Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with YA, science-fiction, paranormal author and poet Kenna McKinnon. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Kenna: My name is Kenna Mary McKinnon and I’m a freelance writer and self-employed medical transcriptionist who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. My young adult SF book, Space Hive (working title Jive Hive), will be published by Imajin Books in summer / fall 2012. My articles have been published in numerous journals including WestWord, SZ Magazine, BP Magazine, Audience Magazine, Alberta Caregiver and Edmonton Senior, among others. Some of my poetry and a stage play I wrote was published by Audience Magazine. Two poems have been published by Ascent Aspirations. Although my degree is in Anthropology (with a minor in Psychology), I’ve spent my life writing. I enjoy exploring the psychology of the human condition, especially when the accompanying human is dropped into complex and unusual circumstances. I have lived successfully with schizophrenia for many years.
Morgen: Wow, that’s certainly a great variety. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Kenna: Space Hive, my only published novel so far, is a Middle Reader / Young Adult Science Fiction novel. I’ve recently completed three paranormal novellas in an anthology which I hope to submit to my publisher. I’ve also co-authored a children’s chapter book with a friend, and co-authored a nonfiction book about schizophrenia with Austin Mardon, an advocate for mental illness here in Edmonton. So I really write across genre. I also write poetry and wrote one play which was published by Audience Magazine a couple of years ago.
Morgen: 🙂 What have you had published to-date?
Kenna: I’ll refer you to my publications page, Morgen, as I’ve had numerous articles, poetry, and a stage play published. The link is http://www.kennamckinnon.blogspot.ca/p/my-publications.html.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Kenna: I’ve had oodles of rejections. I file them under “rejections” in my filing cabinet so I know who not to send them to again.
Morgen: I have a spreadsheet and then the papers go in a display book. I couldn’t throw them away as some people do, it shows me how far I’ve come (in some cases). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Kenna: I don’t have an agent and so far don’t think an agent is vital to an author’s success, although I understand the situation is different in the U.S. than it is in Canada. I think it’s easier to get published without an agent in Canada. I don’t know about the U.K.
Morgen: I’d say so with the smaller publishers and I’ve heard some agents are becoming publishers. More authors are taken up by small publishers or eBooking so things are changing. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Kenna: My book, The Space Hive, is going to be available first as an eBook and then as a trade paperback. Yes, I’ll be involved in that process. I have a Kindle and read ebooks almost exclusively, but there are books on my shelves I haven’t read yet that are print, so I do read paper as well. I prefer ebooks.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kenna: I do a lot of marketing for myself. So far my book hasn’t been published but I’m busy right now on Twitter and Facebook creating a “brand” for myself and getting the word out there. I also have an author blog and try to keep up the readership before the book is actually out. I’ll be investing in copies of my books, bookmarks, book signings, blog tours and so on.
Morgen: It’s a hard slog but sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Kenna: Most of my favourite actors are dead. I’m that old. I have a favourite book so far, Circle of Devils, which is my latest and not published yet. My latest work is always my favourite. If one of my books were made into films, I’d have Rod Stewart play Drake, the antagonist in a paranormal novella from Circle of Devils. Or David Bowie. I loved him in Labyrinth.
Morgen: What wonderful choices. I’m not sure I’ve seen Rod in anything but I’d like to. 🙂 Labyrinth is one of my favourite films. 🙂 Did you have any say in the title / cover of your books? How important do you think they are?
Kenna: Yes, I titled my book and the publisher liked not the first title I came up with, but the second, and I do have some say in the cover of my book. I’m fortunate to have the publisher I do as I have quite a lot of say in the production and promotion of my work. I think the title and cover of a book is important as that’s the first thing the reader will see on a bookshelf or browsing Amazon.
Morgen: It is and having catchy titles / covers certainly draws a reader in. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kenna: Circle of Devils, as I said, and I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next. Perhaps some short stories.
Morgen: Yay, short stories. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Kenna: No, I don’t manage to write every day. I’m not that disciplined, I guess, but I can’t sit down and write at a prearranged time until a certain time. I also have a day job, a home-based medical transcription business, and a life. I have to read quite a lot and experience life, get out for walks, socialize, in order to keep up the writing spirit. I can’t write in a vacuum so have to weave the fabric of my shower curtain sort of life into my writing life. I also get paid to write articles so that means interviews, and I do keep up my blog and social media. That could count as writing, I suppose. Life gets complicated but I try to keep it simple. I like austere and simple but you wouldn’t know it if you saw my studio suite, which is one quarter office space and three quarters recycled treasures.
