Interview with Kristin Bartley Lenz, 2nd Place Winner in 2018 Fall Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker in metro-Detroit. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was the 2016 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Her fiction, essays, and articles have been published by Hunger Mountain, Great Lakes Review, The ALAN Review, Literary Mama, and Writer’s Digest. She writes freelance for Detroit-area non-profits and social service agencies, and manages the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Michigan Chapter blog. Learn more and connect at
Read Kristin's story "Photosynthesis" and then return here to learn more about the origins of the piece!

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Thanks for being here today, Kristin, and welcome! “Photosynthesis” is a masterful, literary story that follows the aftermath of a family tragedy. What was the inspiration behind this story? What was the writing and revising process like for you with this particular tale?

Kristin: I’m not sure about “masterful,” I still have so much to learn, but thank you! I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful teachers and mentors. "Photosynthesis" was one of those magical writing experiences where the story seems to appear out of nowhere and the words flow. I especially appreciate when that happens because writing can be a real slog sometimes!

Two summers ago, I was worn out from a busy year of promoting my debut novel, and I needed to rediscover the joy in writing. I took an online writing class with a local author/teacher, Peter Markus. "Photosynthesis" was the result of one of his weekly prompts.

I have no idea why, but Jack and the Beanstalk popped into my mind, and I rolled with it. That was the best part of the class – week after week, I got into the habit of writing freely, playing with words and exploring without judgment, without worrying about where the story was going or if it was worthy of publication.

I occasionally returned to "Photosynthesis" over the next year when I needed a break from writing my new novel. The story was weird and wild and unlike anything else I’d ever written. I don’t remember how many times I revised – probably a dozen. I cut the original story drastically to meet the word-count limit for the WOW! Flash Fiction contest, and it worked!

WOW: Your debut novel, The Art of Holding on and Letting Go, was published after you won a contest run by a small press. What has been your experience having that be your (unexpected) path to publication? Would you recommend seeking out these types of contests to other writers?

Kristin: I wrote an article about contests for Writer’s Digest because there are so many variables to consider. Unscrupulous companies run scam contests and publishing schemes, and writers need to do careful research. I felt safe entering the Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize competition because I knew their track record of publishing high quality, award-winning books.

The editing process was intense, and I learned so much from my editor, Jotham Burrello, who is also an author, a college professor, and the Director of the Yale Writer’s Workshop. The Elephant Rock team shepherded my book out into the world with great care, taking the steps needed to get reviews from trade journals and placement in libraries and bookstores. They organized my blog tour and some speaking opportunities. Small presses don’t have the money and resources of the large NY publishers, but they can offer more time and personalized attention.

WOW: There are so many different paths to publication, and this is a great example of one! Speaking of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, the novel features a female protagonist who is also a rock climber, which is a sport you also enjoy. How would you compare rock climbing to the writing process?

Kristin: I don’t think anyone has asked me that before, but there are similarities with rock climbing and writing! Climbing, like many sports or creative endeavors, involves an element of risk and putting yourself out there. Writers are vulnerable on the page, and then we send this vulnerability out into the world – that’s scary, but also empowering.

Rock climbing can be very physical and technical, but what I like best is the mental puzzle of figuring out a route, and the state of flow that you often find yourself in – breathing and moving and guided by intuition that’s been shaped by practice and persistence. Sounds like the writing process to me!

WOW: That's for sure! I love the way you describe those comparisons. You’ve also been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where you also manage your local chapter’s blog. What has your experience been like being a member of such an organization? Have you found it helpful in networking and learning more about the craft?

Kristin: I joined SCBWI fifteen years ago when I was ready to take my writing to the next level and prepare for publication. They’ve helped me grow my craft and better understand the publishing industry. The Michigan chapter has many veteran authors and illustrators who give back to the community; they remember how hard it was starting out, and there are new challenges at every stage of your journey. This career path has so many ups and downs, joys and frustrations. I’m grateful for the guidance I’ve received from my SCBWI-MI peers – both formally from conferences and workshops, but also informally as everyone shares their experiences and lends a hand. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have persisted to publication without the ongoing support of these writer friends.

WOW: What is your writing style like? Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?”

Kristin: I admire writers who can outline a story from beginning to end before they sit down to write. I’ve tried it, but I continue to be a pantser! And a very slow one. I outline later in the revision stage of a novel, but initially I need to write to discover the story and understand my characters. And it takes me a long time to make thematic connections and add layers of depth to a story. Come to think of it, for my flash fiction "Photosynthesis," I had no idea how the story was going to end. I had a sense of movement, I knew my character was being urged forward, but also pulled back. Even when I realized she was returning home, I had no idea what would happen when she got there! I revised that ending many times.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful interview questions!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Wonderful interview! :) Great questions, Renee.

Kristin ~ I adored "Photosynthesis"--the characters, the language, the pacing. I also think it's masterful. :) It's so interesting to hear how it came about, and how many drafts it's gone through! Gives me hope that one day I'll be able to chop one of my story beanstalks down to size (I have a terrible time with flash). The length works well for your piece too, and it almost feels like a movie, where you've covered so much in a short piece.

I loved learning about how your novel got published. What an inspiring story! I'm going to check out your WD article.

It's so funny, here on the WOW blog, we've pretty much compared everything to writing at one point or another! We even did an e-zine issue called "Physical Fitness for Writers" at one point (think: less cardio, more pen lifting), so I was delighted to read your comparison to rock climbing.

Pantsers unite! =o)

Good luck with your writing, Kristin!

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