Critter Chat With Kelly Hashway!

When I decided to to interviews on T.A.A., I had many writers I in mind, but minus the ones who aren’t dead/too busy or impossible to reach, I soon realized that the perfect person to debut was someone who while I’ve yet to meet in person, has been an encouraging and precious colleague of mine, the up and coming Kelly Hashway.

Kelly’s debut picture book, “May the Best Dog Win” has found many a grateful reader in the nearly two years since it’s publication.

Her second picture book, The Perfect Puppy, which she collaborated with illustrator, and sister, Heather, and her two-part short story “The imaginary Friend” are her first self-published efforts, both available now from Amazon.

Plus, she recently sold her first two YA novels, the first of which to debut in the near future.

Corny as this sounds, I knew Kelly long before she started make a name for herself, before she’d found her agent, before she sold a book, but even three years ago, she was taking her baby steps in the realm of short fiction and nonfiction for various magazines and anthologies, including the Anthology, “Trunk Stories, where both Kelly and myself have a story in this collection, though it  didn’t pay even a dime, it was special being in the same book as Kelly, a writer I actually knew beyond her author bio to some extent, and who knew me, as well as the other writers from my former critique group (Of which Kelly is also a member) was something special, and I’m glad they talked me into it.

She’s earned every bit of the success she’s achieved in past and recent history, and inspires me to keep pushing ahead, and not let the many, and I meant MANY setbacks, some of which I’m still fighting through, get me down too long.

But as you’ll read in this debut edition of Critter Chat, Kelly and I have a lot more in common than it might first sound like on paper, and you’ll learn how there’s one type of story that we both fear the thought of, and she’s braver in some of her writing than I am, so this surprised me as much as it may those of you who’ve read Kelly’s work in the past.

Something I’ve noticed lately is that many writers who specialize in short fiction tend to find writing a novel WAY beyond them, for whatever reason, and most who are content with short fiction admit never even attempting a novel, again, for varying reasons. This is so opposite my path. While they weren’t great, my first stories were novel-length, and it was only when I started the magazine course at ICL (Institute of Children’s Literature) that I gave short fiction a fair shake, and while it still kind of confines me, and is humbling beyond words, I did learn things worth learning, and I still plug away at short stories whenever I can. Do you approach the short form differently from the long form? If not, how are they similar for you?
Kelly: They are definitely different for me. It’s tough to get an entire story into a small amount of space. I usually come up with my idea, which a lot of times seems like just a snippet of an idea because I’m used to writing novels, and I plan the major event and turning point. Most of what I write now is flash fiction, under 500 words, so there’s not a lot of room. I have to choose every word carefully.

You’ve had a few short stories published, yet you clearly enjoy writing in longer forms, which I personally feel most comfortable with. Have you always done short stories and novels concurrently? Did you begin in one form exclusively before others?
Kelly: I swore I was a novel only writer. But then I enrolled at ICL and I liked writing shorter pieces, too. I write at least one short piece a week now in addition to working on a novel.

Have you ever known of other writers (Either personally, or those you read, love and follow) that find short stories WAY too limiting for similar reasons as the short story writers who find novels too overwhelming?
Kelly: Absolutely! I’ve had writers tell me they’d love to write short stories to get some publishing credits, but they can’t adhere to the small word count. Everyone is different. Some like short, some prefer long, and others, like me, try everything and hope for the best. ;)

Many writers who write YA and Adult fiction say there’s little difference, other than that YA is focused on teens, whereas adult novels with teen characters are handled in different ways, since in many cases the teens in adult fiction are the hero or heroine thinking back to that time, rather than living in it, but of course there are exceptions there. Do you think they’re the same? Why or why not?
Kelly: I really don’t. YA is different because teens are not adults. They are still figuring things out, making mistakes, and hoping to become something great. While some adults do those things too, teens and adults have different ways of viewing things and acting. Maybe I never fully grew up, but I miss being a teen. The emotions are heightened, and life seems so much more exciting. I think adults tend to lose that somewhere along the lines. And I think that’s why so many adults read YA books. We want it back.

