Author Interview: Laekan Zea Kemp on Breathing Ghosts

Today I am excited to be hosting author Laekan Zea Kemp on her celebration blog tour for Breathing Ghosts, a phenomenal book I had the privilege of beta-reading and absolutely loved.


In this interview Laekan gives us the scoop on Breathing Ghosts, her writing experience and next project here. Give it up for the author!

Me: Tell us a little about Breathing Ghosts.

Laekan Zea Kemp: Breathing Ghosts is a coming of age story about first love, self-acceptance, and conquering your fears.

Me: Where did the idea for Breathing Ghosts come from?

LZK: This will probably sound strange but I honestly can’t even remember anymore. The story actually started out as a screenplay and my goal was to create something that would be really interesting visually. I think the road trip aspect of the novel just developed as I was trying to pick a setting–there were too many interesting places to just choose one. River was also the first fully developed piece of the puzzle and since he was so closed off emotionally I knew sending him on a road trip would be the perfect way to get him out of his comfort zone.

Me: What was the most enjoyable part of the project?

LZK: The most enjoyable part of writing this particular book was seeing how much I’ve grown, not just as a writer but as a person. I hit a huge growth spurt during the writing of this novel and it really boosted my confidence. Not only that but by taking a character who was so closed off emotionally and forcing him, by the end of the story, to knock down those walls, I was able to knock down some of my own. I share many of River’s flaws and while I hadn’t intended to face them, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. And even though it was uncomfortable being vulnerable there’s no way I’d be the writer I am today had I not gone through that experience along with my character.

Me: What was most challenging part of the project?

LZK: For this particular story, I would say the hardest part was being driven by so many questions concerning grief and death and the meaning of life and never fully realizing all of the answers. But, in general, the hardest thing about writing is always the daily battle with self-doubt. It’s so hard to remain subjective enough to critique your own work while also being your own cheerleader. Trying to maneuver those highs and lows can really do a number on your emotions and I’m always drained by the time I finish a book.

Me: Any external influences that significantly informed the novel? Your own experiences, another book or story that inspired something?

LZK: Story ideas always come to me in the form of relationships and then as they develop, no matter how detached I think I am from a project, they always end up being about something I’m going through emotionally. It’s totally unintentional but through exploring River’s grief I was finally able to come to terms with my own–I’d lost my father about four years ago and it was the worst thing I’ve ever been through. For four years I’ve seen how that tragedy has changed not only me but the people around me and I wanted to know why. Why grief propels some people and destroys others. Why it pushes some people closer together and tears others apart. I wanted to know when it stops hurting and I wanted to know the trick to surviving in case it never does. Those were the things that drove me to my computer every day and even though writing this story didn’t deliver all of the answers, it was still a really incredible journey for me personally and I hope that comes through when people read the book.

Me: How did you start writing novels?

LZK: Choosing to write novels as opposed to short stories or other forms of story-telling was never a conscious decision. I think I tried writing my first book when I was in 8th grade and didn’t attempt it again until my senior year of high school. But in those years in between I would daydream about making movies and writing characters like Buffy The Vampire Slayer. My college years were spent writing short stories and I even explored news writing but for some reason, whenever an idea for a story would strike me, the scope just always felt too big for it to be anything other than a novel. I think I just prefer slow burns and emotional stories that I can really sink my teeth into and it’s just easier for me to explore those things in a novel.

Me: You now have three published books: Breathing Ghosts, Orphans of Paradise, and The Things They Didn’t Bury. Do you have a favorite among them?

LZK: Let me put it this way, I hate all of them equally. Okay, I’m joking. The truth is I’m really strict when it comes to dedicating all of my attention to one project at a time. So whatever I’m currently working on usually ends up being my favorite. But as soon as I reach the finish line I usually can’t stand to even think about the story anymore. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still love those characters or those stories but moving on to something new is one of the greatest feelings in the world. I will say that even if I was emotionally capable of choosing a favorite, it would probably be impossible. All three of those books are so different and they all represent very different times in my life.

Me: Since I have you here, Laekan, and I can’t pass up the chance to ask another writer…who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite books?

