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!