Today I welcome to the blog, the interesting and diverse self-published fiction author, Kendra L. Saunders. Her debut adult novel, Inanimate Objects is about magic realism. Thank you for stopping by, Kendra, and sharing your journey to self-publication with all of us today.
I always like to start with a little background, where were you born?
A: I was born in a tiny town in east Texas! We weren’t there long, though, and until I was ten, we lived outside of Dallas/Ft. Worth.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
A: About 6, I think. I never had any other big dreams. In first grade, for Halloween we were supposed to dress up as what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wore a skirt and dressy shirt and carried my dad’s briefcase, because I thought that’s what writers did!
How long does it take you to write a book? What is the average word count?
A: It varies. I can write a first draft of good size in 3 months when I’m really concentrating and enjoying the storyline. Inanimate Objects took me 4 years from idea to last draft, though, because I overhauled it several times and had a lot of personal problems during that period of time.
Do you have a critique partner(s)?
A: Kind of. My friend Kate is a writer and she’s very wise and she went to film school, so she knows stuff I don’t know. We’re a good balance with each other but she’s the one I turn to when I need some hard advice because she’ll tell me “did you already do a scene like that? Kendra. Kill it.” But that’s more because she’s awesome than because she’s my go-to critique guy.
Do you ever use beta readers?
Do you ever use beta readers?
A: My best friend reads almost everything I write. I don’t know why or how she does that for me, but she’s my greatest cheerleader and I bounce a lot of the little details off her. We talk about the characters like they’re real people and have long gossipy conversations about them. It’s awesome.
Did you hire a professional freelance editor before submitting to agents or editors (or self-publishing)?
A: No, but my friend Janice has been a longtime editor and muse for me, because she’s so good at grabbing small details and tweaking them until they’re better. She knows my writing better than I know it myself, when it comes to editing. Not just nitpicky things… one time she told me that a character shouldn’t look all glowing and attractive in this one scene, so I said he had a bunch of leaves in his hair and grass stains on his clothes and lo and behold, the whole scene made more sense. She’s so good at that. She looks at almost all of my stuff before I send it into the world.
How long did it take you to get an agent or publisher when you were starting out?
A: I self-published Inanimate Objects, but only after several publishers had written personal notes back saying that they liked it and just couldn’t take it on because it wasn’t the style of book they were looking for at the time.
What was one of the most shocking things you learned during on your journey to self-publication?
A: Shocking? The most shocking thing was that someone who I’d always thought understood my passion for writing revealed that after knowing me for 10+ years, they thought writing was a hobby for me, like writing in a journal. That was shocking. I don’t know how many people might think that of their writer friends, but it’s such a painful and crushing thing to discover for the writer in question. We write to, as my character said, “Exorcise the evil soul”, but also with the hope that we can make a living off of our writing and perhaps afford to write for the rest of our lives.
Were there any major revisions to your debut novel before you self-published it?
A: Yes! I actually rewrote the entire thing, start to finish, four times. It was excruciating. I just couldn’t get it right and wouldn’t give up until it was what it should be. But in the end, I was so thankful to have stuck it out.
Tell us about your book. How was your story birthed?
A: The idea came from a dream I had of Chris Martin (yes, the one from Coldplay) standing at a funeral scene and leaning against a tree, looking rather sour and disappointed that he didn’t know the person being buried.
What was your motivation for this story?
A: My motivation for Inanimate Objects was to write a story with that title (isn’t it a great title?) in the vein of Neil Gaiman or Ray Bradbury, to find out why the man in my dream was at a funeral and, later, to answer my own very deep and troubling questions of mortality and immortality in life and art.
Who came up with your book title? Was it the original title or did it change along the way?
A: I remember thinking that Neil Gaiman should have a book called Inanimate Objects. I tried to picture what such a book would be like- dark, funny, English, etc. So after a while I realized it was a bit silly to sit around waiting for Neil Gaiman to write this book, so I decided to write it myself!
What's your secret to crafting characters?
A: Characters are anchored in the author and created through empathy. Drawing from your own personal experiences- especially the painful or frightening ones- is the best way to empathize with your character. Empathy is the most important part of writing a person. Taking time to sift through their past is important too. Look for the moments that stand out to them as hurtful or embarrassing. I studied psychology and communications during my high school years because I’ve always been fascinated by humanity and all of its faults. It helped me to ask the questions that need to be asked. Do you know what the most embarrassing moment of your best friend’s life is? Do you know the accomplishment they feel most proud of? If you knew those things, you’d know more about your best friend than you ever expected. Same with your characters. And practicing empathy will help you reach into them and find their souls.
