Interview: Amber Kizer
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Amber Kizer never planned on becoming an author. She was a basketball player with hopes of pursuing a career in law and politics when a serious injury and later diagnosis changed her life forever. Now she has two published novels to her name and more on the way. Read our interview to find out what led her to the path she's currently taking, and where she hopes it leads.
Your first book, One Butt Cheek at a Time, follows the (mis)adventures of a high school girl named Gert. Were any of the scenes or characters inspired by people you knew?
Gert and I have lots in common about how we view surviving HS - I hated most of my high school years, with the exception of the year I lived abroad and went to an International School in Stavanger, Norway.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it would take to have the mythic fantastic HS experience and I pretty much decided it came down to being someone I wasn't and trying out for cheerleading or I had to get the hell out of town. I chose moving to Norway over cheerleading. Now looking back I always feel sorry for the people who think their HS years were the best of their life - that's just sad. I was just ready to get past HS and get on with the rest of my life.
But Gert is fiction, not autobiographical.
One... is merely the first book in Gert Garibaldi's Rants and Raves. When will the second book be available?
FROM BUTT TO BOOTY is finished and ready to go. Readers can find the first three chapters of it on http://www.OneButtCheek.com if they don't want to wait. However the release of the book got flipped with MERIDIAN so as to when it will hit store shelves...I don't have a solid date yet, somewhere in the spring of 2011...before the release of MERIDIAN's companion novel which is due out in the summer of 2011.
How many books do you plan to have in the Gert Garibaldi series?
I'd love to follow Gert throughout all of her high school - I even know where I'd like to send her to college and transition her into adulthood. How many of those readers will get to see? I can't say - it really depends on demands from readers - so if you love Gert and want more let Random House know!
The loss of your grandparents triggered your next book, Meridian. How much of the story did you know before you started to write the first draft? Did you outline everything, do research as needed, or just write and write?
I do a mix of both outline and fluid writing. I have a box color coding system where I take characters and scenes and give them a color - write it all up in shorthand on a wipe board in a chapter box and have it to refer to as I work.
With MERIDIAN I wanted to answer the question of, “What if a girl looked human until someone died and then she became the light they transitioned through to Heaven?” And more, “What do people see when they see someone or something as they die?”
I had done tons of research on the dying process and near dying experiences, as well as hospice workers experiences, just so I could get comfortable with my grandfather's eight months from diagnosis to his death. I'm always most comfortable with information. Then when my grandmother got sick unexpectedly right after BUTT CHEEK came out, we had a week and I had two days to sit vigil with her and get used to the idea (as used to the idea as it's possible to get ahead of time - which is to say, I braced myself.)
But there was a ton of rewriting and revision (there is with any book) so MERIDIAN that people are reading is very different than the first draft looked.
You talk about your nerve condition openly at your website. I salute your strength. Are you comfortable talking about your health?
Thank you. Sure, I'm happy to talk about it. I never thought about being a writer. I'm not one of those authors who will pull out picture books they did when they were four and point to them and say - "see, I always knew I had this talent." I was on a fast track for law - I was thinking prosecution, maybe working for a non-profit (justice issues are very very core to who I am), but headed for a bench - preferably the Supreme Court or politics. (In retrospect, I'd make a crappy politician - I don't play games well and it takes that to get anywhere).
I played seriously basketball all of my life and hoped to play in college. But my junior year of HS, I was injured in such a way that my dreams of playing ball competitively dissipated and it started my body on the road to being primed for more problems. It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I was diagnosed with something called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (it actually has many names these days). The RSD took over my right leg and then my left so I have symptoms from my toes to my mid-thigh. RSD is the body's "fight or flight" system kicked into overdrive. If you think about grabbing a hot handle on a stove - the part of your nervous system that says "drop it," "mother of donuts!!! ouch" and then swears when the pain really hits your brain - that's all messed up in my legs. So I'm constantly getting pain signals - a breeze, a sock, a light touch on my leg is actually painful. And my circulation, muscle tone, skin - everything is messed up and in a sort of loop of not working. So they always hurt, are pretty much always cold to the touch, though most people can't tell by looking that there's anything wrong. They don't always work at all or right - there's a definite recovery time from any outings or events I do. I work very hard so how I feel on the inside isn't visible on the outside.
