Today I’m happy to introduce L.K. Mitchell, a YA author signed with Musa’s Euterpe imprint for her novel, Keeper of Directions. She’s a lady of many hats, including writer, editor, and mother. Between wearing these hats–or perhaps while wearing all of them–she found the time to join me for an interview. I hope you’ll find her thoughts as interesting as I did.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Keeper of Directions?
Keeper of Directions is a middle grade novel about a ten-year-old boy named Lance who has Asperger’s
Syndrome. Lance discovers a whole new world of shape-shifters that have been living among humans for
thousands of years. The shape-shifters involve Lance and his teenager sister in their plans for making war
against other shape-shifters. Keeper of Directions explores two relevant current events: war and global
warming. In both these scenarios people on either side think they have all the answers. In Keeper of
Directions, Lance is caught up in the adult world for which he is unprepared. So Keeper of Directions is
also about how children are often forced to grow up before they are ready. And to complicate matters, the
main character has autism.
2. Keeper of Directions is about a boy who becomes a raven shape-shifter. Did you do much research about ravens while preparing to write this book?
I know a lot about ravens, having lived with ravens my whole life. Alaska is full of ravens. Ravens are
also a part of my children’s lives as well as my own. My children are Tlingit from a Raven clan, the
T’akdeintaan. I also studied ravens, tricksters, and oral traditions during my MA degree. I have a Master’s
in Cross Cultural Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Knowledge Systems from the University of
Alaska Fairbanks. So when I started to write, I had a lot of knowledge already rolling around in my head
and archived in binders. However, I had to read several scientific books on raven behavior and study up
on ravens in myth. I spent a lot of time researching ravens before and during the writing process.
3. What originally inspired you to write Keeper of Directions?
I was inspired to write Keeper of Directions because I was in the middle of researching ravens for a
poetry collection I was writing about tricksters. I was exploring the trickster archetype in modern culture.
When I discovered that the Tower of London keeps ravens, I asked myself: What if the ravens at the
Tower of London aren’t ordinary ravens but something else? That led to more questions. Then the
premise for the novel formed quickly after that.
It’s also a story I wanted to tell my children. Sure my children are grown up now but it’s a story I
would’ve told them at naptime. Once upon a time there was a boy who loved ravens…
4. How much planning did you do before starting to write Keeper of Directions?
I didn’t do much planning. It was novelist and short story writer, Ron Carlson, who provided me with
the best writing tool. Ron Carlson had visited my MFA residency at the University of Alaska Anchorage
where he was a guest speaker and happened to sit at my table. He was very encouraging. We were
actually talking about poetry with one another, not fiction. So after the residency and after reading Ron
Carlson’s book Ron Carlson Writes a Story, I decided to follow his advice: sit your butt in the chair. I was armed with a lot of research, a question to explore, and a single character, a boy with Asperger’s
Syndrome. I sat myself down and wrote the novel.
5. What is the hardest part of the writing process for you, and how do you make it easier for yourself?
For me the hardest part is not the initial rough draft: It’s the revision (At least as far as novel writing
goes). It seems that I can crank out a rough draft and then it’s hard for me to go back to it and revise.
Mostly, I’m embarrassed that it’s so rough. If I write in longhand I can’t read my own writing. So I have
to make sure that after every five to ten pages I type it out. Revising is the real writing process, though.
After going through the process of writing Keeper of Directions and working with my great editor at
Musa Publishing, Kathy Teel, I now have the tools to write another, even better, novel.
To make revising easier, I have to convince myself that there’s time to revise. I have to create a sense that
there isn’t anything else pressing for my time. I like to relax and revise. I also have to envision the deeply
satisfying reward at the end, which is a readable lovely draft that I can work on until it’s polished. Once
the rough draft goes through several revisions and it’s at a stage I call a “readable draft” then working on
it becomes a delight. I just keep adding more depth, more layers, until it’s polished.
6. You are also an editor for Flashquake, a literary magazine focused on ‘works of flash’. How did you become an editor?
I became an editor at Flashquake because I fell in love with flash fiction, though I’m first and foremost
a poet. I discovered flash fiction through reading the many literary journals that I submit to. With flash
fiction/nonfiction, I found that I could read a couple of stories at a time. And flash fiction tends to have a
satisfying ending. I like that. It’s also very concise like poetry. I use the same skills to write flash fiction
that I do to write poetry.
A year or two after I’d been an avid reader of flash fiction, I discovered that Flashquake, after a brief
hiatus, was recreating itself with new management. The program director for my MFA had sent an email
out to students to see if there was anyone who wanted to help get Flashquake going again. Their new
editor, Cindy Bell, had contacted the university with the request. I volunteered. I sent my resume and
sample writing. At that time I had only published two flash stories in Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots
of Alaska from the University of Alaska Press. I wanted to get experience being an editor. Flashquake
also takes on student editors who happen to be in an MFA who are doing a practicum and need hands on
7. What are some important things you’ve learned about writing from working with Flashquake?
I love Flashquake but I learned that it’s a lot of hard work. Our lead editor Cindy Bell is the brains and
creative energy behind the journal. I also learned that a rejection is very subjective and that helps when I
my own writing is rejected. I get rejected a lot but now I can see the other side of the process. But I also
get a lot of pieces published.
8. What sorts of stories are you most likely to accept for Flashquake?
When I read a writer’s work, I don’t know who I’m accepting or rejecting. I don’t know the writer’s
age, gender, name, or the writer’s experience. But I can tell if they’ve read Flashquake’s guidelines.
Flashquake is not a horror journal. We are a literary journal. Also if the writer is going to submit
speculative fiction then it should stand out from the genre somehow. I love magic realism but it has to be
done right. But we accept all types of work from all genres.
Another biggie is to avoid cliché. Something that’s considered cliché is not just a phrase, it’s a storyline
too. You’ll get more acceptances if you can write about common things with new perspectives. Fanfiction
will be rejected too.
In my opinion Flashquake doesn’t get enough non-fiction submissions. I love creative non-fiction. I love
short memoir pieces. I also love prose poetry too.
The biggest thing is that the story should have a beginning, middle, and an end. If the piece it taken from
out of your novel or memoir and you’re going to submit it to Flashquake, you might get rejected if you
haven’t revised it to fit a smaller publication. You have to take that piece and rework it into a complete
piece. If it reads like a chunk of something I’ll reject it.
We also accept poetry at Flashquake. I like poetry that I can understand and that contains some wonderful
images and language. But I like experimental poetry too. I’m open to anything as long as it’s good. If
I reject a poem it’s usually because it’s either very religious, or contains tired-out rhymes, or Hallmark
style poetry. I’m not against religious poetry but there are ways to say something about one’s faith
without trying to convert the reader. Also I reject overt political poetry that reads as a political message.
But I don’t mind if your characters are political.
9. What is the most common reason for a story to get rejected by Flashquake?
Over and over again I see pieces that have a “trick” ending. One of the signs of a beginning writer is to
write a story as a joke or a joke as a story, or to try to trick the reader. Be careful with your twist endings.
Also, I find that beginning poets send their work out too soon. I can almost tell if the poet is or isn’t
reading journals or other poets. For example there are a lot of poems about certain subjects. Take the
moon, for example. If you’re going to send a poem about the moon it better have a perspective that’s not
been written about. Something fresh.
I like poems and stories about interesting people and places. Most of all, a reader’s joy and heartache is in
the details. Be different. Take risks. And eliminate unnecessary words.
At Flashquake, editors are required to give feedback; one or two sentences about why we rejected the
work. I like to give “helpful” feedback such as how to improve the piece. I’ve gotten notes back from a
submitter actually thanking me for the rejection and the advice.
10. Finally, can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on right now?
I’m working on a contemporary young adult novel about mermaids in Alaska. And I have an outline for
the second book to Keeper of Directions. I’ll be starting on that this summer. This will be the first time
that I will be outlining a novel ahead of time. We’ll see how that goes.
I publish poetry under the name Vivian Faith Prescott. I’m working on a collection of poems about
Alaskans relationship to oil including the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Exxon Valdez oil disaster. One
section, Slick, is published as an e-chapbook and is available online at White Knuckle Press. The other
section, Sludge, also a chapbook, is available in print through Flutter Press and Lulu.
You can purchase Keeper of Directions here.
Bio: L.K. Mitchell is a fifth generation Alaskan who was born and raised on a small island in Southeast
Alaska. She now lives in Sitka and Kodiak, Alaska. L.K. Mitchell is from a multi-cultural family and is
adopted into her children’s Raven clan, the T’akdéintaan, a Tlingit clan from SE Alaska. Her Tlingit name
is Yéilk’ Tláa, Mother-of-Cute-Little-Raven. L.K. Mitchell is a mother and grandmother and she writes
middle-grade and young adult novels in addition to poetry and non-fiction (under the name Vivian Faith
Prescott). She has won several awards for her writing. She’s also the co-director of a non-profit called
Raven’s Blanket. She facilitates writers groups for teens and adults. Her middle-grade/young adult novel
Keeper of Directions is published by Musa Publishing and is available on Amazon, Barns and Noble,
iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo, and Diesel.