One of the reasons I feel lots of writers, including myself, fear writing YA fiction is because while I’ve read, watched, and listened to various interviews done with writers, and publishing insiders, who all say that YA and Dark don’t have to be joined at the hip, the examples often cited by writers that aren’t dark, but not pure fluff, and teens love reading tend to be dominated with-
Meg Cabot
Ally Carter
John Green (The ONLY man apart from Jerry Spinelli I hear of)
No offense intended to the writers above (Love you!) but is that all there is? Do you know of any others you’d like to recommend?
Kelly: I have to admit, I love paranormal and fantasy, so I may not be the best person to answer this question. But…

There are other great YA authors. Alex Flinn’s Cloaked isn’t dark. It’s a fairytale retelling. Maureen Johnson’s Little Blue Envelope series is another good one. I don’t really consider Lisa McMann’s Dream Catcher books dark. And I don’t find Lauren Oliver dark either, and she’s got some great books out there. Wendy Mass’s books are not dark at all, and she’s a friend of mine.

Me: Yea! Another man to add to my small, but special list of male writers to take note of.

I know from sharing our work that you’ve written in all age groups, but between your picture books and YA novels coming soon, have you ever written “Easy Reader” books before?
Kelly: No, and honestly I don’t see myself writing one either. I think that will be the market I leave for others better suited for it.

Do you find it a challenge to keep things concise and simple for younger readers, while still sounding like YOU, instead of being too generic or overly didactic, in so few words?
Kelly: I’ve been told I do this well, but I do make a conscious effort not to be either of those things while I write. I always try to let my writing style come through. It definitely can be a challenge with short pieces though.

While telling a solid story is the most important thing for a writer, there are times when market pressures, and the needs of young readers, can further burden writers who are struggling to just tell their story, without letting these concerns, however legit, drive them insane! (I’m no exception…It’s been a slow growth process for me…) Your thoughts?
Kelly: Honestly, I write the stories I want to write. I’m in a huge paranormal stage right now and I know they are tough sells. I feel bad having just given my agent another paranormal for her to try to pitch, but I really think we can’t force ourselves to write what is trending. The story won’t be as good if it’s forced. I write first and worry about selling later.

Unlike some parent writers I’ve met, you don’t use your parental wisdoms as a weapon against us non-parents, and I so appreciate that. Do you feel the intense outcry from parents and teachers for more books for reluctant readers, or kids and teens with learning disabilities, are confusing and unfairly alienating writers who are struggling to just “Tell the D*** story as well as they can” and that educators/parents/writers are unintentionally adding fuel to the fire that can seem condescending to the non-parent writers?
Kelly: When I taught middle school, I made sure my classroom library had books for different levels of readers. There are plenty of books out there, and I think everyone can find something that suits them. Like I said earlier, when I’m writing, I focus on telling the story I need to tell and staying true to the characters. Does that mean my books won’t be for everyone? Yes. But what book is?

Me: You don’t ever have to convince me of that!

As a mom, do you feel your approach to your writing, or feelings about books in general, differ from non-parent writers, like me? If not, do you see other parent/writers you know, or if you do, in what ways?
Kelly: Being a mom did have an effect on me, but probably not how you’re thinking. I never intended to write picture books. But my daughter asked me to, and how could I say no. I actually find it difficult to read some books because I can’t bear to think of kids being tortured in some ways that they are in popular series out there. But I still give kudos to the author for being so popular and writing a great story—even if it’s not for me.

Do you think some parents and teachers forget how things feels from the prospective of the kids and teens they themselves once were, the ones they’re trying to help? Do you think that hinders their ability to reach them? Have you experienced this yourself or with your daughter?

Kelly: I love kids and I have fond memories of every age. That really helps me remember what it was like and how I felt. I related to my students and gave them credit for getting through their teen years, because they’re tough. Do some people lose sight of that? Probably. But I try to stay in tune with my inner teen as much as possible.

11. Are there writers you love reading, but have no desire to write in their genre? Who are they?
Kelly: Like I said earlier, I can’t see myself writing easy reader books or even early chapter books, so I give those authors a lot of credit. The idea of writing those books terrifies me.

12. Any writers you love reading, but find it hard to write in their genre, but strive to one day?
Kelly: I have yet to write a contemporary novel. I think I’d like to one day. Maureen Johnson is a great contemporary author.

