I am honored today to feature an interview with Kelsey Ketch, whose historical young adult novel Death’s Island is represented by Bree Ogden of Martin Literary Management. Kelsey is as generous as she is talented, and I know that her commitment to a writing life will inspire others to finish—or start—whatever work of passion is knocking at your heart’s door.
Question: Kelsey, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview! Let’s begin with biography: ten facts about yourself, please!
Let’s see, ten facts about myself. Um…
Well, fact one: I’m a writer as well as a full-time graduate student. I’m currently about half way through my thesis work and taking a full course load this semester.
Two: I was originally born in California, but much of my young life was moving around the western states. It wasn’t until later in my life that we decided to settle in an eastern state, North Carolina.
Three: I am an only child. But, a few of my friends have become like sisters to me over the years.
Four: I live with (and am a slave to – LOL) two orange tabbies. One loves to help me with my writing. The other is my little pirate – he loves to steal little trinkets such as necklaces, hair bands, and cameras.
Five: When it comes to my writing, I’m most passionate about Historical Young Adult. I also love to add a twist of the supernatural into my writing.
Six: I love learning about new historical discoveries and new perspectives on past events. I even use the knowledge I collect to create twists and turns in my own manuscripts.
Seven: Another passion of mine is sketching (though I’m really not the greatest artist). I usually recreate scenes that I have written for my novels or draw blueprints of sets.
Eight: I love being outside! Whether it’s hiking, going to the beach, or being out in my vegetable garden.
Nine: I have really become a book junkie (which you can tell from my Goodreads account). What’s funny is that when I was younger, I enjoyed adult fiction and mysteries. Now, I’m totally hooked on young adult.
Ten: Other than being a book junkie, I’m also a Nintendo DS fan. I love playing adventure games and mystery games – anything that really challenges the mind and has some fun action to it.
Q: Recently you indicated on your blog that you are nearly finished with the draft of your current work in progress. Congratulations! How in the world have you finished a draft of your second novel while also being a full-time graduate student? What is your secret?
I have found over the years that if you really love something you’ll make the time for it. Typically, you can find me in a hallway on campus five minutes before class is about to start, and I am just writing away in my journal. Just for the record, I’ve never been late to class (LOL. Knock on wood). But, yeah, I just basically sit somewhere (anywhere really) and write whenever I can. Sometimes I even get to write during my lunch breaks or for about ten minutes after school.
And sometimes you just have make sacrifices. I’ve had to change a lot of my habits, especially with the extra work of a thesis. So, it comes down to what is important. To me it’s school and writing. The lowest priority on my list was my nightly television shows. So, with the exception of Castle and NCIS, I cut television completely from my schedule in order to make some time for reading and writing.
Q: When did you first get the idea for Death’s Island, and how long did it take you from that moment to complete the first draft?
I first got the idea for Death’s Island in the late summer of 2003, just before I started my junior year of high school. It took about three years to complete the first draft.
Q: While working on such a big project, how do you keep a balance between the dream of the big picture and the daily details of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)?
I like to let the story just take me where ever it wants to go. Just dive into the imagination, letting myself get engulfed into the action and plot. Meanwhile, I keep a pen and pad (or really pencil and journal), recording it all as it happens.
Sometimes though, especially when I’m just beginning a new manuscript, I can get so wrapped up in my writing that I forget to transfer it into the computer. So, I usually have a back log of scenes and chapters waiting to be typed just sitting on the desk. When this happens, I set aside a weekend or sometime over a break just to catch up. It may take several hours, but it’s well worth it.
Q: How would you describe your overall writing strategy for a novel, from start to finish? For example, do you plot it all out first? Write character summaries?
I have to admit, my strategy is a little unorthodox. I usually just start by letting any scene or concept flow onto the page. There’s no real order at first. It’s kind of like piecing together a puzzle. As the scenes begin to connect, I can start to outline the plot. Once I have the outline, I start the first draft, which entails creating the chapters and filling out the manuscript from start to finish. During the second draft I then add details and try to tie up any loose ends I may have missed. Also, I usually end up adding several chapters trying to get some of the minor characters more involved in the plotline. The third and sometime four and five drafts are mostly revisions and edits.
Q: I know you have written that you love doing research. What are some examples of the kinds of research you do for your books, and do you plan your research time in the same way you plan your writing time?
A lot of my research sources I utilize are books, online research, and even taking field trips to relevant sites. I mostly use books and online resources to build settings, sketch out blueprints, and integrate any historical facts and events that were occurring during my timeline. This type of research, I can generally review as I write. And if I’m really lucky, sometimes I have a class project where I’m permitted to choose the subject I wish to study. So, I usually take advantage of the opportunity and dive into research related to the topic of my novel.
When it comes time to stepping into the life of my characters, there is nothing like taking a vacation back in time. When I was in high school and when I was an undergraduate in college, my mum would plan out our road trips during summer break where we would travel to colonial towns and different historical sites. And as special graduation gifts, she scheduled tours of England and Europe. She really is an amazing person! Now days I have little time, so I generally sneak off somewhere local for a three-day weekend.
Q: Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on building a platform and social media, especially for writers who have not yet finished their first book?
I think the real trick to building a platform is you really just need to take the plunge and put yourself out there. Social Media can definitely help out here. For example, I use my blog, my Goodreads account, and Twitter to reach out to other people around the world.
Of all the Social Media, blogging is a great way for agents and editors to sample your writing skills and also a great place for others to get to know the person behind the pages. Also, joining book blog hops can help build connections to target readers and other authors with similar interests. Goodreads also connects you to all different types of book communities. You can see the latest trends of readers and even join discussions. As for Twitter, it can help broaden your audience of your blog and your book. And depending on who you follow, it can also help you understand current interest of readers, agents, and editors.
But, social media is a balancing act. You have to work it into your daily schedule much like any other activity. And you have to judge how much you are willing to reveal about yourself. But, it can be very helpful in marketing your novel and even marketing yourself as an author.
Q: Almost finally, the question that I always love reading answers to, what is a typical writing day like for you?
Oh, wow! Well, my typical writing day is integrated into my school schedule. So, on an average day, I start with my commute to campus and I’m usually playing my novel’s playlist, letting thoughts drift in the back of my mind. Once I am on campus, I start to collect my thoughts and make mental notes to which ideas I want to incorporate into my manuscript. I sit and write as much as I can before I take my usual seat in the class room. After classes have finished, I head home where I take ten more minutes to write in my journal. Then it’s on to homework and thesis. If I finish something such as a paper or a good portion of my thesis, I reward myself with a half an hour to an hour of writing – depending on my school work load. If not, I have the night to work on it.
At this point in time, while completing my first draft, my goal has been to complete two to three chapters per night. Finally, I print out pages to review (and for my cat to roll on, shred, and puncture – LOL.) and send some chapters to my beta reader. Just before bed, I put everything away and curl up with a book to read for an hour and I start the process over the next morning. You can see why I can hardly live without my coffee.
Q: Truly finally, do you have any additional words of encouragement or advice for anyone reading this who wants desperately to finish a novel but is struggling?
Don’t give up the ship! The best things in life are well worth the wait. Just enjoy the journey in the mean time and try not to let your novel become a chore – it’s your sanctuary after all, it shouldn’t feel like a prison. Besides, before you know it you’re typing that last sentience or making that last correction and suddenly you’re done. You’ve completed your novel. It truly comes faster than you think and really without warning. Take it from someone who worked six years on her first novel. I never saw the end coming. Instead it hit me like a brick wall. So, enjoy the process, not just the result.