Christine Kendall lives and writes in Philadelphia. Her debut middle grade novel, RIDING CHANCE, was released by Scholastic in October, and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of ‘Outstanding Literary Work – Youth/Teens.
“Troy is a kid with a passion. And dreams. And wants to do the right thing. But after taking a wrong turn, he’s forced to endure something that’s worse than any juvenile detention he can imagine—he’s “sentenced” to the local city stables where he’s made to take care of horses. The greatest punishment has been trying to make sense of things since his mom died but, through his work with the horses, he discovers a sport totally unknown to him—polo. Troy has to figure out which friends have his back, which kids to cut loose, and whether he and Alisha have a true connection. Laced with humor and beating with heartache, this novel will grip readers, pull them in quickly, and take them on an unforgettable ride. Set in present day Christine Kendall’s stunning debut lets us come face-to-face with the challenges of a loving family that turn hardships into triumphs.”
Anna Forrester: Hi Christine! Congratulations on the debut of RIDING CHANCE. It’s great to catch you in a quiet moment—I know that Scholastic’s publicity department has been keeping you busy! I was delighted to be able to come—with my 10 year old daughter—to hear you talk about the book at The Penn Book Center with author Lori Tharps in November. And I was especially taken with the things you said about character. Can you talk a little bit about your main character, Troy—about how you found and developed him?
Christine Kendall: I believe that Troy, the 13-year-old protagonist of my book, found me. I didn’t set out to write a novel. I didn’t even know that I could, but after hearing a story on NPR about a mentoring program in Philadelphia that pairs teens with horses I found a magnificent photo that drew me in to a world that I knew nothing about. The photo of a kid and his horse was so powerful in its depiction of beauty, determination, and respect that it inspired me to listen for this kid’s voice and then to follow him as he told his story. That involved not only doing a lot of research about horses and the game of polo but it also involved thinking about the opportunities and challenges that our kids face in coming to know themselves and determining what kinds of lives they want to live.
Coming to terms with grief and aggressive policing are two of the issues my character has to deal with. I didn’t know that when I began writing the book but, thankfully, I was able to overcome my fears about not have a clear plot in mind and surrender myself to what Troy had to say. It sounds a bit mystical, I know, but this is an example of what can happen when you’re open to possibilities.
AF: Mystical—maybe—but definitely not formulaic. He is a wonderful, complex character. Was the process of meeting and getting to know the other characters in the book similar?
CK: The photo led me to Troy but once I began to populate his world the other characters showed up.
AF: Were there places in your process where your more intuitive approach conflicted or merged with other ways of thinking? And are there characters who have left the pages of the story—or who you ended up changing in major ways?
CK: In hindsight, I can say that writing the first 50 pages or so purely on intuition was great fun, but not having an understanding of how to structure a novel made producing the entire first draft very, very hard. I somehow managed to muddle through but I realized I needed a better understanding of structure before tackling a second draft. That’s where book-mapping came in and saved the day. I created a written scene-by-scene analysis of the novel in which I noted the action taking place in each scene; what, if any, emotional change took place in the characters; the appearance of any recurring images or symbols; etc. This, like everything else, was a lot of work but it was well worth it. The book map, which was really a skeleton outline of the novel, revealed many things including the lack of a complete character arc for my protagonist and gaps in the plot. It enabled me to see the novel’s strengths as well as its deficiencies and was invaluable in helping me to create a second draft that was much more coherent. Moving forward on new projects, I plan to write intutively for the first few chapters but then try to outline a plot that can serve as a guide. I think the important thing will be to understand that the outline is flexible and will probably change as I allow my characters to tell their stories. And, I will definitely book map the first drafts before attempting any revisions.
I originally had Troy telling his story from a hospital bed but I realized it was unnecessarily confusing so I dropped that frame after the first draft. Other than that, none of the characters left the pages of the story or changed radically over the course of the three drafts. Most of my revisions involved putting more “horse” in the story.
AF: Were there certain book-mapping resources that you found particularly helpful?
CK: Not really. I went to a writing workshop in which the instructor suggested book-mapping but she left the decision as to what to include in the analysis up to each writer. I didn’t find another author’s map, but I’d heard other people talking about it so it wasn’t hard to figure out.
AF: Well, it all came together beautifully. Thanks for taking the time to talk, Christine, and again, congratulations!