by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we are interviewing Clovis YA author Kara Lucas whose first book Finding Pony just came out. We also have a few questions for her publisher, Dan Dunklee of HBE books who also happens to own the Book Barn in Clovis. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Finding Pony, and a link to purchase it.
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Kara: I have been writing seriously for the past five years, give or take. I actually wrote Finding Pony about four years ago.
KRL: When did your novel come out?
Kara: It came out September first.
KRL: Can you tell us a little about it?
Kara: It’s issue-driven YA (young adult). Here’s the synopsis: Kids in the Bravo Hills trailer park usually have to grow up fast, and fifteen-year-old Jesse Sampson is no exception. With a meth addict for a mom and a drug dealer for a stepdad, Jesse spends most nights taking care of his sister, Pony. But when the cops arrest his mom for a mini-mart robbery gone wrong, Jesse hides his sister under a pile of dirty clothes and escapes through a window. In the morning, he finds his mom and stepdad arrested, and Pony gone. And due to a botched drug deal, she may also be in danger. Scared, homeless, and desperate to find her, Jesse sets off on a trek that sends him from dusty rural back roads to the drug-infested streets of Los Angeles. He must dodge drug dealers, gangs, cops, and social workers as he searches to find Pony and ultimately, himself.
KRL: What other writing have you done?
Kara: I primarily write YA. I have another completed YA, a ghost story, which I haven’t tried to sell yet. I am working on a few companion novels to Finding Pony at the moment.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in this book?
Kara: I was in a writing class a few years ago taught by Bonnie Hearn Hill, and she encouraged us to both write something we know about, and write something we are passionate about. I have been a social worker for over twenty years, and many of the lives and stories of the kids I have worked with have stayed with me in a very deep and profound way. Over the years, I would find myself thinking about former clients, wondering what happened to them, and wondering how their lives turned out. Finding Pony was a great way for me to answer those questions for myself. As for the setting, I grew up alongside the Kern River in Bakersfield, and it was a big part of my childhood. Finding Pony opens with Jesse escaping out the window of his trailer and hiding down by the riverbed.
Though he ultimately ends up in Los Angeles, the river and all that it represented remain a strong image for him. That brings us to Jesse Sampson, the main character of the book. Jesse is a fifteen-year-old boy from less than desirable circumstances. He has a meth addict for a mother and a small time drug dealer for a stepdad. Though Jesse is by no means perfect—he has a temper and often makes bad choices—hopefully what makes Jesse appealing to the reader is his love for his sister and his constant desire to root for the underdog. Also, the reason why Jesse was so fun to write is that ultimately he is a survivor. If he finds himself stuck in a certain situation, he will do anything he can to get out of that situation, to try and make things better.
KRL: Please tell us a little about the setting for this book.
Kara: The setting starts and ends in a town called Truckston, which I modeled after Bakersfield, the town I grew up and went to high school in. In the middle of the story, Jesse gets stuck in a long-term holding facility for foster children in Los Angeles called Emerson Children’s Center, which was modeled after a real place I actually interned at in Los Angeles, called MacClaren Children’s Center.
KRL: Does this topic have personal meaning to you?
Kara: Yes, indeed. There are lots of themes in this book that resonate deeply for me: children in foster care, siblings who get separated from each other in foster care, the tragedy of children victimized (whether it be sexual, physical, or emotional abuse), human trafficking, and the ultimate quest of really everyone: which is to find yourself, and to find your family (whether biological, adoptive, or an altogether different situation). I have always been drawn to a classic hero’s journey, and perhaps some people might feel that Finding Pony is a hero’s journey.
KRL: Why YA?
Kara: As I am sure you know, there is such a wonderful renaissance of quality literature that can be found in young adult works. It’s exciting, really, to see such exquisite prose geared to children and young adults. Also, I think I am drawn to all the “first” experiences that someone can only really have as a young person: that first crush, first kiss, the first time you realize that your parents aren’t perfect, those first discoveries of who you are as a person and what exactly you stand for. Those types of experiences aren’t possible when you are writing adult characters.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Kara: I always write to entertain, or else I’d bore myself! A book has to be interesting or else whatever it is you are trying to tell the world won’t be read. That being said, my hope in writing this book would be threefold:
1. For a teen reading this book—be it a former foster teen, current foster child, adoptive child/teen—to recognize themselves in the characters in the book, and to feel somehow that they are not alone in their struggles.
2. To raise awareness about children in marginalized homes who find themselves in foster care, so that people can take action, whether it’s feeling inspired to become and adoptive or foster parent, or just raising their own empathy level.
3. For a teen reading this book who grew up in a traditional family, to just have more empathy and tolerance for others and their internal struggles.
How does the famous saying go? “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing, or do you just write whenever you can?
Kara: My ultimate goal is to write 1000 words a day. I usually take the weekends off, unless I am in the middle of finishing a book and I just can’t help it!
