An Indies Introduce New Voices Q&A With Kendall Kulper

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Kendall Kulper is the author of Salt & Storm (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), a Summer/Fall 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices pick for young adults. Kulper graduated from Harvard University with a degree in history and literature. For three years, she worked as a journalist for Bloomberg Radio in New York City before deciding to write full time. A New Jersey native, Kulper now lives in Boston with her husband and chronically anxious Australian Shepherd mix, Abby.

“Avery Roe is the youngest in a long line of witches empowered to protect the seamen of Prince Island. But where her grandmother sees a gift, her mother finds a curse,” said Summer Laurie of San Francisco’s Books Inc. “Should Avery embrace her destiny, reject it, or fight to craft her own future? When a dream foretells her murder, Avery turns to a foreign whaler with his own magical ways. Can this beautiful island boy and the sea witch survive the power of their love? With achingly beautiful prose, Kulper has crafted an intricately knotted story of love and revenge, legacy and sacrifice, destiny and freedom.”

What inspired you to write Salt & Storm?

Kendall Kulper: I wanted to write about islands, specifically the kind of community that develops there and how that insularity can feel both comforting and isolating. The only island I really know anything about is Martha’s Vineyard, and so when I began thinking about ideas for a book, I started there. Martha’s Vineyard has a rich history of whaling, and the deeper I got into researching the time period, the more intrigued I became. I discovered some New England folklore about women who lived on islands and shores of the Cape and would sell good luck charms to passing sailors, and I thought it was fantastic inspiration for a story.

You studied History and Literature at Harvard. What was your focus? (Did you have to study Moby Dick? Tattoos, whaling — we had to ask!)

KK: I focused on American history and literature and tended to jump around a lot as far as time periods and topics, but one thing I kept going back to was the idea of childhood and how it changed and evolved. Throughout American history, kids have been seen as miniature adults, soulless monsters, cheap labor, innocent angels — it’s taken a long time to get to where we are today. I think there’s probably no better way to figure out a society’s values than to look at what people are teaching their children, and then, of course, those children are the ones who end up shaping the next chapter of history.

It’s something I think about a lot as a YA writer — how is my writing going to impact the kids who read it? What are the things I hope they take away? I feel very lucky to be writing during a time when teens are taken seriously for the smart, independent, thoughtful, and passionate people they are, and it’s an honor to play a role in teaching and influencing them.

And no, I never had to read Moby Dick! (Poor Moby Dick — it gets shafted a lot by readers, but there’s so much of it that’s funny and touching and fascinating. If you’re having trouble getting through it, try to find a copy with Rockwell Kent’s amazing woodcut illustrations — at least then you’ll have some pretty pictures to move you along.)

Are you working on anything now?

KK: I am! Salt & Storm will have a prequel/companion novel, and I’m deep in the middle of edits right now. It touches on some of the characters and themes of the first book while showing a lot more of what’s going on outside the island. One of the things that I always wondered about while writing Salt & Storm was how the rest of the world looked and felt and operated in a reality where magic exists. This book will answer that.

As a YA author, what are your thoughts on diversity in children’s/YA literature?

KK: For me, YA literature really comes down to identity, to that time in a young person’s life when they’re figuring out who they are as individuals. Racial, cultural, and social backgrounds are such a key part of that puzzle, and it’s so important that literature reflect that. I’m thrilled that diversity has gotten so much attention recently and that writers of all backgrounds are taking it more seriously. I think authors are often nervous to tackle topics of diversity in their novels, but from the way readers respond to these stories, it’s clear there’s a demand and a need for more.

Personally, I’m Irish, Polish, and Puerto Rican, and I’m about to have my first child. When I think about the stories I want to share with her, I’m thinking about the kind of world she’s going to discover and explore. What kinds of stories or perspectives is she going to encounter? Where will she see herself? Books are an amazing way to learn more about the world and, in turn, yourself, and it’s vital to hear more than one kind of voice.

What advice would you give a young adult interested in writing?

KK: Read as much as you can. Books make amazing writing teachers, and I always recommend that people read as broadly as possible — fiction, genre books, nonfiction. Read the kinds of things you want to write, read things that make you laugh, things that make you think. Read bad literature, if only so you know what not to do. Try not to read as a reader enjoying a story but as a writer appreciating what the author is doing. Think about how things fit together, about pacing and structure and character development. Try to figure out what it is about the books you read that hit you the hardest. Beautiful prose? Heartaching romance? Killer plot? Learn who you are as a reader and use that to figure out who you want to be as a writer. And then write.

Were books an important facet of your childhood? What book(s) did you read as a child? As a teen?

KK: Books were and are hugely important to me. I would read three or four books at a time, and I never went anywhere without a book (or two, or three) tucked into my bag. My reading tastes grew a lot over the years, but as a kid, I loved historical novels (the Little House books) and fantasy novels (the Oz books). A lot of the books that really shaped me are classics that continue to endure: Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, Out of the Dust.

When I was a teen, I started reading more adult classics and more nonfiction. I loved to paint and draw, so I also read a lot about creativity and design (The Art of Looking Sideways was a big favorite). But books for young people always had appeal for me. I always thought (and still do think) that they are just such great stories. There’s so much richness to them, in setting and detail and plot, and as far as pure joy, I’ll take something like The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm or The Moorchild over any adult book.

If you were a bookseller, is there a book you would say YA readers just have to read?

KK: The book that I think all humanity should read, hands down, is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It has been my favorite book since I read it at 12 years old, the summer before seventh grade, and every time I pick it up, I discover something new about it — it’s a book that has not ceased to change and evolve for me. There’s so much beauty and simplicity in the writing, and the heroine, Francie, is an amazing example of a character who grows, who makes mistakes, who is complex and thoughtful, funny and flawed. It was written in the ’40s (back when YA literature was called a coming-of-age novel), but when it comes to books for or about teens, it’s just about as close to perfect as you can get.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three titles would you want to have with you?

Well, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, of course. Can all seven Harry Potter books count as one? If not, I’ll go with my favorite, Prisoner of Azkaban. And then the latest book from David Sedaris, because if I’m stuck on a desert island, I probably need a good laugh.

Salt & Storm, by Kendall Kulper (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, 9780316404518). Publication Date: September 23, 2014.

Learn more about Kendall Kulper at

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