Joy Interviews YA Author Kami Garcia

We recently had the great privilege escorting bestselling YA author Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures series) to a day of school visits on her tour for her newest YA, Broken Beautiful Hearts, the timely and engaging story of a star soccer player who must rebuild her life and stand up against abuse after her boyfriend pushes her down a flight of stairs when she confronts him about his use of steroids. Kami sat down to talk to Children Specialist Joy about her own story, about writing YA, and about life, fame and writing.

Here’s what Kami had to say.

Joy: Having had the privilege the other day to accompany you on school visits, I know that Broken Beautiful Hearts is clearly a deeply personal book in its inspirational roots. Can you talk some about that?

Kami: Well, in Broken Beautiful Hearts, Peyton, the protagonist is a star athlete, a soccer player, dating a guy who is also an athlete, and when she confronts him about using steroids behind her back, he loses his temper and ends up pushing her down a flight of stairs and this becomes the catalyst for the rest of the story.

Like Peyton, when I was in high school, I found out the athlete I was dating was using steroids. and when I broke up with him he physically assaulted me.

While obviously the novel was inspired by that incident, when I first started writing, I never intended to publicize this fact. What I really wanted to do was rewrite my own story by having my protagonist do the things I wish I had done 27 years ago. For example, Peyton does not stay quiet. She sticks to her story even in the face of doubt from people. Unlike Petyon, I didn’t tell anyone except my friends. Once the book was finished, my publisher asked if I would write a version of my own story in a letter to book sellers and librarians, which I did. This letter turned into a #metoo story that was published in Seventeen Magazine and which you can read here.

Joy: Moving to slightly less emotional topics, you wrote your debut fantasy series Beautiful Creatures with your friend Margaret Stohl. Can you talk a bit about how the writing process is different with your books written without a writing partner?

Kami: When you write with someone else you also get to be a reader and you get constant feedback on the draft. When I write alone I do have critique partners but I don’t usually share the story until I have 50-75 pages-- which is a long time to wonder if what I’m writing is any good. Collaboration is always fun. That being said, the advantage if writing solo is that I don’t have to compromise and I really live in the heads of my characters.

Margie would always tell me if something was bad or good or if I was going off the rails! And like many novelists, I’m very insecure during the first draft phase, so I like knowing that someone who’s a reader is excited about what I’ve created. I can always see potential in someone else’s work but it’s always harder to see the potential in what I’ve written myself. I think that’s common with authors. We’re always harder on ourselves.

Authors Holly Black and Carrie Ryan read for me, and they’re both hard on themselves, too! They remind me that an author should never believe her own hype! You won’t work as hard as you should be. And I agree with Ransom Riggs, who believes we each have only x number of good words a day. When I reach my max, it’s over. I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t always have to keep working.

Joy: Speaking of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, it was so huge and so popular and then there was the movie… Did that fame change things for you? Did it change your writing process?

Kami: We didn’t really feel the ‘fame.’ We had written the book for teenagers we knew, including Margie’s daughter, and we still had her reading for us and saying ‘This is is terrible’ when she felt it wasn’t working. But the movie was humbling. We also knew the studio had a HUGE budget so the advertising was huge and some of that ‘fame’ was simply publicity. We actually had a harder time when the book came out and got all these accolades and hit the New York Times bestseller list while we were editing the 2nd book and hadn’t written the 3rd. How were we going to assure that the upcoming books were good enough, in fact better? We’d written the first book ffor 7 teenagers that we knew, and now we were writing for all these other people who had fallen in love with the book, and we didn’t want to let them down. It was way more pressure than the movie ever was. The movie was the movie. It was the movie people’s thing. We just kept writing. It is always easier to write for love than for money. But then booksellers and librarians were reading, people we respect and we didn’t want to disappoint. It was a pretty tall order to follow up. That was the real pressure for us.

Eventually you realize that you have to let it go. You can’t play that game with yourself. It was an anomaly. It was a different time -- the perfect time for that kind of a book.

Like what I just told you about Holly Black telling me never to believe my own hype. Having Holly’s perspective was very important. It doesn’t last.

Joy: I’m always interested to know why other authors feel drawn to writing YA. What appeals to you? Why do your stories fall in that age range?

Kami: When I started writing Beautiful Creatures specifically for those seven teenagers. I was teaching and I read what my students read, and the books I was reading then had the most powerful impact on me. The teenage years are the time in your life when you make the big decisions about how to be yourself and yet still fit in without selling out. What makes you you. I’m probably also very immature? I relate to the struggles of trying to figure out who you are and carve your path. It’s why a lot of adults read YA. Cause you never stop having the feeling: I’m the creative writer lady with blue hair but I still want to have coffee with the other moms! You figure out different ways to deal with it, but teens often find ways that are more effective and honest. Teens today are a lot braver than I was as a teenager. They are super brave. They are willing to take a stand and be criticized in ways that were terrifying to me at that age. And I respect that. I feel lucky I get to write for them.

Joy: You’ve written fantasy and also contemporary. Do you prefer one over the other? Are there differences in the creative process? What draws you to each genre?

Kami: At my heart I’m a fantasy girl. For me it’s easier to write. World building and magic building come naturally to me. With contemporary novels, you have to find the magic in the powerful moments in everyday life and translate that dramatically but authentically.

Joy: You’re one of the founding members of an amazing book festival called Y’ALL FEST. Can you talk a bit about that?

Kami: Y’All Fest is the brainchild of Jonathan Sanchez of Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston. He had spent bunch of time with writing and poetry workshops with underprivileged youth. And Margie and I were in Charleston a lot for Beautiful Creatures research. Jonathan really wanted to have a book festival. Off the cuff, we said, “ We’ll help you.” When Jonathan was ready to go for it, we emailed and called everyone we knew to come to Charleston. We were basically asking our author friends to pay for themselves to come to a festival no one had ever heard of . We never dreamed it would turn into the biggest all teen fest in the country. Now there’s also Y’ALL West in Santa Monica. And it’s amazing too because it’s about the kids and everything is for middle grade and teens and everything is free. Kids are bussed in so they can attend. In Charleston, it feels like the whole city is doing Y’All fest. Veronica Roth signing in the cupcake store. Cassie Clare signing in the ice cream store. I love that! We do signings on Fridays too with authors in various stores, the ‘Y’all Crawl’ so kids can have access without endless lines. Kids from underserved communities can see us and meet us and be with us. It’s for the kids. Not about us.

Now we have lots of sponsors, including publishers, and awards and grants...Doing this for the kids and teens also keeps me humble.

Joy: And to conclude this wonderful conversation, what are three things we should know about Kami Garcia?

Kami: I am crazy superstitious. If fans come up and tell me their superstitions, I don’t want to know because I will adopt them! I also can’t ride a bike! I’ve tried to learn, and I do pedal a little, but so far all efforts have so far been unsuccessful. However, I do make a mean Coca Cola cake!

Joy: Thanks so much, Kami!

BROKEN BEAUTIFUL HEARTS is on our shelves now!

Broken Beautiful Hearts Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781250079206
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Imprint Make Your Mark - February 6th, 2018

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