Kristen Kittscher is the 2014 James Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence and debut author of The Wig in the Window (2013), the first in a planned middle grade mystery series from Harper Children’s. A graduate of Brown University and former middle school English teacher, Kristen is a contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books and The Rumpus and presents frequently at schools, libraries, and festivals. Kristen lives with her husband in Pasadena, California, where she is at work on the next mystery in her series, The Tiara on the Terrace. For more info, visit her website, Twitter, and Facebook.
What is the best thing about getting old?
I’m getting old? You can’t tell me these things! I still feel like I’m ten. However, I will say that the confidence that comes with having more practice living in the world is something I’d never trade to be young again.
If someone spied on you, what embarrassing fact would they discover?
That on a writing day, when I have no plans to leave the house, I am ALWAYS in my pajamas.
What one commercial product are you totally loyal to?
Persil — a German detergent. My husband brings it back from his family in Germany.
Fill in the blank. Rap music makes me….
…wish I could rap myself! I’m constantly in awe of the talent it takes to bust out with those rhymes.
What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?
All of it is challenging, and I think that’s why I love it so much. When things come too easily, I’m suspicious. I like to be in over my head and constantly pushing into unknown territory. I started writing late, after many years of teaching, so I feel like I’m still very much learning my craft.
What life experiences have inspired your work?
My middle school teaching is definitely my main influence. Observing the ups and downs of the seventh grade social landscape and reliving the angst of that time through my students definitely seeps into my character’s points-of-view. As a childhood spy myself, of course my own spying experiences inspired amateur sleuths Young & Yang in The Wig in the Window. My best friend and I had the “0013 Spies Club,” named for our 007 and 006 agent monikers. Of course, we had lots of fights over which of us got to be 007…
How do you know when a book is finished?
When I start to notice the changes I’m making are very superficial and I’m no longer filled with ideas for solutions and changes, I’m finished. I remember my editor very patiently listening to me as I wrung my hands over whether the seagulls in a certain scene were “soaring” or “gliding.” That book was definitely done at that point; I just wasn’t accepting it!
Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?
For many years, I was actually drawn to jobs with more stability and security because I didn’t think I had enough talent to be a writer. Being a professional writer felt like an entirely impractical aspiration, so I settled for doing jobs that nevertheless involved being surrounded by stories and language. I worked in script development at Warner Brothers, for a translation agency, and as an English teacher. I’ve taught English in some form since 2000. It wasn’t until I was inspired to write for my seventh graders that I realized the two paths don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
Who do you consider a literary genius?
Oh, there are so many! Vladimir Nabokov takes the prize for me. When I consider he didn’t always write in his native language, I’m especially dazzled. As far as living authors go, I’m in awe of David Mitchell.
What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?
My career is just getting started, so I’d have to say having the courage to even embark on it in the first place has been the biggest obstacle. I am always fighting to get out of my own way and have more faith in my own instincts and abilities.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?
Be kind to yourself and don’t rush.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
None. I think all people are inherently creative. Some people are simply more regularly accessing divergent ways of thinking and taking the time to be playful. If being playful and making things is a priority for you, than you are creative!