Monday, February 25, 2013

An interview with Kristen Lippert-Martin: Part II

Welcome to part II of my interview with my amazing client Kristen Lippert-Martin, author of TABULA RASA (Egmont, Fall 2014). When we last left Kristen, she had shared with us how she’d come thisclose to walking away from writing. Read on to find out where she found the inspiration to keep following her passion!

KLM: I’ll jump ahead to fall, 2008. I remember this one weekend. My (amazing, supportive, long-suffering) husband was planning to get up at O Dark Thirty to ride his bike. He and a group of other cyclists would ride their bikes fifty, sixty miles on Sunday mornings just for fun. I thought, geez, there isn’t a single thing in my life that I would willingly get up that early to do. And that struck me as kind of pathetic.

A few weeks later, I started getting up at 4:45 am to write because that was the only free time I had. And it was like this fire in the belly feeling, this burning desire to write, came back times ten. I told myself that if I was going to get back into writing I was not going to give up this time. Whatever came along, I was going to keep on swinging, until I was beaten to a bloody pulp and couldn’t get up off the mat.

And over the next three years, through all that querying and all those months on sub, I never reached the completely vanquished, bloody pulp stage. I may have gotten close a few times, but every time I got concussed, I’d think, “Typing fingers still functional? Brain still largely intact? Yes? Then get back to it.”

Truly, my greatest sense of accomplishment in all this comes from keeping that promise I made to myself. To not give up on writing, and more importantly, to not give up on me. Yes, I’m over-the-moon excited about the actual book deal (Hi, Alison! Love you!) but this is what makes me want to fist bump myself and say, “Damn, girl. You all right.”

MJ: What was the most unexpected part of your path to publication?

KLM: I guess it was realizing how very wrong I’d been about what it takes to succeed. I used to think you had to have this iron-clad ego to survive rejection but really, it’s just the opposite. More than anything else, you need humility in order to keep going. You need to humble yourself so you can listen and take in whatever lesson you can glean from the no’s you get. Assuming there is one. Sometimes a no is just a no and in those cases you have to shrug them off. But sometimes a no will force you into the corner for a good long pout and at some point, while you’re pouting away, you’ll reluctantly start to see things you couldn’t before. No’s can help you get better if you let them. Because they hurt like hell. Alas, happiness rarely yields these same opportunities for growth. I really hate that about happiness.

So, yeah, I’d say the most unexpected part has been this: I didn’t have to possess heroic levels of valor to see my way through to getting published. I just needed to be a little bit brave, a little bit each day. Just enough to put my butt in that chair to work.  

MJ: I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put that way: a little bit brave. That’s a really great way to think about it. So what’s been the best part of this journey so far?

KLM: The best part has been the collegiality of other aspiring writers. In the old days, not so long ago, there were no message forums, no websites for writers, no blogs. You worked alone and every fear you had about the uselessness of your efforts would roost like a big, fat squawky bird on your shoulder. Caaww! You suck! Caawww! You’ll never make it! Cawww! You shoulda gone to law school!  There’s nothing like finding a writer buddy who can take out a cricket bat and say, “Hold still while I give that parrot on your shoulder a good, hard smack in the beak.” Just having one person like that in your writing life makes all the freaking difference in the world. I’ve been fortunate to have one good friend in particular who has read every single terrible stinky awful story I’ve ever written. God, I should really send that woman a box of chocolates.

MJ: I’ll send her some too! She sounds invaluable. Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?

KLM: I’ve been asking myself this a lot in the last year and really, I don’t know that I could have. We all have a unique road to travel, and learning curves are always hard to climb, no matter when you encounter them. My long, circuitous route has yielded a lot of good things. At one point in my life I was obsessed with getting published by the time I was 30. I put my entire life on hold trying to meet that ridiculous and arbitrary goal. All I can say is, thank GOD, I let that go. The fact that success eluded me for so long turned out to be a good thing. I have four kids now, and they are The Right and The Real in my life and probably the biggest reason I learned how to cope with the pain of disappointment in a way that I couldn’t when I was younger. Nothing teaches you how to soldier on in the face of adversity like having kids.

MJ: What are your hopes for your writing career going forward?

KLM: Weeeellllll, one thing I’ve learned in this business is to only try to control the things you can control, and that means keeping your mind and heart focused on your work. I always want to be engrossed by what I’m writing. That’s when I’m happiest, and right now, that’s where I am with my WiP. And maybe, just maybe, dearest agent, you’ll be getting to read what is currently engrossing me in just a few months.

MJ: I can’t wait! Thanks again, Kristen. Anniversary trip to Tijuana?

That’s all, folks! Readers, when it comes to your writing, how do you make yourself be a little bit brave?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tijuana, broccoli fertilizer and the writing life: an interview with my client Kristen Lippert-Martin

Hello, dear readers! I'm pleased as punch to share the following interview with my amazing client Kristen Lippert-Martin, author of the forthcoming TABULA RASA (Egmont, Fall 2014). I think you'll be able to tell from this interview alone why I fell in love with her voice as a writer--and why everyone is going to fall in love with TABULA RASA. Read on to find out how we met, how people have reacted to her book deal news, and what she learned from her MFA program. 