Okay, time for the fun questions-

What’s one pet you wish you could’ve had as a kid if space, parents, and money were no object?
Kelly: An iguana. I’ve always wanted one.

What kind of pet would your daughter love to have if space, money, or you (You’re the parent now!) weren’t an issue?

Kelly: I’d have to say a small dog. She loves them, but my husband and I are big dog people.

If you could spend the day with any writer you admire, living or dead, what would you do? What would you like to ask? What would you thank him or her for writing?

Kelly: Rick Riordan hands down. I LOVE the Percy Jackson series. I would pick Rick’s brain and ask him to tour some of the places in those books with me. I’d have to thank him for helping me find my voice. That really happened after I read the Percy Jackson books. Something in me just clicked.

What book you read and loved as an adult that would make the kid you think, “What kind of “nutty” grownup did I become to like that book?” 
Kelly: LOL. I really don’t read adult books much! Um, okay I’ll say The DA Vinci Code because I did find some of the descriptions disturbing. The teen in me would’ve been very turned off by them.

Me: Thanks for stopping by, Kelly, I wish you continued success and well wishes for your family.

Kelly: Thanks for having me, Taurean!

Find out more about Kelly at her sites below- (Picture books and early blogging years) (Her new main blog, focusing on MG and YA related books and topics of discussion) 

Thanks again to Kelly Hashway for giving this interview.

Until next time, this has been Critter Chat!

Blog Changes

Today I have both good news and bad news.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way, T.A.A. will be sparse on updates for the rest of the month. Don’t worry, I’m not going dark again, but things are picking up slowly on the non-blog writing front, and I don’t want to jinx it.

Also, I’m reworking how I update on the blog so daily posts will be shorter, and longer content will be features, so no matter how much or little time you have, they’ll be something worth reading around here, and as early followers of T.A.A. know, brevity’s not my best thing at the best of times, but it’s important to me I get better at this, and for those of you time-starved folks out there, I take you seriously, maybe to a fault sometimes, but I do, and I think T.A.A. will be grow and be better for it.

The good news, is that I’ve got my first interview for you, as part of a new feature on T.A.A. that I call, “Critter Chat.”

Stand by for the next post,

Does Your Story "Choose" YOU?

What I mean by that is: have you ever had the experience where you wrote a story that was “handed to you” opposed to something you had in mind? When I say this, I don’t nessecarly mean you get the fully formed story and you can draft it in months or a week, as opposed to many years, even decades.

I’m talking about stories that may hit too close to home for the writer, but they just had to write it, no matter what, and whether or not they publish it, it seemed to help them in some way.

I often hear writers talk about this serendipitous, impossible to explain experience of a story they need to write, but normally wouldn’t, or even didn’t want to write/enjoy writing, but later saw it was worth it.

While I feel less down on myself to hear writers, especially those farther in their careers than myself at present, admit to this, I personally have not found this experience either helpful or enlightening, and maybe that comes from my impatient and stubborn nature.

I feel like a hypocrite for saying this, but I feel conflicted with this issue, and as someone who strives to be less restrictive with what I write, I struggle with being free in my writing, because most of the time, it’s led to my biggest flops, and no amount of editing will fix it.

I know about living with a mental illness.

I know about living with a parent with a mental illness.

I’m not in denial about either of these things. But I don’t want to write about it.

Not as fiction.
Not as nonfiction.
I just don’t want to go there.

Even if I did, the distance needed to not just be a tedious rant is nonexistent.

I’ve often heard writers say that sometimes what you don’t want to write is what you need to write, and I’m not talking query letters (They go without saying!) but writing stories about topics or subjects you either are too afraid to write, or simply don’t want to write because they can hit too close to home, or your angst/depression/rage towards the issue(s) involved with personal experiences in certain topics cloud your ability to write (and rewrite, yuck!) the best story you can, instead of a one-sided rant, and we get enough of that from “reality” television as it is, and if you don’t want to be part of that world, and I sure don’t, why add to it?

I’d LOVE to hear other sides to this topic. Please share your experiences of instinct and happenstance in the comments below.

I’d like to think I’m not alone, but sometimes I wonder, I think my old critique group friends are braver than I am in this regard, or they just hide their mixed feelings so well I’d never know.

Until next time,