Competitive climber Cara Jenkins feels most at home high off the ground, clinging to a rock wall by her fingertips. She’s enjoyed a roaming life with her mountaineering parents, making the natural world her jungle gym, the writings of Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau her textbooks. But when tragedy strikes on an
Ecuadoran mountaintop, Cara’s nomadic lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt.
Starting over at her grandparents’ home in suburban Detroit, Cara embarks on a year of discovery, uncovering unknown strengths, friendships, and first love. Cara’s journey illustrates the transformative power of nature, love and loss, and discovering that home can be far from where you started.
Welcome to the second stop of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go blog tour! I have the honor of interviewing author of TAOHOALG, Kristin Bartley Lenz. We got to talk about her new YA novel that comes out on September 12th through Elephant Rock Books. I will be doing a review of her book, but for now here is Kristin!
Hi, Kristin and welcome to Fiction Over Reality!
Hi! I am a writer and social worker from metro-Detroit who fell in love with the mountains when I moved to Georgia and California. Now I live back in Detroit where I plan wilderness escapes with my husband and daughter and manage the Michigan Chapter blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
What is the story behind this story?
When my husband and I moved to Georgia and then California in our mid-late twenties, we discovered a new world of outdoor enthusiasm: hiking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, climbing. We followed the careers of well-known mountaineers, and one by one, each of these climbers died attempting epic summits. Most of them had spouses and children. I began to wonder what it would be like to be the child of a famous mountaineer. How would that child’s upbringing be different? And what if both of her parents were extreme mountaineers, not just one? How would this shape her world?
It really does bring a lot of uniqueness to the story. But Cara is so different from any character I’ve read, what pushed you to write Cara’s story?
I wrote Cara’s story a few years after I moved from California back home to Michigan. I was struggling with this transition and the losses that came with it: I had left my job, friendships, and a beautiful climate with daily access to nature. I was a new mom, feeling isolated and uncertain in a new environment, trying to raise my daughter. My grandmother died suddenly. I think everyone can relate to this feeling of loss during times of transition, at any age.
What part of the book was your favorite part to write about?
My favorite, but also the most difficult to write were the climbing scenes. It was challenging to describe climbing without being too technical, and I tried to focus on the emotion behind it, to use words that conveyed rhythm and flow.
Sometimes, we base events off of events that happened to us in real life, did any of the events in the story happen to you?
None of these events happened to me in real life, except for my own move from California to Michigan. Even though the reasons for my move and my experience were very different from Cara’s, I’m sure some of my own emotions were projected onto her character. I also drew from my own rock climbing experience and appreciation of nature.
Which character was your favorite to write about and why?
Ooooh, that’s a tough question! I’m not sure I have a favorite – they were all fun and challenging to write in their own way. If I have to choose one, I’ll go with Nick because he’s such a goofy, march-to-his-own-beat, big-hearted guy.
Creating such deeply rooted characters takes a lot of creativity but did you ever base one of your characters off of someone you know personally?
My family keeps looking for themselves in my stories, and they’re there but only in bits and pieces. A sliver of personality might be borrowed from someone and blended with a trait from someone else, but it’s all mixed up with the characters’ motivations in this imagined story. My editor asked me to do a lot of journaling – imagining formative scenes in my character’s lives. A lot of this work never made it into the book directly, but it helped me to understand my characters on a deeper level.
Is there something that you would go back and change if you could?
Yes! The Kirkus review was very positive, but ended with this sentence: “Although some references that date the story to the mid-2000s might give readers pause, they will move past them as they get swept up in Cara’s story.” The first draft of this story was written in the mid-2000s, and I thought I had updated everything when I revised years later, but something slipped past us! Truly, I could revise endlessly, but at some point I had to be done and trust that I’d shared enough of Cara’s journey for readers to make it their own.
Wow, I wasn’t even a year old when the first draft was written! When readers are finished reading The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, what do you want them to close the book knowing?
Another thoughtful, tough question. I mentioned above that I was writing this story during a time of loss and transition for myself. Children and teens especially experience so many transitions as a normal part of growing up: changing schools, changing friends, even their own changing bodies. Even if you haven’t yet experienced the loss of a loved one, I think everyone can connect in some way to Cara’s struggle. I also hope readers come away feeling the transformative power of nature.
If you could only bring three things onto an deserted island with you, what would you bring?
Funny – Cara’s friend, Kaitlyn, asks her this question in the story, but she only lets her bring one item. I’ll defer to Cara’s answer which is on page 115. 😉
What is your favorite part about being an author and getting to connect with your readers?
It’s been so fun meeting enthusiastic readers – teens and adults, bloggers, librarians, teachers. Authors spend so much time alone crafting their stories; it’s a bit frightening to release a story out into the world where it will face criticism. When someone connects to my story, it’s a wonderful validation of all the time and hard work I devoted to it.
Writing a book is a long process and a lot can go wrong, what were some of the challenges that you found were hard to get over while writing?
Honestly, the most difficult part of this process was getting the story published. My journey to publication was 10 years and it’s hard to keep persevering in the face of rejection when you have little to show of your efforts beyond your computer files. I received a lot of support and encouragement from agents, editors, and other writers over those years, and this story was rewritten, set aside, and rewritten repeatedly before I got it right and connected with an editor who shared my vision.
I loved the book and your writing is very unique, do you have another book in the future? Is there something on the back burner that you are going to start working on?
My most recent work-in-progress won the manuscript contest at the Wild Midwest SCBWI conference a few months ago, and my agent will be submitting the revised version to the editor who judged the contest. Fingers crossed!
Five words to explain The Art Of Holding On and Letting Go:
Love, loss, rock-climbing, nature, heart. Rock-climbing can be one word, right? 😉
Thank you so much for letting me interview you, Kristin!
Thanks so much for having me on your blog!
The Art of Holding On and Letting Go is out on September 12th. You can check out my review soon, here on Fiction Over Reality. Huge thank you to Elephant Rock publishing and Kristin for including me in the TAOHOALG blog tour. I was only the second stop of the blog tour, you can check out the other tour dates down below along with the purchase links!
BLOG TOUR DATES:
Mon., Aug. 22 – Kristin makes a guest post on Making Connections
Fri., Aug. 26 – Kristin interviewed on Fiction Over Reality
Tues., Aug. 30 – Kristin interviewed on A Leisure Moment
Thurs., Sept. 1 – Kristin interviewed on Crazy Book Obsessions!
Tues., Sept. 6 – Kristin makes a guest post on Books Are Love
Thurs., Sept. 8 – Kristin interviewed on Alice Reeds
Mon., Sept. 12 – Release day post on Making Connections
Thurs., Sept. 15 – Kristin interviewed on Books Are Love
Tues., Sept. 20 – Kristin makes a guest post on The Reading Date
Friday, Sept. 23 – Kristin makes a guest post on Twenty Three Pages
Mon., Sept. 26 – Kristin interviewed on Literary Rambles
Wed., Aug. 28 – Kristin interviewed on Wandering Educators