Kelly Quindlen is an independent writer and filmmaker who lives in Atlanta. She is an alumna of Vanderbilt University, where she studied English Literature and American Studies, and Teach for America, the national teacher corps. She published Her Name in the Sky, a young adult LGBT novel, in January 2014.
In addition to writing young adult fiction, Kelly also collaborates on independent film projects with her sister Kim. Their original web series, The Family Business, will debut in April 2014 (www.twitter.com/tfbwebseries).
What is your writing process?
I start with notebooks. I develop characters, plot lines, and themes by carrying small notebooks around and jotting things down into them whenever I have an idea. I filled up at least seven notebooks with notes for Her Name in the Sky ("HNITS"). One of my favorite things to play around with is character names--it is such a fun process to research names, consider the etymology, and find the instinctive "fit" for a character. I also tend to fixate on timelines--plotting out the course of events both in the long run and day to day. For HNITS, I was borderline obsessed with making sure everything that happened corresponded with the real timeline for 2012, the year the story takes place. I even researched what the weather had been like on particular days of that year. Once I start filling up these notebooks, I then write a few sections of the book. When I first started HNITS--before I even began a full first draft--I wrote several scenes that were very clear in my mind. A scene where Hannah and Baker order pizza on a Friday night (which didn't make the final cut in the finished novel), the scene where Hannah and her friends eat beignets in the senior lounge, the scene in the principal's office toward the end of the book. These scenes give me checkpoints to work towards after I start on the first draft.
I went through many drafts when I wrote HNITS. The first one--written in October 2012, six months after I had started filling up notebooks--was absolute crap. Terrible writing, shallow characterization, lack of subtlety. But that's how everything has to start! By the time I got to Draft 3, I was ready to show my sister Kim. She read everything I sent her and came back with very keen notes on the characterization and plot. She was most helpful with challenging me to fully flesh out the characters. By the time I finished the novel in January 2014, I had written six or seven drafts. Each one became clearer and fuller than the previous one.
Writing is hard. It's so easy to avoid it by telling yourself that you're not in the mood, or that your time is better spent researching names and details. But one thing I learned while writing HNITS is that writing is a job just like any other: it requires discipline and commitment. You have to sit yourself down at the computer each day and produce something new, even if it is only one sentence. As Isabel Allende said, "Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too."
To make the task of writing a bit easier, I focus on how much time I spend writing rather than how many words I write. Sometimes I have to motivate myself by saying, "Just write for 15 minutes!", and usually I'll end up writing for longer than that. On a good day, I'll write for three to four hours. Getting started every day is the hardest part!
How do you approach cover design?
When I realized I wanted to publish Her Name in the Sky, I instantly knew I wanted my friend Eric Ehrnschwender to design the cover. I don't remember considering any other option. Eric is a brilliant, innovative artist who lives and breathes creativity. Every piece of art he creates is filled with layers of meaning and metaphor. When we were seniors in college, Eric won Vanderbilt's prized Hamblet Award, a scholarship of $25,000, which he eventually used to study art in Iceland. That's how damn talented he is!
I met with Eric in October 2013 to ask him about creating the cover art. He read a draft of the book (I believe it was Draft 4 or 5) and agreed. (He also gave me some great feedback and suggestions about the content of the story.) A few days later, he sent me a rough draft of the cover. It was amazing. Unique, deep with meaning, and inseparable from Hannah and Baker's story. Eric revised it over the next couple of months, and the final result is what you see as the current cover. I am absolutely thrilled with it.
Eric is now working on creating prints of the cover art for anyone who would like a larger copy. The prints will be for sale in his online store soon. (Check my website for links to Eric's store--he has an amazing collection of original pieces.)
Seventeen-year-old Hannah wants to spend her senior year of high school going to football games and Mardi Gras parties. She wants to drive along the oak-lined streets of Louisiana and lie on the hot sand of Florida's beaches. She wants to spend every night making memories with her friends. The last thing she wants is to fall in love with a girl--especially when that girl is her best friend, Baker.