LZK: Growing up I was really drawn to character driven stories and looked up to authors like Wally Lamb, Khaled Hosseini, and Melina Marchetta. But I also really love stories that feel contemporary but also have a sense of magical realism like Maggie Stiefvater’s books. Her prose is just so lyrical and that’s definitely something I strive for whenever I write. My current favorite reads are On The Jellicoe Road and I Know This Much Is True.

Me: What are you working on now?

LZK: Right now I’m working on a YA contemporary trilogy (with a side of sci-fi/magical realism) and am half way through the first draft of book 2. Without giving too much away, it centers around a seventeen-year-old girl who suffers from Klein Levin syndrome, better known as Sleeping Beauty syndrome, and it’s probably the most romance heavy of all of my projects.

Me: Where can readers connect with you and learn more about you and your work?

LZK: Readers can feel free to contact me at lzkbooks [@] gmail [.] com or at any of the links below!








Kate Scott on Writing, Her Debut Novel, and Elliott Books

Today I am interviewing Portland YA author Kate Scott. I met Kate through a local critique group, and have the pleasure of hearing her read her work each week! Kate is the author of Counting to D, which comes out February 2014, and the executive editor of newly-formed press Elliott Books, both of which she discusses in this interview.

author pic

Me: How did you start writing fiction?

Kate Scott: I’ve ALWAYS had a very active imagination. When I was little, I was constantly making up stories and inventing characters. I had a whole cast of imaginary friends as a small child. I knew they weren’t real, but I still loved making up stories about them. My imaginary friends were bold and daring and slightly magical. They went on the most amazing adventures. I talked about them pretty much non-stop.

When I was about seven, I got sick of people (mainly my older brother) teasing me about all my imaginary friends. I decided that I wasn’t too old for them, they were too old for me. So I had them move to Palm Springs, since that is where people move when they get old.

Even after they moved away, I kept on thinking about them. I don’t know how to turn off my brain now, and I certainly didn’t know how to turn it off in second grade. So I did the only thing I could think of. I wrote myself a letter describing all the great new adventures my friends were having in Palm Springs. And then I wrote another one. And then I stopped writing letters and made up new characters that lived in new places and wrote about them.

Like I said, I’ve always had a very active imagination. And I was lucky enough to discover at a young age that becoming an “author” is a socially acceptable way to play with your imaginary friends.

Me: What do you enjoy most about writing?

KS: Meeting the characters. I find people fascinating, both real life people and fictitious ones. Inventing characters and then getting to know them as they come to life on the page is super fun!

Me: What has been your greatest struggle as an author?

KS: I’m a really bad speller! Like not kind of bad, really bad. I have dyslexia and struggled a lot to learn how to read and write in school. The making up stories part of writing has always been super easy for me. But the writing it down part is a lot harder. I’m a much better reader/speller now than I was even a few years ago, and writing no longer feels like a difficult chore to me. But at times it can still be a struggle.

Me: What one pearl of wisdom would you share with aspiring authors?

KS: Accept that the publishing industry moves very SLOWLY early on. It takes a long time to write a book and it often takes an even longer time to sell a book. If you want to make lots of money, go to Law School. If you need to make up stories, go ahead and write them down. Then accept that your name isn’t J.K. Rowling and your words are never going to make you rich and famous. Once you’ve done that, write because you love it and can’t think of anything more fun to do with your free time.

Me: Your first book, Counting to D, comes out February 11, 2014. What can you tell us about it?

KS: Here is the teaser that’s going to appear on the back of the book:

The kids at Sam’s school never knew if they should make fun of her for being too smart or too dumb. That’s what it means to be dyslexic, smart, and illiterate. Sam is sick of it. So when her mom gets a job in a faraway city, Sam decides not to tell anyone about her little illiteracy problem. Without her paradox of a reputation, she falls in with a new group of highly competitive friends who call themselves the Brain Trust. When she meets Nate, her charming valedictorian lab partner, she declares her new reality perfect. But in order to keep it that way, she has to keep her learning disability a secret. The books are stacked against her and so are the lies. Sam’s got to get the grades, get the guy, and get it straight—without being able to read.

