Authors on the Verge: Meet Chris Rettstatt, middle-grade fantasy series novelist

Author Chris RettstattThis week, we have Chris Rettstatt, the creator of Kaimira and co-author of the Kaimira book series (Candlewick Press and Walker Books). The first book in the Kaimira series, The Sky Village, hits stores July 2008. In addition to writing, Chris has worked for the past decade as a specialist in the field of youth-focused virtual community. He lives in Chicago with his wife and twin daughters. (BTW, Chris is NOT a child author, but we couldn’t resist putting up this cute picture of him as a boy. Now THAT is an author-in-the-making. Check out the pose!)

Kaimira by Chris RettstattFirst, here’s a little bit about KAIMIRA.

High over China, twelve-year-old Mei arrives at the Sky Village, an intricate web of hot-air balloons floating above an Earth where animals battle machines for control. Deep below the ruins of Las Vegas, thirteen-year-old Rom enters a shadowy world where he is commandeered to fight, gladiator-style, against hybrid demons for the entertainment of a mercenary crowd. Mei and Rom have never met, but they share a common journal — a book that allows them to communicate with each other and reveals that they carry the strange and frightening Kaimira gene, entwining aspects of human, beast, and machine within their very DNA. In this thrilling, intricately plotted novel, Mei and Rom must find the courage to balance the powers that lurk within — and overcome outside forces that seek to destroy them — if they are to survive and save the ones they love.

Now let’s start the interview, Chris. When you received your offer, you …

… nearly cracked a smile. Kidding. I was ecstatic. I had originally pitched Kaimira as a trilogy, and I was asked to rework it into a four- or five-book series. Naturally, I opted for five.

So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side–on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official?

When someone asks me what it is I do, I no longer feel compelled to lower my voice when I answer that I’m a writer.

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I started writing when I was eight, the moment I’d finished reading Where the Sidewalk Ends. By bedtime I’d filled a notepad with poems. Fast-forward a few years, and teenage me is reading series fantasy like it’s going out of style. Which it never does. Because two decades later, when I’m given an opportunity to pitch a book series for kids, my thoughts turn immediately to series fantasy with a bottomless well of world building.

And why do you choose to write fantasy?

I didn’t always. For a while I wrote exclusively realistic, blue-collar Southern fiction, because I was sticking to the tenet “write what you know.” But I’d never stopped reading and watching fantasy, and I finally decided to try writing it, but with the same grit and realism as my earlier writing.

Now here’s our favorite question. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for these books) before you landed your first major publishing contract?

  • 0-10
  • 11-25
  • 26-50
  • 51-100
  • 100+
  • I didn’t keep track because it was too depressing.
  • I didn’t keep track because I am not that organized.
  • They don’t make a number that big.
  • I plead the fifth.

Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections.

I once received a rejection from a French publisher that was so passionate, I wanted to turn it into an aria. Or a requiem. It felt like they wanted to burn me in effigy.

(Snoop says, Ouch, that’s bad. Try eating a moldy strawberry. Ew!)

How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer? Here are your choices.

  • 0-3 months
  • 3-6 months
  • 6 months to 1 year
  • 1 year – 2 years
  • 2 years – 3 years
  • 3 years+
  • The manuscript has been around longer than I have.

Prior to selling your books, what were you doing, Chris?

I worked (and still work) full-time at an entertainment company. The work involves writing but is largely creative development. Part of my job now is working with BBC Worldwide to develop Kaimira into other media, such as gaming and television.

Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …

Work twice as hard.

Tell us about a typical day in your writing life.

The phrase “typical day” left my vocabulary on the day my twin girls were born. When living with aspiring toddlers, who seem to feel that every moment of the day is of insurmountable importance, it’s hard not to feel that my own days, hours, and minutes are decidedly atypical.

(Snoop says, Twins? That’s nothing. My cousin had octuplets.)

What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?

Umm… the fact that I have to write four more 400+ page books?

What is one of the biggest myths in children’s book publishing that you wish aspiring writers would just forget about?