How do you come up with your character's names?
A: I have about 6 baby name books in my house, actually, most of them bought at yard sales or used book shops. But I’m a bit of a name-hoarder, so if I hear a name I like, I write it down. Some favorites right now are Victor, Hayden, Bowie, Thom and Lillian.
If your book were to be turned into a movie, what would your dream cast be for the top five main characters?
A: You know, of all of the people I’ve ever seen who looked like Leo and could play him perfectly, Chris Corner from the band IAMX (and before that, Sneaker Pimps) is the most perfect, but he’s about a decade older than Leo. Ricky, the cover model, is the perfect age and has the look down perfectly, but he swears he can’t fake an English accent! I’m working with him on a silent short film concept, though, and he’ll certainly be Leo for that. Other than that, Chris Martin for Elisha, Tilda Swinton as Matilda August, Anne Hathaway as Helena Bondi, and Hugh Laurie as Jeremiah August!
Which is more difficult to write: dialogue or action (or a love scene)?
A: Action scenes are the most difficult for me, by far. I don’t have any experience with action or love, but at least with love I can work my way around it by injecting humor and sarcasm. Action is too much “then this then this”, plus I don’t know what “this” is half the time. Dialogue is easy, because I talk so much. (Maybe I should stop talking so much and get some action instead…?)
How do your family and/or friends feel about your book or writing venture in general?
A: My family has been pretty supportive, though at times I think they didn’t know what to make of it. Now they’re seeing a bit better how it can all pay off. Friends have been generally supportive, though some more than others. The ones that are supportive are complete life and sanity savers, and I can’t ever thank them enough.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
A: I would probably make the ending to my book a bit longer and less happy, but then, maybe it’s good I can’t change it!
Who is your favorite author and what really excites you about their work?
A: Neil Gaiman is my greatest literary hero. I just love his sense of humor and wonder and curiosity. He’s like a little boy who grew up to be a rock star but never stopped wondering who and what was under his bed or breaking color over the skies every night.
Tell us a little about your next book.
A: I’m writing a novel right now called Death and Mr. Right, which is due for submission by November 1st. I have to get cracking! It was inspired by a photo that my friend Luna took of her boyfriend standing outside under a very disturbing, stormy sky. Something about the photo set off all of these questions in my mind. It’s March 32nd, the day that doesn’t officially exist, and diva-like Death has just been exiled into Boston. Can he navigate the modern world, recover what was stolen from him (the names of the damned… ooops) and get his job back? Or will he fall in love with Lola, the pretty thief who got him in this trouble in the first place?
Fun Bonus Questions
What are you currently reading?
A: Jane Eyre and Anomalous by my friend Kate Edler (it’s up for submissions and someone should buy it NOW. Seriously. Tweet me and I’ll get you in touch with her. She and her book are AMAZING)
What’s your favorite movie or TV show?
A: That’s harder than all of the deep questions! I’d say Moulin Rouge, Hot Fuzz, Midnight in Paris, Labyrinth, Phantom of the Opera and Thor. But I know I’ll feel bad later because I left big ones out!
Rejection letters – save ‘em or toss ‘em?
A: If they’re a ‘nice rejection’, keep ‘em! Otherwise, who needs the paper? Get rid of them!
How would you describe yourself in three words?
A: Enthusiastic, melancholy, dreamer. My friend Ricky always describes me as “bubbly” though, so that too!
Laptop or desktop?
Who is your fictional character crush?
A: Right now it’s Michael Fassbender’s movie take on Mr. Rochester, because he’s a bit more human and warm than the book’s Mr. Rochester. Also Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle and bad boy Tom from Anomalous. Oh and Loki. Good Lord, Tom Hiddleston.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
A: I would love to be able to become other people for a short period of time. It would be great to understand their mind, see some of their memories firsthand, puzzle out why they are the way they are. Plus it would be cool to hear what they think of you when you’re not around!
Where potential readers can find Kendra online:
Official Website: http://www.kendralsaunders.com
Twitter name: @kendrybird