away by her Anna series, and was thrilled when she agreed to speak to me by email about such writerly subjects as ulcers, the nebulous world of self-promotion, and moving back in with one’s parents.
What drove you to begin your career as a writer? What did you do before that?
Writing has always been the thing to do. The only thing I’ve ever been compelled to do. But, there’s also the nasty necessity of, er, paying for the necessities, so I went to college for something else and worked as a project manager for a bit. It was gross. After a while, I blew up the car and walked away, started a new life. A writing life, starving be damned, a.k.a. I went to London for grad school and then moved back in with my parents.
In general what attracts you to writing young adult fiction?
Nothing. I just like writing fiction. And the stories I’ve wanted to tell lately have been geared toward younger readers and featuring younger protagonists. But YA is a very broad category, with a wide age range of readers. Say, 11 to 55? The oldest readers I’ve ever had mail from were 85, and no, they weren’t my grandparents.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you spend a lot of time researching, outlining, and planning before you write?
It’s different every time, but in general, I don’t plot. I know the characters, who they are, and I know the central conflict. Once I see the story clearly for about three chapters, I start writing, and it fills in as I go. I research on the fly, if I need to. I hardly ever outline, but for the final book in the Goddess War series I did need to outline the last third. Stephen King says that writing a story isn’t so much writing it as finding it, and that seems to be true.
What do you feel is your greatest challenge as a writer?
To remember that my job is to tell the story well. As well as I can tell it. There’s a lot of pressure to measure up, to do this or that self-promotion, to get this or that big deal, to have this or that big commercial blockbuster idea. But the stories I write are the stories I find. That’s it. My only job is to tell them the way they want to be told.
Well, that and maintaining good posture in a computer chair. When I’m old, I suspect I will have some kind of a hump.
What was the most important thing you learned from taking your master’s?
That would be that London is awesome, but you shouldn’t jump into a tube car just as the doors are closing. My profs would frown at that answer, so I’ll also say that studying writing allows you to look at it a different way. To see the strings. It made me a better, and more thoughtful writer.
If you could give three pieces of advice to an aspiring writer, what would they be?
Read. Always the number one piece of advice. If you’re a writer who doesn’t love reading, then I don’t get you. There’s something to learn from everything you read, good or bad. Also, write. It seems simple, but I know a lot of writers who get caught up in their own head, worrying about this or that, and nothing ever gets on the page. Get it on the page! Lastly, be tenacious, and learn to channel misfortune into something useful and then slip it like water off a duck.
The overwhelming impression I get from speaking to other writers is that marketing is more and more becoming something that writers have to take on themselves. I know you blog and tweet regularly – do you have any advice for emerging writers in terms of self-promotion?
Only do what you enjoy. Don’t get hung up on the fact that someone else is going to do it better. Being popular online does not automatically translate into sales. It doesn’t hurt, of course, so if you can do it and like it, great. I do recommend reaching out to bloggers and librarians, because they are cool people and will just become your friends.
I use Twitter primarily to respond to readers who review and tweet me comments and questions. Sometimes I’ll feel a big ball in my throat, and I’ll know that it’s pressure from needing to be suddenly witty in 140 characters. A glass of wine usually washes that ball right down. And when you say I blog regularly, I should mention that for me that means an average of once a month. Most bloggers manage several times a week, or even once a day, and I don’t know how they find the time, or the words. Amazing.
Writers’ finances often come from various sources. How do you make your living?
I’m lucky enough to make my living from writing. It might not always be that way, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts. I do work outside the house a few hours a week, but I spend all that money on strippers and blow. Just kidding. I spend it on hats.
Can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on?
I just finished a short story for the anthology SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS, coming from Dial in 2015. It’s going to be a great collection, with a lot of fantastic writers, put together by April Genevieve Tucholke, whose BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA was one of my faves last year.
Now I’m on to something new. It’s unsold so I can’t say much about it. And last month I finished another unsold novel, that I can’t say much about either. It’s all unsold for me for the next several months and it feels very dangerous. Illicit. Sexy.
I’m kidding, it doesn’t feel sexy. I’ve bitten my fingernails down to nubs. And while that does make typing a lot easier, I guess what you could really say I’m working on is an ulcer.
Sam Markham is in her final year of a BFA in UBC’s Creative Writing Program. She is currently working on a young adult urban fantasy trilogy.