Today we have the privilege of speaking with Kristen Joy Wilks. Kristen lives in the beautiful woods of the Cascade mountains with her camp director husband, three fierce sons, and a large and slobbery Newfoundland dog. She spent her misguided youth falling in love with Commander Spock via Star Trek reruns. Hello Kristen, thank you for granting us this interview.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.
Hi, there. I grew up at a small Bible camp in the Cascade Mountains where my dad was the Camp Director. I ran around barefoot on the dusty trails between the cabins in the summer, caught grasshoppers in the wide mountain meadow, and even rode my horse through a herd of elk on a dare. Eventually, my boyfriend was hired by the camp. After we were married and went to seminary in Canada, we returned to camp where my husband has been a director for 20 summers. We have three rowdy sons, a 105 lb Newfoundland dog named Princess Leia Freyja, and 9 pet chickens called Paintball, Ewok, Peaches, Mango, Astro, Hades, Titan, Cocoa, and Mary.
What’s your favorite genre to read and write? Who’s your favorite author?
I love rich, vibrant fantasy like Cornelia Funke’s Inheart trilogy. I enjoy funny and quirky books like “Missing Mabel” which is part of Nancy Mehl’s Curl up and Dye series about a beautician in a funeral home. I enjoy mysteries like Agatha Christy and the Sherlock Holmes books. I love Young Adult books like Marissa Meyer’s “Cinder” about a cyborg Cinderella. And of course, I love middle-grade novels since I read aloud to my three sons at bedtime, even though my oldest is taller than me. Some of my favorite middle-grade novels are the “Redwall” books by Brian Jacques, the “How to Train Your Dragon” books by Cressida Cowell, “Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer, and “On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness” by Andrew Peterson.
What age did you realize you loved books? When did you start writing?
I began writing in the first grade when my teacher chose me to go to a young writer’s conference to meet Steven Kellogg. I wrote a book that was shaped like a guinea pig and was about how our Scottish terrier mix tried to eat my brother’s guinea pig. I began reading “The Black Stallion” series in second grade as well as Nancy Drew and have had my nose in a book ever since.
Tell us about this book. What did you learn about yourself through writing it?
My publisher actually called me up and asked if I would write a book for their Pure Amore line. I told her that I would if God gave me an idea because I totally had no idea what to write about. Well, I hung up the phone and BOOM, an idea materialized in my head. I figure that God was just showing off there, but I’ll take that kind of help any day! I actually went on this same 21-mile hike as a teenager and it was very memorable. So I made my characters and then I gathered up all the crazy real life things that happened on the trip, made up some brand new perils, and gave the various experiences to one character or another. I was able to weave in some of the things the Lord has taught me about fearing God (in a good way) through hiking trips. There is something about backpacking and being thrust into nature that aptly illustrates the might and glory of God.
Do you normally use an outline for the books you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?
The longer I write, the more I make use of outlines. I used to just wing it, but my writing has improved as I’ve learned to pause and figure out where the story is going. So yes, I used a basic outline for this. Blake Snyder’s 15 beats outline is a favorite of mine. Simple, but powerful in helping me find the story.
Is there a special place you like to write?
We have this big, fluffy chair-and-a-half in our living room and when my kids are home from school I get up at 4:00 am, tuck myself in a quilt, and write there until they wake up. When they are at school, I write during the day.
What was something that surprised you in the way this book unfolded? What character do you like best?
I really like how Strudel, the little dog, turned out. I loved imagining him getting more and more pine cones and bits of sap in his silky, floor-length coat. I also enjoyed imagining the horror of my main character as she tried to brush him out. Having watched people who have been on walks, but never a true hike, accomplish a real-life backpacking trip, I loved bringing that experience to life in my main character. Realizing that you can survive in the wilderness with all you need on your own back is a life-changing experience. It was wonderful to be able to paint that experience into a story.
What advice would you give a new author?
Get lots of time in just writing! It takes hours and hours of pouring yourself into writing projects before your skill reaches industry standards. So just write! Yes, read blogs about writing, read books about writing, go to a writer’s conference at least once a year. A small, local conference is just fine if you (like me) cannot afford the big national ones. But most importantly, write! It took me about ten years of steady writing before I started selling magazine articles and stories. It was thirteen years before I sold my first book. But the practice pays off. Write, write, write!
What project are you working on now and how do we find your books?
Currently, I’m working on a romantic comedy about a beautiful photographer who is zipping through Yellowstone National Park on her classic 1950s motorbike when her small but fierce Scottish terrier escapes from his travel carrier and rushes into a herd of bison intent on brawling with any and every taker. A nearby park ranger prevents her from chasing after him, earning her wrath and allowing her dog to escape. Can she sneak around the rules-obsessed ranger and rescue her dog before he is devoured by a bear, wolves, or the bubonic plague carrying marmot? Seriously, marmots have been known to carry the plague. Let’s count that as your fun, Yellowstone fact for the day.
Where can we find your books?
Any place you buy ebooks! You can visit my website for the purchase links or to read up on our family’s adventures at the camp we live at, find yummy recipes, or to watch all of the hilarious book trailers my friend Shinobi has made for my stories.