December 10th, 2008

Introducing....Kellye Carter Crocker!

This is Kellye.  (Doesn't this picture belong on a jacket flap??? I love it)
We met at orientation in July 2004, and I knew (the way you always know when you are going to meet someone significant) that we were going to be life long friends.

I could tell you some stories about Kellye that would make us all blush/fall over laughing....but I think I'll save them until her first book comes out!

So first, tell us a little about yourself and your writing life.  How long have you been writing?


I’ve been making up stories all my life, but convinced myself—at age 7—that I could never make a living and support myself as a novelist, so I gave up that dream. (I’m not nearly as “practical” now!) In junior high I decided to become a journalist and never wavered. I worked as a daily newspaper reporter for 14 years and, for the past nine years, have been a self-employed freelancer, writing for magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, Glamour and Ladies’ Home Journal. For the past year I’ve also taught beginning and advanced magazine writing at Drake University.


Although I write for adults to pay the bills, my real passion is writing for young people. I wrote a little ya fiction, off and on, starting in the late ’90s, but I got more serious about it in 2004, when I entered the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.


Can you let us in on some things you have done that have helped your writing?


Going to Vermont, making that kind of investment in my dream, was invaluable. My writing improved, but I also changed, and that’s been such a gift. Other things that help my writing: I’m an insatiable reader, and every book I read shows me how to use language, develop characters and tell stories.


That is so important.  I once heard Linda Sue Park suggest to new writers NOT to write a word until you’ve read for two years.  As a person who grew up as a NON reader, I can’t agree with this more.


I’ve also learned a lot about the writing business by attending SCBWI conferences. (I’m chair of the Iowa SCBWI’s Des Moines-Area Network.) I’ve been fortunate to attend writing workshops and retreats, too. It’s wonderful to work hard and then kick back with good friends and good wine! My writing friends—most live in other states—are another invaluable support. They keep me focused and optimistic and help hold me accountable to myself. I don’t know what I’d do without them. I just wish they lived closer!


I second all of that.  If you don’t belong to SCBWI, join now.  Not only do they offer great conferences, but they also encourage people to stretch.  The Vermont College Novel Writing Retreat began as an SCBWI event.  The leadership encouraged me to offer something new and innovative.  (For this year’s retreat, we have two more spaces….email me, people!!!!)


Any bumps along the way you care to relive?


Bumps? What bumps? Everything is smooth. HaHA. (That’s a crazed laugh.) There are daily bumps, it seems. Here’s what I don’t get: Even though I love writing fiction, it’s so hard to sit myself down and do it. It makes no sense! It’s fun (most of the time). Still, it’s almost like I have to . . . force . . . myself . . . into . . . that . . . damn . . . chair! Part of it, I think, is that I have this idea that I need a big block of free time in which to write. And, like so many writers, those blocks are difficult to find. I wish I could get myself to write in smaller bits of time. Hey! Maybe that will be my New Year’s Resolution.


I have questions for the Toolboothers: Do you have trouble getting to the chair (even when you’re excited about a project)? And, if so, why? More important: How do you deal with this issue of finding/making time to write as you juggle other responsibilities? (I realize that many of you write full-time . . . If you’ve ever juggled writing with another job, how did you do that? Also, even when you do write full-time, it’s easy to let other things crowd out the writing time.) When I was in school, I had to get those 40 pages into my advisor each month. It was the top priority, and so I put other things aside. A lot of other things. I can’t sustain that kind of focus (while ignoring the rest of my life) now, and I wouldn’t want to.


I’m going to think about that for a minute.


But I’ve got one bump that feels more like a mountain. It’s a long story, but I hope it might be helpful to others.


In December 2006, I took my first novel, which had undergone major, multiple revisions, to the weeklong Highlights Foundation’s first Whole Novel Workshop in Pennsylvania. The workshop came at a terrible time of year (right before Christmas) and was expensive. (I could only afford to make monthly payments.) But it promised a small-group setting and a critique of an entire novel from two of my favorite teachers—Carolyn Coman and Jane Resh Thomas. (I knew them from Vermont but had never worked with them.)


In private meetings, Jane and Carolyn gave me the same feedback: They loved my main character, and they didn’t believe the rest of the story—any of it. Keep the main character, they said, toss everything else. This was hard to hear and take in. I cried. Toolboother Helen Hemphill, who was assisting with the workshop, listened to me whine and kindly offered to read the full manuscript—in one night. The next day she gently told me that she agreed with the teachers. And she offered suggestions that might have helped the story work.


But here’s the thing: I strongly believe that if I’m going to pay to work with amazing teachers—at school or at a workshop or a conference—then I need to be willing to try their suggestions. So I started writing. First, just little exercises that Jane suggested. Eventually moving on to small scenes, taking my character and plopping her into a whole new family, a whole new set of friends, a whole new set of problems.