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Kara: Getting published is definitely a journey. For me is has been a very long road. I actually wrote this book four years ago and it is just now getting published.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Kara: I actually went through three agents before finding a home with HBE publishing. I found my first agent after 100 queries. She was wonderful (and we are actually still friends), however right before we were going to send the manuscript out, she called to tell me she was quitting agenting to write full-time herself! I was discouraged, but picked myself up and started querying again. This time around I had a lot more interest that the first time. Rather quickly, the book had at least eight or nine agents interested in it; ultimately I had five offers of representation to choose from. I picked the person I clicked with the most. After about six months of being on submission with her (I guess I wasn’t prepared for the long long wait time during submissions!), I ended up switching agents.
Another very lovely person who I enjoyed working with, she ultimately couldn’t sell Finding Pony and advised me to finish writing what I was working on at the time. At that time, life happened; I began working almost full-time. Working, coupled with the demands of raising kids (we have five ranging in age from eight to eighteen), my writing dropped off. I was at a book signing a year ago when I met with Dan from HBE publishing, and he invited me to submit my manuscript to him. We ended up deciding to work together, and I couldn’t be happier.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Kara: I have two companion novels in the works, which are about two characters who feature prominently in Finding Pony—Aurora, Jesse’s love interest, and Walter Blackfoot. I also have a YA love story that I am working on.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Kara: For my genre (issue-driven YA fiction), I am in awe of Laurie Halse Anderson, Chris Crutcher, John Green, Sara Zarr, Gayle Forman, Stephen Chbosky, and of course, S.E. Hinton of The Outsiders. I recently re-read Ordinary People, by Judith Guest (literary, but arguably YA as well), and was just blown away by the perfect, elegant prose.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Kara: Well, writing what you know definitely helps. I know a lot about foster care and social work issues, so I have a built-in knowledge there. But I also definitely pay attention to the teens in my life: their angst, their worries and fears, what motivates them, the way they talk and express themselves. Hopefully I absorb enough so what I write sounds authentic enough.
KRL: What do you read?
Kara: I read literally everything. I don’t limit myself and read whatever I am interested in at the moment. This summer my oldest went off to college at a military academy so I found myself reading all these war memoirs. I love Jane Austen (of course) and E.M. Forester, all those great love stories from that era. And of course, I try and read anything important in the YA department. I think all three books from The Hunger Games were beautifully written.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Kara: Just what everyone says, but it’s really true: read, and read a lot. And write. A lot. That’s really the two main ingredients right there. And join a good, cohesive writing group, if possible.
KRL: I understand you are from Clovis; have you always lived here? If not, when and why did you move to the area?
Kara: I married my husband in 1995 and we moved here when he rejoined the family business. I was previously living in Long Beach, completed my MSW (masters in social work), and we decided we wanted to raise our family in a smaller town. Clovis has been perfect. We have gone to the farmer’s market the past few Fridays and it is so fun, just the perfect Americana experience. That has been what living in Clovis has been to me, a great place to raise my family.
KRL: What is your professional background?
Kara: I have an MSW and have worked in child protective services, and, most currently, adoptive services for a local family services agency, AspiraNet. It is a very inspiring and rewarding job, helping kiddos find their “forever families.” I am in awe of some of the brave kids I have met, and the amazing adoptive families.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Kara: Please feel free to check out my website and read my blog! I try and feature different stories on kids in foster care, and so far it’s been a big success. People are very interested in this subject.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Kara: Our house is haunted! But I suppose that is a story for another time…
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Kara: Yes, and also Pinterest and Goodreads: website: karalucasauthor.com; twitter: @karakristin; Facebook: Kara Lucas; Goodreads: Kara Lucas; Pinterest: Kara Lucas. All the buttons are available on my website.
Questions for publisher Dan Dunklee:
KRL: I understand this is the first book in your new publishing company. What is the name of your company, and how did it come to be?
Dan: The name of our publishing venture is HBE Publishing. It is based on our ongoing business name of Hummingbird Enterprises, thus HBE.
KRL: Do you plan on only publishing YA books or other genres too?
Dan: No, we are willing to look at any genre. This just happens to be the first. We also have a children’s picture book coming out in September, an adult novel based on the Irish Mother-Child homes that’s scheduled for a late-winter release, and another picture book in the fall of 2016. We also have had submissions in several genres of adult fiction and non-fiction. We believe the reason most small presses fail is that they limit themselves a specific product. It is very hard to consistently find quality manuscripts of any type, much less in a specific genre. It only makes sense to keep our options open.
KRL: Goals with this new venture?
Dan: Although there are a few very good local publishers, most tend to work with known commodities, proven genres, proven authors, etc. We look to expand the horizon, so to speak, to offer more opportunities to authors.
KRL: When how and why did this company come about?
Dan: We formally started publishing in September of 2014, but we have been building a network of editors, authors and publishing professionals for the last 10 years. (Publishing has always been in the back of my mind).
KRL: How did you find this author?
Dan: Actually, with the network of authors and contacts. They were recommended by an well-known author I work with who thought we might be a good fit.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Dan: Yes: check out A Book Barn 640 Clovis Ave Clovis, CA. 93612 559-297-9052 clovisbookbarn@sbcglobal[dot]net
To enter to win a copy of Finding Pony, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Pony,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 26, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
You can use this link to purchase this book: