A Q&A with Kat Spears
Author of The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker. We're big fans, and we're very excited for your third book. First things first (and a bit of a challenge for you):
1) As we live in the age of instant communication, could you please summarize the plot of ...Grant Parker in one hundred forty characters or less?
(Look at that, I even managed to fit the title into my tweet. The thought did to occur to me at one point that the title is a ridiculously long hashtag.)
2) Your two previous books have (broadly speaking) focused on the development of romantic relationships, while Grant Parker focuses more on the antagonistic relationship between Luke and Grant. Was there a specific reason why you felt like it was time to tell Luke and Grant's story now?
THE BOY WHO KILLED GRANT PARKER was a new challenge. I was attempting to write a story about a character who was recognizable, the boynext door so to speak, but not necessarily likable. I wanted the reader to identify with Luke’s feelings and to wonder if they would have made the same choices Luke does. It’s easy to say as an outsider that you would make different choices, and difficult to honestly admit you might make some of the same mistakes.
3) You've mentioned in previous interviews that your writing journey has been a constantly evolving one, ranging from you working two jobs, to you retaining your bartending job, so you can focus on writing. How did your journey further evolve with Grant Parker?
But over the past few years, since I have forced myself into the position of making my writing public, I think I’ve evolved more than I have at any other time during my adult life. My writing has always been deeply personal, a form of therapy and a way to reduce stress.
I think I have finally come to accept that there will always be things that happen that will make me sad or frustrated, even tragic moments that make life seem impossible to keep living. And instead of running away from those feelings, I’ve learned to welcome them, spend some time with them, and put them back into my writing. I think I started this journey with Jesse, a boy who had turned off his emotions in order to cope with the realities and hardships of his life, and I’ve worked my way to Travis (the main character in my current work in progress, 87 DAYS) who feels everything and lives an emotionally charged life, taking the hits as they come.
A good friend of mine recently suffered the loss of her only sister. Her sister had spent a lifetime institutionalized because of her physical disabilities and so I never actually met her. I attended the funeral to support my friend and was deeply moved by the eulogy my friend gave about her sister. My friend’s pain of losing a sibling she loved deeply, especially a sister who had never been able to fully realize the same quality of life most of us take for granted, was a powerful thing to behold. Later, my friend thanked me for making the long drive to attend the funeral and I told her that I never missed a chance to feel something. Connecting with people in their times of elation and sadness inform the artistic process and help us to grow as people.
4) On a related note: you've always been wonderfully candid about the fact that you didn't seek out representation and publication, until you felt like your writing voice was ready. In the interim, you made a point of learning from the jobs that you were working, including observing human nature and finding characters in the people around you.
As you have a young reader base: what's the best piece of advice you can give a young reader/would-be writer in assuring them that they do not have to start their publication journey at at certain age? That publishing is very much an industry that will welcome you at any age, as long as you have a good story to tell?
I once saw an author speak at a conference who told the audience she had read one particular book, her favorite, over twenty times. She said it as if that amount was something astounding. My mom and I looked at each other as she said it, both of us thinking the same thing—twenty times? Is that all? Later we laughed about the idea—to have only read your favorite book twenty times. Ridiculous! I’ve read most of my favorite books several dozen times and my top three favorite books I can practically recite from memory.
Growing up I read many books and was an avid reader. Because my mother is a librarian and a voracious reader herself, I was exposed to many authors and genres. As a writer in my twenties I recognized in my manuscripts that I was often mimicking the books that I loved. Not intentionally copying or plagiarizing, but borrowing tone and flow and voice from many of my favorite authors. I went through a John Irving phase, a Nora Ephron phase, a Richard Peck phase, and goodness knows how many others. These are all great role models, of course, but their style is not my style. And then one day, it seemed to happen overnight, I sat reading a chapter I had just finished writing and thought…hey, this voice is distinctly mine. It’s uniquely mine. I recognize it as mine and mine alone. It was an epiphany. And I had reached it entirely on my own. I never took a writing class or asked anyone to critique or read my work or offer edits or suggestions. It was just…mine.
So, you would think that’s where I started seeking publication, but it’s not. I waited another few years and wrote several more books before finally deciding to try writing for publication. For a while I thought about trying to publish short stories or magazine articles before diving straight into getting a novel published. But, ultimately, I don’t like writing short stories for the same reason I don’t like reading them, and I don’t think I’m a compelling essayist or short form writer, so I just decided to go for it.
5) Finally, what's next for you?
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, Kat! Now, read on for our thoughts of the book...
It's typical small town drama, and Spears does a fantastic job disseminating interpersonal dynamics, the bully relationship - including why bullies are so consistently charming to those who are not being bullied - and how this all breaks down in Luke's world.
It's a fascinating study of crowd mentality, the dynamics of the social infrastructure of high school (and how that reflects onto the real world) and the emotional mechanics that drive bullying and that mentality, and readers will find themselves fascinated (and occasionally frustrated) by Luke's journey. I'm being deliberately vague on purpose, but this is definitely one book you need to read for fall.
About the book:
But things go topsy-turvy when, after a freak accident, Luke replaces Grant at the top of the social pyramid. This fish out of water has suddenly gone from social outcast to hero in a matter of twenty-four hours. For the students who have lived in fear of Grant all their lives, this is a welcome change. But Luke’s newfound fame comes with a price. Nobody knows the truth about what really happened to Grant Parker except for Luke, and the longer he keeps living the lie, the more like Grant he becomes.