Author Interview: Kendra Highley

author-picI’m excited to share my interview with today’s author – Kendra C. Highley. I had the pleasure of being one of the original reviewers for the first book of her Matt Archer series, and have been a huge fan ever since. For those who haven’t heard of the series, it’s about a boy who is chosen by a magical knife to become one of the world’s few monster hunters. It’s an action-packed, funny coming-of-age story under the most unusual circumstances, and I highly recommend checking it out. She recently published the latest book in the series, Matt Archer: Legend, and her contemporary YA novel, Sidelined, was picked up by Entangled Publishing and will be released this year.

Kendra was also one of the orginal reviewers of my novel, Into the Dark, and her advice was invaluable. Watching her star rising has been an inspiration for me, and I hope you feel the same after hearing about what motivates her in today’s interview.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a wife and mom of two, and work as an HR manager during the day. I love to bake, read, write and vacation. Vacations don’t come often though, so I have to enjoy them while they last! I live in the Dallas area and I report to two cats. I’m their primary staff advisor (it was a promotion–I’m very proud).

What was your inspiration for your the Matt Archer series?

Matt Archer Legend 680x453Strangely, that’s easy for me to answer. I was at my first writers’ conference in 2009, and a published YA author was talking about Twilight and the dearth of “boy-centric” YA. She said, “Boys don’t want to fall in love with misunderstood vampires; they want to kick vampire butt!”  My son was 8 at the time, and a big reader, and my initial thought was to write a short story about a boy who saved his uncle from a monster…and the whole Matt-as-a-Monster-Hunter concept was born from that.

Tell me about Matt. Was he based on someone you know (or yourself)?

There are little bits and pieces of people I’ve known, but Matt’s really his own person. He was a very strong character in my head from the very beginning. Odd, since he’s a teenaged guy, and I’m neither. But I just had this connection with his voice and he formed through that.

Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling blocked?

I’d like to have a pithy answer…but usually I go to my pantry and snack. : )

What’s the strangest thing that has ever inspired you?

A bottle of Vicodin. I’d had to have my shoulder stitched up after an injury and that’s what the doctor prescribed. I’m very wary of prescription pain pills, and had just read an article about how they were the #1 abused drug among teens now. Out of that, Sidelined (Entangled, 2013) was born. It’s a story about an elite high school basketball player with scholarship opportunities. However, she gets seriously injured at the state tourney and can’t play anymore. She eventually becomes addicted to pain killers and much of the story is about her spiral down, and her struggle back out.

Tell us about an inspirational figure in your life.

My Dad. He read to me nearly every night when I was little. I arrived at Kindergarten able to read because of him. He encouraged my love of books from early on, and when I told him I planned to self-publish, he was right there to support me. My mother died when my sister and I were teenagers, so we just had Dad…he’s always there when we need him. And he’s super-smart, too. When he retired, he went back to school to get a Ph.D. in American History…because he had dreamed of doing it. He’s an inspiration.

What are some books in your genre that have inspired you?

This would be a long list, so I’ll limit it to five:  A Wrinkle in Time, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Jackaroo, and Twisted.

What are some words that you live by?

Life’s too short not to eat chocolate. : )  But also “family first.” It’s really hard to work two jobs and juggle family life, but I try hard to take care of my family like they take care of me.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

Writing is hard, and a lot of times you feel like giving up. I was lucky enough to meet Laurie Halse Anderson in 2011, and when she found out I was a writer, she signed my book cover with “P.S. Don’t Quit!!!!”  I took it to heart, and that made the tough times easier to deal with and the great times that much more rewarding.

If you are interested in self-publishing, there’s a great blog by Lindsay Buroker that can answer a lot of your questions.  She’s very generous with the knowledge she shares and, given her success, her advice works.  You can find her at <KP: I second Kendra’s recommendation. Lindsay’s blog is one of my favorite self-publishing resources.>

The Art of Foreshadowing

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” – Anton Chekov

shutterstock_90204550Being in the hands of a master of the craft of foreshadowing is one of the most rewarding parts of reading a great book. J.K. Rowling is such a master – there are incredible examples throughout the entire Harry Potter series. But by far my favorite is when we learn that Snape loved Harry’s mother in the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling knew in book one that this was coming and laid clues throughout her series, from the color of Harry’s eyes to the hatred Snape had for Harry’s father, that made the payoff in book seven incredibly rewarding. It was one of those moments as an author where I shake my head and consider giving up the craft in the face of such genius.

Another example of excellent foreshadowing that I recently read is in Kendra C. Highley’s Matt Archer series. (I’ll be interviewing her in July, for those who would like to hear more.) I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who haven’t read her latest book, but she had a creative idea that I haven’t seen before. Her character has a vision of himself with a strange marking, like a magical tattoo. It’s foreshadowing when he has the vision, then again when he gets the mark, because we know that he’ll be having some crazy adventures soon.

We all can’t be Rowling, but I do try to incorporate good foreshadowing into my writing – which invariably involves intense planning for my entire series, rather than planning book by book. This is my favorite part of the writing process – creating the overarching plot and identifying where the payoffs of each storyline will occur. It makes me feel like the master of my own little universe. For some great basic information and tips on foreshadowing I also like the advice in this All Write – Fiction Advice blog post.

But in the actual implementation of little clues throughout my series, I am constantly second guessing myself – are the hints too obvious, or too obtuse? It’s hard to find a balance between ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and a little failed eye contact by a character at a key moment. What seems blatant to me as the author may be totally missed by an unsuspecting reader. So it’s critical that I have honest beta readers who can give me feedback.

Do you have any tips on how to implement foreshadowing well?