Erin Entrada Kelly is the author of the middle-grade novel Blackbird Fly, recently published by Greenwillow Books:
Apple Yengko knows what it’s like to be different. She has a weird Filipino nickname, she’s the only Asian at her school, and she’s obsessed with the Beatles instead of boys. But her life doesn’t truly fall apart until she finds out she’s listed on the Dog Log—the list of the ugliest girls in school—and her friends abandon her. Suddenly she’s a social pariah. The boys bark at her in the halls and the girls turn the other way. Apple dreams of escape and resents everything about her culture, including her mother. She’s desperate to get a guitar so she can run away and become a musician like her idol, George Harrison. Apple is convinced that music can save her. And it might—only not in the way that she thinks.
Blackbird Fly was published in March and has been racking up praise, earning three starred reviews and being named a Junior Library Guild selection for 2015. If that isn’t enough to convince you Erin Entrada Kelly is a name you will soon be familiar with in the kidlit world, she has three more novels forthcoming from Greenwillow Books. To learn more about Erin and her writing, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.
Describe your workspace.
For me, an ideal workspace has windows, flowers and lots of artwork. It needs to be bright and not-too-serious. I have a lot of playful stuff that makes no sense, like a Statue of Liberty rubber duckie, a stuffed Vincent Van Gogh, and a Twilight Zone bobble-head. I have a big, bright window. I hear cars coming and going, which I love. In the spring there’s a cherry blossom tree that blooms on my street, which I also love.
Describe a typical workday.
When I sit down to write, the first thing I do is consult my outline. Then I clean the entire room. Then I read the last chapter I wrote. Then I stare at the wall. More cleaning. More staring. It’s a miracle I’ve ever written anything.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
1. Professor Purple. He is a one-inch tall purple cat hand-crafted from clay by one of my favorite people. Professor Purple is very judgmental, so he keeps me on task.
2. Art. I can’t pick just one, so I’ve pulled a few examples: flowers by Lisa Trapani, a wonderful New Orleans artist; a super-colorful painting from the Punk Rock Flea Market in Philadelphia; and a red-and-blue painting by my daughter that has my initials hidden in it (can you find them?)
3. A framed rejection card from Paul Agosto. I don’t know where Paul Agosto is today, but many years ago he rejected one of my short stories and sent me a kind note. It said: “Fine writing, Erin … Your story was on the short list prior to selection.” That note made my day. Even though it was a rejection, I focused on the keywords: your story was on the shortlist. I hadn’t yet published a short story, but thanks to Paul Agosto, I knew I was getting close.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I write longhand first, so I’m very particular about my pens. For a long time I was dedicated to the Scripto Giga, but they quit making them for some unfathomable reason. So now my pen of preference is the Bic Cristal 1.6mm in any color.
What do you listen to while you work?
It depends on what I’m working on. For BLACKBIRD FLY, I listened to the Beatles—a lot—for obvious reasons. But most of the time I listen to classical. I’m fancy like that.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
None. Too distracting.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
The characters. Hopefully.
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I write longhand first. It feels more personal, and it’s easier for me to jot down random thoughts along the way.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
My story ideas always start with a character. The plot, subplots, and other characters build from there. The character is the sun of my story-development solar system. Once the story is developed, I write a brief synopsis. Then I write a detailed synopsis. Then I write a brief chapter summary. Then I write a detailed chapter summary. Then I start chapter one.
I’m all about outlines. Back in the day, when I was a pantser, my novels always lost steam. I’d stare at the screen with no clue what to write. All that ended when I embraced the outline. But I’m not blindly loyal to it. My outline is fluid, so it changes as the characters take the story in different directions. So I guess you could say I let the muse lead my outline.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Linus Van Pelt
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
If you’re bored with a scene and can’t wait to get through it, you’re writing the wrong scene. Remember: If you’re bored writing it, readers will be bored reading it.