author websiteKelly McClymer was born in South Carolina, but crossed the Mason-Dixon line to live in Delaware at age six. After one short stint living in South Carolina during junior high, she has remained above the line, and now lives in Maine with her husband and three children. Writing has been Kelly’s passion since her sixth grade essay on how to not bake bread earned her an A plus. After cleaning up the bread dough that oozed on to the floor, she gave up bread making for good and turned to writing as a creative outlet. A graduate of the University of Delaware (English major, of course) she spends her days writing and teaching writing.
Q. In your essay in Secrets of the Dragon Riders, “My Dragon, Myself,” you write that contemporary writers have been exploring a more rounded view of dragon characters. Do you feel that this new look at “bad” characters is a common trend across genres?
A. What an interesting question! Yes, I do think that contemporary writers are actively working to explore the human side of the traditional “bad guys” of literature, like vampires, werecreatures, witches and even serial killers (the HBO series “Dexter” is actually based on Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay). If I had to guess, I’d say that people are more aware of other cultures, and that the “rules” for being a good person aren’t as cut and dried as any one culture may suggest. Having been raised back and forth over the Mason-Dixon line during the Civil Rights movement, I can attest to how awareness of different cultural rules can open someone up to a less absolute view of good and bad.
Q. You seem to have studied dragons in literature pretty closely. Do you have a favorite dragon?
A. I wouldn’t say I’ve studied dragons as much as I’ve been drawn to them when I read because they seem so fearsome and beautiful. My favorite kinds of books take a peek behind some automatic assumptions (St. George had to slay the dragon? Did he? Why?). Perhaps because of my upbringing, my Spidey sense tingles whenever some being is labeled completely evil (or completely good). I have an overwhelming urge to explore what’s behind the curtain of absolute definition. Plus, as bad guys go, dragons are much sexier and more dangerous than werecreatures (or serial killers).
Q. Your essay explains how dragons have been misunderstood for thousands of years. Do you feel that literary traditions have misrepresented any other creatures or people in a similar way?
A. Literary traditions aren’t as much guilty of misrepresentation as they are of focusing too much on the “good guy” in my opinion. For the hero of the story to be heroic, he or she needed to face implacable evil. It would have been very inconvenient to peek behind the curtain of evil to see that the dragon is protecting vulnerable young. So the traditional writers didn’t bother to go there. We writers who are building on and exploring traditional constructs can go there, with relish. Take Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant, for an example of a writer who is looking at unicorns in a whole new way. Or Carrie Jones’ Need series as an example of pixies who are more victims of their own insatiable drives than evil creatures who mean to do harm to humans.
Q. How did you come up with Prudence Stewart and St. Agatha’s Day School for Witches in your series?
A. I could go on about that for days. However, long story short, I adored the Bewitched TV series when I was young, and then my children (all three of them, and the youngest and oldest are 10 years apart!) tuned in to Sabrina, the Teenage Witch for a solid fifteen years of first run and syndicated reruns. I think Sabrina was one at least once a day, maybe more, for a very long time. So when I got the idea for The Salem Witch Tryouts (from mishearing someone at a conference), I thought about what I’d loved in those series, and decided I wanted to stay true to the good witch theme. Pru was born, a cheerleader who hadn’t been allowed to use magic, but now had to go to a magic high school. Naturally, the magic high school had to challenge everything about her, so Agatha, the ancient headmistress who didn’t think Pru was cut out to be a witch, was created to keep the pressure on Pru. I decided to put the school in a magical dimension, which allowed for students from witch families all around the world to attend. Every culture has its own magic traditions, which I alluded to, but unfortunately wasn’t able to explore. Although that might be a great idea for a short story!
Q. Would you want to have magic powers like the characters in some of your novels?
A. Anyone who says she wouldn’t want magic powers is just plain fibbing. Just this week I was trying to carry some heavy bins up from my basement, and I would have loved to be able to levitate them instead of grunt and heave and grumble my way up the steps. The daunting thing about power, including magic power, is that it brings responsibility with it. That’s something that my character Pru learns in the course of her series. Just because you can do magic, doesn’t mean you should do magic. Pru has to learn not only how to do magic well, but responsibly.
Q. On twitter (@kellymcclymer) you tweet a lot about social media itself. How has it most helped you as a writer?
A. I am a Twitter newbie. It appalls me that I have more Tweets than followers, but I hope to change that balance in the future. I was surprised how much I enjoy dipping into and out of Twitter, especially the hashtag conversations on the digital revolution in the publication industry like #dbw, and the teen writing conversations like #kidlitchat. I feel much more plugged into a wide and vibrant network this way. Just last month, I used Twitter to line up an interview for an article I was writing, which was an unexpected benefit. I also participate on Facebook, but mostly in a family and friends oriented way (it helps me keep track of my far flung homies). Right now, I’m still learning how to use social media in the most beneficial way, but I see great possibilities–if I am disciplined enough not to be a social media diva 24/7.
Q. Your website says that you teach writing in addition to writing yourself. Do you teach young students or adults?
A. I teach adults, through Longridge Writer’s Group, which offer long distance lessons. I have been doing that for almost ten years and I really enjoy the work. Helping other writers strengthen their work has definitely helped me strengthen my own.
Q. What is your favorite thing about teaching writing classes?
A. I have two favorite things, one student-related and one very selfish. First, I love it when a student nails a writing technique that has been a struggle (show vs. tell, realistic dialogue, voice, point of view, etc.). I think I love that even more than when a student sells something they worked on in the course. Selfishly, I love it when I’m writing comments on a student’s manuscript and a lightbulb goes on over my head about some scene or event in my own work. After so long as a writer, I marvel at how it is still much easier to see the problems/solutions in other people’s work than in my own.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m still trying to decide. After finishing a novel about a girl who is being tormented by Baba Yaga, the old fairy tale crone, I am deciding between two science fiction ideas and something historical (with witches). I definitely don’t like to pin myself down to one genre, and I have more ideas than I will ever be able to write. I’m exploring these three in outline and opening chapters to see which will ultimately prove to be strongest.
Q. If you could tell us to read one book this year, what would it be?
A. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Besides being a read that will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat, it has wonderfully drawn characters and a conflict that will make you think about the TV show Survivor in a whole different light. Please note that my answer changes on any given day, but for today–The Hunger Games wins hands down.