I sometimes write for most of the night or part of the day. I don’t sleep much sometimes, or nap. I spend a lot of time editing, which I also enjoy. I have suffered from writer’s block, to my surprise, but not to a significant extent. I left the work for two or three days then sat down, wrote some nonsense to get started, and then wrote 4,000 words without much of a break.
Morgen: “weave the fabric of my shower curtain sort of life” I love that. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kenna: Both. I plotted the nonfiction book about schizophrenia, and I plotted one of the paranormal novellas. Mostly I get an idea and run with it, but I’m thinking plotting out a story might be a smarter thing to do if I can stick with the plot and not run with that, too.
Morgen: Easier with non-fiction I’m sure. The characters do tend to take over with fiction. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Kenna: I like to write fantasy and paranormal because that gives me more liberty to write what I want to and what appeals to me, which might be quite fantastic. I look up names on an on-line site that gives popular names for that particular year the character was born, or I name characters after people I know, mixing up first and last names. I have a bit of fun with names and often change them several times as the story progresses. I don’t use names I dislike as a rule, even for villains. I don’t have a method for creating my characters. I’ve lived long enough so I’ve lived with and known many characters which I can draw upon. I don’t know what makes them believable. I don’t even know if they ARE believable. I hope so. That would be cool if someone said to me, I know someone like that. That is, unless it’s someone they think I know myself.
Morgen: Even if we don’t interact with loads of people, unless a character is too perfect, I’m sure we can all relate to them. Please tell us more about your other non-fiction, poetry and short stories.
Kenna: Yes, I get paid for articles and interviews on different topics, for example, seniors in Edmonton or church related topics, I’ve always written poetry since I was five years old and wrote a poem on a chalkboard for my cousin and rhymed “stars” with “Mars”. She was impressed. I’ve written a few short stories and entered a couple of short story contests but didn’t get mentioned. I’ve put some short stories and poems into an anthology and submitted it to a publisher. I haven’t heard back. Mostly I’m pretty eclectic in my writing as in life.
Morgen: That’s a shame but then there’s always self-publishing as eBooks. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Kenna: I do a lot of editing although my writing is more fully formed as time goes on. Still, I edit extensively and am never satisfied. I don’t like to read over what I’ve done after it goes to a publisher. I read once that certain movie stars don’t watch their own films. I can empathize with that. I don’t like to cringe thinking what I did that is in the public eye now, possible mistakes and all, or that I could have done better. I don’t plan to read my reviews.
Morgen: We can endlessly edit our work so I tend to agree with you about reading after the event; you’re bound to think (I would anyway) about what you’d want to change. Do you have to do much research?
Kenna: Yes, depending on what I write, I have to do extensive research. I did a lot of research before the World Wide Web, which involved weeks of time and searching through libraries and travel itineraries, books I bought and borrowed; I remember the first novel I wrote involved a lot of that. It was about Greece and I’d never been to Greece. I like to make the reader think I’ve been there, done that, even though I may not have. But I think the advice to write about what you know is pretty narrow-minded as that would bore me, however, I think I know what they mean. You write about what you know and experience even vicariously. And so I do that, but with much research.
Morgen: I tend to have a lot of bodies (actual or mentioned) in my writing so I certainly don’t write about what I know. When I came to writing I thought I’d be really limited as I had a really ordinary life but fortunately I used to watch a lot of TV so have a vivid imagination. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Kenna: I like third person best. I’ve written first person in my schizophrenia book (The Insanity Machine) for the reminiscences. I’ve never tried second person except in poetry.
Morgen: If you enjoy it, you might enjoy writing it in fiction. I do but then I have a dark brain. 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Kenna: Oh, yes, lots of them. I had three novels which I finished many years ago that I cannibalized for two of the paranormal novellas I wrote. The three novels weren’t paranormal but I used some of the characters and situations. Those three novels will never see the light of day. Also much of my poetry and perhaps my short stories will probably remain in the publisher’s cellar under the stairs.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Kenna: I’ve always loved to write. Nothing surprised me other than getting an acceptance after all these years of writing and many rejections for the three novels I had originally penned, beginning in the early 1980s. I guess what really surprised me was the fact that I could write and do what I loved to do and get paid for it, too. To get published. That surprised me. Then to get published and get paid for it. The least favourite aspect of my writing life is promotion. I’m a bit of an introvert and don’t relish getting out of my comfort cheese and crackers to the jalapeno peppers and mescal.
