Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kim Williams-Justesen ties books, family and yarn together

Kim Williams-Justesen
tying it all together
Kim Williams-Justesen and I are neighbors. We met downtown for a pleasant walk as while she worked out some of her stress with having a new book launch.

Johnny: What is that?

Kim: Knitting needles. I knit. I like to knit when I'm stressed, and I'm stressed a lot these days!

J: You have many talents.

K: Well thank you!  I do. I write mostly, but sometimes I just have to knit.

J: What’s in the bag?

K: Yarn. A few dozen balls of it.

J: That’s a lot.

K: I knit fast.

J: Are you nervous about your new book The Deepest Blue coming out?

K: I'm nervous about the release event. The book is all done, so I'm not so nervous about it.

J: What’s it about?

K: Mike hasn’t spoken to his mother in years, and what few memories he has of her are painful. When Mike’s dad is killed in a car wreck, Mike wants to stay in his hometown and live with Maggie, his dad’s girlfriend, who has been like a mother to him for the last five years. But Mike’s mother reappears in his life and demands that he return to her custody and live on the other side of the country with a family he doesn't know. The law is on his mother’s side, and Mike will have to grow up quickly and take on the legal system to have the life he wants. This deeply moving story of a young teen's difficult family relationships reflects the reality of many children and teens with strong emotional ties to adults who have no legal rights in the instance of death or divorce.

It's about standing up for yourself when you know what's best for you. It's about how we make families for ourselves and understanding that blood is not necessarily thicker than water.
J: The Deepest Blue has some pretty adult themes in it. You go into custody and legal machinations. How do you temper that for a younger audience?

K: I had to be sure that I kept the story in the point of view of Mike, the main character. I had to make sure that I stayed faithful to his perspective on all the issues. He doesn't understand the ins and outs of the legal process, so he just talks about his experience from an honest place and he doesn't pretend to understand all the legal craziness.

J: Did you just knit a sweater for that tree?

K: Absolutely! Notice I make the stripes horizontal so it has a more widening effect around the trunk.

J: Uhm. Okay. never mind. Boy books. There’s supposedly a stigma about having boys as the main character of a YA book. What do you think of that.

K: I think that's ridiculous. Boys need books told from their perspective. They need stories about their experiences. There are some awesome YA books which feature female main characters, but there are also amazing stories featuring male  characters, too. Ultimately, what matters most is a solid, well-written story, not necessarily the main character's gender.

J: That wasn’t your bike.

K: So? Bikes have a right to be warm too, don't they?

J: Where did you get the idea for The Deepest Blue?

K: When my oldest daughter was 15, she asked my husband (her step-dad) to adopt her. It's a long story, but basically, she knew that her step-dad was a healthier choice for her. Her biological dad wasn't happy, but he ultimately went along with it. His second wife, however, was pretty nasty about it for a long time. Then later, when my step-son turned 15, he asked me to adopt him. I don't think I spent more than 1/10th of a second thinking about it. Again, there is a long story as to his reasons why, but ultimately, I adopted him as well. After watching my two oldest kids go through the process, seeing their strength and dedication to what was best for them - well, that was pretty darn inspiring, and it led to The Deepest Blue.

J: Tell me about Motherhood in The Deepest Blue.

K:  You've hit on a key issue in the story. What makes a mom? Or either parent for that matter? In my family, adoption is a big word. I was adopted as an infant. So was my husband, my sister, my sister-in-law, and several of my closest friends. While I have met members of my biological family, my "real" family are those people I was raised with. I've always looked at the "nature vs. nurture" argument with curiosity. Then having gone through two step-parent adoptions in our family, I began to take a very close look at who nurtures, how we nurture, and what that means in terms of defining family. I had been my son's full-time mom since he was two, and my husband has been my daughter's full-time dad since she was four. But the role of step-parent is different, and has legal limitations. I didn't need a legal document to tell me that my son was mine, and I didn't need to give birth to him to love him. Likewise, it's true there are biological parents who don't fully accept the seriousness of that job or are not able or willing to do it.

Nothing is safe
J: You’ve worked with a few publishers. How’s that been? How’s Tanglewood Press?

K: Some publishers are amazing to work with, and others - well, not so much. Tanglewood is among the amazing publishers. They have been delightful to work with, supportive and professional and easy to work with. Interestingly, they rejected The Deepest Blue almost two years before they accepted it. When they rejected it, I put it away thinking I would work on revisions later. I had several other projects going on at the time, and a year and a half after the rejection, I had sent another manuscript to Tanglewood. A few months later, Peggy Tierney from Tanglewood called and said "I have some good news and I have some bad news." The bad news - she was passing on the other manuscript I had sent her. Then she said, "Where is 'The Deepest Blue'?"  I said, "It's on a thumb drive." Peggy said, "No, I mean, is it under contract? Have you submitted it elsewhere?" I said, "No, it's on a thumb drive."   She made an offer to buy The Deepest Blue, and here we are, 22 months later, celebrating the release of my novel!

J: I alway want to know how authors get their break. How did you first get published?

K: I started by building writing credentials. I wrote for magazines, I wrote for one of the early internet success sites, CitySearch, and I wrote for local publications (Wasatch Parent magazine, now called Utah Parent). I wrote for anyone who would let me! My first real publication came through a woman I met online. She was looking for help with a workbook she was writing on Borderline Personality Disorder. I had personal experience with the disorder, and after exchanging a few emails, she hired me to coauthor it with her. While I think many writers find success with a book right away, I served an apprenticeship, built credibility, and really learned my craft from the ground up.

J: So was The Deepest Blue an easy sale after that?

K: The Deepest Blue collected almost 40 rejections before Peggy offered it a second chance. I don't think there is such a thing as an easy sale. If it was easy, everyone could do it, and I don't think that would be good for books or publishing.

J: You don’t have an agent either. Do you think we need one?

K: There are so many publishing options these days that I don't think an agent is as necessary as it used to be. I have worked with an agent before, but the chemistry wasn't there. Of the eight books I've sold, I've sold them all myself. That being said, I do believe an agent can do things that are difficult for us as authors to do. For example, many large publishers offer foreign rights contracts, but you can't get into the larger houses, and therefore get to those foreign markets, without having an agent. I am actively looking for an agent currently, but I'm not waiting on that agent to sell my work.

J: Someone going to upset when they see that.

K: It’s art. I think every Mini needs an angora sweater.

J: Okay. What are you doing to promote your book? There was your book launch, which was great, but else are you doing?

K: Wasn't that party great? And did you see all the book cozies I crocheted that night? Besides the signing, I have promotional events on my website, my Facebook page, and my blog. Every time I get a new review, I promote it. I've also signed up for events through some of my local writing organizations. I'll be speaking my League of Utah Writer's chapter meeting, and I've been asked by the Utah/So. Idaho chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to speak at an event called The Inside Story at The King's English Bookshop. I'm also sending out informational packets to schools and libraries for workshops and signings. I've done book marks, post cards, and posters as well, so I'll pretty much do anything, including knitting a cover of my book, to promote it.

J: Where on the internet can people find you?
TWITTER - @kwjwrites
J: This is really getting out of control. You have to stop knitting.

K: I crochet a little too. See here’s a picture.

J: I hope your book is a great success.

K: Me too. My yarn budget is off the chart!

1 comment:

  1. Fun post, guys! Congratulations on surviving the Blog Mansion, Kim. Oh, and on the book, too!