Author Spotlight: Emma Kress
|© Erin Summerill|
July 23, 2021
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for teens.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten but it took me until 2010 to take my writing seriously and commit to a daily practice. Writing for children and young adults was a natural choice as I was a teacher, surrounded by both children and children’s literature. At the start of my teaching career, I taught 5th grade and started a few middle-grade books.
By the time I was writing seriously, I was teaching teens and reading a lot of YA fiction. But it was more than proximity, I think, that drew me to write for children and young adults. I think it was the same thing that drew me to teaching children and teens: our society underestimates kids, trivializes their concerns, and romanticizes their experience, all while exerting a lot of control over their existence. As a result, giving space on the page to teens and children is a radical act of resistance. And, most of my favorite stories center around change and power. I don’t think there’s any period of life that hits those more than childhood and adolescence.
Congrats on your debut, Dangerous Play! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Dangerous Play is about the captain of a girls’ field hockey team. When she’s sexually assaulted, her ride-or-die team turn into vigilantes…but it might cost them everything.
This team of fierce, hyper-athletic, determined girls showed up when I was in the middle of writing something else. I told them to go away, but they didn’t listen. Even though they showed up sudden and loud, I had been thinking about some of book’s components for some time. For instance, I’d long noticed a gap in YA literature. While there were powerful books that followed a survivor’s journey, I didn’t see any books about rape culture overall. I’d also never seen a book about girls’ sports and the kinds of friendships that can happen on an intense, competitive girls’ team. I started writing Dangerous Play back in 2014.
Thankfully, now there are books like Moxie, which address rape culture. And while there are more books featuring athletic girls (like 2021 debuts In the Same Boat, by Holly Green, and The Knockout, by Sajni Patel) there are few that feature full teams. As a result, I was thrilled when the girls of Dangerous Play showed up, filling a need I’d had for a long time. In many ways, this was the book I needed both when I was a teen, and as an adult.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Long and winding. Oh, so long. While I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 10, I spent a lot of years dipping my toe into the writing waters while managing to stay quite dry. I began writing seriously in 2010, two months after my second child was born. I was teaching full time and mom-ing two little children, and decided (bizarrely), this was the ideal time to finish those novels I’d kept starting. I wrote a book, queried, got rejected. I wrote another book, queried, got rejected. I wrote another book, queried…and decided to get my MFA.
In the middle of that—Yay!—I signed with my wonderful agent. We revised Dangerous Play some more and then finally sent it out to publishers and got an offer in a month or two. So, while my submission window was relatively short, all of the time that came before was long. And of course, there was so much life—struggles and joys—that happened in those years. On August 3rd, when I’ll finally get to hold Dangerous Play in my hands, it will have been eleven years of dedicated, daily writing that got me there.
Did you have a song or playlist when you drafted this story? If so, please share!
I don’t typically listen while I write but I’m a huge believer in listening before I write. As a mom—especially during a pandemic when everyone is home—I don’t get long stretches of writing time. Creating a playlist of songs that tethers me to the book helps me stay in the writing zone even while I’m doing laundry or dishes. Kesha’s Praying always hits me hard and takes me right into the feelings of Dangerous Play. I’ve posted an abridged spotify playlist on my social media this month. Stay tuned to win the full playlist plus a bonus playlist soon.
(This graphic is of the abridged Spotify playlist.)
What projects are you working on now?
I’m busy revising the book I hope will be my second published book. While Dangerous Play tackles some serious issues, it’s also funny. The reviews I’ve appreciated the most are the ones that highlight how much they laughed. In this next book, I’m leaning waaaaay into the funny and it’s been a joy to write. I also do Instagram Live author interviews. Every single writer I’ve interviewed has offered such wisdom and inspiration. With the exception of one long-form video, all videos are about 15-minutes and packed with craft. At this point, there are thirty-six videos and you can find them all on my IGTV: https://www.instagram.com/kress.emma/channel/
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
What are you so scared of? You love to write, so write.
And yes…I’d say this to everyone. 🙂
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Once, I beat A.S. King in ping pong.
Where can people find you online?
Emma Kress is a long-time educator and 2014 finalist for NY State Teacher of the Year. She’s a graduate of Vassar College, Columbia University’s Teachers College, and the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family in Saratoga Springs, NY. DANGEROUS PLAY is her debut novel.