MJ: Hi, Kristen! Thanks for joining me today. Did you know we’ve been working together for nearly three years now? What do you even get someone for a third anniversary? Google tells me it’s leather.

KLM: Gosh, has it really been three years? Seems like only yesterday I woke up in Tijuana handcuffed to you. I mean, what were the odds that the Mexican police would cuff us together in the same jail cell like that? I’m telling you, it was meant to be.

MJ: Yeah. I knew I had to represent you from the moment you started pitching me your book while we were cuffed back-to-back in that windowless cell with no food, water or iPhone reception for three days. I thought, wow, finally someone’s come up with a crazier place to pitch me than the bathroom.  So I fished a retainer agreement out of my back pocket using my teeth and a bent cocktail umbrella right then and there.

KLM: Every time I hear mariachi music, I think of you, Molly.

MJ: Me too. I mean, I also display symptoms of PTSD, but yeah. Anniversary celebrations aside, there’s something even bigger for us to celebrate: your first book deal! TABULA RASA, your kick-butt YA thriller, is going to be published by Egmont USA in Fall ’14. How are you feeling now that we’re a few weeks post-deal?

KLM: I’m still feeling pretty dang buoyant. Yep. I’m a veritable zeppelin of buoyancy! Look at me floating like I’m full of highly flammable hydrogen! I should probably watch out for pointy things right about now. And maybe open flames.

MJ: Good idea. So what’s the strangest reaction you’ve gotten to the news from friends and family? The best? Anything odd from strangers?

KLM: I’ll start with the best reaction, which has been, “I always knew you’d make it one day.” I mean, COME ON. That’s such a nice thing to say. And so many people have told me that.
As for strange or odd reactions, I guess I’m not the sort of person who other people say such things to. It’s because of those years I spent in NYC cultivating my “you really really do NOT want to mess with me” squint.

MJ: It’s a useful skill. I practice it daily on cabbies and the small children riding scooters in my neighborhood. Anyway, back to you. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more hardworking, dedicated author.

KLM: First, thank you for saying that. A lot of people who read my book deal post over at the blog told me they were inspired by my story. Never would I have believed that I’d become a poster child for perseverance, but I’m very proud of it.

MJ: I’m proud of you for posting it. There aren’t many authors who are willing to talk so candidly about their struggles in pursuit of publication, even though the journey is rarely quick or painless for anyone. Can you tell our lovely readers a bit about your writing history?

KLM: I know a lot of writers say they always knew they wanted to write from the time they were kids, but for me, the idea of being a writer wasn’t even in my frame of reference. I’m sure a lot of us come from backgrounds where that kind of creative life isn’t something we can begin to relate to or imagine for ourselves. To even to get to the point where I could think, hey, I might maybe kinda want to be a novelist meant climbing a mountain of unlikelihoods and doubts.

But climb I did, and through some series of miracles I got into Columbia’s MFA program. A lot of folks knock MFA programs as useless, but for me, getting my MFA was a hugely important part of my growth as a writer. Absolutely huge.

MJ: What was your biggest takeaway from the MFA program?

KLM: Well, for one thing, I realized that, yes, people actually do this crazy writing thing for a living. Wow. Who knew? Mostly, though, I learned how and when to trust my creative instincts. And when to say, yikes, this is poop. Toss it on the garden and you might get some decent broccoli in a few weeks. Good writing means making good choices over and over and over again. There are so many ways to get lost and go wrong within a story. It’s very hard to learn how to separate the good ideas from the broccoli fertilizer ones.

The down side was that after grad school, all the supports were gone, and those post-MFA years were pretty horrible. I took this slacker admin job “so I would have time and energy to write.” Yeah, that’s a great theory and all, but it sucked to feel like this massively underemployed loser. Because it’s not like I was telling anyone that I was trying to be a writer in my spare time. As far as anyone knew, I was just that surly gal who cleared the paper jams.  

After a few years of that fun, I despaired of ever being successful. I became convinced that I didn’t have IT. Whatever IT was. I decided IT was either a talent so mind-blowingly obvious that all who beheld it were immediately struck dumb in awe or, failing that, a moderate amount of talent paired with an indomitable self-belief that would allow one to endure countless, cruel rebuffs.

Ha. Right.

The fact was, back then, just one “sorry, you’re not right for us” turned me into a quavering, dejected blob, and ultimately I just couldn’t take it anymore. Of course, all these self-defeating thoughts coalesced just as child-rearing demands were kicking my butt. I don’t think I slept for four solid years, so putting writing aside was all too easy.

Now, fortunately this tale has a “BUT THEN…” or else, Molly, we would never have met in that Tijuana jail cell.

MJ: Well, thank God. 

....To be continued! I'll post part two, in which the indomitable Kristen shares how she found it in her to pick up the pen once again, on Monday.