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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Author Interview: Ryshia Kennie

The Long and the Short of It is very pleased to welcome Ryshia Kennie. Ryshia’s always been an avid reader and even created stories as a child, dreaming of one day being a writer. She trained as a nurse, studied administration, traveled the world, but never stopped writing.

She told me if she were just starting out in life, as well as writing, she would study English, journalism or creative writing. “Something that would help me technically as a writer. And then I would strike out on my own,” she said. “However, I took administration because an office job was the sure way to stability and success—but that’s a whole ’nother topic.”

I asked her what advice she would give to a new writer just starting out. “Don’t follow the crowd,” she said. “That’s one of the blessings and banes of romance. There are so many writers out there willing to stop and help beginning writers that you can lose your voice in the noise of all those helpful voices. Sometimes you’ve just got to shut the door, be you and write without interference from anyone, no matter how helpful. Because in the end it’s just you, that blank screen, that empty room, and those voices in your head.”

Ryshia’s “empty room” is a downstairs former bedroom. “It’s incredibly inspiring,” she said, “despite an urgent need for new carpet and paint. It is the last holdout for renovations. My fault. I refuse to relinquish my space for even a day, but despite that it is a book-lined haven. On the walls I have bulletin boards with all the cards and congratulations I received on my first publication From the Dust, pictures and posters that motivate me, a file cabinet full of the business of writing, a laptop and mementos that are special to me.”

Her space is inspiring because it is totally about writing. And, it’s all hers. She told me that it seems even others feel that very personal vibe because family and friends don’t stay long when they venture into her office. “And, no,” she assured me, “it has nothing to do with the Stay Out sign on the door—kidding! They are all welcome, when I’m not on a writing jag, of course.”

Ryshia believes that the most important elements of good writing can’t be taught. She called it “the heart and soul of writing.” Or what Simon Cowell calls the “it factor.” “When a reader puts down the story and has been touched by it, engaged by it, when it’s a keeper on a shelf—then you have good writing.” She told me there are a lot of good books out there, but very few of them have the “it factor” and it’s something no outline, character development or storyboard can give you. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “the mechanics are definitely necessary, but the ‘it factor’—that’s the difference between good and great. For me, I’m happy if someone says [my work] is good, but I still ache for great.”

A self-confessed “pantser,” Ryshia tells me her titles happen the same way as her stories. “They just pop into my head,” she said. “As the characters emerge, so do other details including the title. As I get a feel for the story, the title becomes apparent and often is key to the direction of the story. When I know the title--that is the moment when the plot and characters have become real and a tentative route has been mapped.”

Ryshia loves hearing from her readers. She told me it was “the most inspiring and surprising things about publishing a book.” She’s had discussions with readers from the character traits of the secondary characters to what inspired her to write the story to the identity of the person the heroine is modeled after. She even had one discussion with a ninety-year-old man (her uncle) who was perturbed she didn’t detail the aftermath of the sex scene. “Each reader seems to pull a different aspect out of the story and focus on that,” she said. “It’s been a joy hearing from them all. You can’t imagine the thrill I get when I open an email and see that familiar subject line and the name of yet another new reader.”

I asked Ryshia if she really, really wanted a dog. Her response was, “I really, really have a dog or maybe the dog has me. Rourke’s an Irish Terrier with Attitude.” She’s pretty much had a dog all her adult life and at one period of her life she had a dog and a ferret. “Of course,” she added, “I was single at the time. Hmmm—was there a connection between those two events—is there a story there?” If there is, she’s not talking yet. Maybe she will share it in tomorrow’s Q&A at the Yahoo group!

She also shared with me that when she was a child, her teacher never thought she would develop her own handwriting style. “I was forever copying a new handwriting, kind of flavor of the week,” she admitted. “Now I have my own style and for some reason my capital f’s are always written backwards. I think it is a throwback to my grade school days and maybe the kid behind or beside me had what I considered great handwriting and did backwards f’s – who knows. Or maybe I’m just handwriting challenged – but the f’s are backwards.”

But, that wasn’t her strangest habit. And...her strangest one also goes back to her childhood. “When I was a kid on the Canadian prairies, I would challenge my brother in the winter to an outside foot race across huge banks of snow in - 30 Celsius (-22 Farenheit) weather. Basically the idea was who could run outside barefoot the longest distance without finally succumbing and going inside won. Of course, I being the oldest, always won. Now, I will still go outside to the barbeque or to hang up a rug or whatever in my bare feet and won’t be in a rush to dash inside. Go figure. But then people walk over hot coals and I don’t get that either.”

Ryshia is definitely a morning person, especially on the weekends. “I’m able to shower, have breakfast and brew coffee. Then I can curl up with a blanket for that first cup of brew and my laptop before venturing outside for a walk with Rourke. There’s a time limit on the laze time and Rourke makes sure of it because what follows is his time. Every weekend morning we go for a walk through the neighborhood where anything can happen. We’ve been interviewed by police after rescuing lost children, rescued the neighborhood recluse from sleeping on her front porch because she was afraid to ask for help to unlock her door, chased down run away puppies and on our more sedate walks, just soaked up the smells and sounds of the neighborhood. And yes I live in a perfectly safe, calm suburb of my city it’s just when you’re at ground level every day you see what others driving by just miss. Every walk is an adventure.”

Finally, I asked Ryshia about her favorite pizza. “Feta and spinach, hands down,” she said promptly. “A cold Alexander Keith in the local Irish pub, O’Hanlon’s. Oh I can taste it now, the feta warm and savory as it caresses my tongue, sending waves of … I’m sorry enough of that question. I think I’ve just been inspired to finish that troublesome love scene in Last Man Standing."

You can keep up with Ryshia on her website,

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