Summer in Words

Writing Conference

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Interview with Kari Luna

Kari Luna 1Q: How did you become a young adult author?

A: Completely by accident! if I look at my entire career as a copywriter, I might have seen a thread. My favorite projects involved creating an online teen magazine from scratch and writing, directing and producing over a hundred teen radio spots for a theme park one year. My short story narrators were often young, and I have always written little books for my nephews, but I always thought of that as a hobby. As it turns out, I love writing for children. I’ve always loved it. But when I finally sat down and wrote a book, I just wrote the story. It wasn’t intended for young adults, specifically.

Q: What are the things you’re most proud of having written, from any time in your life?

I’m pretty proud of a Dracula Book I wrote in second grade. I can still see the cover. Thinking about it now, the Dracula I drew looked like Don Draper with fangs. I’m proud of a collection of short stories I’ve been working on for years that I’ve dubbed “Fairly-Near Fables for Almost Adults.” Song lyrics, journals with drawings, letters to my grandmother, I’m proud of all of these things.  But I’m most proud of THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. It was a labor of love that taught me so much about myself and the world.
Q: How would you describe your writing process? What routines help, and what challenges do you regularly face?
A: So far, my writing process is different with each project. Dipping in every day, for at least two hours, is a must. Even if it’s just research. Once I start something I lock down. I’m on a quest. And if I start it earnest and then stop, I feel physically off. Probably because even though I’m going about my business, doing my day job, the characters are now alive. They exist. And they get a little cranky if I don’t give them time. Can you blame them?
I face the same challenges every writer faces – balancing the writing with paying work, promotion, and life. If I could escape to a little cabin on the coast for one month at the beginning of a first draft and one month at the end, that would be ideal. But I’ve also learned that patience is essential and stories benefit from the gift of time. So maybe it’s actually a blessing that we have to juggle so many things with our writing lives. Oh! And never underestimate the value of filling the well. My writing process has become more about living the worlds I’m creating on the page, not just writing them. Dance, art, music, all roads lead to the story. It’s a pretty great way to live.
Q:What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve ever written about or researched for a writing project?

A: I‘ve been in advertising for over fifteen years, so I researched a lot of weird things for that. Boots, tractors, printing presses, pickles. Giving myself a crash course in string theory was pretty interesting. Right now, though, I’m diving into a combination of ornithology, how to become a master perfumist, the science of scent and the afterlife. All of those, in combination, could keep me going for years. I adore learning new things! Especially the sciences.

Q: How do outside forces or the arts influence or shape your writing?

A: See above! No, really, this is my favorite part about writing novel-length works. Once I start building the world, it’s like my antennae is fine-tuned. All of a sudden, everything around me is part of the story. I’m writing about sparrows and I meet an amateur ornithologist. I write about an all-girl garage band in Paris and a DJ appears in a new social circle of friends who spins French Pop Music. Art and music are a part of my life, so they’re a part of my stories. I also love how, when you dedicate yourself to a story, the world rises up to meet you. Whether it’s the perfect song on the radio or that bird perched on your ledge, once you create the story, it show up. All around you.

Q: How do you take risks with your writing?

A: Sitting down and actually writing is the biggest risk of all. Making the time, choosing one story over another – and then dedicating yourself to it – it takes guts. Because at some point, you’re going to face yourself on the page. And digging in as opposed to running away? That’s risk. Sticking with the story and seeing it through, showing up when you’d rather run away to Costa Rica, these are the things of which merit badges are made. I also like high concept books, a huge cast of characters and oodles of imagination. These things aren’t always popular. So trusting my heart and doing it, anyway, may be the biggest risk of all.

Q: What is your best advice to writers in 12 words or less?

A: Dig in, find the stuff of your heart, and bring it out to play.

Q: Why do you write?

A: Because I can’t imagine life without it. I wrote advertising writing for years, which was creative in its own way, but it wasn’t until I wrote fiction that I felt like I’d come home. Writing is my solace, my connection to the world, my connection to myself. I have a great desire to help young people. To spread big ideas! And to create connections. I think writing books is how I do that. Plus, I find incredible joy in creating stories. I have the next three novel ideas and several smaller kid’s books just waiting to be written. Why stop now?
 Q: Sushi or pasta?

Sushi! My favorite food was always finger food, so I was thrilled when the Japanese version appeared.

 Q: What books are on your bedside table?

Fun! Let me take my laptop into the bedroom. Beware, my stack is always huge:

The Vanishers – Heidi Julavits
The Stud Book – Monica Drake
The Threads of the Heart – Carol Martinez
The Bird King – An Artist’s Notebook – Shaun Tan
Why We Broke Up – Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
Taschen’s Paris Style Vol. II
Sparrow – Kim Todd
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
The Haunted Pool – George Sand

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Thanks for asking! I’m currently working on another novel – it’s a stand alone, not a sequel – and a super-secret top-secret project. Let’s just say that one involves birds, Paris and perfume, and the other is more in the planet/animal realm. What am I saying? Animals always sneak into my stories. Along with music. I’m so excited about these two stories and feel like the luckiest girl in the world every moment I spend with them. Since TTOE comes out in July, I’m also looking forward to meeting and talking with readers. I worked on it alone for such a long time. It feels surreal to have it out in the world! But it also feels great. Sharing a shaman panda with people? I’m pretty proud of that. 🙂