Thank you so much for being here today with us, Kay!
TxSandS: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and who or what inspires you?
KayH: I am an eighth-grade English teacher at Highland Park Middle School and an author. My debut novel The Fire Horse Girl came out this January. I have two children, a five-year-old boy and a twenty-two month old girl. Both of them are adopted from China and their culture and immigration experience inspired me to write The Fire Horse Girl.
I am also inspired by the readers and writers in my room. They energize me and make me want to read more so that I can share great books with them and write characters and stories that hopefully resonate with them.
TxSandS: What were your goals when you first started working with kids and books, and how has that vision changed now that some time has gone by?
KayH: I have always loved reading, and but I wasn’t always smart about how I shared that that love of reading with kids. Early in my career I thought that I was the expert on quality books. As the expert, I expected kids to follow my lead. At some point it dawned on me that I love reading because I found stories that I loved, not stories my teachers loved or my parents loved or even my friends loved. Now I know my job is not to make them read the books I love but to help them find their own stories to fall in love with.
THE FIRE HORSE GIRL (Arthur A. Levine Books, January 1, 2013)
TxSandS: You’ve run into an old classmate from high school and you tell them THE FIRE HORSE GIRL just came out. They ask what it’s about. What do you say?
KayH: It is about Jade Moon, a girl born under the sign of the Fire Horse — the worst sign in the Chinese zodiac for girls. She leaves China and travels through Angel Island (the so-called Ellis Island of the West) and onto the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1923. Jade Moon is trying to find freedom, but instead she finds disappointment, danger and deception. Eventually that helps her find her own strength and herself.
I also might make-up some cool-sounding award (“And it just won a Stackholm”) in case they weren’t impressed enough yet.
TxSandS: I love hearing happy publication stories. Can you tell us the path to publication for THE FIRE HORSE GIRL?
KayH: I wrote a draft of The Fire Horse Girl while I was waiting to adopt our first child from China. I wanted to understand the emotions of leaving a home and coming to America. By the time we were matched with a beautiful three-year-old boy, I was beginning to submit to agents. Rosemary Stimola (a far better agent than I deserve, but I try not to mention that to her too often for fear she’ll find out it’s true) wrote back and said that the book had promise but it was unfinished. I realized she was right, so I got back to work. The first draft ended as Jade Moon left Angel Island, but her story and struggled would not end there. I finished the story, continuing it into her time in San Francisco.
When it came time to finding a publisher, all I ever wanted was someone who would bring this book to its full potential. I don’t always get what I wish for, but I’m glad I did this time. Cheryl Klein (again, way out of my league), executive editor at Arthur A. Levine, picked it up. Cheryl is a meticulous editor with a strong sense of story and character. Readers can thank her for helping me take everything bad out and made everything good shine. Seriously…they should send flowers.
Kay and her son Jack at a signing
TxSandS: What has been the biggest surprise since you've entered the world of books for kids and teens?
KayH: I was surprised by how much kids dive into the world of stories for escape. It is such a healthy way to take a break from their hectic lives. I often focus on the aesthetics of reading – a beautiful line or phrase. But I don’t think I can overestimate how much my kids value slipping out of their life and into a fictional one for an hour or two.
TxSandS: How do you see reading changing for teens in the next couple years? What challenges do you see? And what can we do to help?
KayH: I am optimistic about reading for teens. As long as great authors keep producing great books, teens will read them.
I am very concerned about an increasing willingness to cut school library budgets or even (and this one keeps me up at night) close them completely to save money. Libraries are the very heart and soul of a school. It would be like removing a building’s foundation because there is sometimes an upkeep cost and ignoring that fact that you will lose the structural integrity of the rest of the building. Schools need libraries and those libraries need books and staff.
I’m not sure what to do about it. I should probably go ask my school librarians. They have a gift for finding solutions.
TxSandS: Finish this sentence, and tell us why. Writing is a lot like…
KayH: …a rugby game. You feel bruised and battered and like you might have a minor concussion, but you also feel like you are on top of the world, and you’ll be back for more at the next game.
TxSandS: What is next? WIPs? Future publications? Please tell all!
KayH: I am working on my second book. It is set in West Texas so it’s full of politics, power plays, and Friday Night Football.
TxSandS: What has been your favorite experience as an author thus far?
KayH: One of my students was reading my book in class one Friday. She chose it on her own, and I know how carefully my students choose their books, so that was an honor already. I was nervously watching her face like I have watched students reading their book in my class for years. You can always tell who has a book they love and who is slogging through a story. Her face would ripple with emotion as she held the book close. That was the best feeling.
TxSandS: Please share your favorite inspirational thought!
KayH: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” (Marianne Williamson). So true!
TxSandS: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or a Scoundrel?
KayH: Like most Texas women I am a sweetheart who will charm a scoundrel when she needs to.
TxSandS: Thank you so much for being here!
Kay Honeyman grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and attended Baylor University, graduating with a Bachelors and Masters in English Language and Literature. Her first novel, The Fire Horse Girl, comes out in January 2013. It is being published by Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. She currently teaches middle school and lives in Dallas, Texas.
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