So, about two months ago, I (Josiah) picked up this random indie book by a Christian author and absolutely loved it. (You can check out my review of the book here!) After finishing it, I just knew I had to hear more from this author about how she wrote the book and what made her characters as vibrant and complex they were. And after hearing her thoughts, I thought you all might benefit from hearing from her as well! So, below you’ll see the results of my interview with her, and if you read all the way to the end, you’ll be able to enter a giveaway for her book, Into the Fire (plus, she’s throwing in a bookmark and temporary tattoo as well because she’s just an awesome person.) So read on to hear her thoughts on writing characters and attending writer’s conferences!
KP: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
Kim Vandel: I was in seventh grade when I first had the “I want to be a writer” thought.
KP: In brief, what did your journey look like from knowing you wanted to be a writer to actually writing and publishing Into the Fire?
Kim Vandel: My junior high literary aspirations gave way to my love of science by the time I went to college. I earned a degree in biology and worked in an environmental testing lab before staying home to be a full-time mom. It was then that the desire to be a writer returned, refusing to be ignored. I worked on a novel to the point where I felt totally burned out on it and decided to work on a different story for a while. That’s when Into the Fire was born. The first draft came together quickly, but rewriting and revising took me a couple of years. (I had to fit writing around my boys’ schedules.) I met with several agents and editors before finally deciding to indie publish, and Into the Fire released last April.
KP: How did you first come up with the concept of Into the Fire?
Kim Vandel: I grew up on Justice League cartoons and Sunday school Bible stories, and it seemed to me that the heroes in the Bible displayed very superhero-ish abilities. Samson brought down the Philistines’ temple with his bare hands. Elijah outran Ahab’s chariot. Philip “teleported” from the Gaza road to Azotus. Superpowers and Bible heroes were always a natural fit in my head. So instead of falling into a vat of radioactive waste or being the victim of a science experiment gone wrong, my superheroes are chosen by God, and He gives them their superpowers.
KP: What’s your process for creating the characters in your story? Will you fill out questionnaires on them and diagram their personalities, or do you just sit down and discover their personalities by writing them?
Kim Vandel: I tend to avoid things like character questionnaires and diagrams. I know they really help some writers, but I’m a little paranoid about getting too distracted by who the characters are “supposed to be” instead of letting them evolve naturally. When I start a story, I have a general idea of each character’s personality, but for the most part I discover my characters as I write. I want them to tell me who they are. I love that moment when they take on a life of their own and start revealing their story to me.
KP: One thing that I really liked about Into the Fire was how humorous the protagonist’s voice was. What advice would you give a younger writer on how to incorporate humor into a character?
Kim Vandel: Don’t force it. The humor should be natural to your voice as a writer and/or natural to your character and his or her point of view. I think the humor in Into the Fire works because it’s such an intrinsic part of Kate’s personality. It’s the way her brain is wired. It’s how she sees the world—with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
If you want to incorporate humor into your story, getting feedback is essential, even if you’re a naturally funny person. Real-life humor doesn’t always translate to the page. A good critique partner or beta reader can help point out where you’re hitting a home run and where your humor falls flat.
KP: Another thing that I appreciated about Into the Fire was how complex certain characters were. Kate’s mother in particular comes to mind here, as she seems very stubborn and uncaring at first, but as the book goes on, she becomes more understandable, and I actually began to feel a bit sympathetic for her. What advice would you give on how to write very flawed but still sympathetic characters?
Kim Vandel: There’s a reason behind the hurtful things we say and do. We may not even be aware of the reason, but it still influences our behavior, and it usually goes back to a time when someone hurt us. The pain caused by that wound affects our thoughts and actions.
Your character’s wound is the key to creating sympathy with readers. The circumstances may be different, but emotion is universal. We all know what rejection feels like. We understand fear and failure and wanting to be loved.
As you learn more about Kate’s mom, you realize she’s acting out of fear and regret. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but you can sympathize with her pain.
KP: Did any characters dramatically change their personalities in the process of writing Into the Fire? If so, what was that like?
Kim Vandel: No dramatic changes. My characters were essentially the same as when I started Into the Fire, but their personalities became more defined. They became real people with unique habits and quirks. They had a lot more depth and individuality.
KP: You have a sequel to Into the Fire coming out this summer. What was it like to sit down again with these characters and write a new story about them?
Kim Vandel: After publishing Into the Fire, I wrote a science fiction novella, and while I loved my new characters, I really missed Kate. She and the other ITF characters have become a very big part of my life, so it was a pleasure to spend time with them again. I love how Kate is growing and finding her place as a Guardian, and it’s been a lot of fun to develop the relationship between her and her brother. It adds a layer of humor to the story that I think readers will enjoy as well.
KP: I noticed on your website that you went to several writers’ conventions. What were those experiences like?
Kim Vandel: Writers’ conferences are full of nerve-racking moments. Most writers are introverts, so asking us to be around numerous people and interact with them is a nightmare. If you add agent and editor appointments to the mix, you may find yourself in serious need of an escape pod by the end of the day.
But those nerve-racking moments are balanced by the fact that you learn SO MUCH and you get to talk about writing with people who don’t roll their eyes at you or give you a weird look. All those strangers at the conference are writers just like you, and they get you in a way no one else can. Some of them become friends you’ll have for the rest of your life. They’ll be your strongest encouragers and loudest cheerleaders.
KP: A lot of authors go to writers’ conventions to find an agent and through them a traditional publisher. How did the writers’ conventions help you even though you ended up going the indie route?
Kim Vandel: Whether you publish traditionally or independently, you need to know how to write well, and you need to understand the publishing process. I took workshops taught by multi-published authors and professional editors so I could sharpen my writing skills. I sat in on sessions offered by successful agents and marketers so I could learn how to create a professional product and then sell it.
I made connections—those friends mentioned above—that have provided me with an emotional support system and marketing team. Both are extremely important when you’re an indie author.
I also met with several editors and agents over the course of three or four years. Based on their feedback, I knew my writing was strong and that I had a marketable story idea.
All of those things gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to pursue indie publishing.
KP: What advice would you give to someone going to their first convention?
Kim Vandel: Be prepared. You’ll eliminate a lot of stress that way. Read through the workshop descriptions beforehand and decide which ones you want to attend. (But be flexible. You may get to the conference and realize you need to switch it up.) If you want to meet with an agent or editor, do your research and find out which ones are interested in what you have to offer. Decide that for a couple of days you’re going to be an extrovert and enjoy talking to strangers. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.
KP: And, for my final question, what’s one piece of advice that you would give to an aspiring young writer?
Kim Vandel: Read, read, read. That’s how you figure out what works and what doesn’t. You learn from the writing you love, and when something doesn’t connect with you as a reader, you’ll avoid making those mistakes in your own writing.
Ready for the Giveaway?
Kim Vandel is sponsoring a giveaway of her book, Into the Fire, along with a bookmark and Pur temporary tattoo. To be entered in the giveaway, click the widget below and login with either Facebook or your email to see all the possible ways to enter. The more options you choose, the more entries you get, and the greater your chances of winning!
This giveaway will run from August 4th to 10th, so enter while you can!
Kim Vandel is a grown-up who loves to read and write teen fiction. She worked in the field of environmental science before pursuing her dream of becoming a novelist. Her first book, Into the Fire, is currently a double semifinalist for the Realm Award (debut and young adult categories). Kim lives with her family in the Seattle suburbs—the land of Microsoft, Nintendo America, and approximately five million Starbucks.