"Sparking Creativity": An Interview with Kale Lawrence.
Today's interview is with Kale Lawrence, a writer who I was lucky enough to connect with on Instagram. I got to ask her questions about her wonderful Wattpad project The Magi Menagerie, exploring culture, and raising awareness for mental health through writing.
L: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
K: I'm not that old, but I feel like I've lived a thousand years. Okay, maybe not that long, but I have blazed through a variety of industries since graduating with a Bachelor's in Media Studies a decade ago. Since then, I've worked for Disney World, wrote the news for an NBC/ABC affiliate station newscasts (um, yes, they actually allowed an author who makes stuff up on the daily to have such duties), worked at a rock and roll academy for kids (Alice Cooper and even the guys from KISS said they liked my guitar pick necklace I'd wear for events!), and have been in marketing for various agencies and companies across the Midwest. I now work as a Marketing Manager at a pet product company in South Dakota, combining both my love for communicating with people and my love for animals.
L: What has your writing journey been like?
K: My writing journey started the moment I could pick up a pencil. Starting at age 5, I would take a stack of loose leaf paper, fold it over, and write and illustrate my own books. My first book had something to do with a house fly that grew in size until he became a Godzilla-style creature that destroyed the neighborhood. Over the years, I would continue to pen adventures, most of them set in my middle school. My fifth and sixth grade teachers would ask if I wanted to read my stories aloud to the class, to which I excitedly agreed but SPOILER ALERT: it did nothing for my popularity status. Not long after, I won a nationwide creative writing contest and had a story featured on the second season of the PBS kids show, ZOOM.
But no matter where I went in life, no matter how busy I became, I never stopped writing. There might have been dry spells, but the desire to create was still there. I wrote to escape every day life. I wrote to figure out who I was as a person. I wrote in the hopes that thousands of people would one day read my writing and say, "That story helped me get through x."
While I do a lot of writing in my career, I have constantly had to remind myself to make time for creative writing...the literal reason I live and breathe.
L: What are you currently working on?
K: I'm currently working on The Magi Menagerie, Season One, which is being published directly to Wattpad. It's a historical fantasy/adventure about a young Muslim immigrant in 1906 Belfast who stumbles upon an ancient secret society known as the Third Order of the Magi.
L: How did this story come to be?
K: As an author, empath, and someone battling depression, I feel things incredibly deeply. Because of that, creativity is not an easy thing to wrangle. For years, I allowed myself to be caught up in my career, an emotionally abusive relationship, and rocky mental health and made excuses for why I couldn't write, why I shouldn't write.
Everything changed in September 2019.
On my birthday, I received the best gift an author could ever unwrap: I got my creativity back. At the time, I was on a work trip in Hershey, Pennsylvania and all at once, this story just started pouring out of me. Grabbing my work laptop, I signed into Wattpad and began planning out not one, not two, but three seasons of a story and characters I hardly knew. It was almost as if this story had been patiently waiting in the dusty corners of my mind, wanting to see the light of day. Now, it is and I'm so incredibly happy to be able to share the adventure with everyone!
L: Who would your work appeal to?
K: I used to think I wrote for more of a Young Adult audience, but since my protagonists range in age from 17 to 34, I'm pretty sure I'm writing for a New Adult audience. I mean, it's not surprising since I fall into the typical New Adult demographic. Ultimately, I strive to be like Rowling, Tolkien, and Lewis who were masters at penning adventures that have cross-over appeal.
L: How would you describe your writing style?
K: Dark. Quirky. Poetic. I love describing things in a way that not only gives a reader a visual, but makes them feel something. My writing tends to have characters in upsetting or dark situations, because in a sense, I've also been there mentally. On the flip side, I have a quirky sense of humor, so that also shines through in spots.
L: What are you most inspired by?
K: Lately, I've been really inspired by Guillermo del Toro's Netflix animated series, Tales of Arcadia, particularly 3BELOW. I love how he brings his darker style of storytelling on a level younger audiences can connect with while simultaneously providing a necessary political commentary on matters such as racism, immigration, and LGBTQ representation. That series ultimately inspired me to put The Magi Menagerie out into the world because it deals with similar topics.
L: Bringing awareness to mental health is really important in writing. What are your thoughts regarding this topic?
K: As someone who has battled depression for years, I am a huge advocate for breaking the stigma surrounding mental health. No matter if someone is struggling with anxiety, PTSD, or eating disorders, no one deserves to feel like their illness isn't real or that they're faking it. It is real, and there is hope. It's okay to not be okay. But most importantly: a light shines just beyond the horizon. You'll get there, but it may take time. During the journey, however, you're transforming into a much stronger and unstoppable individual.
In The Magi Menagerie, two of my characters are suffering from PTSD, but one is more obvious than the other. In a sense, I'm trying to illustrate that even with the same disorder, the faces of mental illness can manifest in incredibly different ways. Of course, PTSD was not a recognized disorder in the early 1900s, but it still existed. Ultimately, I want to show that even though these characters are struggling, their identity is so much more than their mental illnesses and they end up being the strongest, most capable individuals in the entire cast.
L: What do you believe the most original part of your book is?
K: I'd probably have to say the diversity of the characters. I wanted an extremely diverse cast in terms of faiths and ethnicities to solidify the main theme of the series, which is showing how people from different backgrounds need to work together in order to accomplish extraordinary things. In our fragmented modern world, this is a message we desperately need right now.
But also - the Magi haven't necessarily been a huge part of modern storytelling so I'm bringing them into the spotlight.
L: What is your favorite part about writing this book?
K: I love exploring the various cultures of my characters and how they might have interacted in 1906. One of my most favorite characters to write is Diego, partly because he's the comic relief, but also because I love how sassy his character can be. Sometimes, when you have these very real characters in your head, it is almost as if you're watching a movie of them playing out in your mind and you are just capturing it all in writing.
L: What would you say to people in a creative slump?
K: You can and you will break through. Personally, I went through years of a creative drought, and one thing my therapist encouraged me to do was to write a paragraph every day. It didn't matter what it was or if it even made sense, I just had to write. Well, those paragraphs turned into chapters and chapters into full-fledged books, so the repetition of daily writing definitely helps get creativity flowing again.
Also, I encourage anyone currently going through a creative slump to re-read work from your favorite author, see an adventurous movie, or even listen to an epic soundtrack. All of these are immensely helpful in sparking creativity.
L: What helps to inspire you?
K: The weirdest things inspire me: a trip to a museum, intense orchestral music while hiking, creative Netflix shows, the places to which I travel, and people watching, the more diverse the setting, the better. (Hello, airports!)
And you know, apparently flies inspire me. Who even knows where I'd be today if I didn't write that first story?
L: Any final thoughts?
K: Being an author is such a magical experience. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my time. Thanks for allowing me to ramble on and on about what I love most!
L: Thanks so much, Kale! I hope to have you on the blog again soon, this was wonderful!
Kale's Social Media Links