This month we're interviewing Austin SCBWI member K. A. Holt, a dynamic, talented, witty writer who has written books about zombies, bullies, a boy on probation and a space farmer, among others. Several were written in verse, one in haiku. Did I mention she was talented? We couldn't be more pleased to welcome Kari to our interview series and we wish her continued success in bringing the weird and the wonderful to readers everywhere.
Where did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your work? If so, how?
I lived in central Florida from the ages of 2-13. In elementary school, we were able to go outside and watch the space shuttles launch. It was a pretty amazing thing to see, and it has really stuck with me, that wonder. I write contemporary and sci-fi middle grade books, and I know that growing up with such proximity to the space program, in such a glorious time, has had a huge impact on my interest in space and sci-fi topics.
After 13, my family moved to the Dallas area and everything was quite different. For the first time in my life I was a bit of an outsider; a lonely dork always reading and studying. This isolation, plus the experience of being in such a new and strange place also impacted the worlds I create and the characters that speak to me.
Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?
I wanted to be a writer from the very first time I sat down with a pencil and paper. In high school and college, I forgot how much I loved to write because everything became a project or a paper and I didn't write a lot for fun. It no longer occurred to me that writing could be a career. By the time I was about to graduate college, though, I had taken a playwriting course and fallen in love with creative writing all over again.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
They would see a woman always pondering, always staring out of windows, always listening to music, always snacking. They would see a harried mother racing to make it to music lessons on time. They would see a lazy housekeeper. They would see someone who either constantly has a computer on her lap or a notebook in her hand (or a notebook sitting in the passenger seat of the car). They would see referee and cook, creator and question answerer… they would see me with my head in the game and in the clouds. They would see me accidentally walking into a lot of doorways.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
Most of the time, I can sit back and listen to my three children talk and I will have enough fodder for a million books. They are so smart and funny and weird! Just being around those three feeds my creativity in a way that I can barely even explain. My crazy muses.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).
My newest book, HOUSE ARREST, released in early October, and just the fact that I wrote that book and it is now in the hands of people everywhere, feels like such a huge accomplishment. It isn't a memoir, but parts of it are based on real life. It was a very, very difficult book for me to write emotionally, and it has been very healing to know that I could use difficult personal experiences to reach others who might need a hand to hold.
I am also very proud that I have sold five novels in four years – with three kids and all that entails! I am not sure this is a pace I can keep up with, but after not being able to write for several years, this feels really, really good.
What surprises you about the creative life?
I don't know if this is a surprise or not, but I am constantly in awe of how difficult it is. After every manuscript is completed I feel such happiness and relief, and then when I begin each new manuscript I feel such excitement and terror. The process never gets easier. At least now, though, I'm familiar with my own quirks and patterns. So when I'm despairing and thinking of setting the laptop on fire, I at least know that means I'm getting ready to be REALLY productive at some point in the future. (Unless I just jinxed it. Did I jinx it? Noooooo.)
Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find?
I hope my readers find characters they empathize with, and stories they enjoy. I write the stories I would have loved to read when I was younger (and that I enjoy reading as an adult). I want readers to be able to read my books at age 9 and 13 and 25 and 36 and to get something new out of the story every time. The idea that a young reader could pick up one of my books, read it from beginning to end, and then wonder about the characters days later is one of my top goals. I also hope my readers are able to find a way to understand they are not alone in this world, that other people have problems and questions and struggles, too. I also want to make people laugh — in that surprising way when you least expect it. I want a lot from my readers!
Bio: K.A. Holt is the author of several books for young people, including the new middle grade verse novel HOUSE ARREST, and RHYME SCHEMER, a Bank Street Best Book of 2014 and an Amazon Best Book for Kids and Teens. She lives in Austin, TX and eats a lot of tacos.