Interview with Member Kaitlyn Hill
Jeff Hoagland, one of our stellar board members, sat down with Kaitlyn to talk about her second novel.
Jeff Hoagland, one of our stellar board members, sat down with Kaitlyn Hill recently to talk about her second novel, Not Here to Stay Friends.
JH: Kaitlyn Hill! It's nice to sit and chat with you for a little bit.
KH: It's my pleasure.
JH: Normally I'd start with your backstory, but you have a novel just published by Delacorte, so I don't want to bury the lede. The book was released April 4, yes?
KH: It was. It's my second novel, and it's called Not Here to Stay Friends. The title is a play on a common reality television trope: "I'm not here to make friends."
JH: What's the logline?
KH: It's a YA friends-to-lovers romance about a girl who is a contestant on a reality show and her best friend who is a PA behind the scenes. It’s kind of inspired by “The Bachelor,” but also by ridiculously over-the-top teen dramas like “The OC” or “One Tree Hill.” It’s a wild ride. It’s fun and it's weird and so far people really enjoy it.
JH: It's not everyday I get to speak with someone right in the thick of a new book launch. What do the next few weeks look like for you? Are you doing a lot of promotion?
KH: I am. It's a lot of work trying to make people aware of the book. Pushing pre-orders. Interviews with bloggers and online platforms. And then I’m doing some events and signings.
I’m constantly wondering if I’m doing enough. The guidelines are vague. There is a lot put on the author to self-promote. Publishers do a lot, but you have to do the social media hustle, too. Publishing is a fickle business. The job security isn’t there for most of us. But I’m happy and grateful to do it, and I’m thrilled that anyone would buy a book I wrote.
JH: It's such a huge undertaking. I would imagine part of the joy is hearing from people who’ve been moved by it.
KH: A lot of the early reviews have mentioned it is an easy read, that people read it in a day. Which I consider a compliment — I’m happy people found it enjoyable. But it took a lot longer than a day to write.
JH: I'm sure it did. Work for a year so someone can enjoy what you did in a day.
JH: Let's talk about that work. Have you always written? Have you always wanted to be an author?
KH: I wasn't sure what I wanted to be. I was a focused student, and though I loved to read, I never thought of writing or the arts as something you could do professionally. I had this idea — and it’s very western, very American — that the arts aren’t really something you can make a career out of, and instead you should focus on more practical things.
So I worked very hard at math and science, but then in college I pivoted to liberal arts — sociology and anthropology and German. Sociology made my head explode. I felt like it made me see the world in a new way, and I fell in love with it. But career-wise nothing felt right. It was frustrating, because I felt like everyone around me was finding their passion in life and I wasn’t.
Meanwhile, I always loved reading, and at some point a lightbulb went off. I thought, “Okay, I can’t be a professional reader, but what could I do in this world that's close to that?” I’d always loved storytelling, I'd always loved entertaining people, I’d always loved television and media — so I thought to myself maybe I should try telling stories.
I was in college then, and I took one creative writing class to get some of the basics. Then I started to get more focused on writing. I tried some short stories, eventually began to work on a novel — which was really just fan fiction for a book I loved.
JH: Can you tell me the book?
KH: It was The Royal We by Heather Cox and Jessica Morgan. I found that book so engrossing, and I wanted to do something like that — a different spin on the same characters. Ensemble cast, set at a university. And I did not get very far with that book, but I spent a year working on it.
JH: Did you run into writer’s block, or any of the other obstacles people usually encounter when creating their first big project?
KH: Yes. I loved the scene-level stuff — dialogue, character interactions — but I did not have the big picture of where it was going and how to structure a plot. I was not thinking about craft as much, which is probably why the book never got finished.
And then the first time I actually finished a book was a year later during NaNoWriMo. It was really hard, and I was in the process of moving from Seattle to Kentucky, and things were tumultuous, but sitting down and writing that novel every day felt powerful.
JH: Did you see progression in your work from your initial short stories to your aborted novel to your finished novel?
KH: Definitely. I was figuring out how to create original characters that seemed believable. And developing them. And creating story beats, even though I wouldn’t have known that term. I was starting to see the patterns of how books come together.
JH: It’s a powerful moment when a person realizes there are tools and mechanics people use to tell long-form stories, and that you can use them, too.
KH: Just knowing that they exist is helpful.
JH: So how does the first published book happen?
KH: It was my second NaNoWriMo. This time when I completed it I actually revised it. And because I was gaining confidence, I began to research traditional publishing and how authors get there. So I queried agents for the first time, but mostly as an experiment. And I only had queries out for a few months when I had the idea for “Love from Scratch” — which was my first published book.
