Kendall Kulper writes historical fiction with a fantasy twist for teen readers and knows more about nineteenth century whaling than she ever imagined. Her debut YA novel, SALT & STORM was published by Little, Brown. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in history and literature in 2008 and spent several years as a journalist before deciding to write full-time. She grew up in the wilds of New Jersey and now lives in Boston with her husband and chronically-anxious Australian Shepherd mix, Abby.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
There are so many challenging parts to writing, but one that I’ve dealt with lately is keeping my head clear from outside voices and opinions. For example, I don’t really read my reviews, good or bad. I trust certain people’s opinions about my writing—my editor and my agent, my beta readers and critique partners—but otherwise I find it really hard to trust my own instincts when I’m constantly wondering what other people will think.
Henry: Yes, they say that the only thing more perilous than reading reviews of one’s books is responding online to those reviews. That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
I think writers tend to be observers and tend to think about things from many different angles. Writing really encourages empathy, because the whole process of writing requires you putting yourself in a stranger’s situation and imagining a completely different perspective from your own. I try to take that point of view and carry it into my daily life, and, I hope, it’s made me a more empathetic and caring person.
Henry: Wait, my picture books can be from the perspective of someone other than myself!? ☺ I agree that writing makes us more sensitive to universal truths.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
The “I’m doing this for a book” excuse has taken me on some really wonderful adventures, and my favorite so far was a research trip I did out to Arizona. I’ve long wanted to write a Western and sort of randomly decided to go to Arizona to check out the geography and history, and I am so happy I did—within a week we drove from 90-degree desert border towns to 30-degree mountain forests and finished with a few days hiking in the Grand Canyon. It’s something I never would have done had I not thought about writing a Western, and because I was book researching, I paid so much more attention than I otherwise would have to the sights, sounds, smells, and feeling of the places we visited.
Henry: That gives me an idea. I shall now go research a picture book about vacationing in Monte Carlo. Thanks, Kendall!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read, of course. Read everything and anything you can get your hands on, and try to read it not as a reader but a writer: ask yourself what works and why and what doesn’t work and why. Try to pay attention to what things about reading that you love and put that passion into your writing. It doesn’t always feel fun, but if it’s not satisfying, you’re doing something wrong.
Henry: A lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten, and an author is the product of all the books they’ve read.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
If we’re talking writing quotes, I love this one by John Cleese: “This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.” It’s a nice reminder that the best ideas can come when you let your brain rest, relax, and play.
Henry: Well, if we’re doing John Cleese quotes, then I must add “It’s just a flesh wound!”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I definitely need to be in a very specific mind space. I like to wake up, have some tea, read the papers, do the crossword, and sort of ease into writing. My brain has to wake up and focus on other things first before I can even think about writing.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would have the power to instantly teleport anywhere in the world, so I could visit all my far-flung friends and family any time I wanted.
Henry: Nice. Teleporting: the greenest of transportation modalities.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Well, right now I’m busy with my newborn, so sleep is my number one non-writing priority. But when the baby is occupied, some of my favorite things to do are go running with my dog and cook up multi-course meals—they’re both great ways to unwind, especially when my brain is all turned around from thinking about my novel!
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.