Morgen: 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kenna: Hire or find yourself a professional or excellent editor after you’ve finished your work, not before, and listen to advice. Don’t think your work is so great that it can’t take any editing or criticism. And edit, edit, edit. Have patience and persevere. I’m a believer in traditional publishing but if you want to self-publish then be sure there aren’t any typos or grammatical errors in your work, that’s a sure sign of an amateur, and get a good proofreader and copy editor as well as a professional editor. Then promote and if you’re going to self-publish I think you can write anything you darn well please, so be avante garde or daring or something, get something out there that’s original and well done. Then edit and promote. I don’t know. I’m an aspiring writer myself, always will be.
Morgen: Absolutely get a second opinion. It’s not just for the errors (there will always be at least one) but my editor has come up with some wonderful suggestions or pointed out misunderstandings where something hadn’t occurred to me. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Kenna: Gertrude Stein, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Socrates. I’d cook a pork roast with baked yams, ambrosia salad, home made corn muffins with real corn niblets, grilled charred vegetables, green bean casserole, and a fruit parfait for dessert with appropriate wines, Brita water, and non-alcoholic sparkling apple juice. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages myself. I think with dinner companions like that we might have a food fight and I want to provide ample ammunition. Besides, I like to cook. That menu sounds a lot like what we might have for Easter dinner this year.
Morgen: That’s funny. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Kenna: “I might be getting older but I refuse to grow up.”
Morgen: Or “acting your shoe size” (I’m an 8-9). 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Kenna: I do interviews with subjects for articles, I have my own blog, and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn would probably count as writing related. I do a lot of listening and observing. I read a lot on my Kindle, especially. Love that Kindle. I’d like to travel a lot more than I do, but travel can be part of writing related research, as you know. I talk to people and get their stories. I like people.
Morgen: You can never have too much non-fiction / fiction fodder. 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Kenna: I took some lessons in classic guitar many years ago and have a blue acoustic guitar which I’m learning to play (chords especially and flat top picking). I like to cook and entertain, walk, take karate classes, attend the gym, hike, take photographs (I’ve been paid for a few photos in newspapers / magazines but would like a better camera). I like to read. I draw, especially caricatures, and usually make my own cards. I’m creating a book of her memoirs for an elderly friend from interviews on tape with her. I’ve owned a home-based medical transcription company for 13 years and that’s how I pay my bills (http://www.kennamckinnon.com). I don’t have any party tricks. I knew a United Church young minister once who did card tricks at parties. I always admired that but a friend thought it was childish. I think that it was childlike not childish and I like childlike stuff. I like babies and children, dogs, cats, and plants. My youngest grandson will be 19 years old this year and I don’t own a pet anymore. I wish I had party tricks. I can’t remember jokes and hate charades and games. My children and I used to play board games and I especially remember Trivial Pursuit because I was good at the old movies and songs. That’s because I’m of that era. Only old people write cheques for groceries, have you noticed that? Not all old people write cheques for groceries but of those who do, they’re all old people.
Morgen: I can only remember two jokes and they’re fairly long ones (about a boy, a dog and Gone With the Wind / card-playing and beer-swilling tortoises). 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Kenna: Oh, sure, lots of them. I go to Amazon.com and get loads of books on writing and style and blog writing and stuff. Let’s see if I can tell you some of them. Also, my publisher Cheryl Tardif at Imajin Books can be found at www.imajinbooks.com and I belong to Children’s Book Insider at www.cbiclubhouse.com, there’s “500 Ways to Be a Better Writer”, “Grow Your Blog”, “1,000 Creative Writing Prompts”, “Doing the Impossible, the 25 Laws for Doing the Impossible”, and Tony Robbins books, motivational books like that. I’m quite the gourmand of delectable motivational books. I perhaps read too many. But I like them. I go to writers’ blogs, too, and find them useful. But everyone’s different what turns their crank.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Kenna: Yes, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn as well as a forum put together when a weight loss site called Anne Collins announced they’re closing down the end of this month. I find them very valuable. My publisher insists on her authors being active on social media. Yes, for promoting, learning, networking, the forums and social media sites are invaluable.