"Love from Scratch" was inspired by media I enjoyed — chefs making short videos about food they were passionate about — and I conceived of a cooking show romantic comedy. I could see the characters immediately. I could see the plot, the structure of the romance. And I wrote it really quickly over a single summer.
From there I entered a mentoring program called Pitch Wars that unfortunately no longer exists. It totally changed my life. I got a mentor who helped me improve the book and query and pitch it. It was a crash course in revising, in the publishing industry. Both of my mentors were agented with book deals. I learned a lot in terms of craft, and I learned about the realities of writing professionally.
JH: That’s exciting.
KH: It was. I got an agent from the Pitch Wars showcase, and not long after that we took my book out on submission. It was very fortuitous timing. The pandemic was raging and editors were looking for light, happy, fluffy books.
That was the journey for Love from Scratch. It came out last April.
JH: It’s such a strange and intense experience. Is there something you learned during your journey that could help a writer hoping to make that journey for themself?
KH: I learned a lot about the value of putting yourself out there, even if you don’t feel you’re ready for it.
JH: You have to put your work out there if it’s going to move or entertain people in the same way you yourself as a reader have been moved or entertained.
KH: Honestly I still think I’m processing some of that. It was only after the book came out that I began to realize that people anywhere can read it. It’s hard to connect what I do now with myself as a teenager, who was dealing with all kinds of stuff and loved to fall into a book and live in that world. It’s really special, and it makes me feel really grateful. I began to write because I loved stories. It’s nice to know that I can have that effect on someone else. I feel fortunate I get to do it.
JH: That's great to hear. So I have to ask: how did you end up at the Lexington Writer's Room?
KH: I heard about the Writer’s Room because I follow Gwenda online as a reader and fan. I wanted to come over and join, but I waited awhile. I honestly dealt with a little bit of imposter syndrome. I didn't always feel like a "working” writer, so I didn’t know if I’d fit in.
But then I met Ellie Kilcoyne, who debuted with a young adult novel at the same time mine debuted. And I got to know her, and she was telling me how great the Writer’s Room community is, and she brought me over here to look at the place and I thought, “this is perfect” — but I still wasn't sure if I was "professional" enough.
JH: That’s a pretty common refrain. Even though we accept anybody who wants to write, it's hard for people to accept that the only qualification for being a “real” writer is to write — to put something on the page.
KH: Yes. And I’ve come to see it that way, but it’s hard. I still feel like I have no credibility as a writer — even after I got a book deal. What I like now is that every time I come to an event, I meet new people who feel the same way I do. It makes me feel less alone. I finally worked my way up to joining in November of last year after the Kentucky book festival.
JH: Has the space helped?
KH: It's helped my productivity a lot. I love the community — the write-ins, meeting new people, getting motivated and inspired by others’ work — but the real value is coming into a place where the only thing I do is write, and I can’t get distracted, and I’m watching other people take their work seriously.
JH: I like that we try to keep the focus on making the LWR a place purely for writing. There’s motivation captured by the idea that this place has a specific role.
KH: Yes. And when I describe this place to my online friends, most of whom live far away, they can’t believe it exists. It’s a co-working space just for writers?!? It sounds too good to be true. And it’s amazing that Lexington has this thriving community that can support this space.
JH: And that writers can support each other, too. You mentioned earlier how powerful it was to find tools that helped you write long-form fiction. Are there any books or tools you can recommend?
KH: One book I go back to again and again is “Romancing the Beat” by Gwen Hayes. It’s short and punchy, and it lays out some of the typical beats for a romance novel. It totally aligns with the stories I like to tell, much more so than things like the hero’s journey. It really taught me how to create the plot, how to create beat sheets if I need to.
And then I also highly suggest subscribing to the newsletters of authors you like or admire. Often their newsletters share tips for craft that I’ve found really useful over time.
Lastly, I just have to say that I keep this index card taped to the shelf right beside my home office workspace. It’s from Samar’s goal planning session in January, where they had us write a note to our 6-months-from-now selves relating to a goal for the year. We then had to pass the note to a neighbor, and the neighbor would write something encouraging under our notes to our future selves. I was really self-conscious about this part, but my neighbor was Pam, who I only met that day, and she wrote this nice thought that I now keep beside me while I work. It’s a helpful reminder to me personally, as I’m not great about a) giving myself credit for any progress made, and b) remembering that I have this community I can lean on during my writing journey and don’t have to do everything alone in my house and head. So thanks to Samar for planning events like that! Having the opportunity to do these things is really special and I feel lucky to be part of this place!
Find out more about Kaitlyn at her website.