I am so happy to host K.M. Walton here at the Cafe today! She’ll be keynoting at Fall Philly/PA Author Day this year on November 5, and I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know her and her books just like I have.
LB: Hi there Kate, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! What can we get you to drink?
KMW: Oooh, I’d love a steaming mug of coffee, please. Half a teaspoon of Coconut Palm Sugar and heavy on the half-and-half. Thanks.
LB: And something to munch on?
KMW: Any chance you have dark chocolate lying around?
LB: Oh, just wait til you see my chocolate stash! It’s about to get larger after I pillage my children’s Halloween buckets…ohmygoodness did I just say that? Anyway, DARK CHOCOLATE. Yes. Excellent choice.
Oh, speaking of excellent choices, did you notice the background music today? I borrowed it from your book play-lists! (Pssst….readers…click here and you, too, can soak in the atmosphere!) I just love the way you connect music with the emotion in your stories. Can you talk a little bit about the way music inspires you in your writing?
KMW: LOVE the background music—that is an excellent choice. Funny enough, when I’m writing a novel music doesn’t come into my process until I’m done with a first draft. I need complete silence to write. But, once that first draft is behind me, I listen closely to every song I hear, trying to decide if it goes with my characters, my story, the emotions in the book. That’s when I start building my playlist. For my YA anthology, BEHIND THE SONG, music and lyrics are 100% connected to every piece. I gave my contributors a choice, they could interpret the lyrics to one of their favorite songs and use it as inspiration for a short story, or take that same song and write a personal essay sharing how that song changed their life. My short story was inspired by one of my all-time-favorite songs, “All the Lights Went Out” by Marcy Playground. Each contributor brought something unique and powerful to this anthology, and it was a joy working with such a talented group of writers and musicians.
LB: If you had to pick one, what would you choose for your writing theme song?
KMW: “Everything’s Not Lost” by Coldplay. This song, for me, is the perfect mix of raw emotion and hope, and that’s how I’d like to consider my body of published work.
LB: The characters in your books endure a lot of painful experiences, including abuse, bullying, drug use, and depression. What drives you to write these kids’ stories?
KMW: For people who know me, it came as no surprise that my first two novels—CRACKED and EMPTY—were about bullying. I spent twelve years teaching, ten of them in a middle school. I dedicated the core principals of my teaching career to anti-bullying. I never shied away from facing and addressing bullying. I believed it was my job, as the adult, to face it head on, every single time it reared its head. I wanted my students to see each other as human beings, not the labels they’d attached to each other. When we humans peel back the labels we’ve slapped onto each other—and truly see the person—that’s when we discover similarities and break down assumptions/prejudices/hatred. And only then.
ULTIMATUM is my latest contemporary YA release about two brothers who don’t understand each other. Oscar and Vance have mastered anger and assumptions, but when they’re faced with watching their father die in hospice they must decide if they’re willing to act like brothers. The novel plunges readers into the intricacies of family life, investigating the ways we fail each other and finding grace in the moments when we find our way back home.
I write these books to shine a light on those who silently suffer. I want readers to experience the pain and humiliation that goes along with suffering alone and gain some kind of understanding of what it’s like to hurt. I sincerely hope my books inspire readers to stand up, to do something. To “see” those who silently suffer in their lives and reach out, let them know they care. Smile. Say hello. Validate them. I hope CRACKED, EMPTY, and ULTIMATUM show my readers that words have power, that words matter, that words can either rip someone to shreds or save a life.
LB: Do you have a favorite story from a school visit presenting on “The Power of Human Kindness?” A moment that made you say – YES! This is why I’m doing this!?
KMW: Wow, this is a hard question. There are so many stories I could share here. A powerful moment took place after I spoke to an auditorium of high school freshman and sophomore. I was signing books and a male student leaned down and said, “I’m Bull. Don’t make it obvious, but four kids back in line is the kid I bullied. You actually wrote our story because we both ended up in the psych ward at the same time. We weren’t roommates like Bull and Victor from Cracked, but we were both there together. I already read your book and I get it now. I want you to know that I will never bully that kid behind me again. And your book was awesome. Thank you.”
LB: What advice do you have for writers dealing with tough YA topics?
KMW: Be real. Be honest. Don’t hold back. Teen readers don’t need to be coddled. Teen readers want the truth.
LB: Okay, Kate. You’ve survived the hard part. Now for the rapid-fire favorites! Swallow that last bite and tell us your favorite….
-Thing about teaching
Reaching a student who needed to be reached.
-Scene from Napoleon Dynamite
That, my friend, is like asking me to choose my favorite child. The entire movie is G E N I U S. But, if have to choose one scene, I’m particularly fond of the scene that leads up to the “Napoleon and Kip slap fight”.
-Spot to curl up and read
I’m a big fan of reading in bed, which is even more sweet since we got our adjustable Sleep Number bed. Best investment ever.
–Quote about writing or Writing advice
“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” –Ernest Hemingway
-Nail polish shade
Love any shade of purple.
LB: Thank you so much for joining us today, Kate! Can’t wait to see you at Fall Philly/PA Author Day!
KMW: Thanks for hosting me today! Really looking forward to keynoting at Fall Philly.