Writing superheroes: Sarah Kennedy

   She looks like an English teacher, but the tortoise shell glasses hide a superhero! Read on and find out more…

 

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 If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

My first efforts at writing, real writing, occurred in my freshman English course and in my first creative writing course, both at college.  I was working with poetry, very lyrical, short things in which I was stumbling, fumbling, and floundering around with a writerly identity and metaphoric patterns.  Sadly, yes, some of them are still out there, and I know this because I was back at Butler University a few years ago to do a reading, and my freshman comp teacher was in the audience.  During the Q&A, she raised her hand, told me that she’d dug some of my old poems out of her filing cabinet.  Then she pulled them from a folder and stuck them out and me, saying “Would you read one?”

Yeah.  I wouldn’t call it a bribe or blackmail, but it was certainly humbling.  An old classmate of mine had come in and was standing in the doorway, laughing.  Afterward, he came up to me and said, “Wow, you’ve really gotten better.”  God bless you, Rhet Lickliter, for keeping me real.

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All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

 I am Dr. Sarah Kennedy, English teacher!  I’m not kidding, complete with tortoiseshell cat-eye glasses, pencil skirts, and ironed blouses.  I am growing out my hair again so that I can work the tight top-of-the-head bun with the pen stuck through it when I’m feeling particularly tight-laced.

 

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My family, no doubt.  My husband has the power to see through opaque prose to the gem of potential metaphor.  He also, irritatingly, has the power to stab deathless prose in its heart with a comment about a dangling modifier.

 

Where do you get your superpowers from?

 I will defer to Shelley on this one:  “God gives me the first line.  I have to do the rest myself.”

 

Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

 Ah, the secret lair!  Mine is a study in my country cabin of a house.  I knocked the back wall out and had a deck built on, so that I can look out over the garden through a big glass door.  Bookcases, lots of pictures and items I’ve picked up on my travels.  One blood-red wall, that I gaze upon as I write, heheheheh.

 

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

Writing and reading are the best exercise for me to stay in good form.  If I miss a day of writing, I can feel it physically, as I can if I miss a day of walking or working outdoors.  And working outdoors is the best way to check my own ego and motives.  Pulling weeds, digging dirt, and sticking plants in the ground are my favorite hobby, and there’s something about putting your hands in the earth that brings your brain around to good and evil, right and wrong.  Now, whether some reader interprets what I write in a good way . . . that’s another story!

 

Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Long red sweater and black pants that I don’t trip over.  Very soft suede shoes.  Actually, I do wear that quite a lot . . . !

 

What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

My grandchildren.  They are adorable and when they call, I must answer the summons!  They are very active, though, and they wear me out.  Sometimes I have to drag myself to the lair to write (of course, they are still filled with energy and wonder what’s wrong with me).

 

What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

Time is always the villain.  Always.  I have a full-time teaching career and am currently serving as the head of the English department at my college.  I like my students, and I like to grade papers (I know, crazy).  And I have a family that I love.  But there is only one of me.  I tell myself that I have the same twenty-four hours in a day that Leonardo had.  That Shakespeare had.  And that recollection humbles me and energizes me and drives the beast of Time back into its cage.

 

What important lessons have you learned along the way?

The most important lesson I have learned is to write and revise, revise, revise.  Don’t worry about others who seem to have more or better publishers/reviews/blurbs/prizes.  Don’t worry about marketing until the book is done (and there’s always another book to be written).  Get to your desk.  Every day.  Write.  One day, you’ll be at the end of your life, and you don’t want to look back and say “I could’ve done that.”

 

What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

 Meeting my publishers, Dana Curtis of Elixir Press (poetry) and Dana Robinson of Knox Robinson Publishing (fiction) have been two of the best experiences I’ve had.  Both are hard-working women running independent presses—and doing a great job of it.  I’m proud to be with them.  Meeting other writers whose work I admire, at conferences and events, has also been wonderful.

 

If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

 That’s a hard question!  I like my publishers, and I am happy to have written the books I’ve written.  I think I might, if I could go back, push myself earlier to experiment with fiction.  It took me a long time to decide to try, and once I started I couldn’t stop!

 

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

The best writing advice (which is also probably the best advice overall) that I’ve gotten is to revise.  Find the dramatic center and write the story or poem from that point.  Write your way to the writing.  That sounds like three pieces of advice, but it’s not.  A writer doesn’t know what she’s writing until she writes.  But drafting comes out of the “hot” part of the brain—the imagination—and it often boils over.  Revising comes out of the “cool” part of the brain, and it skims off the excess, adds what’s been left out.

 

Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

 City of Ladies tells the story of an ex-nun, Catherine Havens, trying to make it as a good Protestant lady under Henry VIII!  Other nuns are being killed, and Catherine finds herself caught between the two daughters, Mary (Roman Catholic) and Elizabeth (Protestant) Tudor.  The novel is full of intrigue, murder, and mayhem . . . . and a smart woman who makes her way in a monarchy that’s become a tyranny.  Catherine’s a unique woman, a married nun, and she won’t let anybody dictate her conscience, not her husband, not even the king.

 

What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

 I’m currently revising The King’s Sisters, Book Three of the Cross and the Crown series, and already researching Book Four, tentatively titled Queen of Blood.  In my spare time (ha ha), I’m drafting a stand-alone novel, a sort of contemporary Southern gothic story set on a small-town college campus.  There may be a ghost involved

 

    You can find Sarah. at:

Website

 

 

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  1. Many thanks for this! I had a blast writing it and am so grateful for the work you do!

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