If we Scrivas had an annual Most Productive Writer award in our critique group, we’d give it to Amber this year, along with a well deserved trip to her favorite ski lodge or spa.
Amber is the author of the forthcoming Pointe, Claw (Carolrhoda Lab, 2017), a novel about two girls claiming their own personal power; The V-Word (Beyond Words, 2016), an anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sexual experiences; The Way Back from Broken (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a heart-wrenching novel of loss and survival; and Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015). She is the co-author with Kiersi Burkhart of the middle grade series Quartz Creek Ranch (Darby Creek, 2017). And these are just her latest books.
At various times, Amber has been a newspaper deliverer, a cake cutter, a nanny, a ballet dancer, a counselor, a sign-maker, a costumer, a clerk, a biologist, a teacher, and now—a writer. Sometimes she envies people (like her dad) whose life paths were a tad more straight, but she does have some wonderful fodder for her creative work. She likes the way writer William Gibson describes his mind as a trash compactor. He throws a lot of stuff in there and squashes it around and then mines the goo for material.
Read more about Amber on her website www.amberjkeyser.com.
So, Amber, with all you’ve done, what has brought you to writing? I am pretty sure that Mo Willams based one of the characters in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog on me:
I write because I am curious about so many things. I want to know about Ama divers and Antarctica and the history of women explorers and Nordic biathlon and dog genetics and how toilets are made. I love documentaries and memoirs because they plumb people’s obsessions. The writing life gives me an excellent excuse to learn and experience all the things I’m interested in.
I write for teens because I like them better than adults (present company excepted). Young adults are on the cusp of the world. So many possibilities are on the horizon. It’s an exciting time in life when you get to figure out what you stand for and carve your own path. The problem with many adults (again present company excepted) is that they get entrenched in ways of thinking and being and living. I love the brilliant energy young adults bring to the world.
Do you have a favorite piece of your writing? If so, what is it and why? There is a scene in The Way Back from Broken (the beginning of chapter 33) that is really important to me. It began as a picture book manuscript in the very early days of my writing adventure. I took it to a manuscript critique at a writing conference. The literary agent who read it told me (to my face) that the world doesn’t need another ugly duckling story and that I wasn’t a very good writer anyway and that it would be best if I quit immediately.
I probably wasn’t a very good writer back then but I ached to write about how we can live with our own brokenness. It was a story that I needed to tell whether the world needed it or not. And that’s the thing about writing… it is an audacious act that proclaims: My story matters. I matter. My voice will not be silenced.
Every time I read that section of the book, I want to simultaneously offer a rude hand gesture to that agent and a fist bump to my own pugnacious self.
If you could change one aspect of the publishing business, what would it be and why? So many things… First… Oh, wait… What did you say? I only get to change one thing? Well… shoot (actually I’m saying a bad word here)… Here’s the deal: Writing a book is hard. Selling books is even harder.
Thousands and thousands of books are published each year. Some are amazing. Some are boring. Some are downright terrible. Helping your book—your blood, sweat, and tears on the page—swim to the surface and into the hands of the right reader often feels like an impossible task. I wish that it were easier to sell books. I wish less of the publicity work fell on my shoulders. I wish that good books always sold well and that writers could create without the looming threat of unpaid bills.
Word-of-mouth (direct or via reviews on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads) is still the primary driver of book sales. If you know and love a writer, the most helpful thing you can do is share your appreciation for their work with your friends and family. Plus, it’s cool to talk about books with interesting people. Books are awesome!
Thanks, Amber. Books are definitely awesome. And so are you.