Kristin Halbrook is the author of the upcoming young adult novel Nobody But Us. A self-described gregarious goofball, Kristin lives in Seattle and when not writing, enjoys cooking, coffee, and the NFL.
Thanks for talking with us, Kristin! Could you tell us 5 random facts about yourself?
To begin, I want to thank Michal and Hypable for having me on the site. It’s a great privilege to chat with you!
1. I play the violin and I sing. In 2013, I’ll start doing open mics with a friend. What I always wanted to do, though, was play bass guitar. It’s sexy.
2. After about two weeks of straight sunshine, I start wondering: Where’s the rain???
3. I started a forcible ban on buying new crafting paper two years ago and I’m still not in danger of running out anytime soon. (I may have cheated once or twice.)
4. Every time Sherman Alexie is scheduled to speak here in Seattle, I promise myself I’ll go. And then I chicken out. I mean, if I met him face to face, WHAT WOULD I SAY? Nothing. That’s what I would say. I would freeze in an awkward, fangirl pose and make a fool of myself.
5. I have very little patience. It’s basically non-existent. Except when it comes to movies. All my favorite movies are the ones no one else has the patience to sit through.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
Like many authors, writing was something I wanted to do since before I could walk. But I was also success-driven and being successful at writing is a tall order. So I did other things, for a time, before I came to a point in my life when I’d come to terms with my own ideas and definitions of success. And those ideas included writing which, when I stripped away the layers of everything else in my life, was what I really wanted to do. So I began writing adult upmarket fiction. I enjoyed it, but it was very personal and probably not very good. After that, I attempted some terrible YA until, several story ideas later, I found my voice. Coming into a place that felt authentic was powerful and inspiring and I’ve been able to broaden my voice as I’ve learned more and more about the kind of writer I am. Anyway, I went about querying my project until one agent passed it along to my now agent and the rest is history.
What has surprised you about writing and publishing?
What surprises, and pleases, me is that I never stop growing. Every new project is a chance to learn something new and expand my own boundaries and limitations. And every publishing colleague, new and old, has something wonderful to teach me, or some wonderful way to push me out of my comfort zone and make what I’m doing better. Publishing really is a nurturing, collaborative experience.
Why do you feel drawn to the stories you write?
As anyone who knows me personally will tell you, I always have something to say on any given topic. I’ve become a better listener as I’ve gotten older, but discourse is, for me, a fantastic way to spend my time. I love learning and I love sharing knowledge. I think, in some ways, the stories that I write are an extension of that love of sharing ideas. I hope my books are an entertaining read, so to speak, but I also hope readers feel compelled to think about what the books say–and don’t say. I’ve always been impressed by how intelligent and observant YA readers are and so part of the reason I write the stories I do is an attempt to engage their sensibilities in a meaningful way. Having said all that, I also like writing quips and kissing and teasing and all the fun stuff, too.
At what point in the development of an idea do you know that it will become a full-length novel?
I am foolhardy and confident enough to believe that every idea I have, even at the “can barely describe in a coherent sentence” stage has the potential to become a full-length novel. What it all comes down to is time. Of which, I have limited, like everyone else. So I file my ideas away, where they percolate in the back of my mind for ages until I can address them. At this point, I’m certain I will be writing until I’m 217 or so. The strongest or most timely ideas are the ones that get immediate priority. I usually have 3-4 projects in the active development stage at a time.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
The toughest criticisms are always the things I can’t clearly see how to change. I don’t mind criticism. I appreciate readers taking the time to talk about my work–indifference is worse. And I can usually distance myself enough from my work to see where the person critiquing is coming from. But there are times, even when I can see where they’re coming from, that I can’t quite see how to fix the issue. That gets frustrating because I’m very open to improving myself, but I prefer knowing how to do so quickly. My agent, who is a fabulous reader, sometimes points things out that I agree with, but find tough to implement. Usually, these issues have to do with pacing or worldbuilding. But I’m working on it!
What has been the best compliment?
Every compliment humbles me. Truly. It means the world to me that I can make an impact on someone’s reading. With Nobody But Us, specifically, the compliments that are the best are the ones that speak to how distinct the two points of view in the story are because I learned a great deal about voice and POV during the process of writing that book and it’s a wonderful, gratifying feeling to know that hard work paid off.
Where’s your favorite place to write?
I tend to revise at my office desk. I often draft on the couch. I do both at my neighborhood cafe. They have yummy espresso and play great music.
Do you most relate to your main characters, or to secondary characters?
I have more connection with my main characters and I think it shows in how small my casts tend to be. I like to focus on one or two characters and really dig into who they are and what their motivations are for what they do. My secondary characters are often drawn to support the main characters’ journey, initially, before taking on a distinctness of their own. In one of my current projects, I’m finding this approach interesting as the secondary characters have begun to really grow and reveal that they have their own stories to tell.
How do you approach writing villains or antagonists?
Oh, I love a good villain or antagonist. My favorites are the ones that are difficult to identify as a classic villain or, at the very least, are so well-drawn that I can sympathize with their motives and/or actions. I try to make my own antagonists surprising: human, deep, potentially unreliably narrated by the main characters. Fundamentally, I don’t subscribe to a good vs. evil concept in my life and the world around me, so my antagonists don’t come from that place. They come from a place where misunderstandings run rampant, where mistakes happen, where potential to do what is beneficial to society, to the story, is always abundant, where right and wrong is different for everyone, where nuance reins.
What is your favorite chapter or scene you’ve written recently?
Telling that would be too spoilery! I can say that I’ve had fun recently writing creepy, gothic library scenes in one project. And also sexy, misty-atmosphere gothic scenes. They’re a departure from what I usually write, but no less entertaining.
Which is easier to write: The first line or the last line?
The first. Even if it sometimes changes, crafting that first line is my favorite. I love finding the right words to introduce the reader to my story.
Which one YA novel do you wish you had when you were a teen?
I honestly can’t think of one. I think modern YA has an incredible pool of talented writers and groundbreaking books and I love reading them. But I don’t feel that my reading, as a teen, suffered in any way. I read fluff and I read the classics. I read fiction and non-fiction. I read to be entertained and I read to be informed. Books make me think and books made me laugh and, sometimes, they made me do both. I have always had a rich reading experience, and continue to do so.
Do you have things you need in order to write? (i.e. coffee, cupcakes, music?)
My laptop or paper and pencil are helpful. :) But other than that, I have no requirements. I like having a beverage close at hand, but that varies with my mood. Gummy candies are nice too, but usually I reserve those for editing stages.
What are you working on now?
Lots of things! My next contemporary YA. A middle grade with magical realism aspects. A gothic/horror/fantasy YA based on an old French tale. Contemporary YA short stories with travel and romance themes. Another YA contemporary with dual POVs and poetry. The very beginning building blocks of a YA epic fantasy. Brainstorming another magical middle grade. So many ideas, so little time!