This week, I transport Kali Van Baale and myself to a place neither of us has been to - Amsterdam. The day is cool, the bicyclists are out in force, and as I conduct my interview, we're visiting all the museums, including the Van Gogh museum. She mentions he is her favorite artist. Plus, she has a connection to the city as her husband is Dutch.
1. Who is Kali Van Baale and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
Hah! I'm sure no in my town would name me as the most fascinating. But let's see...I can recite all the American Presidents in order to the tune of "Yankee Doodle"? That's kind of fascinating in a dorky way.
2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have an adopted daughter from India named Gauri. Our names, Kali and Gauri, are both Hindu goddesses. Kali is the goddess of energy and destruction, and Gauri is the form she takes for motherhood and nurturing.
3. What interested you to be become a writer rather than something else such as becoming a nuclear physicist?
The world would seriously be in trouble if I were a nuclear physicist. I've always been two things: imaginative and talkative. Writing seems to be a perfect marriage of the two.
4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
I'd have to go with Jane Hamilton. She's my favorite author of all time and so brilliant. Also very funny in a quirky sort of way, but very down-to-earth and approachable. Not a single snobbish bone in her body. I met her at an AVID event a few years ago and made a total fool of myself with all my nerdy swooning, but she couldn't have been more gracious and nice.
5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (or suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your book(s) be great company?
On a stranded island, it would make good kindling, I suppose! In an airport, it's just short enough you could probably read it during a single layover.
But on a serious note, I think it's a story about someone surviving and overcoming a painfully desperate situation. A relatable theme for one stranded on a desert island. Or in an airport.
6. Share the Van Baale process of writing in regards to: idea and character development, story outline, research (do you Google, visit places/people or make it up on the spot?), writing schedule, editing, and number of rewrites.
I'm a big believer that every writer has to find their own process. I hate writing advice that says "This is what you have to do." My process starts first with a very general story idea and character that interests me. I usually turn the idea over in my mind for months, maybe even years, letting it incubate until the egg is ready to hatch. During that incubation period, I take lots of notes as thoughts come to me. They're very jumbled and nonsensical in some ways--a line of dialogue, a snippet of description, a description of a scene--but once I start writing the first draft, I use them like bread crumbs to find my way through the forest. I also do some preliminary research at the library or online, but just enough to get me started.
My first draft is typically skeletal in nature. I work just to get down the bones of the plot, structure, overall attitude of the story, find the voice of the character, make sense of the timeline, and get to the end. The revision process, which I most enjoy, is where I start to add meat to the bones, really flesh out the characters and scenes with details, fine-tune my sentences and scrutinize my word choices. My revisions tend to messy with lots of cutting, rearranging, adding and fiddling. I can easily produce a half a dozen drafts of any single story before I get to the draft that finally feels right.
When it comes to critiquing, I use my monthly writer's group as my "is-this-even-working?" barometer during the first draft, and their comments and feedback then become a big part of my revisions. I next give that revised version to a couple of "ideal readers," as Stephen King likes to call them, to read from begging to end, which can produce vastly different reactions and feedback than my "critique-as-I-go" readers, who get the story in pieces over a long period of time. After several rewrites from ideal reader comments, I send my manuscript to my agent, who usually comes back with a few suggestions for polishing. Then the ms gets shopped around to editors.
I write 5 days a week, M-F, about 4-5 hours a day, when my kids are in school. I get very little writing done during the summer months and virtually none during the weekends. When my kids were babies and home all day, I did most of my writing during their naptimes and evenings, sometimes early in the morning before they awoke. I like my current schedule MUCH better.
7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
My best suggestion would be to just write on a regular basis and play around with a few approaches, maybe some you've read about from other writers, until you find the one that lights your fire, the one schedule or approach that keeps you motivated and excited to keep writing. My guess is that you'll end up with a style that is totally personalized to you and what's going on in your life.
8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read ‘Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?
"I'd rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate." --George Burns
9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?
Right now, I'm finishing rewrites on my second novel to return to my agent before the holidays. She'll then shop it around to editors with New York publishers and hopefully snag a contract for me. I'm starting graduate school in January to finally get my MFA in creative writing, and plan to revise the rough draft of my third book as my graduation project. I'd love to eventually teach creative writing at a university level once I have a degree. I'm also the Literary Advisor to The Modern Dickens Project, a serial novel in the form of a monthly contest designed to feature an untold Iowa story by undiscovered Iowa authors. We're picked our first winning chapter last month and will pick our November in a few weeks!
10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?
On my website: www.kalivanbaale.com and I'm also on Facebook: Kali White VanBaale
Complete details about The Modern Dickens Project can be found at www.moderndickens.org and on Facebook: The Modern Dickens Project.