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.


  1. Great and hilarious interview. I can't wait to read TABULA RASA!

  2. I've long been a fan of Kristen's posts and have no doubt Tabula Rasa will "no rasa," but chuck full of pearly nuggets.
    How lucky (& lovely) that you found each other.

  3. And I thought pitching in an elevator was off limits! I love your sense of humor and I'm sure I'll love Tabula Rasa!


  4. What were the odds? Thank God you didn't make bail! TABULA RASA is tops on my 2014 list.


  5. What! You have an MFA from Columbia? You never told me that! And here I thought I was your BWB and knew everything. ^_^

    Fun chat, you two.

  6. Great interview! And now I know why Folio clients are banned from Tijuana.

  7. Kristen always had "IT" she just didn't realize it. Take it from one of the former Oneida High staff that tried to get her to do less of "her own thing" and more of ours :) The perils, pitfalls and patience testing of children only honed her.