the woodlands college park high school will host the montgomery county teen book festival feb. 27. in the past couple of days, i’ve corresponded with a few of the authors featured at the event. the one with whom i most enjoyed communicating is kathleen baldwin, author of a school for unusual girls, the highway came waltzing, diary of a teenage fairy godmother, lady fiasco, mistaken kiss and cut from the same cloth. here i have for you my questions and her beautiful responses:
the journalist and the novelist: two writers talking
when did you discover an interest in writing, and how difficult, or easy if that’s the case, has it been for you to pursue that interest?
As far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed telling stories and writing poems. Early on my mother and my teachers were convinced I would be a writer. On the other hand, I thought I would grow up to be a heart surgeon. Looks like they won the bet. It’s a good thing, too, because I love writing. In some respects, I still get to work on people’s hearts – just not with a scalpel.
Twenty years ago, I sold a few nonfiction articles and poems, but my real love was short story. Unfortunately, the short story market was dwindling by the time I started submitting. But I kept trying and garnered a tall stack of rejection notices. Later, the humor of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen drew me to writing full length novels and that’s when I met with some publishing success. My very first Regency romance novel was published by Kensington’s Zebra Books and voted best traditional regency by Cataromance readers.
what do you feel is your greatest honor or achievement, and why?
I am over the moon excited about being chosen for the 2016 Spirit of Texas Middle School Reading Program. The reason is: I absolutely adore talking with young readers and writers. Kids who like to read are incredibly fun to interact with – the astute and quirky questions they come up with amaze me. Every time I get to visit a school I come home inspired to write more.
what do you love most about writing? what keeps you doing it?
Writing itself is a joy for me. I love developing characters, weaving them into a story and blending in themes that are important to me. I like integrating tongue-in-cheek humor in my books. Humor helps me deal with difficulties in life, and that’s one theme that drifts through everything I write.
Reader letters keep me going, too. It seems like every week I get one or two very emotional letters from readers, readers who are struggling with tough problems in life. They take the time to write me and tell me about how one of my books lifted their spirits for a few hours. If I can do that for a fellow human being I’ll keep doing this the rest of my life.
what’s been the biggest challenge?
I am a highly visual/experiential writer, which takes and enormous amount of time. This can be challenging when on a deadline. Sometimes it takes me days to visualize a scene before I can write it. Then, I go back in and rework it over and over again until it aligns with my vision.
My second biggest challenge is your next question.
how do you balance your work as a writer with the other roles, whatever those may be, you play in life?
Like most people, I have difficulty balancing life. I’m married to a man I adore, we have four wonderful kids and I like to spend time with them. Writing could absorb my entire life if I let it, and sometimes it does. There’s a huge danger in that, the danger of writing from an empty place. Living life balanced is essential for a writer, taking time to play – and for me that means getting out in nature – taking time to reflect, spending time with God, family and friends, helping those in need, taking long walks, exploring new places, all these things gives me the depth perspective I need to write full rich stories.
who are some authors you revere? what stories do you hold close to your heart—what i mean by that is… i am in love with rainbow rowell’s eleanor and park and landline, vanessa diffenbaugh’s the language of flowers, audrey niffenegger’s the time traveler’s wife, john green’s the fault in our stars, ellen shanman’s right before your eyes, dickens’ our mutual friend, rowling’s harry potter series and several of nora roberts’ novels. i go to these stories when i have lost faith in my craft, in love, in life… when my internal landscape is at its darkest. i have read some of these stories dozens of times and others only once or twice. i aspire to write as beautifully as these authors do. maybe someday i will achieve that goal, maybe not. regardless, these stories bring me much joy. what stories do that for you?
I loved Eleanor and Park, too! and Time Traveler’s Wife and Fault in Our Stars. Right now, I’m hooked on Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles – it’s almost living inside an anime. I’m blown away by how she weaves multiple story lines together. That’s extremely difficult to do.
I grew up reading Dickens, Alcott, Daphne du Maurier, and Twain. They’re my literary heroes. Mom didn’t allow a TV in our house when my brothers and I were little. Instead, she read to us at night, all those great old classics: Oliver Twist, Little Women, not to mention Heidi, Black Beauty and The Amazing Miss Polifax (I think that’s when I fell in love with spy stories).
In college I read C.S. Lewis, Frank Herbert and Tolkien for pleasure. However, I studied and fell in love the great humorists, in particular O’Henry, Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde. You can see why Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer later became inspirations for my own work.
who’s your favorite character in your work; in the whole of the literary realm?
That’s like asking me to choose a favorite from among my children. Can’t do it. But I have a really big crush on Lord Wyatt in A School for Unusual Girls.
I still love Heidi. She became my best friend when I was five, and I still love her.