Morgen: Aren’t they. We can reach so many more people without leaving our chairs… it’s great. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Kenna: It looks as though self-publishing and Ebooks are going to be the big cheese of the future. I’m excited about the future and I think perhaps the writer will have much more say in the production and creation of the finished product, indeed the work and creative process itself, than ever before. I think agents may be history at a certain point, and traditional publishers and bookstores will have to change or be ground into dust.
Morgen: They will, and they are. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Kenna: I have a website / blog http://www.kennamckinnon.blogspot.ca. You may also discover a bit of personal history on http://www.kenna-differentfolks.blogspot.com. My poetry anthology ‘Discovery’ has also just come out on Amazon.com.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Kenna: Yes, I’ve lived successfully with schizophrenia since I was diagnosed in 1978, but became ill three years prior to that in 1975. I graduated from the University of Alberta in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts with Distinction. I majored in Anthropology, minor Psychology. It taught me to think, was of little use other than that. Except, of course, I met some incredible professors who had a lifelong influence on me, but the contact with them was broken many years ago. I think I still carry around the influence to this day, and I’m a senior now, 40 years later.
Morgen: You said “it taught me to think” and this isn’t quite the same thing but designing my own eBook covers has made me take photographs differently; I’m always looking at the composition and where I can put the text. 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Kenna: Yes, I’d like to know the titles of your own published works and if I could read them on Amazon or perhaps a short story or poem? I’d be very interested.
Morgen: I have very little out at the moment… no poetry other than one on my blog’s My Writing page. There are four free short stories, a $1.49 31-short story collection / writing guide on Smashwords. They’re also on Amazon but are generally more expensive so I direct people to Smashwords – the details are on my blog’s books mine page. Thank you, Kenna, for asking. 🙂
Kenna: Also, why you spend your time and energy on promoting other authors? Do you have a spiritual dimension to your life that connects you with your fellow travellers on this earth? My book ‘Space Hive’ has an underlying theme of a “global village”, a term which the Canadian Marshall McLuhan coined in the 1960s. As Jason likes to say of his friend Aadab, “we are men of the world”.
Morgen: As you said earlier, I love meeting people (albeit virtually) and whilst I hope this blog develops my ‘brand’ (I did receive an email a few weeks ago from a contributor who’d met a ‘fan’ at a party, which was fantastic! :)) I’m in the same boat as 99.9% of the writers who take part in this blog – we’re all striving to have our work read and to get our name out there. I like to appear on other writers’ blogs too (I have been on some and have some in hand) and it’s all about doing as much as you can to jump up and down saying ‘pick me’. 🙂 Thank you, Kenna.
I then invited Kenna to include an extract of her writing…
Earth was in danger.
Jealous eyes gazed toward our Sun from a planet called Space Hive in another star system, black compound eyes that peered without compassion as though we were flies caught on sticky paper ready for the fire.
And the synopsis of her latest book…
Space Hive will appeal to Science Fiction readers of all ages, with a special nod to middle readers/young adults who like Pixar-like action and, more especially, the appeal of adventure and youth.
Massive intelligent Bees, under the direction of a dreadful Wasp General, migrate to Earth in a ship called Skyhive on a mission to kill humanity. An intrepid fourteen-year-old boy by the name of Jason Anderson is kidnapped by one of the aliens. The friendly Bee keeps him as her pet in the Skyhive.
Meanwhile, the nations of the world are losing the battle with the giant Bees. The military takes charge and bombs the Skyhive with nuclear weapons. The area is devastated and the Skyhive moves to India. Two of the worker aliens befriend Jason. Jason discovers that music fascinates the aliens. The Bees revolt and jail the Wasp General and Queen. The Bees frolic on the plains. Jason meets a fellow freedom fighter, Aadab Ali, on the plains of India. Together they bring the war to its exciting climax.
Kenna McKinnon is a freelance writer / photographer and self employed businesswoman, and has lived successfully with schizophrenia for many years.
Update November 2012: SpaceHive has been out in print paperback since September 1, 2012 as well as eBook, and is available on Amazon, CreateSpace and Chapters Westside, Edmonton. Also DISCOVERY-An Anthology of Poetry is now in print and eBook and can be bought through some bookstores and Amazon. A nonfiction book called SpaceHive, about my journey with schizophrenia and related research, is on Amazon. It will be in print paperback sometime before spring 2013. I also will be offering SpaceHive eBook free Dec. 26-28, 2012 on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Readers might like to download it FREE on those dates. It won’t happen again for some time.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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