Aug 31 2011
This week, my guest is LK Gardner-Griffie. She is an award-winning young adult author who lives in sunny, Southern California with her husband and three adorable dachshunds. She began writing her first novel at the age of nine, and hasn’t stopped since.
Daughter to a rocket scientist and an artist, I’m a combination of those traits which make me a quirky, yet pragmatic writer. For my day job, I work in the transportation industry for an international shipping company as a process and efficiency expert.
You’ve published two books in your YA Misfit McCabe series. Are there more on the way? What is the series about? How did it begin and how has it evolved?
No Boundaries, the third book in the series, is scheduled for release this fall. I’m working on the final details and will be announcing the date soon. After that, there will be two more books in the series.
The series centers on fourteen-year-old Katie McCabe as she tries to adjust to all of the changes in her life when her father becomes extremely ill and sends her to live with an uncle she’s never met. The only bright spot is making a friend who wants to be more. But the first person she meets is an enemy with ties to her past who believes in dangerous retribution. Overall, it’s a mini family saga focused on some of the issues today’s teens deal with.
It began many years ago as a dream, literally. When I woke up I thought it would make a great story. While I knew the basic points the story would cover, there have been surprises along the way. One of the best surprises for me was the character of Rusty, who comes into the series in Nowhere Feels Like Home as a love interest for Katie’s cousin, Sarah. I had no idea he existed until he popped up on the page, taking command. Another great moment was when Katie’s best friend from home shows up unexpectedly. And I can’t wait for the readers to meet Sunny from No Boundaries—she appeared and started rattling off these great lines when I had no idea who she was or how she’d fit in. While I do plan out the books, I’ve learned to let the characters take the reins and lead the story. I am merely the journalist.
I think it’s terrific that you’re covering such important social issues in your books. In Misfit McCabe and Nowhere Feels Like Home, your character Katie deals not only with overt bullying but also with bullying via the power of cliques. How does Katie feel about her experiences and what has she learned?
Being from a microscopic town, with an overprotective father, who happened to be the sheriff, didn’t prepare Katie well for the bullies she would meet. With Harvey Denton, Jr., while Katie doesn’t know why he is so mean, she adopted a “bash me & I’ll bash you back” policy. But then things quickly got out of control because Harvey doesn’t have any brakes. Uncle Charley called a halt to their escalating cycle of retaliation, but Harvey has continued to put Katie in situations of peril.
With Harvey, at least the bullying is straightforward and Katie knows to watch her back, but with Cassie, who brings the practice of being two-faced to a fine art, Katie isn’t sure how to handle the situation. Cassie acts like they are friends, but then goes out of her way to hurt Katie’s friends, and has the rest of her clique treat them like dirt as well. Katie didn’t see the knife coming until it was sticking out of her back.
You and Katie are passionate advocates about stopping underage drinking. In fact, Katie is going beyond the pages of the book to make a difference. Can you tell us about this?
My passion comes from seeing the faces of those who have died because either they or someone they were with drank too much. My heart breaks when looking at a promising life cut so short. I see it as something that didn’t have to be. But through education and putting examples out there kids can connect with—someone who is “just like them”—maybe the message will get through. As a teenager it’s hard to think about your own mortality (I still have trouble) and the thought “that’ll never happen to me” drowns out the fact that it can and does.
For Katie, her passion is ignited by a sense of guilt, empathy, and having death too close to her. She feels guilty because she’s made similar mistakes with drinking; it was a bit of fun on a hot summer’s day, but she didn’t die. Every case we read about, she finds some commonality between the teenager who died and herself. She wants to stop the loss. Stop the mourning. Especially over something that could have been prevented.
She’s been blogging a little bit about underage drinking, which helps her work through those feelings. She asked me if she could put together a video, which is in the final editing stages, and I think it makes a powerful statement. I’m very proud of her for coming up with the idea and seeing it through—despite how hard it is for her to face.
Katie also has some very strong feelings about book burning. Can you share them with us?
I think if Katie could draw & quarter people who burn books, she would. Not really, but she gets very upset at the thought of burning books. For a girl who grew up in an isolated area, books were her window to the world at large. They are her friends, and if you don’t like what’s between the pages, in her opinion you have the option of not reading it, but shouldn’t take it away from those who need it. For example, some of the books which get banned are banned because of rape scenes. If you are a victim of rape, wouldn’t it be important for you to be able to read and identify with a character who has gone through a similar experience? Taking the books off the shelves invalidates the experience—if it’s not okay or considered filth to read about, how are these kids going to talk about it? She also doesn’t like other people making blanket decisions on her behalf; that is for her family to decide.
In addition to the topics you’ve just discussed, I know that death and divorce are also themes present in your work. Sadly, these are topics many young adults have to deal with. How do you try to help them cope through your work?
I think by keeping the portrayal of the characters going through the experiences as true to life as possible it helps the readers cope. For example, in Misfit McCabe Katie’s father dies mid-book, and so the reader experiences the first stages of grief with her, the funeral, packing up the house, etc. all through her eyes. When I wrote those scenes my own father was still alive. Re-reading it after he passed, I realized how well I captured the emotions. Rather a bittersweet way to find out I did the job the right way. And I think by keeping the emotions true, it helps the readers understand that what they are going through is “normal” for the situation, even though it feels like they are on an emotional roller-coaster.
You’ve completed a Middle Grade book called The Journal of Angela Ashby. Can you tell us more?