When I went home, some of my friends were mad. They’d liked the previous story. (I’d had good response to it at my graduation reading and an editor at an SCBWI conference had praised the first ten pages—but didn’t ask for a full manuscript.) I liked the previous story, too, and I may salvage it some day. However, with Jane, Carolyn and Helen’s help at the workshop, I realized that I had been avoiding writing about something important to me—something that felt too hard, too frightening. As difficult as it was to hear, their feedback resonated strongly with me, and that’s ultimately why I had to at least try to write this different story. I also appreciate that they loved me enough to tell me the truth as they saw it. There’s nothing more important to a writer. I’m still working on this piece—after taking a needed break from it for a while—and am enjoying the process. Well, pretty much.


TRYING is such a huge step.  You can't get anywhere until you try.  Hearing the truth is FRIGHTENING.  I once received very similar advice…basically: write was is true.  Write what scares you.  Find out WHO YOU ARE in your wip, and dig deep.  At the gut level, there must be fear and love.  Looking back, that advice changed my life.  (thanks, JRT!)


Now, as far as staying in the chair?

This is my strategy:


No email.

No blog.

Don’t expect miracles.

I give myself one hour to work solidly.  Then I take a posture/email break.  It’s good for the body.  I also walk/exercise first in silence, which means that I head to the computer with ideas.  I think it’s all about the first few minutes.  Like a patient with Parkinson’s, (I’m not being glib) I need some initiation—a push, so to speak—to get me writing.  Once I’m in, I’m in.


When I fall off the wagon, I forgive myself and get back to it.  Or start with the exercise.



Is there a book that has changed the way you look at writing?


Oh, man. What a question! There are so many books that have changed the way I look at writing—and at life! And, when you think about it, when you change the way you look at life, you also change the way you look at writing . . . it’s all wonderfully connected.


Just a few of the books that have had a deep impact on me and my writing are: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Feed by M.T. Anderson, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia, Hard Love,


Did you just say Hard Love?


(Kellye and I bonded over our love for Hard Love!)

Okay, I'll let you finish.....


The Long Night of Leo and Bree and Razzle by Ellen Wittlinger, The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson and Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge. There are tons more.


I’ve read many craft books and have learned from all of them. For inspiration, motivation and courage, I’d have to say: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron (of The Artist’s Way fame) and The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes.



So interesting.  Our novel interests are the same, but our craft books are so different.  (I’m a Burroway junkie.)


What advice can you offer to other aspiring writers?


Here’s some advice I’ve picked up from successful writers:


• Focus on the writing process and improving your craft;

• Understand that even the world’s best writers start with hideous first drafts and that revision is the key to great writing;

• Take risks;

• Set achievable goals;

• Find writer-friends who love, support and encourage you and tell you the truth;

• Read, read, read!

If your goal is to be published, don’t give up. Never, never, never—ever.


Tell us about your current project.  Please feel free to include a first page.


The main thing I’m working on right now is a contemporary young adult novel, the “new” old piece I mentioned in response to question 2 (b). (The mountainous bump.) Although I’ve been working on it consistently, it hasn’t been every day or as much as I’d like. Teaching and other obligations have been major time-sucks. I find myself thinking and worrying about my students rather than my characters! Fortunately, the semester is almost over. I’m looking forward to giving my characters the attention they deserve.


Thank you, Sarah, for including me. I love all of you guys at the ’booth! Thanks for doing this great blog!


Here’s the first page. I don’t think the first paragraph quite works, but it—well, all of it—are still in the draft stage. Feedback welcome!

Wow.  This last line: when we can say that, we KNOW we are writers.



Charlie wiggled the last glass into a tight row on the dishwasher’s top rack, hunched to retrieve the detergent under the sink, rose and poured a small hill of yellow soap granules into the dispenser and clicked its hatch, returned the box to its place, pushed the heavy dishwasher door closed and punched the “regular cycle” buttons—bink-bink!—all while trying to ignore the frantic, flapping-bird feeling squeezing the air out of her chest.

She dried her hands, folded the dishtowel and smoothed it on the counter. Charlie exhaled. She couldn’t put it off any longer. She had to ask her father.

She strode to the kitchen door, turned the knob and stepped onto the landing. Behind her: the back door and freedom (or, at least the back yard). Sometimes she daydreamed about running out that door and not stopping, just pounding the pavement, one foot after another, until she was far, far away—which was pretty hilarious considering Charlie could barely run the mile in gym. Besides, she could never outrun that sick, scared bird in her own chest.

Ahead of her, the carpeted stairs led down to the finished basement den, her father’s “cave.” She bit the dead skin around her thumbnail and forced one quiet foot in front of the other. He couldn’t be asleep yet, could he? ESPN blared, and they’d just eaten. His mood at dinner had been okay—not great but not as bad as it could get—and a smidge better than usual.

She entered the den and found her father in his usual position: stretched out in his well-worn leather recliner, eyes closed. His nightly routine of “watching TV” with his eyes closed was a family joke, although sometimes her father didn’t find it funny, so Charlie left most of the ribbing to her mother. Was he asleep? Charlie ripped off a piece of cuticle alongside her thumbnail. The last thing she wanted to do was startle him, which would make him mad. That and a thousand and one other things.

Thank you, Kellye.  Okay, people....what keeps YOU in the chair???????  Are you totally inspired or what????

-sarah aronson