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Here’s a little something I wish we could all commit to, right here, right now, no matter how we feel about the outcome of this election. My first peaceful action will be to close out the internet and take a walk outside. When I pay attention, there is such beauty. Life is filled with grace, the most powerful moments often the most ordinary, but so much of the time we’re too busy or overwhelmed to see and appreciate this fact and feel the appropriate awe. Today, I will pull myself from the rabbit hole of the television and internet and focus on the beauty of the here and now. Because when I take my eyes off the screens and actually focus, it changes everything. My life? It’s amazing.
On October 24, Thurber House hosted an event featuring Jodi Picoult. She didn’t want to be interviewed. Rather, she requested to have a conversation with a local author. (How cool is she?!) Thurber House made the perfect choice, inviting Katrina Kittle to sit alongside Jodi onstage. Guests flooded the King Art Complex in Columbus, Ohio, learning what it took for Jodi to brainstorm, research, write, and revise her latest novel, titled SMALL GREAT THINGS. Meeting Jodi was a huge moment for me – I’m a longtime fan and was so flubbed up with emotion, I made a total ass of myself. I think I said something to the effect of, “I love your books. You liked my Tweet!” And just, ugh. The whole thing was cringe-worthy.
But I tried again in an email, because there was something important I need to share.
I’ve always loved reading. So much, in fact, that I’ve dreamed since childhood about becoming a published author. When I had my first child in 2005, I quit a very stable job teaching high school English to be a stay-at-home-mom, and took the leap of faith into fulfilling my passion. And I failed. Miserably. My first manuscript – a suspense/thriller for adults – garnered no interest from agents. Like, none. I was devastated. But I was well aware that the publication game isn’t for the weak of heart. Plus I’m stubborn as hell. So I decided to try again. It was around this time that I picked up Jodi’s latest release, NINETEEN MINUTES. And holy wow, I discovered something very important.
I connected so deeply with the character of Josie that I finally saw what should have been obvious from the beginning. I needed to write about young adults for young adults. That revelation was the beginning of me finding my way. The next manuscript I dove into was a YA and I had so much fun in the world of my new characters, I knew that something important had clicked into place. Sadly, that novel faced rejection as well. But the rejection was nicer, more promising, and came after some serious consideration. So I tried again, because what else was I going to do? Finally, I snagged an agent with my third manuscript. Fast forward to the present day, and I find myself celebrating the recent release of my third novel for young adults, with my fourth title set for publication next summer. I have to think that the ephiphany moment where I realized YA is my thing would have hit at some point, but I love that through Josie, Jodi Picoult helped bring it to light.
I love a good book festival. I mean, Book + Festival = Fun, right? Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, Ohio is one of my favorite annual events. This year was no exception. At least a hundred authors attended. Thousands of book-buyers wandered through the convention center throughout the day. There’s so much to do! Shop, hit panel discussions, drop by the Kids’ Corner and/or Teen Scene.
The Teen Scene had to be my favorite spot. The theme for the day? STRANGER THINGS, which has to be one of the best new shows I’ve watched in a long time. There was also a photo booth! And tons of candy (bonus!). I spent an hour “Speed Dating,” which was such a blast. I also participated in a Lip Synch Battle. It one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this-but-I’m-having-fun-anyway moments that we all have at some point in our lives. Overall, Books by the Banks was such a fantastic day. Meeting new people, especially people who love to read, and talking about books is one of my very favorite things.
I was scrolling through my newsfeed recently and caught an article about gymnast Gabby Douglas. She’s a beautiful example to so many young women in our world—at twenty-years-old, she’s barely out of her teens, yet she’s an Olympic hero. Which means she’s in the limelight. This is a cause for celebration, but it’s also a moment to take cover, because people facing that much publicity will oftentimes also be hit with a wave of judgment and scrutiny. I won’t even get into the comments I’ve read about her physical appearance, how so many people have suggested that she change aspects of her beautiful self. That part is so crazy, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the haters getting worked up over Gabby’s stance on the podium as she stood with her teammates to accept the gold medal in the 2016 all-around competition. But I was surprised. Shocked, even. All of this makes me wonder who we have become as a society, why so many of us are so quick to judge.
Gabby might not have been smiling through every moment of the National Anthem, and she may not have stood at attention with her hand on her heart for the duration, but that young lady deserves respect and honor during one of the greatest moments of her lifetime. None of us—not one—know what was going on in her mind as she stood up on that podium. She was probably exhausted. She was likely overwhelmed. She may have been thinking of someone she’d lost, wishing they were there to see her shine. Her mind was probably in a million different places as she stood alongside her teammates. And none of us will ever understand. We are walking our own individual paths, different from that of Gabby Douglas, and we all need to show some compassion, some loving kindness, and give it a rest.
This is a motto that I’ve tried to live by for years now. I’m human, after all. I judge, too. At times, it’s a gut-level reaction. If I like something, I label it good. If I don’t, it’s bad. The thing about this, though, is that most of us don’t like things that we fear. And we often fear things simply because we don’t fully understand them. This can cause unrest and friction where peace and harmony might exist if only there were a more mindful approach. If those haters in the Twittersphere had calmed their itchy fingers long enough to think—really think—about what it might feel like for Gabby Douglas to stand up on that podium, to consider her youth as well as all that she had gone through to get to that moment, they might have experienced the appropriate reverence and awe.
This line of thinking helped drive the plotline and character development in my latest novel, A Million Times Goodnight. I wanted to showcase a character who was the target of hatred within his community, a character who had been shunned for something only he truly understands, someone who would push my main character to her limits and cause her to look at the world from a whole new perspective.
Hadley Miller’s best friend Penny was killed in a tragic accident just one year ago. On the anniversary of Penny’s death, Hadley goes to The Witches’ Tower to visit Penny’s memorial, and she runs into Josh Lane. Josh is an outcast, shunned by all for his role in Penny’s death. He was the only one present the night she died, which means he’s the only who really knows what happened. Yet everyone blames him. It’s the easiest choice, after all, a nice, tidy ending to a horrific event. Except that nothing’s ever that easy. Josh has secrets. And the story of Penny’s death has more layers than anyone could possibly imagine. As the book progresses, Hadley is forced to learn the true story, as well as face the emotions that arise when she realizes the part she played in the rejection Josh has faced since that fateful night.
So many books offer this type of twist, one in which a reader believes they understand a character, but soon learn they had only been scratching the surface, that there are hidden truths that explain and motivate everything a character thinks, says, and does—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I think of Hannah Baker in Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Kirby Matheson in Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson (and a whole slew of other YA authors), Melinda Sordino in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Margo Roth Spiegelman in Paper Towns by John Green, Auggie Pullman in Wonder by RJ Palacio, and so many others.
This is true in life as well. We only know a person as well as they allow us to know them. And then, we only know them through our own lens, using the one-of-a-kind perspective that we bring to the table based on the collective experiences we, as individuals, have amassed over the course of our lifetime. Something that I label as good could very well be viewed as bad in the eyes of many others. It’s this universal truth that so many of us forget as we walk through our days, interacting with others. Very few things are completely black or white, good or bad, right or wrong.
If it were possible for everyone’s life story to be known and understood in the flash of time that it takes for two people to lock eyes, there wouldn’t be so much hatred in the world. If we really took the time to know one another, we might just understand the things we fear, and then we might offer a compassionate hug instead of barbed words.
As teachers, we prepare many lessons. If we can add just one more—a life lesson about humanity—it would be amazingly powerful. It’s kinda sweet to think that this can be accomplished through the use of books. This won’t require slaving over a new unit, I promise. As you introduce your next class read, simply ask your students to keep track of the judgment they feel for each character. Then ask them to note how those judgments change as they move through the beginning, middle, and end of the book. How did those judgments change as they uncovered the truth of who those characters really are, deep down. Focus a discussion on what motivated the shift in perspective, and how this can be applied to the people who surround them in their every day lives. Through the analysis of a novel, using a fictional character to exemplify the layers that every human is made of, you might just help save a life, a community, or possibly, our world.
My second title, ONE MOMENT, died in 2015. Due to unforeseen events, the book went out of print and has been unavailable to readers ever since. It was one of many sad events that left a whole slew of authors and their books homeless when my former publisher closed doors last year. The good thing about tragedy (and, yes, this felt like a tragedy to most Egmont orphans) is that it leaves room for blessings to take shape. Some of those blessings happen quickly, but others require patience and a whole lot of faith.
I’m terribly excited to finally share the new cover for ONE MOMENT. This book will re-release in January of 2017, proof that new life is possible, and that even after the worst-case scenario plays out, life offers so many reasons to be happy.
Every novel faces a unique journey to publication. My latest title, A MILLION TIMES GOODNIGHT, endured a very rough road. Here’s the story behind the story.
I started the book in 2011, finished in 2012, and celebrated when it was acquired by Egmont USA in 2013. When I received my first editorial letter in 2014, I didn’t flinch about the extensive revisions—I was excited about my editor’s feedback, knowing it would strengthen the story.
I was exhilarated to move through each stage of publication. Revisions flowed well, changes pouring from the tips of my fingers. The cover design was beautiful, a perfect fit. Advance reader copies arrived. The cover was featured on a popular blog. People congratulated me. I was thrilled.
Until it all came to a grinding halt.
One day in January 2015, I received a message that my editor needed to speak with me. Like, now. I knew it was bad. My thoughts swirled as I called her. And then I heard the worst news of all. My book was not happening.
Egmont USA was closing doors and all of the titles scheduled for release after May 2015 were dead. My book was dead. D-E-A-D. And I was devastated. Rights reverted, which was good, but how and when would another sale happen? What revisions would a new editor suggest? There were so many what ifs, so much fear.
So I did the unthinkable. I burned my book. That’s right, I burned it. I tossed an ARC into a bonfire one girl’s night, surrounded by a bunch of my sister friends, and we watched the whole thing go up in smoke. The pages curled into a glowing, fiery, lotus-like flower, beautiful and heart breaking in the same moment.
