Kelly Creagh is the author of the Nevermore books, a trilogy of young adult novels with cheerleading heroine Isobel and a mysterious goth figure by the name of Varen at the center of the plot. In addition, Edgar Allan Poe finds his way into the story, as do a number of sinister figures from a shadowy dream world. With the spooky Halloween season upon us, we’re happy that Kelly is joining us today at Literary Labors. Welcome, Kelly!
So, in addition to being an author, you’re a belly dancer – Can you tell our readers more about how you became interested in belly dancing and what you find fascinating about it? Have you discovered any similarities between belly dancing and writing? Have you incorporated belly dancing characters into any of your stories?
When I was a kid, I asked my mom to put me in ballet classes. There, I learned there were lots of things I could not do. I was never very graceful or adept at staying on my toes for very long. Still, I loved the stage and, in high school, I attended a performing arts school. I flourished and grew as an actress but my ineptitude at dancing followed (and haunted me.) I always dreaded auditioning for musical shows. I couldn’t keep up with the choreography. I didn’t know what I was doing. I survived, but was never cast in a dancing role. Then, in my early twenties, I started a fitness plan. I found an exercise VHS featuring Veena and Neena Bidasha, the Belly Twins—twins famous for bellydancing. How could I go wrong? I liked the program but it wasn’t until the credits began to roll that the real magic happened. Veena Bidasha appeared in full costume (or bedlah) and performed to the credits music. It was the most beautiful dance I’d ever seen. I fell in love with bellydance and began to study it non-stop as a serious student. I found I could actually do the moves because, unlike western dance, bellydance is centered in the hips. There weren’t complicated steps I needed to learn—just movements. The footwork was secondary. I have now been teaching bellydance for eleven years, and I perform professionally at weddings, restaurants and many other events.
I think bellydancing is like writing in that it taps into that same sense of creativity. Also, like with writing, the more I know and the more I practice, the more freedom I experience as an artist. As my skills in my writing craft and in my dancing technique grow, so does my range of expression.
As far as characters go, I am actually writing about a bellydancer in my newest young adult project! It’s been a blast drawing on all my experience as a bellydancer and as a professional performer and I love pouring all of that into a girl who is equally as passionate about bellydancing as I am!
Speaking of characters, how do you come up with different characters in your writing? Do you start with defined characters and then create the story around them or do you find that characters tend to take on a life of their own and this then shapes the story?
When I begin a project, I always start with my characters. They aren’t fully formed, but I know enough about them to begin. Voice is very important so I do a bit of preliminary drafting just to see how my character speaks and thinks. After that, I work in some plot elements and, from there, I let the characters take the lead. So they most certainly take on a life of their own, and that’s often when the writing starts to get really fun.
Who is the first character you ever created? Do you recall the moment you knew you wanted to become a writer? How did you go about becoming a writer and getting published?
The first character I ever created, I think, must have been the unnamed narrator in the book that I wrote in grade school titled Pink Lettuce. Her mission was to restore her garden of lettuce, which had been turned pink by her nutty mad-scientist next door neighbor, to its rightful green and leafy state. I’ve been writing ever since, but did not realize I was born to be a writer until close to graduation date during my last year of undergraduate school. So I decided to pursue an M.F.A. in writing, which I earned from Spalding University in 2008. My first novel, Nevermore, was my thesis project at Spalding. Shortly after graduation, I applied to the Rutgers One-On-One Plus conference and was accepted. There, I was lucky enough to pitch my novel to an agent. The agent requested the novel and soon offered me representation. We submitted to several houses. Some said no and some said yes! We were very pleased to go with Atheneum.
How often do you write a day and for how long? Do you have a favorite spot for writing? Do you follow any quirky rituals when you write?
Four hours is the golden number for me when it comes to writing, but sometimes finding that lump of time can be tough. So sometimes I make do with even one or two hours. Typically, I like to shoot for 1500 words. Sometimes I only get 500, but sometimes I get 2000! I can almost always be found writing in a coffee shop—namely one of Louisville’s Heine Brothers Locations. I don’t often try to write at home because there are too many chores (and books) to tempt me away. As far as rituals go, when I’m stuck, I like to set up little My Little Pony toys around my working area. Aside from making me smile, they remind me that, no matter what I’m writing, it is the kid within me who enjoys creation. They also remind me not to take myself too seriously. And I get fun looks from the other patrons in the coffee shop!
Like me, you have a connection to Old Louisville, a picturesque and historic neighborhood with hundreds of old houses and Victorian mansions. Have your ties to this neighborhood influenced your writing to any degree?
Absolutely. I live in Old Louisville and have the entire time I’ve been writing professionally. In Nevermore, which is heavily influenced by the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe, I have a goth character named Varen. Old Louisville seemed to be the perfect neighborhood for him to live in. Poe lived during the Victorian era and so placing Varen in Old Louisville seemed like the perfect choice. The history is so rich in the area, and I loved weaving elements of my own neighborhood into each of my novels.
