Kelly Bingham was a story artist and director for Walt Disney Feature Animation before earning her MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults. She is the author of two novels in verse: SHARK GIRL and FORMELY SHARK GIRL. (Candlewick Press.) SHARK GIRL was nominated for the Rebecca Caudill Award, The Truman Award, The Golden Sower Award, and the Schneider Family Book Award. It was named a Best Book For Young Adults, and chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club for kids.
Kelly is also the author of Z IS FOR MOOSE, (Greenwillow) a picture book illustrated by Caldecott-Award-Winning illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky. Z IS FOR MOOSE was nominated for the E.B. White Read Aloud award, and nominated for state book awards in South Carolina and Georgia. A sequel is on the way: CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE will be released September, 2014. Kelly lives in Georgia with her husband, children, and two cats. For more info, visit her website, Twitter, Facebook, and blog.
If you were going to spend a year in complete solitude and you could only bring one book, one CD, and one movie, what would they be?
Book: You Got This: How To Live For A Year In Complete Solitude
CD: Christmas music
Movie: While You Were Sleeping
What famous attraction has been the greatest disappointment?
Mount Rushmore, though I can’t say it was a “disappointment,” because it was still amazing. But it was a lot smaller than I thought it would be.
Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be?
Doc. He has glasses (like me) and looks the most likely to enjoy reading and writing.
What one thing annoys you most at a restaurant?
Parents being mean to their kids.
What celebrity never seems to fade away?
Is Bill Clinton a celebrity? He seems to reappear just often enough to never fade away.
What food do you not eat enough of?
What TV show have you surprisingly never seen?
American Idol, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and anything Real Housewives.
If you were any animal, what would you be?
One of my cats. They have a very nice life.
If you could change one thing about airlines to make your flight more enjoyable, what would it be?
No parents being mean to their kids. Nobody being a jerk because a baby is crying. No cell phone use, no bathroom odors permeating the cabin, nobody eating anything they brought on board that is SUPER SMELLY, no one asking anyone to switch seats, and no one being a big baby because their “carry on” is too big to fit in the bin and they have to check it.
What irritates you the most in a social situation?
Passive aggressive remarks. Spouses griping about each other to the people around them, in front of each other. (You know, those “jokes” that aren’t funny?) And: Parents being mean to their children!
Who will you probably not receive a phone call from this weekend?
What do Martians do for fun on Mars?
They have book clubs. And they’re nice to their kids.
If you opened the freezer right now, what would you love to find?
How do you know when a book is finished?
I hate to sound vague, but I just know. It really is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and then finally stepping out of the tunnel. You know you’re done when you step out of the tunnel and into the light.
What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?
It has made it a whole lot easier to do research, and that’s been a good thing.
What traits do creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
I think there’s this idea that creative people are different—that they are dreamers, that they have a vision that others don’t, but also that they are bold and fearless, not afraid to put themselves out there and try things, experiment with their art form, etc.
I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think we are all amazingly creative and all of us have the potential to do things we are quick to assume we can’t. We are all dreamers. We are all visionaries in our own ways.
I think the main thing that separates a “successful” creative person from one who isn’t is simply commitment. The harder you work at something, the ‘luckier’ you will be. Talk to most people who make a living writing or painting or doing anything like that, and you will find out that they have all made lots of sacrifices in order to put zillions of hours into learning their craft, perfecting it, pushing themselves, and always trying to grow as an artist and reach that next milestone. Sure, some people just ‘fall into’ something wonderful. But most people have to work really hard at it. And that can separate some groups from others. Some people don’t have the time to pursue their creative endeavors. And some people convince themselves they don’t have the time. Successful creative people make the time—working after the kids are asleep, or on the weekends, or at night after working a day job. They give up a lot of time and energy in order to chip away at their vision, all because they really want to. In my mind, cultivating your creativity to the point where you are labeled “a creative person” really comes down to commitment and effort. That’s all. If it’s important for you to express yourself creatively, you will find the time.
Have your personal expectations limited your creativity?
I don’t feel this has been a huge issue for me. I do sometimes (well, maybe always) fall into the trap of thinking I’m going to write something a lot faster than I actually do. And that usually leads to (at some point) a period of feeling discouraged, tired, disenchanted, frustrated, anxious, or any other negative feeling you can imagine. There’s almost always a point where I think, “Why did I think I could do this?”
But at this point in my writing life, I have come to recognize that feeling as old and familiar and expected. And I try to box it up in the little shoe-box it belongs in and then move on. Self-doubt and wallowing in uncertainty are luxuries you can’t afford if you really want to get on with the rewarding work of writing books. You can write OR you can feel angst. But it’s pretty hard to do both at the same time day after day after day, year after year. So I deal with this feeling by recognizing it and then putting it aside. Experience has shown me that I can complete a book successfully, no matter how hard it is to write along the way. I use that memory to comfort myself and press on.
Do you censor your creativity so as not to offend anyone?
Sure…I’d love to meet the writer who doesn’t ever think, “My mom is going to read this. I shouldn’t use that word.” Or, “My kids are going to read this. I can’t write THAT scene.”
But again—those are luxuries you can’t afford as a writer. And really, most of the things we worry about don’t ever amount to the world coming to an end, right? And so often, the things I worry about (and write anyway) end up getting cut, or changed, or altered in some way anyway. If you’re on your first draft of something, don’t agonize over one word or one paragraph. Just write it. It may change down the road.
Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?
Some days I need to listen to music, see a really good movie, or read a great book. Other days I just need a little extra sleep.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?
1. Understand it will take some time. The business moves slowly, even after you sell a manuscript and/or get an agent.
2. Getting an agent is great, but it’s not a one-stop, instant key to success. Put your energy and time into your writing as opposed to hunting an agent before you’re ready.
3. Learn as much as you can. Take classes and workshops and push yourself to grow, particularly if you feel stuck in your writing or feel you have plateaued.
4. Worried you’re not good enough? Put your anxiety aside and just write, whenever possible. Tell yourself, “I’m not going to worry for the next two hours—I’m just going to WRITE.” You can always resume worrying about your writing when you’re done actually writing.
5. Be brave. Listen to your gut. Write about what calls to you. And experiment. Draft a scene and see what happens. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t get hung up on “rules.” If you find yourself asking, “Is it okay to write about…” or “Is it okay to have a character who…” the answer is YES. Everything is “okay” when you draft. Just do it.
6. No one will take your writing seriously if you don’t. Don’t wait for people to give you time or permission to pursue your dream. “I’m writing a book” is often met with polite, frozen smiles. Don’t expect approval. You don’t need it. (Though of course, it’s super to have it.) But you don’t have to be militant about it, either. You don’t have to choose between your family and your writing time. You don’t have to quit your job and starve, just to write a book. Find your balance with a little experimentation and discipline. Take your growth as a writer seriously, and you will see results.
7. Most importantly, take the time to know and understand your field. I’ve heard things like, “I think I’ll write a picture book this weekend,” and “I may start off by writing for kids, but I plan to work my way UP to writing for adults,” or: “I would read more children’s literature if I had the time, but I really don’t.” Worst of all: “This book was surprisingly good FOR A CHILDREN’S BOOK.” If you are guilty of saying any of those things, you need to slow down and get acquainted with the world of children’s literature. See what has endured, what’s new, what kids are choosing as their favorite books, and what’s winning awards. What’s been banned? Why? What do your kids love to read? To have read to them? What are librarians recommending for all the age groups?
8. Understand the huge variety in every genre of the children’s book world. You don’t have to love every book published, but you have to have a love and respect for what children’s books are and who they are for.
What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?
Lack of time and energy have always been my biggest obstacles. There’s always something. There’s a family to raise and take care of. A full time job. Health issues, moving from place to place, and personal demands. There are always fun things, not-so-fun-things, and everything in between to demand your attention. It’s easy to assume that writing is an indulgence that needs to be shoved aside at the first possible bump in the road. The hard part is sticking with it, even when time is short and guilt is an issue. Learning to become a good storyteller takes quite some time. It’s not always enough to have a flair for writing or a good idea. You have to put the time into your work and you have to be patient.
What life experiences have inspired your work?
What hasn’t? Every moment of life can be used in your work. And not just your life experiences—you can also borrow freely from watching other people’s lives, or from stories your grandparents tell you, or things you see your kids go through. Even an overheard conversation can make its way into your book.