Angela Ashby is one of those characters that came to me and demanded that her story be written. At the time, I was heavily involved in completing Nowhere Feels Like Home, so I told her to go to the back of the line and wait her turn. But when I had finished the first draft of No Boundaries, she came back and insisted that her story be written. At first I thought it would be a fluffy little story, but it turned out to have more meat than I expected. A quick pitch for The Journal of Angela Ashby is: A mysterious fortune-teller hands Angela a magical journal that will turn what she writes into reality giving her the power to conjure gnomes, stop bullies in their tracks and maybe even fix her divorced parent’s marriage. That is until her journal falls into the hands of the school’s worst bully.
When people ask me how I write, my answer is always, “On freakin’ deadline!” How do you write? Do you meticulously outline, or do you let you characters drive the story? How often do they surprise you?
How I write is evolving a bit. I used to be much pickier about my environment and had to have certain things to enable the writing spree, but now I am able to write in varying environments. On outlining, I do a bit of both—it depends on the book. With the Misfit McCabe series, I have a loose outline which covers the full story arc (now that I know that it didn’t end with the first book) and with the start of each of the new books in the series, I get a little more detailed before sitting down to write. I wrote The Journal of Angela Ashby without an outline, and have another Middle Grade novel which will follow suit, but I’m also working on a Middle Grade contemporary action/adventure with historical elements that will require a much more detailed outline. Once I am in the middle of the writing process, I rarely look at the outline, but allow the characters to take me in the direction they want to go. And if my characters don’t surprise me at some point during the story, then I haven’t finished it yet. I learned quite early in my writing career that I need to let the characters take the lead. I simply try to hang on.
Social media is terrific, but it can be a great big time vampire, too. Everyone has different thoughts about the use and misuse of it. What are yours?
Social media is terrific because without it I’d be a lone writer trying to navigate my way through a very complex industry. With social media, I’m a member of a larger virtual writing community and have made some lifetime friends because of it. If you ever need support or guidance, it is a click away. But the downside can be the time you lose when you pop on for “just a minute” and find an hour or two of good writing time gone. So self-discipline is required. It took me a little bit to get that under my belt. Another thing that I’m not sure enough people give serious thought to is what you put out there is not private, but public information. It is searchable, Google picks it up and indexes it, and some people think they are in the comfort of their own living room and can let their hair down. If you are using social media to help further your career connections, then professionalism should be a conscious thought. Also, for me, there are too many sites to be involved with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+; the list seems endless, and with the limited time that I have I really can’t participate in them all, but the expectation is that you have a presence on all of them or in some way you’re hurting your career. So I tend to use Twitter as my primary interaction site and set up all of the rest to be updated by posts from my websites.
The world of publishing is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up. Any thoughts about the ever-evolving landscape? Predictions?
That’s a loaded question. The landscape is changing so fast it’s a blur. I like the options that are opening where before there were closed doors. I think that we’ll see different methods used for different projects—for example, the Misfit McCabe series is self-published because it’s something I wanted to share with my family, and it started selling and then won a couple of awards. I’ll continue self-publishing it because it would be a hard sell to a large publisher because young adult contemporary is not the hot flavor of the month. And because it will always hold a special place in my heart from being my debut, it’s nice to retain total control over what happens with it. The Journal of Angela Ashby is a more commercial premise, so I am going through the query trenches trying to find an agent who is a good fit for me and my writing, knowing that not all of my ideas will be something the agent will rep. But some are now consulting with their authors for those projects on self-publishing when they feel they won’t sell the project to traditional publishers.
Predictions? A lot depends on what some of the big game-changers do in the near future; Amazon and Apple to name a couple. I think the agent role might morph a bit more into making the determinations of whether the project can attract the big money from the publishing houses, or whether they sell the project directly to the public—their job is to sell the book and traditionally they have sold to publishing houses, but they can believe in a project the publishing houses won’t take, so why not sell it to the public? Beyond that, I don’t know.
I know you’ve been reading from a very early age? How have books shaped your life?
I can’t imagine my life without books. They have expanded my world view, helped me make sense of things I was going through because I identified with the characters and their situations, and have given me the gift of writing. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me how I knew something, and the answer was that I read it in a book. I have learned so much through reading fiction.
I’m a mom to a beautiful orange cat named Captain Jack. I hear you’re a mom to three long-haired dachshunds. Feel like bragging ‘bout your babies?
Of course!! What mom doesn’t like to brag on her babies? Gryphon (14.75) is a happy-go-lucky black & white, silver dapple. She divides her time between her Papa & me and thinks she can still run around the house with the exuberance of a puppy (although she tuckers out much more quickly now). Phoenix (12) is our black & tan princess (Daddy’s little girl). She loves nothing more than to sit with her paws folded on a pillow and for her Papa to cater to her every whim. She loves pink clothes with bling, and has always been a dainty little thing. Elsa (3) is an English Shaded Cream who reminds me a lot of Baby Huey, not understanding that even though she’s the youngest, she’s also the biggest. She’s a Mama’s girl. She’s never far from me when I’m writing and during those emotional scenes, she climbs in my lap and tries to kiss away the tears.
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
Outside of my writing (because there are so many things about writing I’m picky about it’ll take too long to tell you), I’m picky about the way I eat M&M’s. Not that I eat them frequently, but I have to separate them by color and eat them in a particular order; starting with the brown and finishing with red. I put them into my mouth in groups based on how many of the color there are.
Where can people find you in cyberspace?
Any parting words for the masses? Any shameless plugs?
Find your passion and do it. Without passion life lacks color. My passion is writing, in particular books for tweens & teens. I write because I have to; it hurts not to.
Shameless plugs? Misfit McCabe was awarded the Pearson Prize Teen Choice award in 2009 and Nowhere Feels Like Home won in 2010. You can buy them through Amazon.com or through my website—look for the big Buy the Books button. And if you’d like to preview before you buy, check out the flip books in the sidebar of my site.