Kali Wallace is the author of several books for teens and the middle-grade novel City of Islands, which stuck out to us particularly because of its incredible plot and world building. We’re thrilled to get the chance to feature her as this month’s interview!
RapunzelReads: City of Islands has an interesting world, with unusual magic. How did you go about creating that world?
Kali Wallace: I always start by imagining a world I would really, truly want to visit. If I'm going to expect readers to go on a journey in my invented world, it has to be one that appeals to them, right? So when I was imagining the City of Islands, I was thinking about foggy, beautiful, ancient, and mysterious islands. A place where people from all over the world travel and trade and live. A place where people live crowded on steep, rocky islands, all in a tumbling, scrambling, vibrant, lively symphony of life and noise and light.
I wanted it to have a rich, long history, one full of stories and myths--and those were some of the most fun aspects of the world to invent! Making of myths and stories for an imaginary world is always a delight. I have always been fascinated with tales of lost worlds or underwater cities, and I wanted to create a world in which those stories were true.
But I also wanted it to be a place with deep unfairness and inequality. There are rich people and poor people, masters and servants, and magic is one way that people like
RR: City of Islands is a book with a twisting, intricate plot. Did you envision how the book would go beforehand, or was it something you created as you went along?
KW: I made it up as I went along! I went into the story having very little idea where it would lead. I only knew that I wanted Mara to get into a great deal of trouble, and then get into more trouble as she tried to get herself out of it. But when it came to the details of every twist and turn, every betrayal and discovery, all of that I worked out as I was writing, then I had to work it out all over again as I was revising and editing the book several times.
I've heard authors describe it this way: writing the first draft of a book is like telling yourself the story, whereas every draft that comes after that is about figuring out how to tell the story to everybody else. When it comes to a story that's full of secrets and twists like this one, that takes a lot of revision to get right. But I don't mind. I actually had quite a lot of fun thinking of ways to make the story more complicated--and making Mara's adventure that much more dangerous--as I was going along. That's some of the most fun in writing!
RR: What do you love most about being an author?
KW: I have always loved writing stories, ever since I was young, and it still astonishes me that I've found a way to do that as a real grown-up career. It's crazy! I keep expecting somebody to tell me it's all a big practical joke. This thing I used to do when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork or a job--daydreaming about imaginary people having adventures in imaginary places--is now what I get to do every day. I love that more than anything, and I don't think I'll ever get tired of making things up for other people to read.
In addition to that, there is another part of being an author that I didn't really expect before I started, and that's hearing from readers and fellow authors. I love so much that being an author gives me a chance to reach out to and connect with other people who love stories and love books. We may all love different things, and we may never agree on our favorite stories, but we always agree that stories matter. And that is incredibly valuable to me.
RR: Do you have any tips for an aspiring author?
KW: Read widely and generously. I know that some people tell aspiring authors to learn to read more critically, and there is benefit in teaching yourself to read in a way that lets you pick out story and prose elements, as well as identifying strengths and weaknesses. But I think it is just as important to learn to read with an open mind and an open heart.
Don't force yourself to be so critical of everything you read that you lose sight of why stories bring you joy. Focus instead of what it is about the stories you read--whatever they are--that draws people in. You won't become a great writer by picking apart everything you read until all you can see are the flaws. You have a better chance of becoming a great writer if you seek out those aspects of stories that really speak to you, that tug your heartstrings or catch your breath or make you cry, and accepting how they make you feel, and realizing that you can make others feel the same with your words.
And, most importantly, keep writing. Learn the rules of the language and the community in which you want to publish, but always keep writing. The thing about writing is that you never reach a point where you know everything and can do everything. There is always more to learn, and the way you learn is to read and write as much as you can.