WE ASKED KRISTIN A FEW QUESTIONS:
1. We love sagas about families. The secrets and the various relationships. What makes the perfect family saga?
The funny thing about families is that we’ve clustered a group of individuals together by blood and traits that sometimes compliment each other, but often clash. A good family saga throws that whole range of emotions, from wanting to belong to wanting to stand apart, down on paper.
2. Please give me the elevator pitch for this novel?A FRENZY OF SPARKS is a coming of age story set in 1960s Queens against the backdrop of the drug crisis of the time, in which a 13 year old girl tries to save her brother from addiction and the world from chemicals, but the most important thing she’ll need to save is herself.
3. I like this quote, “survival is the attempt to move forward while leaving pieces of your heart behind.” Explain.It often feels impossible after a loss that life can continue, that the next breath will come, that the newspaper will end up on the stoop, that food will ever taste like anything at all, that time will be a thing that we savor instead of dread. But slowly, time accumulates. We continue, not wholly, not without missing pieces, but we continue.
4. What is your writing process?I usually know the title of the book before anything else. The title becomes the question to answer as I write. I write about 150-200 throwaway pages to figure out the characters and relationships that will ultimately drive the story and outline later. Outlining in the beginning feels too restrictive for me – how can I know what they’ll do if I don’t know who they are yet? My favorite time to write is around 4am before the world starts. It’s nice to fall into another world and look up to realize the sun has come up. It’s the best way to start the day.
5. Tell me about the research that went into writing this novel?
A FRENZY OF SPARKS was inspired by a true family event: I have an uncle who overdosed before his eighteenth birthday. Even though he died years before I was born, it was too painful for my family to talk about, and I didn’t know much about him. It hit me one day that this was the story I was meant to tell – and had perhaps been inching towards in my earlier writing.
Writing A FRENZY OF SPARKS was the first time I spoke directly to my father about his childhood. We scheduled Saturday morning interviews, which he took very seriously. I had questions about his neighborhood, family, things he did for fun, local legends, the shops they visited, much of which shaped the novel’s setting, though at the time, it was less about historical accuracy and more about curiosity. It’s a special thing to imagine your parents as children.
Our first call lasted four hours. My father was close to Gia’s age at the time, but ultimately, A FRENZY OF SPARKS is fiction, told through the perspective of a girl on the cusp of adulthood. I borrowed from my own experience and frustration with the expectations projected on Italian American girls. Gia is the closest character I’ve written to myself. She is young and naive, but fearlessly observant and intune to the moods of others. She feels a deep connection to nature and the natural world despite living so close to New York City, a fact that sets her apart from her family. More than anything, she wants to do good in a world that isn’t quite open to her yet.
Years ago, I taught high school in Rockaway and moved to Howard Beach for a shorter commute. I lived in a small, ground level apartment off a canal that flooded when the tide was high at full moon. I used to watch the planes take off from JFK in the park and ate more slices at New Park than I can count, but the funny thing is, the apartment was right around the block from the house my father grew up in. He was as surprised as I was to discover that I’d ended up so close. We joked that I must’ve been drawn there. My father described reading A FRENZY OF SPARKS as the surprise of walking around the block and bumping into someone he hadn’t seen for a long time. Gia reminds him of me.
6. Tips for would be writers.The best writing advice I ever received was from Martha McPhee, my mentor and friend. I was struggling to write my first book when she told me to pause writing and go live my life. It wasn’t easy to hear, but she was right. The words followed when there was more experience to draw from.