Monday, June 13, 2011

Partner on the Path--Kristen Lippert-Martin

When Kristen won the 2010 SCBWI WIP Grant for a Contemporary Novel, I contacted her to offer my congratulations. Little did I know that I had reached out to someone who would consistently make me double over in laughter. This is no easy feat (I have a pitifully marginal sense of humor).

Kristen is the partner on the path who will have you peeing your pants, but you will never regret taking her with you.

Just come prepared.

What sort of books do you write?
I write reality-based science fiction/fantasy for young adults. The setting is recognizably our world, with a fantastic or science-based twist introduced. Think something like E.T., where the humdrum ordinary is overtaken by some amazing happening. My first YA novel was inspired by string theory and the idea of multiverses.

What resources have you found most helpful on your writing path?
OMG. The blessed Internet. I know that’s so expansive as to sound silly, but you have to understand, I got my MFA in 1996, and when I graduated and tried to get my first novel published, there were, like, zero online resources for writers. My first experience with queries was doing them via snail mail. I think messages in bottles launched from the Aleutian Islands got faster and better responses.
After a couple disappointing close calls with agents, I took five years off from writing, from 2003 to 2008. My kids were young, and I was too tuckered out to even think about writing, plus I was completely defeated and isolated and what can I say? I figured it wasn’t meant to be or it woulda been by now. When I finally had two molecules of energy and time to rub together again, I thought about getting back into writing, and by then, the whole world had changed. There were message boards and forums and BLOGS! Reading about other people’s experiences – just how much rejection they dealt with before finally getting that first big break -- made me realize that I’d given up way too soon. I had to keep trying.

What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve experienced along the way?
Two things: getting an agent and winning the SCBWI Work-in-Progress grant last year. 2010 was a big year for me!

Favorite children’s books? Authors?
I don’t mind saying the Harry Potter series. I love it! If I could write anything that brought someone one-tenth the joy that book series gave me, I’d consider myself lucky. I also love Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, Francisco Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World, and Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me.
As for the classics, the last paragraph of George Eliot’s Middlemarch sums up why I push this writing rock up the hill over and over again. It’s possibly the greatest paragraph in English literature.

What keeps you going when you feel like giving up?
Sometimes it’s something as small as a kindly blog comment. Mostly it’s the acceptance that I write because I can’t not write, so I might as well stop whining about how hard it is and just get on with it.

If you could choose to live any place on the planet, where would it be?
There was a time in my life when I would have answered, “New York City, baby!” But you know, I really dig where I live right now -- lovely Arlington, Virginia.

Describe your fantasy writing space?
An impenetrable concrete bunker of the sort favored by despots and terrorists hiding out from Allied war planes. Four-feet thick walls! No windows! No phone or internet! Beautiful!

What obstacles have you overcome in order to keep writing?
Fear, despair, hopelessness. The feeling that I’m wasting my time, shouldn’t be bothering, am making a fool of myself, etc. The statement, “People like me don’t become successful novelists” still runs through my head fairly regularly.

What one word describes your writing process?
Loose. Kind of an odd word maybe, but that’s what sprang to mind. I have to stay loose. Let my mind wander, let myself have fun while I’m writing. One of my guiding principles is, “If I’m not having fun writing it, no one will have fun reading it.”

What do you appreciate the most about being part of the children’s writers community?
Everyone is so dang nice and encouraging. Some of the bulletin boards for writers in other genres – yikes! Those folks can be mighty cranky. Writing about young people keeps you youthful and fun, I guess.

Best writing advice you’ve been given?
“Everything must serve the story.” Simple but often painful advice to follow because doing so often means cutting some or all of your favorite lines.

What do you like to keep in mind while drafting a story?
I’m the captain of the ship, and I’ve got to act like it. While it’s true a story can be anything and go anywhere, that much freedom can be counter-productive. Writing is about making choices at every stage but especially early on. You can’t let yourself get overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Chart a course, stay with it.

How will you celebrate the publication of your first book?
Well, you know, there’s a story about that at my blog. In fact, it’s the reason my blog is called “A Rock in My Pocket.” Also I’m thinking I’ll get myself a custom dental grill. Something like this maybe:

Twitter as @KlipMart
Blog at


  1. Love the grill!! Thanks for sharing your journey, Kristen.

  2. Oooooh, great interview! I am likewise smitten with Kristen's humor - can't wait to read your books!!!

  3. Definitely the grill - are those tourmalines or pink sapphires?

  4. "Everything must serve the story..." great advice. :)


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