The myth that it gets easier. Publication does open doors, but you’re basically back at the drawing board with every new project. That, and you are trying to market your last project while you work on the next one. It’s fun work for sure, but you have to hang on to that eye of the tiger that fueled and haunted you on your way to publication.

Any inspiring quotes you live by?

“My indirection found direction out.” –Theodore Roethke

‘Tain’t no sin, to take off your skin, and dance around in your bones.” –Walter Donaldson

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

My advice is somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand, you have to understand the business side of publishing. Browse the shelves, talk to librarians, teachers, and booksellers. And most importantly, read what’s out there and think, as objectively and non-defensively as you can, about how your book fits in. On the other hand, you can’t let the business of the business push your buttons or unhook your anchor. Publishing is ultimately about getting great content into the hands of readers. You have to be fiercely loyal to your creative vision. If you aren’t, nobody else is going to be.

This concludes our interview with our latest author celebrity Chris Rettstatt. We wish Chris much success with all FIVE books in the Kaimira series. (Woah.) Snoop is sending you a truckload of diapers for the twins, and he’s looking forward to munching the entire Kaimira collection.

If you’d like to see what’s up with Chris lately, visit his website at http://rettstatt.wordpress.com, and if you want to see Kaimira‘s very own website, check out http://kaimiracode.com.

Tune in next week to learn about our next Author on the Verge, middle-grade novelist and picture book author Meg Medina.

If YOU are a debut children’s book author with a major trade publisher and would like to be featured on AOTV, please contact me.

14 thoughts on “Authors on the Verge: Meet Chris Rettstatt, middle-grade fantasy series novelist

  1. Very interesting interview! I’m not usually one for fantasy, but there’s something about this that seems to transcend the genre–can’t wait to read it. Thanks for bringing it to our attention Cynthea!

  2. As a former writing teacher for teens, I admire the author’s admission that he spent a number of years “writing what knows” before moving into fantasy and sci-fi. I’ve always taught my students that you can write any genre and take your imagination as far as it wants to go. If you’re honest in your writing, “what you know” will come through in the story and make it authentic. And thanks for telling aspiring writers that it never gets easier, even after you’re published. It takes passion and dedication every single time to face the blank page and build a world for readers.

    Thanks, Chris. Kaimira sounds like an amazing series.

    – William

    1. You speak from experience! And there’s a golden nugget in this comment, too– “if you’re honest in your writing, “what you know” will come through —

      Snoop is going to have to use that one on some of his tiquees! Thanks for the input!

  3. Love the notion of being “fiercely loyal to your creative vision”–safeguarding it and still finding the intersection of creativity and commerce…quite an accomplishment!

    Glad that July is mere hours away–I’ll be eager to dive into the world of The Sky Village. Thanks for the heads up and all best wishes to Chris.

  4. Chris,

    Are you ever afraid that people won’t like your ideas? My biggest fear is I will pull out my deep dark thoughts and put them on paper and people will laugh.

    Thanks.

    1. TRex,

      I know the feeling. For me it comes down to a leap of faith. I just have to take a deep breath, cross my fingers, toes, and eyes, and hope that the story I’m trying to tell will connect.

      But judging from most of the writers I know, and particularly the successful ones, that fear seems to be an important ingredient. Any level of success would taste pretty bland without it.

      Chris

  5. You had me at “gladiators fighting deep beneath the ruins of Las Vegas.” Seriously: !!!

    Good advice from Chris: Fight for your creative vision, since no one will do it for you. Also, here’s the unspoken corollary of that: Have a creative vision worth fighting for!

    Sounds like this book series does. Glad to have it on the radar!

  6. ive read the book. to me its a gift to my imagination. its inspired me in countless ways, how did you come up with such ideas? im itching to see inside your head 🙂 i cant thank you enough. this book so good, that when i first saw it and read a few pages i wanted to buy it straight away. but i couldnt. i came back but all the stock was gone. and i rememberd it for two years, and i searched for it, and now i finally have a copy on my shelf. normally i never go into such a demented book frenzy hunt.

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