Laekan Zea Kemp is a writer living in Austin, Texas. She received her B.A. in Creative Writing from Texas Tech University and her M.F.A. in Teaching from the University of North Texas. She’s the author of the paranormal romance series, The Girl In Between. When she’s not writing she’s religiously re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reading anything by Melina Marchetta, and teaching English as a Second Language to the most amazing teenagers from all over the world.
Q: Where are you from?
A: My mom’s family is from a teeny tiny town called O’Donnell, Texas, and we lived there for a bit before moving to Lubbock, Texas where I lived until I was 19.
Q: Where do you live?
A: I currently live in Austin, Texas. I’ve also lived in Winter Park, Florida, and Dallas, Texas.
Q: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
A: For my undergraduate degree I went to Texas Tech University and majored in Creative Writing. Four years later I enrolled in graduate school at the University of North Texas and earned a Master’s of Education in Teaching.
Q: Do you have any siblings, significant others, pets, or children?
A: I have biological siblings but I’ve never met them. Maybe I’ll try to find them someday and write a memoir about it. My boyfriend and I met when we were teenagers and have been together for 11 years. We have a dog named Gambit that we adopted from Austin Pets Alive after Hurricane Harvey. We do not have kids.
Q: What’s your day job?
A: I’m glad you asked because building a writing career takes time and most creatives I know do something else to make money. Currently, I’m a high school ESL teacher, which means all of my students are from other countries and learning English as their second (or sometimes third or fourth) language. They are the most amazing human beings and I’m grateful that I get to learn from them every single day.
Q: What do you write?
A: I write across genres and age categories but all of my books explore identity, mental health, and Latinx culture. My characters often find themselves straddling two different worlds, which comes from my experiences as a mixed-race person and adoptee. Writing is also how I remember so I often incorporate memories and anecdotes from my real life. In my books you’ll also find code-switching, dual and multi POV, Buffy and Coheed & Cambria references, and lots and lots of food. My heroines love to eat and often do their best brainstorming over tacos.
Q: What’s your favorite food?
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: A stranger starts screaming inside my head at 2 AM. Seriously, right when I’m trying to fall asleep or right when I wake up, I’ll start to hear a snippet of a conversation, and then spend the next half hour trying to figure out the relationship between these two people, what they want, and why they’re yelling. Some writers start with an image or a character. I think I start with my MCs voices because I’m constantly talking to myself. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. If you wanted to keep me occupied all you had to do was put me in a room with a fake telephone and I would talk to imaginary people all day long. As an adult, I talk to myself in the shower, in the morning while I’m getting ready, and in the car. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my imaginary conversations that I pull into my driveway with no recollection of how I got home.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: My writing process is different with every book. Not only do I approach each project with a different level of experience and in a different state of mind but because I write across genres and age categories each one demands different things. For some, I’ll make a chapter by chapter bulleted outline and for others I’ll just wing it until things start to stick. It never gets easier but after eight novels I’ve internalized so much about plotting, structure, and story elements that my first drafts are a lot cleaner than they used to be. For more specifics I’ve blogged about my writing process here.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: 1) The companion novel to the book I’m currently querying. It’s an upper YA contemporary romance about best friends, both musicians, who’ve made a pact to overcome their stage fright, while also dealing with the loss of a parent, as well as trying to unravel the mysterious disappearance of a famous DJ from their neighborhood. 2) A nonfiction project about Mexican-Americans reclaiming their Latinidad. 3) An MG paranormal story about the Mexican urban legend La Lechuza.
Q: Do you have any writing advice?
A: Share your writing with people. Friends, family, enemies. If you are a maker of anything you and your work are going to be criticized. Find ways to build up that callous. Because I PROMISE you (come closer, I seriously want you to hear this) one bad review, heck, one bad book is not going to ruin your career. Art has a function—to make people think, to make people feel seen, to make people uncomfortable. The art you make will not be for everyone but that doesn’t make you any less of an artist and that doesn’t make your art any less valuable. MAKE YOUR SHIT! You will never be able to please everyone but the chances that there are readers out there looking for a book, a voice just like yours are much higher than you think.
I’ve self-published seven novels and none of them landed me on the New York Time’s Bestsellers list. Some of them have been slammed by reviewers. BUT if I had let those negative reviews affect my creative process or determine what I shared and with who I never would have made enough money to go to grad school, buy a new car, or buy my first home. Be brave with your art. Be brave with your heart. Will it hurt when people don’t like your books? At first, absolutely. But your book is not you and you can always write another one.
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