But about three years into being a lab rat and being focused on finding a cure for myself, I made the decision I wanted to shift perspective and actually have a life. I could see my future being of forty and looking back and having been in doctor's offices or hospitals, stared at a bunch of bad art prints, and subjected myself to god knows what without having anything positive to show for it. So I switched my focus to managing my symptoms and doing the best I can - and trying to figure out a career I could do with bad legs, at three AM, or from the couch, or even on meds (which doesn't mean I write anything useful on those days!!!). I'm very lucky that I have an incredible mother who is caregiver, driver, cheerleader.
I took a writing workshop given by a friend who was teaching teachers how to teach writing better - we had six pages of a story by the time we were done and I wanted to know what happened. So I kept at it. And when I finished, I had a full book and the realization that if I worked hard enough I could do this - I could write novels for a living. I began studying the craft (I think there are more books on writing out there than actual books about anything else!). I started working on adult romances (I wrote four before ONE BUTT CHEEK) and a teenager in my head started editorializing what I was writing. I decided to open a new document and let Gert go - have at it and run out of steam so I could get back to what I was trying to perfect. She didn't stop after a few pages!
I love teens - especially ages 12-16, so it's a great fit and I juggle the adult romances too. And frankly adults who don't read the YA section are missing some of the best books out there right now. It's a fantastic section of the bookstore.
I don't know much about strength or how to encourage other people - I know for me, I want to laugh and love and live for whatever time I have. But I'd give up time to not hurt anymore - so I don't know how strong that makes me - there just isn't a choice. Either have a life and figure it out as best you can or don't. I choose doing the best I can. The thing with my legs isn't progressive (as long as I do things right) and so it's different than say a cancer or ALS diagnosis - I didn't get handed a ticking clock with my symptoms. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow (and that does happen) or I could live to be 90 - so my choice was how to deal in the meantime. I think it's vastly different for people who are handed an hour glass too.
Would you ever write a non-fiction book, perhaps about yourself or your family, or about another area of interest?
I've toyed with non-fiction - cake crafting books (for those of us not on the FoodNetwork!) and chicken raising (because I haven't found one yet that is all there or completely useful) are my top ideas. My grandfather (was a Disciples of Christ Minister and well known speaker in the Midwest) and I had tons of discussions about religion and faith and he left us many wonderful words to work with - so I've thought about putting together our conversations in such a way that his wisdom and expertise might be useful for teens or others asking the tough questions (that would be my expertise!). But I don't know that I have anything wise to share about loss or health, and I'm fairly certain I'm not interesting enough for a whole book about myself. ;) But thanks!
What are your all-time top ten favorite books?
Oh, Lordy, narrow it down? Really? How about my all time favorite authors? Can we do that one? I read somewhere around twenty books concurrently so there are never enough bookshelves - never.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - anything at all, but his short story collection called STRANGE PILGRIMS is my top fave.
Margaret Atwood - not all, but most of her work resonates with me.
Maya Angelou - her poetry, but her strength and resilience in her autobiographies give me hope.
James Whitcomb Riley is an Indiana Poet who I adore - he tells stories with his poems that leap off the page.
Stephen King's THE STAND
Jude Deveraux's KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR was my first adult romance, at the age of 13 or so, and I fell in love with happy endings. Her historicals from the 90s are among some of the best stories out there.
William Faulkner's stream of consciousness is like a tuning fork for my soul. I just feel it.
John Wooden's THEY CALL ME COACH is a must read for anyone who even thinks they like basketball.
Colette Peters' CAKES TO DREAM ON is a beautiful feast for the eyes and artist.
Nora Roberts - especially her books from the 90s - she masters the unpretentious craft of developing a fantastic story with real characters who matter.
My monthly favorites - anything new that I'm head over heels for I review in my newsletter - and I post my favorite YA titles as they find their way to me on my websites or on Facebook. Interested readers can sign up for my newsletter at any of my websites: