Tuesday 20 March 2018

Interview: Laekan Zea Kemp

Will you join me in welcoming author Laekan Kemp to The Writing Greyhound? Here to promote the novel Pen & Xander, Laekan kindly stopped by for a chat with me. So, pour yourself a cup of tea, cut a slice of cake and sit down to enjoy the perfect accompaniment to your morning break!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
Hello, everyone! I’m Laekan Zea Kemp, a teacher, blogger, and author of eight novels. I write genre fiction - mostly paranormal/fantasy and contemporary romance. My bestselling paranormal romance series, The Girl In Between, has been downloaded over half a million times and my newest novel, an upper YA contemporary romance, was just released in October. Pen & Xander is set in a Mexican restaurant that was actually mentioned in my paranormal series. Even though I write in different genres, I like to think of everything existing within the same universe.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve always wanted to tell stories. In fact, I wrote my first book when I was in middle school. It was terrible and I didn’t attempt another novel until I was seventeen years old. That book became The Things They Didn’t Bury, a historical romance set during the Dirty War in Argentina. My father was dying of cancer at the time and writing that book was incredibly therapeutic and life-changing for me. It made me realize that writing professionally was what I wanted to do. All of the emotional and psychological obstacles I had to overcome during that time in my life also made me realize that I had the mental fortitude to make it happen. Ever since then I was hooked and I’ve written a novel every year since.
pen-and-xander, laekan-zea-kemp, book

Tell me about Pen & Xander.
Pen & Xander is an upper YA contemporary romance about food and finding where you belong set in a Mexican restaurant that is the heart of an immigrant neighbourhood. I started writing it four years ago and it’s definitely the project I’m most proud of. The story was inspired by my own struggles as a young adult as well as my amazing students who all immigrated to the U.S. I wanted to write about their courage and bravery, as well as the role of food and family in Latinx culture. I was hungry every single second that I was writing this book but it also filled me with so much hope.
What’s the best thing about writing Young Adult fiction?
I love writing Young Adult fiction because it’s a time in everyone’s lives when everything feels like it contains this cosmic importance. Emotions are more raw, more powerful. It’s usually the time in a person’s life when they’re figuring out what they believe in and value. Those discoveries never come easy and I love writing about the struggle. Growing up is hard, which is what Pen comes to realize after getting fired from her father’s restaurant for lying to her parents about something important. But growing up is also a part of life - a beautiful part of life if we choose to see the lessons instead of just the heartache.
What drew you to writing romance?
This question just made me pause and ask myself, “Am I really a romance author?” It’s true that there’s romance in all of my books. But I think that’s because, after all of the horrible things I put my characters through, I still want them to be able to see the beauty in life. I still want them to have the things that make life worth living. Relationships, whether they’re romantic or between friends and family, are what make all of the pain worth it. Love is our reward for fighting every single day to keep going. I give my characters someone to love and someone to love them back because sometimes that love is all that stands between them trying again or giving up.
Why did you decide to write contemporary fiction?
I’ve written just as many contemporary novels as I have paranormal novels. I love writing about the real world and exploring what it means to be human. Writing fantasy and paranormal fiction are a lot of fun but after finishing my paranormal series last year, I couldn’t wait to get back to reality. There’s something almost sacred about telling the stories of ordinary people. It requires you to see the complexity and potential for greatness that lives inside all of us. Because there are no superheroes ready to swoop down and save us. Instead, every day in battles big and small we must save ourselves. To me, that’s so remarkable. Humans are so remarkable and I love telling their stories, especially the ones others might not think are worth telling.
laekan-zea-kemp, author

How did you get inspiration?
Some of the things that happen to Pen are things that happened to me when I was her age. I always end up putting a piece of myself in every book I write. It helps me process the past and see the lessons from those experiences rather than just the scars. Xander’s journey was inspired by my students, as well as the plight of other immigrants living in the U.S. I hope Pen and Xander’s story sheds a light on the importance of acceptance and community, as well as on the fact that we are all human and no matter where we come from we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
What’s your writing process like?
I recently wrote a lengthy blog post on my writing process, mostly in an attempt to help other writers realise that there is no perfect formula and we should all cut ourselves some slack. In a nutshell, it usually takes me about eight months to finish a novel, revisions included. I like to get most of my writing done in the mornings and when I’m in need of inspiration I’ll go for a long walk. I’m also often struck by inspiration while in the shower or I’ll be yanked awake by an idea in the middle of the night, which I then type into my phone. There have been various periods during which I’ve been able to write full-time. But now that I’m teaching I fit in most of my writing in the mornings before work and on the weekends.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Making yourself sit down and do it. It’s a psychological battle every single time but the more you do it the easier it’ll be to tune out your inner editor and just create. Those negative thoughts never go away but with enough practice you’ll eventually be able to recognize them for the lies that they are. Then when they pop into your head you can simply observe them instead of internalizing them.
What do you love most about writing?
I love surprising myself. I love documenting tiny miracles. I love writing stories that make other people feel seen and heard and valued. Drafting and even revisions can be tortuous but knowing that I’ll eventually be able to share a story with others that might just make them feel less alone in the world makes it all worth it.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Find a community of writers that supports and nurtures your creativity. Don’t listen to people who tell you writing is a waste of time. Stand strong in your convictions and avoid making excuses not to write. If you want to be a writer then you have to write. A lot. Also, NEVER compare yourself to other writers. They are on a specific path and you are on a specific path. Who cares if they reach certain milestones before you do? Things will happen when they are supposed to happen. Your only obligation is to be ready when those opportunities present themselves. That means doing the work, every single day, even when it feels like it’s all for nothing. It’s never for nothing. The work is for you - to make you better and stronger. So find joy in the work. Be grateful for the work and the lessons you learn as a result.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading The Reader by Traci Chee. I was drawn to it because of its similarities to my WIP. It’s wonderful!
What’s your all-time favourite book?
This is tough. Probably The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I read it the first time during my senior year of high school and it had a profound effect on me. It’s also the reason my first novel was historical fiction.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I’m eternally grateful for the amazing success I’ve had so far. It still blows my mind that complete strangers continue to buy my books and then share them with the people they care about. It’s made it possible for me to get my master’s degree and also buy my first home. The next milestone I’d love to reach would be to finally see my books in bookstores. This fall I’ll be querying a novel for the first time in seven years. Hopefully, it’ll lead to more readers and a successful career as a hybrid author.
For more information about Laekan or the novel, you can visit the website or follow her on Twitter.

Does the idea of Pen & Xander intrigue you? If so, you can try your luck and enter to win one of three e-copies of the book! Simply enter via the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and conditions:
1. Giveaway closes on 31st March 2018 at 11.59pm (GMT)
2. The prize consists of an e-copy of Pen & Xander by Laekan Zea Kemp - there will be three winners receiving a copy of the book each
3. The prize will be provided to the winner by the author NOT The Writing Greyhound
4. This giveaway is open internationally to those aged 16 and over
5. The winners will be randomly generated by Rafflecopter once the giveaway has ended
6. The winners will be informed by email once the giveaway has ended
7. The winners will have 72 hours to claim their prize. If the winner(s) have not responded by this time, another winner will be announced

Will you be reading the book? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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