Monday, September 12, 2016

Happy Pub Day!

Yay!  Today is the pub day for Kristin Bartley Lenz's amaaazing YA debut, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO!  It tells the story of teenage competitive climber Cara Jenkins and what happens after her parents and their best friend experience tragedy on an Ecuadorian mountaintop and Cara is sent to her grandparents in Detroit while her parents pick up the pieces.  I just love this book and am so excited about it because it won the 2015 Helen Sheehan Prize and has been getting some great reviews in Publishers WeeklyKirkus and SLJ, along with being a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2016.  So without further ado, here is Kristin's pub day interview!

For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.

I’ve been an avid reader and writer since childhood, but somewhere in my teen and college years I lost confidence in my writing. I pursued a career in psychology and social work instead, and while this was a detour on my writing path, it greatly expanded my worldview. I returned to writing years later when I realized I was nearly the only social worker in existence who enjoyed paperwork! The favorite part of my work day was when I could hunker down in my office and write; essentially I was writing stories in the form of assessment reports, treatment plans, and progress notes. And I began to remember my dream of being a writer. Finally, I had something to say, inspired by the resilience of the children and teens and families that I worked with.

What was your inspiration for writing this book? 

When my husband and I moved from Michigan to Georgia and then California, we became rock-climbing weekend warriors, and we followed the adventures of well-known mountaineers. One by one, these climbers died on epic accents or due to tragic accidents, leaving behind spouses and children. I began to wonder what it would be like to be the child of a professional mountaineer. How would her upbringing be different? And what if both of her parents were extreme mountaineers, not just one. How would this shape her world?

Kirkus said of the main character, "Cara is an appealing, engaging narrator. Surrounded by a well-rounded cast, Cara's journey toward a peaceful, fulfilling life is almost perfectly depicted. A compelling, unusual coming-of-age story."  How did you develop Cara as a character...was she based on anyone you knew?

Cara wasn’t based on anyone I knew, but I was able to incorporate some of my own rock climbing experience. In the climbing world, there’s a bit of a divide between traditionalists who climb outside on real rock and new climbers who have only known climbing in a gym. I imagined Cara straddling these two worlds and the conflicts this would create for her. I was also writing her story not long after I made my own move from California to Detroit. The reasons for my move were very different than Cara’s, but I’m sure I expressed some of my own emotions through her.

What was your road to publication like?

Very, very long! The first draft of this story was written ten years ago. It was rejected, revised, shelved, and rewritten repeatedly until it finally connected with an editor who shared my vision.

What part of the publication process has been the most interesting? What part has been the hardest or the most surprising?

The editing process was the most interesting, hardest, and surprising all at the same time. I grew so much as a writer from working with my editor, Jotham Burello. The work was intensive for 3-4 months, and he pushed me to dig deeper to more fully develop each of my characters and show emotions. He even encouraged me to do journaling exercises that I had usually avoided on my own.

I was hesitant to go with a small press because NY had been my goal for so many years, but Elephant Rock Books had a great record of publishing well-reviewed and award- winning books. They nurtured my novel through every stage from editing to design to marketing and maintained weekly communication with me throughout the entire process. My book needs to stand on its own, but they set the stage for a successful launch. I’d do it all over again with my next novel, but ERB will be looking for their next Sheehan Prize winner in 2017.

What is some exciting promotion you've done for the book?  Anything upcoming we should be keeping our eyes or ears out for?

It’s been wonderful to connect with so many enthusiastic readers/bloggers through the blog tour my publisher organized, and it was an honor when my book was chosen as a Fall 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection. But most exciting (and nerve-wracking) was the invitation to present on a panel at the upcoming ALAN/NCTE ( conference in Atlanta in November. I had a fangirl freak out moment when I saw the line-up of YA authors that I admire: A.S. King, Laurie Halse Anderson, Sara Zarr, Matt de la Pena… and then me! I’ll be the newbie debut author on a panel about death and grieving in young adult literature with Tim Federle, Adam Silvera, and Len Vlahos. Eeep!

Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences?

My publishing journey has been full of detours. Some of them were disappointing and felt like huge setbacks at the time, but I was ultimately diverted onto some wonderfully surprising paths. The keys for me have been persistence, adjusting course as needed (sometimes this simply means revising your manuscript, again), and immersing myself in a supportive network of writers where we grow and contribute to each other’s success.

Now fun question!  If these books were turned into a movie who would you cast to play the main characters?

I’m so lame—I can’t seem to keep up with TV or movies anymore! I don’t know how people do it. When I have free time, I’d rather linger over dinner with my family/friends, take a walk with my puppy, and read a book from my ever-growing pile. 