Kai Strand is a middle grade and young adult author. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband and children. They love to hike and geocache. She reads every story she writes to them. They are amazingly patient and remain appropriately enthusiastic. Kai has had several short stories published online and in print magazines. You can find links to some on Kai’s website, where you can learn more about Strand and her writing.
I understand you wrote short fiction for magazines before you started writing full-length novels. How did the transition come about? Were these short stories for children?
Actually, I did start with novels, or rather a novel. My first novel came out of me and into the computer in an unusually fast pace. In fewer than two months, I created an epic middle grade fantasy of 85,000 words. I realized that might be a bit too long, but cutting all those clever words of mine proved difficult. I turned to short stories 1.) to keep me creating and happy while I edited – not my favorite part of writing and 2.) to learn economy of words. I dabbled in picture books for the same reason, but I’ve given up on picture book text for now. Eventually I trimmed that first novel down to 70,000 words, but it too is shelved for the time being.
Most of my writing is for children, though it used to be personal. For years I created poems or short prose for friends, coworkers or my husband as gifts. I’d print them on pretty paper, frame them and wrap them up fancy. Personalized and handmade gifts are so much fun to create (and receive).
What makes you passionate about writing for children and when did this passion begin?
Writing for children happened because I have four of my own. I don’t think I was very good at being a kid, myself, so when my children came along and showed me how much fun it could be, I learned to appreciate everything “kid.” Then when they started to read, it sort of unlocked my memories of how books helped steer my growth and maturity. I guess I hadn’t realized how important what you read is to your decision making abilities until I started seeing children’s books through my adult eyes. Suddenly I hungered to provide examples of how to have fun, how to play, how to be good at being a kid.
My ultimate goal with my writing is to provide a child an escape hatch from their reality. I want them to climb into someone else’s life where they don’t feel pressured to act nice or choose right from wrong. I want them to just piggyback the main character and imagine what it would be like to experience new and different things.
Congratulations on the publication of your middle-grade novel, The Weaver. What inspired you to write it?
Thank you. The Weaver was inspired by the name of my online critique group, Silver Web. I was sitting in front of my computer one day, casting around inside the cobwebs of my mind for a story idea. I had the main page of my critique group on my screen and we have this awesome web graphic. I thought, “Spiders weave webs like we weave stories. We’re word weavers.” That thought grew into me imagining living in a town where people speak in story.
Tell us something about your protagonist, Mary. What kind of girl is she and why do you think young readers will love her?
Poor Mary is suffering through her third year of Novice Word Weaving. At eleven years old, she stands head and shoulders taller than her eight year old classmates. To make matters worse, her mother is the most revered word weaver in town. When Mary meets a strange little creature that grants her a wish, she thinks her troubles are over. Except instead of weaving a better tale, she is weaving odd little yarn charms to accompany her still pathetic tales.
I wanted to create a character that wasn’t really different from her friends, but felt like she was nonetheless. I suspect that “not fitting in” is one of the number one worries of children (and many adults) so I think they will relate to poor Mary who worries that being an inept storyteller makes her stand out like a sore thumb. And they should really feel her plight when she is suddenly knitting strange yarn charms, which really do make her different.
What about the antagonist?
I want to continue to describe Mary here, but that wouldn’t be right, would it? However, there isn’t a direct antagonist in the story. Mary has two loving parents and very supportive and loyal friends. Even the odd little gnome-elf, Unwanted, tries to help her. She really is her own worst enemy.
Do you have a writing routine or any quirks, such as meditating, listening to music or some other thing?
I suppose I have several ways to circumvent monotony. If I have writer’s block, I read a book on the writing craft, which always unsticks me. If I’m struggling with a pathetic lack of creativity, I change my location; tryout a new coffee shop, write at the library or a park if the weather is nice. Sometimes I listen to music, but it has to be instrumental only and preferably something I’m not too familiar with, otherwise I end up losing myself to the notes, the chords, the harmonies, the dissonance. I really love music.
I’d love to hear about the writing process for this novel. How long did it take you to write it? How many times did you edit it, etc.?
Please note that I am blushing while typing this. I can’t answer those questions. I don’t remember when I started this book. I wrote about ¾ of it and then got side tracked. I wrote a whole other novel before coming back to this one. It sat around for maybe a year. Anyway, the irony behind this story is that I stepped away from it when I couldn’t figure out how to bridge from the middle to the end. Eventually, I scolded myself because I had this perfectly good manuscript collecting dust on my hard drive. I told myself, “Just sit down and do the hard work.” In the end, that was the bridge my character needed in her story arc. She needed to sit down and do the hard work.
I don’t even remember how many passes I made during the editing process, but I know it is a very different book from its original form. I don’t use an outline so often my stories will head in a different direction than I originally intended. During editing I decide which I like better and rewrite accordingly.
Do you have any tips for aspiring children’s authors?
Love what you do and remember why you love it. Becoming a published author is difficult and discouraging, but don’t get caught up in that.
Read a lot of books written for the age group you want to write for. Immerse yourself in the text. Read so much you start talking like that or you dream it.
Writing a lot is important, but without good, objective feedback you probably won’t improve much. Find a critique group or partners that understand the genre and age you are writing for and that will point out the good and the bad and make suggestions on how to fix it. Then return the favor. You learn so much when you critique someone else’s work.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
I’m thrilled to announce the sale of my middle grade novel, Save the Lemmings! to Featherweight Press. 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.
Look for publication in 2012.
Thank you, Kai!