This month I am spotlighting author Laekan Zea Kemp. She is the author of several books, including the young adult novel, The Girl in Between. I read and reviewed The Girl in Between for my October book reviews post. The premise of the novel was very intriguing, so I am excited to have her on the blog this month for an interview.
Tell us a little about yourself and your books.
I’ve been writing off and on my entire life but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I realized that I really wanted to be an artist. In the past, I’d written short stories and really terrible poetry but making the decision to major in Creative Writing was the real turning point for me. Now I write stories that champion imperfections and celebrate diversity. Whether it happens on a large profound scale or it’s something that readers only notice in the tiniest of details, I want everyone to come away from my books feeling acknowledged and encouraged. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t shy away from exposing my own imperfections through my characters. The bottom line is that we all share in the same struggles and we all deserve to be celebrated.
What draws you to write young adult fiction?
Initially, I was drawn to characters close to my age and experiences similar to my own but as I’ve matured both as a person and as a writer, I still find myself drawn to that electric energy that makes our teenage years so chaotic and monumental and wild. I experienced a lot of turmoil during my teenage years and now that I’m on the other side of it, I realize how necessary all of that warring really was. Teenagers are just beginning the universal and never-ending task of finding themselves, and if that wasn’t overwhelming enough, they’re doing it in a world that prefers sameness, a world we’ve created for them. I consider writing books about real teenagers with real problems my attempt at reversing the ugliness we’ve created and showing people that we should be valuing each other’s imperfections instead of shaming them.
In The Girl In Between, the main character has a condition called KLS. The condition causes Bryn to have episodes where she sleeps for days at a time. Where did this part of your story originate? Do you have any personal experience with KLS?
I don’t have any personal experience with this disease. In fact, I think I just came across a news article about it one day while I was bored at work and the concept really intrigued me. The more I read about the disease, the more questions I had until I was imagining how suffering from it could change everything about someone’s life. I thought about what kind of person could handle something like that and what they would have to give up. I imagined their caretakers and the people who loved them and initially the story was going to be about just that. I wrote a first draft that was contemporary realistic fiction that focused mainly on Bryn’s relationships with the people around her. But the disease itself was just too mysterious not to explore it further. That’s when I decided to delve into the paranormal genre for the first time.
Since I write and read YA, I’m always looking for new authors to check out. What are some of your favorite young adult authors? Any indies you recommend?
My two favorite YA authors are Maggie Stiefvater and Melina Marchetta. I love writers who can take the most fantastical setting or concept and still ground their characters so firmly in their humanness. My first love was contemporary fiction and even though I’ve developed a love of magical realism and all things paranormal, I still need my stories to be character-driven with an intense focus on relationships. Life is about relationships, the connection we have to our fellow man the most important part of being alive. I love writers who appreciate this fact. As for indie authors, I’ve got plenty on tap after stocking up on Read Tuesday and hope to share some recs soon.
Finally, what is next for you?
I’m currently in the midst of editing the sixth draft for the third book in The Girl In Between series, which is action-packed and full of so many surprises. I’m hoping to release it at the end of the year. Once I finish the fourth and final book in the series, the sky will really be the limit, especially since I’ve discovered a love of genre hopping. It takes time for an idea to fully form in my head to the point where I’m willing to devote 6-8 months to exploring it, so I’m not sure when I’ll revisit the paranormal genre again, but I do have plans for a few contemporary romance novels followed by my foray into the dystopian genre.