Teen Press Corps journalist Ivy sat down with Austin-based author K.A. Holt, who celebrated the release of her book Redwood & Ponytail at BookPeople October 7th. You can order a signed copy here, or swing by the store! You can also read Ivy’s review of Redwood & Ponytail here. Enjoy the interview below!
Ivy: If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
K.A. Holt: Maybe Love That Dog by Sharon Creech? Sweet, perfect, simple, it makes me cry every time and I’ve read it a million times.
Ivy: When did you start getting interested in poetry and why?
KA: I’ve always been interested in poetry, I’ve always liked poetry. I used to fool around with haiku before I was an author and I worked in high tech. I would have a haiku of the day on my whiteboard. Then we all got laid off and I started an email list of the people I’d worked with and kept up the haiku of the day. It was a fun way to keep us all in touch. Then I had a baby and all the haiku from that turned into Haiku Momma, which was my first little book. Then I started actually trying to write other poetry, and then I read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech and I was like, “How in the world can I write a book like this, this was so good.” It was kind of a mish-mash of things.
Ivy: How did writing Redwood & Ponytail compare to your other books?
KA: Redwood & Ponytail was harder because I was trying to do a lot with poetry. I really wanted it to be dual point of view and I really wanted to have the poems intermingle because I wanted the reader to see how two people could be experiencing the same moment in different ways. We were well into copy edits and I was still going through and saying “Ah, that doesn’t sound quite right, I need to change it.” Just craft-wise it was harder, and then topic-wise it was hard too because I had to decide how much of me was in the book and how much of it is fiction, and how much am I willing to admit is me and how much am I going to say is fiction.
Ivy: Where did the base idea for the book come from?
KA: I was thinking about how I was when I was in middle school I never had a book like this, so all of these feelings and these friends and things that were coming up that I had no reference for. I didn’t know that it was okay to have crushes on girls or anything like that, and it really would’ve been great if I’d had a book to read about it. I think it really would’ve been great if everyone had books to read about it because then it wouldn’t be this weird thing, it would just be part of who we all are… Kate is more like who I was, that trying to be perfect all the time and then my friend… was actually more like Tam, that kind of freewheeling whatever spirit. Tam is who I wanted to be and Kate is more who I was, so it was a deep dive into my brain and it felt kind of cathartic to write it. I wish I could mail it to me back in time.
Ivy: What do you want kids or teens to get out of reading Redwood & Ponytail?
KA: I think mostly what I want… I want the twelve-year-old girls who read it to think “Oh, I’m not a weirdo” but I want everyone else to just read it like a story. The main points of the book are you’re growing up, you go to middle school and you have had all these friends and sometimes you drift apart, and you don’t really know why, and it’s not like you hate each other, you’re trying to figure it out, and it’s stressful, and everything’s changing, and you want to know where you fit in the world. And those kinds of things are universal. You don’t have to be a queer girl to feel that way, everybody feels that way. I want readers to understand that yes, it’s a book for queer girls, but it’s a book for everybody too.
Ivy: Is there anything in particular you want adults to get out of reading it?
KA: I think I was very cognizant of how I created adult characters in the book. I want everyone to be flawed and everybody to have some good characteristics. I would like adults to read it and think to themselves that sometimes a kid comes to you and they make some big huge statement or declaration and it’s very easy to just be like “Eh, I’m going to go about my day and whatever, that’s not a thing you know or need to worry about right now.” But those kinds of brush offs are the types of things that kids internalize for a long time and I just wanted to point that out. But also, being the super cool mom or teacher, there are also pitfalls to that because kids just want to be seen and I think a lot of time adults think that they’re seeing them but they’re not actually seeing that the kid wants them to see or who they really are… I feel like that’s the takeaway in a lot of my books, that I want adults to really see these kids as the humans they are and not as what the adults are projecting upon them.
Ivy: Do you have any advice for young writers?
KA: My advice for young writers is to read as much as you can because I think that the more you read, the more you internalize how things work. You can internalize dialogue and plot and creating a story. You read, read, read and you see all of these different ways to [write] and you kind of pick like “I like this way, I’m going to try that, I like this way, I’m going to try that.” It’s like an MFA you can get just by reading and reading and reading. Always read, and then don’t be down on yourself. First drafts are always going to be terrible, everyone has terrible first drafts, first drafts are always the worst, and that’s how it is. And you may be the person that writes a first draft and it’s perfect and that’s awesome, but for those of you who don’t do that, that’s awesome too. You can’t revise if you don’t have words on a page, so don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s okay if it’s crappy because at least you can fix it.
Ivy: What do you want to write about next?
KA: I am working on a new series right now about a bunch of kids who are in this remedial English class, this summer school class. Hopefully, each of those kids will end up getting their own book. I’m having so much fun figuring out their characters and the little bits and pieces that make them interesting and their lives. I had meant this book to be very simple and fun and short and now it’s long and complex and these characters have all kinds of things going on. I’m really excited to climb into their heads and have them climb into mine and figure out where all those stories are going to go. It’s going to be fun.
Interview by: Ivy