Sweet Sixteener Marisa Reichardt recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Kathryn Holmes about her YA contemporary debut novel, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND (February 17, 2015 from HarperTeen).
Kathryn Holmes grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, where she was an avid reader and an aspiring writer from an early age. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and piles upon piles of books. A graduate of The New School’s MFA in Creative Writing program, Kathryn works as a freelance dance journalist, among other writing gigs.
Sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has just endured the most excruciating six months of her life. Once the rumors about her and the preacher’s son, Luke, made their way around school, her friends abandoned her, and Hallie has completely withdrawn. Now, on a hike in the Smoky Mountains with the same people who have relentlessly taunted her, Hallie is pushed to her limit. Then Hallie, outgoing newcomer Rachel, and Jonah—Hallie’s former friend—get separated from the rest of the group. As days go by without rescue, their struggle for survival turns deadly. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to trust one another in order to stay alive . . . and for Hallie, that means opening up about what really happened that night with Luke.
Marisa: Congratulations on your exciting debut. I want to start by saying that I loved your book. Can you tell us a bit about your road to publication? Finding your agent, your editor, etc.?
Kathryn: Sure! I started writing THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND at a point when I was feeling a little discouraged about the publication process. I’d been revising and querying a previous book for several years, getting so close but with no offers of representation. I was trying to come to terms with the idea that maybe that book—which I’d once been so confident about—just wasn’t meant to be. DISTANCE gave me the chance to work on something completely different for a while. I thought it might give me some perspective. And then I fell in love with the manuscript.
I drafted and did three revisions in about ten months, and then entered my query into WriteOnCon’s “Luck o’ the Irish Pitchfest” in 2013. I’d planned on using the pitchfest as a testing ground for my query, since the book was still so new, but instead, the most amazing thing happened. Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group selected my query as her winner, and the prize was a full manuscript read. A week later, I got the e-mail I’d been dreaming of: she loved the book and wanted to discuss representation. After we talked on the phone, I didn’t have a shred of doubt about signing with her, despite the fact that no other agents had read the manuscript. Alyssa just got it.
About two months later, DISTANCE went out on submission. The first editor to read it was Alexandra Cooper at HarperTeen. I loved Alex’s enthusiasm for the book and her ideas for taking it to the next level. And so, when Harper made a formal offer, saying yes was pretty much a no-brainer.
Marisa: What was the “ah-ha” moment for the idea for THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND? Did you hit the ground running once you thought of it or let it marinate? Did you have a feeling this book was “The One?”
Kathryn: The whole book came from the name “Hallelujah Calhoun”! Some good friends of mine gave their daughter “Hallelujah” as an unofficial middle name, and when I heard it, I knew I was going to write a book about a 16-year-old girl with that name. I knew the book would be set in East Tennessee, where I grew up. I also knew the story would have a crisis of faith as one element—how could it not, with a main character named Hallelujah?—and that I wanted it to take place over seven days, like the creation account in Genesis. I knew Hallelujah would become someone different, someone new, over those seven days. But…I had no actual plot. I let the idea marinate for a few months, tossing around different scenarios. At one point, the characters were going to go on an overnight hike in the Smoky Mountains—and then it hit me. What if they got lost? What if that ordeal was what helped Hallelujah recreate herself? It snowballed from there.
Marisa: Your book was both harrowing and hopeful and you did such a fantastic job of throwing obstacles at your characters. What kind of research did you do to in order to nail the setting, survival, and possible missteps that Hallie, Rachel, and Jonah face while lost in the wilderness?
Kathryn: I did enough day hikes in the Smokies growing up that I was able to write the first draft without getting too bogged down in research. I simply thought of the worst possible thing I could do to my characters at any given point in the story, trying to keep the stakes escalating. (Hm. Time for someone else to get injured. How can I make that happen?)
In revision, I did more research on the details. What plants are in bloom in April in the Smokies? What’s the temperature first thing in the morning on a mountaintop? What exact trail did my characters start on, and where exactly do they end up? I looked online, and I ran details by my dad, who’s an avid recreational hiker. I also emailed back and forth with the Chief Ranger of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I wanted the mountain setting to be almost a character in its own right, and so I knew I had to make it as accurate and vivid as possible.
Marisa: What is your next project?
My next YA Contemporary is due out from HarperTeen in Summer 2016! It’s about a teen ballet dancer with body image issues who is sent to an anxiety camp for elite artists and athletes, where she gets into a complicated relationship with one of her counselors.
Lightning Round Questions:
Planner or pantser?
Pantsing plotter? Plotting pantser? Basically, I need a loose skeleton to guide me, so the story can unfold on its own.
Sing in the choir or sing in the shower?
Sing in the shower—and I do. Often. The acoustics are killer.
Song that makes you think of your book?
There are so many! I made a playlist to go along with the book, filled with music I listened to while writing it, artists Hallie loves, and songs that remind me of certain scenes. But as for single songs, The Avett Brothers’ “The Weight of Lies” sums the book up pretty well.
Captain Kirk or Captain von Trapp?
This question actually made me LOL! I have to go with James Tiberius Kirk.
Three things you’d want with you if you got lost in the wilderness?
This is a loaded question, given all the research I’ve done on this topic! Luckily, since I plan to stay in one place until the rescuers find me, I may not need a full backpack of supplies. I’ll say a water bottle, a flint or lighter to start a campfire, and, obviously, a good book. 🙂
Check out the extended interview on Marisa’s blog, Young Adultish.
About the Interviewer:
Marisa Reichardt is a SoCal native and high school writing instructor. She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual undergraduate degrees in literature and creative writing from UC San Diego. She spent her college years shucking oysters, waiting tables, and peddling swimwear. She has spent her post-grad years writing, tutoring, and teaching. She currently lives in Los Angeles and can usually be found huddled over her laptop in coffeehouses or swimming in the ocean.
In her YA contemporary debut, UNDERWATER (FSG/Macmillan, Winter 2016), the aftermath of a deadly high school shooting leaves 17-year-old Morgan an agoraphobic trapped in the apartment she shares with her mother and brother; when surfer boy Evan moves in next door, she has to face the life she’s been missing.