Author Spotlight: Kellye Crocker
|© Laura Carson Photography|
Nov. 25, 2022
We are excited to feature author Kellye Crocker and her debut middle grade novel, DAD'S GIRLFRIEND AND OTHER ANXIETIES (Albert Whitman), coming out soon. Enter to win a copy!
|cover art by Simini Blocker; designer: Aphelandra|
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I love all you do at Kidlit411! Thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here!
I’ve always felt a deep connection to young people—even when I was young. For example, for a big journalism-school project in undergrad, I spent several weeks hanging out with a sixth-grade English class and writing about the students. As a reporter at the Des Moines Register, I proposed and launched the “youth beat,” where I focused solely on young people, especially teenagers. I felt strongly that, although we often wrote about young people, we rarely featured them—their thoughts, opinions, and experiences—in the newspaper.
I read a lot of middle grade and YA as a kid, and I never stopped. For decades now, I think middle grade and YA have offered some of the most innovative and powerful stories being published. I’ve always dreamed of writing novels, and it never occurred to me NOT to write about and for young people! It’s such an important time of life, and young people are so smart, funny, and creative.
Congrats on your debut middle grade book, Dad's Girlfriends and Other Anxieties! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Thank you! Printing problems and supply-chain shipping issues caused my publication date to be postponed twice. It is once again postponed, but it will come out soon and my e-book is available now!
It’s about a 12-year-old named Ava who lives with her dad in a small Iowa town. (Her mom died shortly after she was born.) Ava has a newly diagnosed anxiety disorder and does not want to visit Colorado to meet her dad’s long-distance girlfriend and the girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter. (Dad has to travel for work sometimes, and that’s how they met.) Ava isn’t used to meeting people, and she can’t imagine spending two weeks with strangers—especially in a state that, her research shows, is filled with dangers. I’ve tried to write a story that’s funny and also touches readers’ hearts.
It was inspired by my surprise move to Colorado. I grew up in Iowa and, after college and my first reporting job, returned. I’d lived in Iowa for 26 years as an adult when my husband got an unexpected job offer in Denver. Our son had just graduated from high school, so it was a good time for an adventure. I was excited. But I didn’t know anything about the state or anyone there, and it woke up my anxiety, I guess you could say. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression as an adult—in the late 1990s—but I think I’ve always had it. (I was a nervous kid!) It had been pretty well controlled for several years—until my move! I started a new story and, knowing I’d never see Colorado with new eyes again, I paid attention to all the things that amazed, intrigued, delighted, and scared me. I didn’t set out to write about anxiety, but it seeped into the story, and then I went with it.
Was your initial road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Long, winding, and mostly sweet! Except for a year or so when I was too sick to write, I’ve written fiction seriously and steadily since earning my MFA in writing for young people in 2006. And this is my first published book.
I finished the first draft of this story in late 2016. I queried two versions of this novel—to a total of about 100 agents—before signing with my wonderful agent in 2020. I’m a proud late bloomer!
What projects are you working on now?
I’m trying to write an early chapter book series. (I love them, but when I’ve tried to write them, they’ve turned into middle grade novels.) I’m also working on an in-depth STEAM nonfiction project and a middle grade novel set in the Victorian era. There’s a YA idea that keeps poking me, too. I want to write all the things!
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
I’d tell younger me to stop the perfectionism and QUERY! I didn’t want to send out work that wasn’t “ready.” Guess what? It never was.
Shortly after earning my MFA, I had a ten-page critique of my first novel (a contemporary YA) with an editor at an SCBWI regional conference. He said so many positive things—including “this type of thing sells,” and he compared it to Veronica Mars, which I now know is a huge compliment, but I hadn’t seen the show then.
I couldn’t take any of this in. All I could hear was that he wasn’t interested. Not only that, but he couldn’t imagine a single person at his (then) Big Six Global Publishing Company being interested, either. And even though I knew his interests were quirky (and not the “type of thing” I typically wrote), I let one opinion—one opinion about ten pages—derail any thoughts of querying.
Don’t do that! :D
The first novel I queried was the second one I wrote, another contemporary YA, and only after author friends dared me and gave me a June 1, 2011, deadline. They were worried I’d never query! I didn’t query again until Dad’s Girlfriend, even though it was the fifth or sixth novel I’ve written.
I *do* think it’s important for writers to send their best, polished work. But it will never be perfect (even after it’s published). That’s been a difficult lesson for me, and I’m still working on it.
When I talk to aspiring writers, I like to repeat the adage: read, read, read, write, write, write, send, send, send. (Obviously, I wasn’t great at the latter. Don’t do what I did!) Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.” It’s important to write a lot. That’s how you get better. I truly believe no writing is wasted, and we can always improve. That’s one of my favorite things about writing. The query landscape feels especially treacherous these days. Agents are inundated and many have stopped sending even form rejections. I think most querying writers need to approach it with an attitude that it probably will be difficult, and they’ll need to persist. I’d encourage folks to create a plan to support their mental health through the process. They should also remember that a lot of writers don’t sell their first novel first. A pass now doesn’t mean that project won’t find a home later. Most important, keep writing and find the joy in the process.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I was attacked by a beloved, bestselling romance author!
I’d noticed that Robert James Waller was going to be signing at the Borders in West Des Moines. I pitched a story about it to my newspaper editor, who initially was reluctant. Waller was an Iowa college professor who’d recently published The Bridges of Madison County. We’d written a lot about him but he’d started drawing surprisingly large crowds on his book tour around the country. This was his first appearance back in Iowa, and I was intrigued. (The book eventually reached No. 1 on the NYT list, stayed on the list for years, and was made into a 1994 movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. The trade reviews, however, ranged from tepid to mean. Waller died a few years ago.)
I planned to focus my story on the fans—the line stretched around the block—but I also made arrangements to talk briefly with Waller. When I got to Borders, though, his publicist said Waller wouldn’t talk to me. We were whispering behind Waller’s back about this, as he signed.
Suddenly, Waller leapt up, whirled around, and shouted, “I will not talk to the Des Moines Register! You people are criticizing me constantly!” (I still remember this quote.) As I started to write what he said, he reached past his publicist, grabbed my left (writing) arm, and shook it, shouting, “Don’t write that down!”
Then he turned back to his mob of fans and said something like “Merry Christmas anyway,” which drew hearty laughs. I, however, was pretty shaken up (literally) and close to tears. It felt as if the crowd might come after me if he told them to. Also, I’d been in physical therapy recently for a shoulder injury involving that arm. (No, I didn’t sue!)
An AP photographer was there, though, and a scowling photo of Waller wagging his finger at me (shortly before grabbing my arm) ran in newspapers across the country in a “People in the News” column. The brief story said Waller had a “meltdown” and questioned whether touring was getting to him. It included a quote from a Borders employee saying Waller found out I worked for The Des Moines Register and “just went nuts.”
Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing that. Where can people find you online?
My website is www.kellyecrocker.com. I’m on twitter @kelcrocker, although I’ve pulled back a bit to see how things shake out under Elon. I’m also on Instagram, but not often, @kellyecrocker.
A surprise move to Colorado and her own anxiety disorder inspired Kellye Crocker’s debut middle grade novel, Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties, from Albert Whitman & Co. Kellye is a longtime journalist who teaches creative writing to young people through a large literary nonprofit. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Denver, where you can find her reading, making art from the recycling bin, and hiking with her husband and their rambunctious Black Lab, Daisy.
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Wow. What a story about Robert Waller! And thank you for the reminder to send, send, send. I read and write enough, but I don't send enough.ReplyDelete
The brilliant title made me laugh so I’m SO looking forward to the book! Sorry you had that frightening experience with Waller. I’d have been pretty shaken-up too. And I’m going to put the Read, write, send, quote on my wall. Thanks!ReplyDelete
I've been excited to read this book since I first heard about it. That story about Waller is terrifying! It sounds like a scene from a contemporary movie. Thank you for the chance to win a copy!ReplyDelete
Wow, what great advice. Can't wait to read the book!ReplyDelete
The book sounds great. I love the Robert Waller story!ReplyDelete
So excited to read this book--it's been on my list since it was announced!ReplyDelete
Thank for helping get books into kids hands.ReplyDelete