Halloween is right around the corner. Given the spooky theme of your books, am I correct in assuming that this is one of your favorite times of year? Do you have any big plans for Halloween this year?
Halloween is indeed one of my favorite times of the year! Right now, I don’t have any solid Halloween plans so I should probably get to work on that. I’ll admit, I have always wanted to try out one of those haunted corn mazes. Of course, the Old Louisville Spirit Ball is a blast, too!
Anyone who reads your books or visits your website will see that you are somewhat enamored of Edgar Allan Poe. What is it about Poe that interests you? If you could spend an afternoon with Edgar Allan Poe, what would you want to do with him? Better yet, if you could spend a spooky Halloween night with him, what would your plans be?
Poe was and is an extremely interesting guy! When I began writing Nevermore, I actually had no plans to include anything about Poe. After pairing up my goth and cheerleader for an English project, however, I just assumed my goth guy would want to focus on Poe. Then I started doing some research on Poe. I began learning about all the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe’s death and, as I continued to write, Poe began to invade the story, his life and works becoming essential to the novel’s backbone.
Of course, Poe is fascinating for many reasons but I think my affinity for him has a lot to do with the fact that he was a literary pioneer who faced a lot of hardship and criticism in his day and still rose to fame. He was also one of the first Americans (who was not already independently wealthy) to pursue writing as his full-time career. Today, Poe is well known for his horror stories, but he wrote much more, including science fiction and humor. Though some of Poe’s stories can be gory, he mostly focuses on horror of the mind. His stories feature characters who are plagued or driven by their darker selves, and to me, that’s the draw.
If I could spend Halloween with Eddie, I’d love to first take him out to eat at a nice seafood restaurant since I know he would enjoy the cuisine. Then I’d take him to a large bookstore where I could show him how lovely his works are packaged and displayed. I’d share with him the renown his name as earned and let him know how thankful we are for his hard work and contributions. Then perhaps to a Halloween-themed amusement park! I’m thinking the only thing that would really scare him would be a good roller coaster or two.
Undoubtedly, you know your characters very well. But if you could meet one of your characters in person, in the flesh and blood, who would you want it to be? Why?
The one character of mine who I would love to meet in person is Varen. Perhaps that is because I’ve woven more of myself into him than I had initially realized. Since I understand what he’s going through on an emotional level, I’d love to sit him down and talk to him, to tell him what I’ve learned about being a creative person. And what I know about feeling like an outsider. Basically, I’d love to help him and to offer a listening ear. Things I can’t do as his creator! Being the author of his story, after all, I’m afraid I have to make things tough on him. Often really tough.
And let’s get a little cliché now: Any advice you’d like to offer aspiring writers?
Throughout the harrowing experience of writing a trilogy, I have learned three major lessons. As a writer you must 1.) Commit, 2.) Trust and 3.) Believe.
You have to commit to putting your butt in the chair and getting the words down. You also have to commit to making the project the best it can be, no matter how many times you have to revisit a scene or how heavily you have to revise. Trust is equally important. You have to trust your instincts, your gut, your vision, your subconscious and, most importantly, the process. Lastly, you need to believe. There were times when I seriously doubted I would ever be able to complete such an ambitious undertaking—that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Then I realized that I feel that every time I start to write. But as long as I remain steadfast with one and two, I somehow make it out on the other end. Remember, the only way out is through. Let your rough drafts to be rough. Writing is re-writing.
Finally, let’s close with our obligatory set of questions:
Have you read A Confederacy of Dunces, our literary inspiration here at Literary Labors (and the Occasional Cheese Dip)? Do you like cheese dip, by the way? Do you have a favorite cheese dip recipe you could share with us?
I have not read A Confederacy of Dunces but fear not, it has officially been placed upon my list! And cheese dip is an amazing substance. I have a very simple and probably not-healthy-in-any-way cheese dip recipe to share. For family get-togethers, I like to heat queso (your favorite kind) in a crockpot. Then I sauté some breakfast sausage, cooking it just like I would ground beef. After draining the sausage, I add it to queso. Dip tortilla chips and enjoy. (But keep the defibrillator at the ready just in case.)
Kelly Creagh is a 2008 graduate of Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. When not writing, haunting bookstore coffee shops, or obsessively studying Poe, Kelly’s passions include the ancient art of bellydance. She lives with her squirrely, attitude-infused dogs—Annabel, Jack, and Holly—in the heart of Old Louisville, Kentucky’s largest and spookiest Victorian neighborhood. Kelly is the author of the Nevermore trilogy. Oblivion, the last book in the trilogy is available for pre-order here. Visit her website here.