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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Author Interview ~ Kay Strom

Of Kay's 34 published books, four have been book club selections, nine have been translated into foreign languages, and one has been optioned for a movie. Her writing credits also include numerous magazine articles, short stories, two prize-winning screenplays, books and stories for children, and booklets for writers. Her writing has appeared in several volumes including More Than Conquerors, Amazing Love, The NIV Couple's Devotional Bible and The NIV Women's Devotional Bible, and The Bible for Today's Christian Woman. Her work also is included in a number of compilations, including various books from the Stories for the Heart series.

Kay speaks at seminars, retreats, writer's conferences, and special events throughout the country. In addition, more and more her writing and speaking are drawing her to countries and cultures around the world. Most recently she trekked through India, China, Indonesia, Sudan, Morocco, and Senegal - tape recorder and camera in hand - preparing to tell “the rest of the story” of our donor dollars at work in the lives of individuals and villages around the world.

Kay is a partner in Kline, Strom International, Inc., leaders in communication training.

What made you start writing?

I have been writing since I was a child. It sounds corny, but it’s like I was born with stories in me just bursting to get out.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

I write three main drafts. The first one is the idea draft, and it is such fun. As I write I’m thinking, “This is so good! I have to be among the best writers in the world!” Then I read that draft and start draft two—the working draft. I think, “This is horrible! Now everyone is going to find out what a fake I am, that I never could write at all.” (This is definitively the hardest part!) Draft three is the final draft. It is nowhere near at euphoric as the first, but not as hopeless as the second. Probably draft three is reality!

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I think every writer does to some degree. We can’t help it. We are what we know the best.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

Great question! This is a battle for sure. On my third book, I had a “crisis” where the editorial director insisted I change a major focus of the book to a premise I didn’t believe and could never defend. My option was to withdraw the book. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I withdrew it. The book was quickly picked up by a much larger publisher and released in hardcover—several printings, translations, even went through a second edition.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

The Call of Zulina is the first book of a three-book saga. Set in West Africa, it centers around Grace Winslow, whose mother is African royalty and her father a British sea captain. Trapped in a marriage arrangement with a pompous, offensive white slave trader, she flees from her home and ends up in the middle of a slave revolt at Zulina slave fortress. There she comes to understand the horrific nature of her family’s involvement in the slave trade. She is forced to choose a side—slave or slaver.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

The characters of Lingongo and Joseph Winslow, Grace’s parents, are modeled after real people who ran a slave business in Africa in the 1700s. I “got to know” them when I was researching a book on the life of John Newton, slaver turned preacher and abolitionist, author of Amazing Grace. As I read about them, I wondered, “If they had a daughter, who would she be? English or African? Where would her loyalties lie?” In West Africa I toured an old slave fortress and was struck dumb by a set of baby-sized manacles bolted to the wall. That was my “what if” moment.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The richness of the African setting; delving into the truth in history.

Least? Finding myself in the middle of a horrible episode of history; the truth I learned.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

Having one foot in each of two worlds and not quite belonging in either is a common feeling, especially for Christians who are “in this world but not of this world.” I would like readers to see the power of taking a stand, even though there are consequences for doing so. Still, the consequences of not doing so are far greater.

What does your writing space look like?

Too small… too jumbled… too unorganized… and my kitty sleeps on the computer. But, hey, it works!

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

We have a hot tub spa, and I love to relax in it and read or talk to my husband or do nothing at all! I also walk. And I like to play tennis and bowl and golf via Wii!

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I am a pretty organized writer. Conception is no problem—my idea file is bulging! I gather info, then I make a fairly detailed chapter outline and attach all my research to the appropriate chapter. (This is a time-consuming step, but the better I do this, the easier and more trouble-free the actual writing.)

Then I write a first draft: no corrections, no rethinking—just pouring it out. (I love this step!) Then I write a second draft: bringing order to the first, rewriting, switching info to another chapter, etc. (This is the painful step.) Then I do a final draft: polishing, fixing, double checking info. I move away from the project for a week or two and do something completely different and my husband reads it and makes corrections and suggestions. (He’s great!) I consider my husband’s comments, then I go back and reread the entire manuscript out loud one last time.

What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?

I started reading at four and never stopped. I remember stories from my early reading books. My older sister says I used to say I wanted to write a fun reading book of my own!

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Shadowlands (C.S. Lewis) C.S. Lewis is one of my all time favorite authors. But this book came to me just as my first husband was in the throes in an awful illness that finally resulted in his death, and it so touched my heart that I wept for days.

Fatherland (Robert Harris) This is such a gripping example of thought-provoking “what if” fiction.

A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens) I read this in eighth grade and it transformed my view of the power of a book. While I was writing The Call of Zulina, I was picturing Madame DeFarge knitting secret messages into her shawl.

A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) Read the opening page of that book and see if you can put it down. Not at all a typical Christian book, this is still one of the best I’ve ever read on Christian mysticism. (I named my cat after Owen Meany!)

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

In every way! I am helped by the gifted word crafter and the great storyteller. But I’m also helped by the not-so- great books, especially when I see shades of my own writing stumbles in them!

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I can have my own voice. I don’t have to “be like” someone successful to be a writing success.

How much marketing do you do?

Not nearly as much as I should. I don’t particularly like marketing my books. I much prefer getting started on the next book. What have you found that particularly works well for you? Interviews and speaking engagements. There I can connect with others and share my passions.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

I have two more books coming out in this series. One is written (set in London) and I’m just starting book three (set in the new United States of America). I have also been approached by a publisher about possibly going back to Sudan and writing the story of the displaced Southern Sudanese going home again. But I’ll have to say, after writing four books this year, I need a bit of a breather!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I love the idea of fiction with a purpose. My prayer is that when readers finish The Call of Zulina – then when they finish the complete Grace In Africa series—they will long to see slavery wiped from the earth. And they will be an active part of accomplishing that.


  1. Big thanks for asking Kay about the difficult part of writing. Thank you to Kay for her honest comment about fearing that everyone will find out what a fake she is during her second draft. I'm convinced that feeling is such a part of being a writer that it's important to become comfortable with it early on and know that it's a simply a shadow in our way. What a walk of faith creating is and yet, so much like walking with God.

  2. Lovely interview. I'd not heard of anyone doing three drafts, but you make is sound so sensible. Maybe it's time I had a go at a third draft.


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