Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight on Kaya McLaren

Kaya McLaren is the author of three novels, Church of the Dog, On the Divinity of Second Chances, and her latest, How I Came toSparkle Again. She wrote her first novel, Church of the Dog, long-hand while sitting in her bathtub. How I Came to Sparkle Again, however, was written on her computer and while she was fully-clothed.

She lives and teaches elementary school on the east slope of Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State. Prior to her job as a teacher, Kaya worked as an archaeologist, massage therapist and was even legally-ordained as a minister, performing three weddings.

When Kaya’s not working she loves to ski, kayak, canoe, sit in hot springs, hike in the moonlight, make music, play with her big dog, Big Cedar and generally run wild and free. 

The Interview Part II

Scroll Down to Read Part I

What has been the most useful experience for you in honing your writing skills? 
Well, I had a truly excellent high school AP English teacher named Bill Hawk. He made us write one-page pieces that we would peer edit and rewrite a couple times before the end of the week, helping each other get rid of passive verbs and things like that. He worked us hard and high standards, and yet that class felt like a very kind place to be. I thrived in that cooperative learning environment. So, that class was a critical piece, I think, to my success. 

But another important piece was that writing letters was my way of escaping the small town that I was growing up in. I had thirty pen pals all over the world, and as I'd write several of them the same recent stories from my life, I was actually rewriting, without really slaving. I was aware of how each time I wrote the story I was able to distill it down to just the funniest parts, and how much better it became. Looking back, I can see that I simply loved writing. I still do. It gets me in trouble sometimes. I never thought of myself as "a writer"-- just a person who loved writing. I think not having my identity tied up in it like that made me less afraid of failure. 

I remember watching this show on PBS called "the United States of Poetry", which was like music videos-- only for poems instead of songs, and as I watched all these different walks of life read their poems, it struck me so hard that as long as you're really being yourself, you cannot write crap. I still believe that. I've got no pretenses about being one of the great voices in literature of my time. If my books were songs, they would not be symphonies. They would be folk rock. I like folk rock. It's not complicated. It's just kind of natural and nice and easy and true. Simplicity has beauty, I think. 

What do you know now, you wish you'd known writing your first novel?
I wish I had known the basics of plot. At one point, I had this idea about turning my first book into a screenplay, so I began to read about writing screenplays, and that's where I really learned about plot structure. Oh, I wish I had known that earlier. Plot is still my weakness. See, I don't really like problems. I know. That's hilarious. You can't have a plot without a problem. 

What are you working on now?
I am in the homestretch of finishing my fourth novel, THE EMBERS, about a group of women who try to save a summer camp and instead save themselves and each other. When I was in college, I worked at Camp Zanika on Lake Wenatchee, and then nearly twenty years later, I returned and worked there two more summers. That's when I met a group of women from the generation before me who had been instrumental in saving that camp. They are who inspired this idea, but the story became something very different from real life. It's good. You'll like it.

Final Words of Wisdom:
For aspiring writers? It would be this. You've got to write to entertain yourself. Write because you love it. Write because not writing just isn't an option. Please yourself first. Then, if you decide to frost that cake with publishing icing, you have to think of it like dating. Most people don't go on one date and marry the first person they went on a date with. No, it can take a long time to find someone who is looking for or appreciates what you have to offer. It takes a whole lot of endurance to make dreams come true. If you wrote to please other people and receive rejection letters, you'll feel like a failure. If you wrote to please yourself and you love what you wrote, you'll feel like you just haven't found the right agent or editor yet. 

The Interview Part I

Tell us about your writing process:
When I taught art, it was easier to write in the evenings. I don't know why, but I had mental clarity. Now that I teach general ed, I just can't. I write on weekends and in the summers. Right now, I'm taking a one-semester leave of absence because I knew I couldn't do it all. My fourth book is due October 1 and then October 2, HOW I CAME TO SPARKLE AGAIN is launched, and with it, a month full of tour stops. By the time I return, my editor may have returned edits, and I'll rewrite for the next couple of months. That's a lot. There's no way I could have done that AND taught.

Describe your road through the publishing process over your three published (and one soon-to-be-published) novels:

In the beginning, gosh, back in May of 1998, I went to the library and checked out THE WRITERS' MARKET and HOW TO GET HAPPILY PUBLISHED. I believe I sent out a couple hundred queries and five completed manuscripts. Unity Press picked me up and then dropped me, because someone high up decided CHURCH OF THE DOG was too controversial. Fair enough. 

After that, I was looking at a bookstore to see who published my favorite books. The owner suggested the small press that eventually published my first two novels. That happened easily for me. I was lucky. Just two weeks after my second book was released, the owner decided to retire the business, and bookstores returned those books just as fast as they could. A distributor that the owner had been working with offered to keep my books in stock for a fee, and I said no, I couldn't afford to risk going into the red. It was a hobby and I was finishing in the black. I told them to shred the books. But that distributor came back with an offer to take a larger percentage of what was sold instead of charging me a fee, and that was fine with me. 

I knew my second book was really good and that it would find a place in this world. I sent out a bunch of queries and got a bunch of rejections. When I first began working in Easton, I loaned my copy to a co-worker who was going through a hard time. I thought it would help her fall asleep happier. She asked if she could loan it to her mom and I said yes. Well, it turned out that her mom organized the PNW Writers' Conference at the time, and she offered me a list of names and addresses of the agents and editors who had been there that year. I wrote to all of them and got rejected by most of them. But that is how I found my agents, and wow, what a difference good agents make. I can't believe the doors they opened. So yes, Penguin re-published both of those books. When I got that deal, I cried like a game show winner for a whole day. I could not believe it. Now I'm at St. Martin's Press working with a rock star editor who edits for Janet EvanovitchKristen Hannah, and a dozen other best-sellers. I'm hoping I'm next!

Your work is very character-driven, are your characters and their relationships to each other drawn primarily from your imagination? Personal experiences? Other literary or dramatic characters?

Mostly, my characters are parts of me. People are so quick to think I'm Mara or Jade (in my first two books), but the people who know me well know that I'm also Earl and Grandma Pearl. 

Check Back Oct 15th to Read Part II!