Before I imagine anything about the worlds, I imagine characters. For all of the stories I'm juggling now, my first entry into the worlds was the image of a single character. All of them have had very distinct aesthetics in terms of clothing, hair, etc., which have immediately placed them in a certain type of world, in the broadest sense (pseudo-historical vs. modern, for example). I can also usually picture the character within a certain type of natural environment, as well, which also greatly informs the world-building. The specific details begin materializing pretty quickly once I have that first character.
Did you have a very active imagination as a child? If so, please share a story where your imagination either served you well or got you into trouble while in school?
I had an extremely active imagination as a child. I was also a total goody-goody, though, so I don't think it ever really got me in trouble. It did often stave off boredom, though. When I was in kindergarten, I had this whole soap opera-esque story that I would revisit every nap time. I don't remember all the details, but I know it involved a tearful deathbed farewell song (because it was also a musical, naturally). I really looked forward to reclining on my little 101 Dalmatians towel and staring at the darkened ceiling while I pondered this Great and Meaningful Tragedy I had created. I'm not sure where all the doom and gloom came from, since I wasn't consuming a whole lot of tragic media at age five--except for The Lion King. Maybe that had just made a really big impression on me!
In your opinion, how important do you think it is for a fantasy writer to have imagination in her tool bag?
I can't think of any way someone could be a fantasy writer without having a big imagination. It's not the only necessary tool: fantasy writers also have to be diligent observers of their own world in order to come up with viable new ones. Every time I come up with a new detail about my fantasy worlds, I have to think of how characters would realistically react to that detail. To do that, I have to draw on my knowledge of how real people act, and then use my imagination to apply that to the made-up situation I've concocted. This is also why it's important for aspiring fantasy writers to listen to and read about experiences that are very unlike their own. I mean, it's important for all people to do that, of course, but all writers should remember that the more you learn, the more you can imagine.
Why do you find sketching your characters and their worlds to be an invaluable step in getting your stories out?
I really enjoy drawing my characters. I have a sketchbook full of pictures of them. I'm not the best artist in the world, but sometimes I manage a decent portrait! Mostly, it's just something I do for fun, but I will occasionally start drawing if I feel stuck. I needed to come up with an idea for a grad school project once, and drawing the first characters that popped into my head helped me unlock a whole story that is now in its second year and sixth draft! For another project, drawing helped me hammer out the details of the end of a trilogy. I think when I'm drawing a character, I'm very focused on them, but I don't feel the pressure of "I have to figure this out right now" because I'm not actively outlining or writing. It's almost like I'm just meditating about who this person is, and that often leads to good ideas about what will happen to them.
Did your AmeriCorp experience inspire any ideas for any new projects? Did it broaden your outlook on life and therefore impact your writing decisions? Please, explain.
I'm still only a little over three months into my AmeriCorps experience, so I don't quite know yet how it will impact my writing yet, but I'm sure that it will. I'm learning a lot of things I never knew before, and I have no doubt that some of this knowledge will trickle into a story one of these days. To be honest, my writing actually informed my decision to do an AmeriCorps term. I write about all these young people who are struggling to make something good and positive happen in their world, even when the odds are stacked against them. I got to a point where I felt like I couldn't just write about people like that--I had to be one of them myself. I feel like I'm in over my head a lot of the time, not gonna lie! But I'm glad that I found an opportunity to help some people in my beloved home state of New Jersey. I hope that someday, when my books are out in the world, they can help people through tough times, too.
Kathleen Kellett is a doctoral student at Rutgers Camden, where she is pursuing her PhD in Childhood Studies. She received her MA in Children's Literature and MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. To date, she has written three fantasy manuscripts, two YA and one middle-grade, and is particularly interested in the figure of the monstrous adolescent. She can be found online at kathleenwriting.com and on Twitter under the handle @KathleenWriting.