Written by Sarah Yoon
Though everyone would like to just claim their successes, the difficulties are just as important. It has been a long journey for Kelly Thompson, a Manhattan author who writes for Comic Book Resources and Lit Reactor. With a bucket-load of perseverance, Kelly has carved a niche platform for her debut novel The Girl Who Would Be King and her new release Storykiller, which is currently on Kickstarter. On the Kickstarter page, learn more about her project through the video, which shares her publishing journey and the beautiful illustrations that accompany her writing.
What first made you want to be a writer?
You know, I wanted to be a writer from such an early age that I don’t know what the original reason was. One of my childhood memories is writing a series of books about mermaids, and then assembling them with die-cut construction paper covers—so even then it wasn’t just about writing, but about “publishing.” I think probably the desire to write had to do with being a creative kid that liked fantasy and escape, and wanting to create something in general and not being a strong enough artist that I was ever going to have a shot at being a professional artist. So writing it was!
Could you share your journey from that point to now? How have you changed and grown?
I’m very slow to come around to things. So even though I was making those die-cut mermaid books at the age of six, it took me until about thirty to finish my first novel (which needed a ton of work before it would be ready for publication). It took even longer to find an agent, even longer to pull together a publishable version of my book, and then even longer to decide I didn’t have to wait for publishing to be ready for me—that I could do it on my own. But between six and thirty, though I wish I hadn’t taken QUITE so winding a road, there was a lot of beautiful stuff to see. Most notably I fell in love with comics. And quite frankly, it’s my love of comics, education in comics, and critical writing about comics that made my success on Kickstarter possible, thanks to the platform I built up before heading to Kickstarter. Not to mention all the incredible artist connections I’ve made that have ensured that both Storykiller and The Girl Who Would Be King had the best possible illustration work. So even though it took me longer than I would have liked, the journey certainly shaped not only the way in which I was able to publish, but what kind of books I wanted to publish—i.e. TGWWBK is a superhero novel of sorts.
What encouragements helped you along and what discouragements did you face?
I think both the audience that I built up as well as incredibly supportive colleagues really helped encourage me, a superb writing group, and of course my agent and manager, people who believe in me even when others don’t get it. Good friends and family are critical, of course.
I think the primary discouragement I’ve had to deal with is just traditional publishing not quite being able to find a place for me. It seems like I’m always just outside what they need/want/are okay with. The Girl Who Would Be King was too violent and not “YA enough” for traditional publishing. Storykiller, which I wrote deliberately in a way that I hoped would be a bit more commercial and marketable, seemed to come just a bit too late for traditional publishing’s timeline to catch the “Fairytale re-imaginings” wave (though I would argue that Storykiller is much more than that).
And it’s not unfair for publishing to feel any of those things. They are right that TGWWBK IS a bit too violent for typical YA, and it’s non-traditional in that my heroines weren’t in high school—they really skated the line of being that right age that YA books like to see. They’re not wrong about Storykiller either. A book sold to traditional publishing today takes at minimum a year to get released—more realistically eighteen months to two years. So they see a push for a certain kind of story (like Fairytale “re-imaginings”) in bookstores, on TV, in theaters and they don’t know whether that trend will still be going in two years. But by publishing myself, I can have the book out in months, not years.
What do you want to tell the world through your stories?
I don’t think I have a specific message. Like any writer I have themes that appeal to me and I find myself exploring repeatedly. I’m very interested in fate and destiny as concepts, if they exist, how you can fight them, if fighting them is futile. I’m interested in nurture vs. nature as concepts as well as privilege (but that all ties back to fate a bit, doesn’t it?) I’m very interested in stories of female power in both obvious and more subtle ways. But at the end of the day I think I’m just mostly interested in falling in love with characters. I love to do it in other writer’s work, and nothing gives me greater joy as a creator than seeing people fall in love with my characters. Of course, I’m already getting a reputation or killing some of them—so attach with caution!
If a writer started complaining in front of you about having trouble promoting herself, what would you say to her?
Probably just nod in hopeless agreement. It is a tough, tough never ending job and you feel like a narcissistic jerk a lot of the time. It’s this necessary evil promoting yourself because you simply cannot expect people to find you on their own, it’s just not how it works. I would say one of the only ways to keep it going AND to feel like less of a narcissistic jerk is to give back whenever you can. There are so many artists (writers and beyond) trying to promote themselves, and many of them are worthy, so make sure to give back. You may be deserving of attention, but so are many others. And that’s about all you can do.
Stick around for Part 2 of our interview with Kelly Thompson, where she shares her experience with Kickstarter and advice to aspiring authors! Follow Kelly’s Twitter or blog to learn more about her creative projects and publications.