Sunday, July 22, 2012

Author Interview with Mike Kalmbach

Q. What inspired the "Writing Advice for Teens" series?

I'm a big fan of mentoring new writers and providing them with opportunities I wished I'd had. I've been teaching seminars to teens for about a year, based on my freelance editing experience and a decade of mentoring novice writers. While preparing for one of my sessions, I suddenly realized that I wanted something students could take home. I went searching for advice targeted to teenage writers, and there wasn't much out there (at least that I could find). Since I had the experience and the passion for the topic, I seized the opportunity to make a splash in this space. So far, teenagers and other new writers have loved the first book in the series, so I'm hopeful that they'll enjoy the other books just as much.

Q. There are so many books that you have coming out in this series, including "Writing Advice for Teens:  Editing Fiction", do you find it hard trying to write these books and your own fictional novels?  How do you
balance the two genres?

The real limitation is always time. I literally have over twenty book-length projects planned, some better formed than others, with another fifty or so "ideas to explore". The really cool thing about the Writing Advice for Teens series is that it forces me to analyze my own stories to make sure I'm not making the mistakes that I try to help others avoid. Non-fiction is also a lot easier to write when you already understand the subject, while fiction is a lot more fluid.
My main rule is to make progress on my current projects every day. That keeps me focused and always writing just a little bit more.  
Q. In "Creating Stories", you included a character sheet, did you come up with all that information on your own?  Do you use it when working on your novels?

The character sheet included in the book (also available as a free download at was developed over the course of several years, and the info was pulled from several sources (or inspiration as it hit me). I wish I remembered all the sources, because I'd love to credit them, but I didn't keep all of that documentation. I use it as a tool to help me think about various aspects of a character and to record my thoughts, but I don't answer every question for every character.  I do at least read over the questions for every main character so I consider the different ways he or she can grow.
Q. What can your readers expect from your Editing book?  Will there be more exercises and things of that sort included in that book as well?
Writing Advice for Teens: Editing Fiction will cover the basics of editing. Some highlights:
  • Handling the emotional aspects of editing (frustration, sadness, uncertainty, etc.) and how to get yourself into the editing mindset
  • How to find big problems in your work (unlikeable characters, plot holes, starting your story in the right place, etc.)
  • How to find the little details that will help your work sparkle (natural dialogue, massaging sections that sound like narration, identifying and eliminating data dump, etc.)
  • Checklists for common style issues and commonly misspelled words
Just like the first book, there are tons of examples and exercises to help you see and apply the lessons to your own stories.

Q. What are you currently working on?

I currently have two big projects I'm focusing on. The first is making sure that the Writing Advice for Teens: Editing Fiction book is ready for its October 30, 2012 release.

The other project is a humorous fantasy novel I'm really excited about called Into the Land of Iowah. It's about a wizard who's banished to the most evil land his enemy can think of: a corn field in modern-day Iowa. The story covers the wizard's attempts to return to his homeland as he deals with the perils of modern society. It's been a lot of fun to write, and some of my early reviewers and critique partners have loved the subtle humor throughout the book.

I'm also working on one small project that I plan to release as an ebook only: a short story called Revenge of the Dust Bunnies. I wrote the original draft of the story as a dare for a high school English class--my classmates bet me that I couldn't write a story about dust bunnies (yes, the creatures that live under most people's beds) and get an A. For what it's worth, I did get the A, but I've also polished and expanded the story, so I'm hopeful that middle-grade students will love the combination of horror and humor.


Q.  In your book, you mentioned that it'd be a good idea if writers found a critique group, is this something that can be found online or would it be best to find one at your local library?
In either case (online or real world), recognize that you have to be prepared to give at least as much as you take. In general, if I'm going to ask for feedback, I review at least two other people's submissions first. This allows me to a) practice my editing skill on someone else's work and b) hopefully gain a friend who will be more willing to look at my own submission.

In-person critique groups are the best for ongoing feedback. You get detailed feedback and can ask questions in real time. Most local libraries have a writing critique group, and they're often willing to help mentor young writers. If one isn't already there, librarians often love to help get one started, so please ask!

If you can't find an in-person critique group, you can try online. I run a website called WritAnon (short for Writers Anonymous) at, and have several good moderators who help mentor new writers. Another great resource for teens is, where you can find lots of other folks your age. The problem with online communities is that people come and go, so it's hard to build lasting relationships. In-person critique groups help you feel truly connected to other writers in your area, and you really become invested in their success.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who has a notebook filled with different story ideas, but no story?

Pick one idea that you're passionate about and run with it. If you have too many ideas that you want to work on, you'll probably make very little progress.  After you've picked one project, put sticky notes with the title of your project somewhere you'll see it--and if you haven't made progress today, take fifteen minutes and write a hundred words (three paragraphs or so). See how far it goes. If you're not sure how to structure a story, I cover story structure (along with many other useful tips!) in Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories.

Those other ideas will always be there in your notebook. You can always come back to them later. Pick one and start writing now, and make a little progress every day until it's done.


Q. How many books do you recommend a writer works on at once?  Why?

For someone who's just getting started, just one. For someone who's experienced (i.e., is already selling books), a maximum of two.

The main reason is focus. You'll finish faster and with better quality if you focus on one project at a time. For experienced writers, two books at once are possible, if they're unrelated to each other, or if you're editing the first one and writing the second. That's why I work one non-fiction project and one fiction project at the same time. They both exercise different sides of my brain, so it's more sustainable for me to be able to do two at once. If you're editing one project while you're writing the next, that's also working different parts of your brain, so you have a better shot of writing something every day.


Q. Are you confident that your books in this series will continue to help teens in years to come?
I thought a lot about the future as I wrote this book. I wrote something that I could also use as a resource, so I believe it will stand the test of time. Plus, the value of a series is that I can always write another book if the world changes dramatically. While this book was targeted for teens, I think it will help any beginning to intermediate writer.

Q. Would you describe your son, Alexander, as a creative child?  Are you hoping that he'll pursue a career in writing or something totally different?
Alexander is just 13 months old, so he hasn't had a lot of opportunity for demonstrating advanced skills like writing. That said, he loves to try to figure out new problems (and new ways to make life interesting for Mom and Dad).
As he grows, I'd love for him to find something he's passionate about and will pursue until he succeeds. I plan to support him and offer what assistance I can.
Ultimately, it's his life, and he needs to live it. I hope to help him develop the confidence and abilities to pursue his dreams.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Always strive to write the best story you can. If you can't be proud of what you've written, don't publish it. And never publish something before you've had an experienced writer read your work. They'll help you find problems in your work before your readers do.

Keep writing every day. If you don't get started, you'll never finish. So get started today. Write now!  

1 comment:

Mike Kalmbach said...

Thanks, Josie! I really enjoyed this interview. Wish you the best!