Me: What can you tell us about The Evolution of Emily, your WIP?

KS: This is a companion book to Counting to D, so it’s set at the same school and there are some overlapping characters but it could also be read as a standalone book. I don’t have a completed draft, let alone a snappy teaser, for this book yet. But here is the general gist of it.

Emily is shy and sheltered. Her parents’ home schooled her and her autistic sister up until Emily was about to begin to start her junior year of high school. At that time, Emily decides to brave the complicated waters of public school. She quickly befriends Sam, from Counting to D, and meets an adorable boy named August. Both Emily and August have their fair share of issues, but this book is more of a traditional YA romance than an “issues book”.

Me: Any other books or projects on the map?

KS: Of course. There are three future projects fighting for attention in my head right now. I feel like I should finish writing/revising The Evolution of Emily before tackling any of them, but I don’t think I’m going to. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a boy named Peter. So my new plan is to try and write a book from his POV this November for NaNoWriMo. Then I’ll have two books to finish this winter which will hopefully equal double the fun.

Me: Why self-publish?

KS: If my earlier answers didn’t make you think I was completely bonkers, this one might. I had a literary agent from a well-respected New York agency for several years before deciding to go it alone. She didn’t sell Counting to D at auction a month after signing me, which made us both a little sad, but she was still very excited about my work and we both believed I could publish with a traditional large press. It would just take a while to get there, because the publishing industry always moves slowly.

In a way my decision to self-publish was me losing patience. But more than that, it was me losing faith in the traditional publishing industry. The publishing industry is undergoing a huge transition right now. In the past, the big New York publishers had the size and capacity to do large print runs, which created a clear advantage in book sales. Now with the rise of both e-books and POD (print on demand) this advantage has disappeared. Publishers can’t even boast the ability to buy co-op space in Borders, because Borders doesn’t exist anymore either.

The publishing world is changing. And working with a New York based agent who was invested in the traditional industry felt a lot like jumping onto a sinking ship. Except it was more like camping out in line for months to buy a ticket for a ride on a sinking ship. So I decided to step out of line. I parted ways with my former agent and decided to steer my own craft through these murky publishing waters.

Me: Why create your own press?

KS: As I said above, the publishing industry is changing. The advantages to working with large publishers are decreasing. But there are still advantages to not doing everything alone. Authors can, and in my opinion should, pool their resources. By marketing similar books together and working directly with comparable writers, authors can increase their sales at a lower cost.

Traditional publishers do this to a point. One publicist will cover several authors for a given imprint and comparable authors often go on speaking tours together. But I think small presses often do a better job at this than big presses because they work with a smaller and often more comparable set of writers.

My initial decision to stop attempting to sell my work to a large press was a plan to try and work with a small press instead. As I began doing research into various small presses and learning what types of services they provide for their authors, I found myself thinking, that looks like fun.

I love to write, but I enjoy a lot of other things too. I am fairly business savvy, and think being a publisher for a small press sounds like a dream job. So I decided to found Elliott Books and hire myself. Being able to start off by publishing my own books was just an added bonus.

Me: What are your goals concerning, or what developments do you hope to see with Elliott Books in the near or distant future?

KS: I want to wait until after Counting to D comes out before even thinking about taking on other writers. Mainly because I want to make all my mistakes on my own work first, so I’ll feel like I know what I’m doing when I sign with other authors. Eventually, my goal is to have Elliott Books because a boutique style press that publishes about a half a dozen books per year from various authors. I say boutique press, not small or indie press, because that really is my end goal. I hope to attract very talented authors and publish only exceptionally high quality books. While I never want Elliott Books to be “big”, I’d love it if ten years from now every book on its roster was a best seller.

Me: What sort of submissions will Elliott Books be looking for?

KS: While Elliott Books is not currently accepting submissions, I am already looking forward to the day I can claim the title of acquisitions editor. Basically, I want books that I like to read by authors that I will enjoy working with. But more specifically, I expect Elliott Books with publish primarily Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Although I may also consider Middle Grade, “Old Adult” and Narrative Non-Fiction that has a strong cross over component so it could easily appeal to the YA/NA market.