It sounds sacrilegious, right? An author burning her book? Trust me, it felt sacrilegious. But it was necessary. Healing, even. I needed to give it back—every single word and phrase and sentence, every paragraph and chapter, all of it—back to the universe and God and all of the all that is. It was an offering. A here-take-this-because-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-next moment. It was me letting go and trusting that somehow, everything would fall into place.
And you know what? It worked. Soon after, my editor called my agent. She had a new job at Sky Pony Press and she wanted to talk about my book. An offer was made. A deal was brokered. And everything was in full swing before I could even believe it was happening. The edits were complete (hallelujah!). I was given a new cover that was even more perfect than the original. ARCs arrived. And the deal did not die. The book released on July 5, 2016 and is in stores as I type this closing. I am beyond grateful to see this title hit shelves. But more importantly, I have learned to let go a little, to make decisions with less fear, and to surrender my trust to all of the all that is.
This past summer, my first novel, THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES, was required reading for Beavercreek High School. The entire high school. That’s grades 9-12. I don’t think I need to explain how amazing this was, but just in case, it was very amazing. In addition, I booked a full-day author visit. Which was also amazing. I love working with students, teens especially, and to have a full day to hang with an entire high school full of students who have read my book? Well, it was a dream-come-true moment.
I spent the day in the BHS auditorium, a large and beautiful space that was the perfect setting for my four grade-level assemblies, each of which consisted of an audience in the 650+ range. My main presentation – “How Kristina Learned to Cha-Cha” – outlined my journey to publication as well as some of the nitty-gritty details of the publishing world. I also worked with three smaller groups of young writers, leading a workshop-style analysis of the essential building blocks for any story and plot.
The day was an exhausting whirlwind of people and questions and pictures, but I left feeling energized and motivated, ready to dive in to my next round of edits for THE BAKERSVILLE DOZEN, my fourth novel, a campy suspense/thriller that will release in July of 2017.
Unfortunately, I did not have time to sign 2,500+ books during my one-day BHS visit. But I wanted to offer students the chance to have copies personalized, so I scheduled a nearby event. I’ll be at the Beavercreek Barnes & Noble on Saturday, August 27th, from 2-4 pm. Students may bring in copies of the books they have already purchased. The event is free. No purchase is required, however, my latest title, A MILLION TIMES GOODNIGHT, will also be available.
I want to offer the students, staff, and administration of BHS a huge thank you for making this such a special event.
Little Secret: I can’t start a new book until I have several things in place. First, I need a main character with a name that’s the perfect fit, then I focus on an inciting incident that will spin the character’s life in a new direction, which brings me to an ensuing want/need/desire to help drive the plot forward. Through all of the action, I need a killer setting where all of this will take place.
My first novel, THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES, was inspired by an interview I caught on Oprah, the story of Shawn Hornbeck, who was kidnapped at the age of eleven and returned to his family when he was fifteen. My second novel, ONE MOMENT, was inspired by a heartbreak I suffered when I was in my early twenties, facing the loss of my soon-to-be-stepbrother after a tragic accident took his young life. My third novel, A MILLION TIMES GOODNIGHT, was inspired by several things, but the first, most important driving factor was the setting.
The Witches’ Tower is a pivotal setting throughout the entire book, creating atmosphere and tone, providing an out-of-the-way place for some major action to go down. The coolest thing about The Witches’ Tower? It actually exists. In spite of its many nicknames, The Witches’ Tower is formally known as Patterson Tower, and is located in Kettering, Ohio. The stone tower overlooks Dayton’s Community Golf Course and is the inspiration for many local legends and ghost stories.
One of the coolest moments I had while researching the location took place when I was visiting a novel writing class at Wright State University. An older gentleman in the class raised his hand and confirmed the tragic story of a teenaged girl who had taken shelter in the tower during a powerful storm back in the 1960’s. She leaned against the metal railing that spiraled up to the top of the tower, only to be electrocuted when a streak of lightning hit. I’d found mention of this death on several sites, but didn’t count the event as confirmed until this man shared the story of his childhood–he vividly remembered the story on the front page of the papers he delivered the week of her death. This knowledge only deepened my affection for the character of Penny, a girl I created in my mind who also lost her life at the tower. It’s an eerie place with quite a history, which made The Witches’ Tower the perfect setting to include in A MILLION TIMES GOODNIGHT.
The launch party for my latest title, A MILLION TIMES GOODNIGHT, was hosted by Books & Co at The Greene in Beavercreek, Ohio on August 4, 2016. The store itself is gorgeous, a place that I envisioned myself signing years before I’d ever completed my first novel. I’m so fortunate to work with Sharon Kelly Roth, the events coordinator at Books & Co, who is super kind and supportive and always makes sure things run smoothly. I’m also fortunate to have so many supporters. The crowd that gathered was full of familiar faces, some people I’ve known most of my life, others I’ve just recently met, and yet more who I met for the first time as I signed copies of the book.
As I sit here typing, going over the events of last night, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am thankful for so many things – that this book is finally out, that I have such a strong network of friends and family to cheer me on, that the Dayton area is brimming with so much talent and that the authors in the area are so supportive of one another. I’m thankful for everything–the good, the bad, and the ugly–that brought me to this place in my life, because I really am living my lifelong dream.