Tara Kelly, author of HARMONIC FEEDBACK (one of my top books of 2010!!), joins the Swarm today to answer questions about writing, music and life.
Tara adores variety in her life. She's a YA author, one-girl-band, web designer, video editor, digital photographer, and literary agent intern. She lives in Portland with her ten guitars, supercool bf, and a fluffy cat named Maestro. You can visit Tara at her WEBSITE.
Book Swarm: Thank you so much for taking time from your super-packed schedule to answer some questions for us! First off, what spark led you to write HARMONIC FEEDBACK?
Tara: I’ve met many people who are or feel ‘socially awkward’. Obviously I have firsthand experience growing up with ADHD and having a younger brother on the autistic spectrum. So I’ve always wanted to write a book featuring a main character who thinks a bit differently than what is considered the ‘norm’. But I also wanted to question the whole idea of normal. What is it exactly? It’s nobody I’ve ever met, that’s for sure.
My intent with HARMONIC FEEDBACK was to take three characters from very different backgrounds—one with a label and two without—and watch what they learned from one another, how they helped each other grow. Because I think this need to fit in and be liked is universal—and I also think we all feel a little bizarre from time to time.
Book Swarm: How did your life inspire the characters and/or events in the novel?
Tara: Aside from the above, my life-long obsession with music was an obvious inspiration. While my characters aren’t based on anyone in particular, they all share traits with people I’ve known and cared about throughout my life. In high school, I had friends who were tangled up with addiction, like Naomi, and it was a very painful experience for me. But it’s also an experience I know many kids go through—I wanted them to feel like they aren’t alone in that.
Book Swarm: Drea, your main character, has a form of Asperger’s Syndrome. How did you “get into her head” and create such a fantastic, real character?
Tara: Thank you! I’m not going to lie—it was tough. She’s probably the toughest character I’ve written in that we’re extreme opposites in some ways. She sees and processes things in such a literal/technical way where I’m all melody, emotions, and metaphors. What really helped me was talking to more literal-minded people I know, some on the spectrum, some not. And believe it or not, music was a huge help. The best way for me to get into the heads of my characters is to listen to the music they listen to, whether I like it or not. Most importantly, I wanted Drea to be her own person—someone we all could possibly know and not defined by her ‘labels’ or a neat box of symptoms.
Book Swarm: Well, you really accomplished what you set out to do with Drea. What about your other characters like Naomi and Justin? Are they inspired by real people or did they just walk on the page (as sometimes happens with characters!)?
Tara: Haha! A little of both, actually. Both characters were inspired by various people I’ve known, but they also just kind of appeared on the page and had a mind of their own from there. I wish I could say I had more control over my characters…but that would be a big fat lie. :)
Book Swarm: You've got another book on the horizon, which sounds great, too. Tell us a bit about your upcoming novel, C-SIDE TALES (due out in 2011).
Tara: C-Side Tales is about a privileged 17-year-old who gets kicked out of her house because she wants to postpone college. So what does a girl in that situation do? Well, hot-headed Jasmine flees to Santa Cruz to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. She gets lucky and finds the ideal room in an oceanfront house, but needs to convince the three guys living there that she's the perfect roommate and lead guitarist for their industrial rock band, C-Side. Too bad she has major stage fright, and the cute bassist doesn't think a spoiled girl from over the hill can hack it.
Harmonic Feedback had some focus on a band and music, but the band is the main focus of C-Side, and it was a thrill to write, especially the live performance scenes and the various situations Jasmine gets herself into.
Book Swarm: That's definitely on my wish list. Now, on to writing in general. We love hearing about how writers create. What’s your writing process—how do you go from the idea to writing that final draft?
Tara: What final draft? (Just kidding, sort of) I’m a writer who edits heavily as I write and I’m extremely linear—so I can’t move on until I completely finish a scene. Therefore, usually my first draft IS my final draft, but you better believe that every chapter was painstakingly written and edited before I moved onto the next. Hopefully, that makes sense!
Anyway, my ideas usually come in the form of characters. So I essentially start delving into their lives, watch them interact and I see what happens from there.
BookSwarm: Totally get the linear thing! We know that music is major in your life. How has your music and musical background influenced your writing?
Tara: Ha, well so far ALL of my books have revolved around music in some form. And I’ve yet to write a book without at least one character who plays an instrument. Music is such a huge inspiration for me—I would literally NOT be able to write without it. If I truly want to get inside the head of a tough character, I find the music they love and I listen to it on repeat until I get a scene right.
Book Swarm: Very cool way to get to know your characters even better. So, we’re always curious about authors’ writing spaces, which are as individual as the authors themselves. Where do you do the majority of your writing?
Tara: I tend to move a LOT, so lately my writing spaces have varied quite a bit. I have to switch it up, to be honest. Sometimes I’m cuddled on the couch with a laptop. Other times I’m in my music room where my good speakers are. And other times I just sit outside, like during a thunderstorm, and type like the wind.
BookSwarm: Variety is the spice of life, after all! As a newly-published author, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered since stepping on the writing path?
Tara: I guess the fact that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. That rejection is still something I have to deal with on a daily basis—and in fact, I’m probably harder on my writing now, as a published author, than I ever was before. On a more positive note, I could never have imagined how great it feels to have readers fall in love with characters I created. To see them discussing Drea, Justin, and Naomi as if they are real people. That makes all the sweat and tears worth it.
Book Swarm: That's got to be a great feeling--especially when your creations really resonate with your readers. So...if music keeps you focused then what’s your biggest distraction when writing?
Tara: Two words. THE INTERNET. Need I say more?
Book Swarm: Uh, no. Especially because it’s our biggest distraction, too! What about a favorite fuel for writing? What keeps you going?
Tara: I’m not the most coordinated person in the world, so I actually find it really tough to eat and write at the same time. I guess I’d have to say music for this one. :)
Book Swarm: On that note (heehee. Sorry, bad pun), tell us a little more about your musical side.
Tara: I play guitar, bass, and keyboards/piano and of course…sing! This is where the one-girl-band part comes into play. Basically I write and produce all of my own songs and I play all the instruments on them. I have been in bands and it was a blast, but I’m not much of a performer, I’m afraid. I’ve always been pretty uncomfortable on stage. I’m more of a hide in the studio and make music kind of girl.
Book Swarm: Wow--super-talented you! Who are your biggest musical influences?
Tara: I have so many, but female musicians who produce their own music are a huge inspiration to me. Poe, Kate Bush, Imogen Heap, for starters. Some bands I adored growing up were Tool, Depeche Mode, New Order, Skinny Puppy, Bjork, Catherine Wheel.
Book Swarm: Some fantastic artists in that line-up! What about your favorite musical genres?
Tara: I’m a big believer in finding something to like in almost any genre. But I’d say my favorite genre is mainly electronica (most specifically trip hop, industrial, industrial-metal, darkwave, synthpop)
Book Swarm: Say someone wanted to broaden their musical horizons (We’re always on the lookout for great music). What bands/musicians would you suggest and why?
Tara: Oh, do you have all month? First I’d find out what their current favorite bands are and try to find lesser known or bands LIKE them…and then I’d go from there. But for starters, here are a few bands I think should be on everyone’s list:
Placebo: Because they are probably my favorite band live. These guys are AMAZING.
Poe: Her albums are like reading a crazy horror novel. Her songs are creative, unique, gorgeous, and all around kick-ass.
Imogen Heap: Probably the weirdest stuff you’ve heard, but some of the most imaginative and trippy.
Portishead and Massive Attack: If you’re going to listen to triphop, start with the classics.
Puracane: If you like trip hop, check this indie band out. Their music is emotional, raw, and gorgeous.
Celldweller: A requirement for any writer who is working on a fight scene. The ultimate fight scene music.
Book Swarm: Wow, thanks! That's quite a list of music for us to check out. How 'bout best music of 2010?
Tara: I’m loving the new Bat For Lashes album
Book Swarm: What about books? Favorite books of 2010?
Tara: So far: SOME GIRLS ARE by Courtney Summers, BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD by Julie Anne Peters, THE LIGHTER SIDE OF LIFE AND DEATH by CK Kelly Martin, THE DEATHDAY LETTER by Shaun Hutchinson
Book Swarm: Excellent choices. We've read some of those but will have to read the others you suggested. Beyond music, what inspires you?
Tara: Living life. Simple, but true.
Book Swarm: Nice. Just a couple more. Finish this sentence: When I’m not writing, I…
Tara: I’m job hunting. Ha, okay. I’m making music, hanging out with friends, or discovering some new corner of Oregon.
Book Swarm: Good luck with the job hunt! Dogs or cats?
Tara: A fluffy orange cat named Maestro
Book Swarm: Aw--love the name! Mac or PC?
Tara: Definitely Mac!
Book Swarm: Right there with you (oh Mac, how we love you). Tara, again, thank you so much for your time and fantastic answers! We look forward to your next novel. :)
Tara: Great questions! Thank you so much for having me on your blog!