Catching Up With the Community: An Interview With Kale Lawrence.
First things first, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m Kale Lawrence, and I’m an author who also works in the communications industry. I’ve been balancing creative writing and corporate communications for a while now, so not only do I get to do what I love everyday, but I do it in different capacities, which helps with not leading to burnout. In fact, my writing stretches far and wide, and you might have even heard or read some of it without realizing. ;) My writing has been featured in commercials, social media copy, company blogs, and content across PBS, NBC, ABC, and the Travel Channel. But the writing I’m most proud of is my creative writing, particularly with my latest project.
What has your writing journey looked like?
I started writing when I was very small. My mom had always read stories to me before bedtime and this ultimately sparked my love of telling them. By the time I was 10, my English teachers would allow me to read my short stories in front of the class to encourage me to keep writing, to keep thinking creatively and feeling confident enough to share it. This led me to submit my writing into national contests and take larger steps with my writing.
After winning my first national writing contest, I was paired up with Jane Kirkland, a nature author focusing on a children’s audience. She gave me some great pointers and feedback and mentored me into my teen years.
I wrote my first novel in high school and well, it was interesting to say the least. As I went through university, my writing strengthened and when I broke into the television industry after graduating, I learned even more about making my writing poignant, to the point, and captivating.
If you could co-write a book with anyone, who would it be?
Oh my gosh. So many people! I’ve been hooked on Madeline Miller and Casey McQuiston lately. They’re relatively new additions to my bookshelf, but I love the way they can spin beautiful and gut-wrenching stories with such simple, addictive language. Writing with them would be an absolute dream.
I also am a huge fan of Garth Nix and Lemony Snicket, so teaming up with them would totally satisfy my need for telling dark fantasy with dark humor woven into it.
Your new novel The Magi Menagerie (what a fabulous title, by the way) releases on September 7th! Can you tell us about this story?
Why, thank you! The Magi Menagerie is a historical fantasy told in the perspective of three individuals in various stages of their life. You’ve got Ezra, who is a 17-year-old immigrant traveling with his parents to his new home in Belfast, Ireland. You’ve also got Jonas, a 30-year-old high ranking official in a secret society called The Third Order of the Magi. And there’s also the sarcastic 22-year-old Diego, a new member of the Third Order who is still coming to terms with his dark past. All three of their stories intertwine in the narrative, and lead the reader on a whirlwind adventure across Edwardian Europe. Ultimately, this story has a concoction of things that audiences will love: historical elements, action, lovable characters, found family tropes, magical realism, adventure, and mystery, all with a wonderfully delicious romantic subplot. ;)
How did this book come to you? Was there any particular moment of inspiration?
The title actually came to me first. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Three Wise Men (or Magi) from the narrative of Jesus’ birth and always wondered where they disappeared to after they journeyed home. I wrote the first chapter as a free-writing exercise (and that actually stayed fairly similar throughout all drafts) but shelved the project for several years. I had lost interest in writing creatively as I was actively struggling with depression. Come September 2019, I was smacked in the face so hard with inspiration, I couldn’t leave it sitting any longer. I outlined not only the first book, but two additional books, making it a three-part series. And the rest is history!
What was your favorite part of writing The Magi Menagerie?
I loved exploring cultures that are different from my own upbringing, especially with Ezra. I did a ton of research into Islamic culture, particularly with Turkish Muslims. I learned about their prayer, read portions of the Quran, talked to those of the Islamic faith, and really delved deep into his background. It’s really quite fascinating!
In addition to that, I also became an amateur astrologist, so there’s that. :) (I’m pretty sure my coworkers are starting to get annoyed with my zodiac talk and rationalizing their actions with what I know of their sun signs.)
This book has such a robust cast! Who do you think will be the fan favorite?
I’m starting to hear from ARC readers and while they all agree that Ezra is a favorite, I’m crossing my fingers that Jonas & Diego will also leave a lasting impression. They’re my personal favorites. My editor and sister really love Oliver, though.
What makes The Magi Menagerie one-of-a-kind?
I cram a lot of genres into one book. Honestly, it’s got a little something for everyone. Not only that, but I wrote it with the intention of having an incredibly diverse cast because this world needs more of that representation. I also wanted to represent historically (and even current) marginalized members of society in an authentic and beautiful way, showing readers who might hold onto prejudices against certain individuals to see beyond that.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I sincerely hope that people will come away feeling empowered, knowing that even when all seems lost, there is still hope. Know that beauty comes from ashes, and creativity comes from even the darkest times. It’s my ultimate dream to have readers still playing these scenes out in their heads even after they finish reading.
What's one bit of advice you'd give to fellow writers of fantasy or historical fiction, two notoriously tricky genres?
Oof, this is an excellent question. When it comes to historical stories, you want to make sure that even though it’s set in the past, it’s still relatable for modern audiences. Also, research is incredibly important. Of course, you are permitted to bend the rules a bit for historical fantasy, but just a sprinkle of reality makes it come alive in wonderful ways. With fantasy in general, I’d say to evaluate your story and characters. What makes your story different from what’s already out there? How are you building on other successful stories? How are you challenging your readers? How are you bending the notion of what’s acceptable for a genre and what is not?
Any word on sequels or future projects?
I’m currently working on Book Two of The Magi Menagerie series (title coming soon!) as well as a completely new project that will be distributed through Kindle Vella. I should have news soon but unfortunately, nothing that can be released quite yet.
Anything else to add?
I am incredibly excited and humbled by the opportunity to chat about my project, but LOVE to hear from other authors and their projects as well! Connect with me on Instagram or TikTok and let’s chat books!