Kim Lajevardi, Westminster, Colorado, has completed her novel Silent Witnesses, which was named a finalist in the Colorado Gold Contest. Kim is a middle school science teacher and mother. She also writes short stories, poems, nonfiction and fantasy. Check out her website HERE.
Congratulations on your book Silent Witnesses being a finalist in the Colorado Gold Contest. How does it feel to receive such recognition for your work?
Kim Lajevardi: The recognition for Silent Witnesses felt great. It’s my first book, and I’ve been working on it for nearly 2 1/2 years, so it’s kind of confirmation that my work is paying off. It can be difficult to have perspective on something that I molded from just a few words, especially when I spend most of my writing time alone in front of a computer screen. This allowed me to gain that much needed perspective.
Please tell us more about Silent Witnesses. What was your inspiration for the story?
KL: The inspiration for Silent Witnesses came during the protests in Egypt that led to Mubarak’s ouster. There was one reporter in particular who was assaulted in a crowd of people during one of the protests, and one of the anchors asked the same question that’s always asked when a crime happens in a large group of people. How can people watch and do nothing? I found myself also wanting to know.
What can we learn from the story being told from three distinct points of view?
KL: Three distinct points of view allow us to really understand what each person is thinking, why they act/don’t act a certain way, and the toll it takes on their own psyche. For me, these were the fundamental questions brought up by the storyline. Third person wouldn’t suffice to give us that intimate knowledge of what they’re thinking. In order to gain that intimacy, and ultimately understand each of them, I felt the need for first person perspectives. I needed to hear from each character in turn, so I could more fully write and understand their story. I’ve made a lot of changes, and been willing to look at every one of my decisions for ways to improve my manuscript, but this has been one aspect of the story’s construction that was never up for change. This was the way the story needed to be told.
When did you start writing?
KL: I think some part of me has always been writing. I even have a school-produced book from second grade about the planets. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but my mom loved it.
Have you always been a serious writer, or did there come a time when you decided to turn a hobby into a career?
KL: I was most definitely a hobby writer for most of my life. There were fits and bursts where I’d turn to writing for more than just academic pursuits, but mostly my writing was for school, and later work. But around five years ago, a character began showing up in my thoughts. She was a little girl, and I just knew her story, knew every detail about her and her difficult life. I couldn’t shake her, and I began wanting to write her story down. That desire led me to search online for writing support. That search is the beginning of what has now become a five-year odyssey. I still haven’t fully told her story, although I do have it outlined in my files for later, but I’ve told countless short stories, poems, and now one full-length novel since. I’d like to believe that this is just the beginning. Writing career? Not yet, but I am closer.
What is your writing process? How do you balance real life and writing?
KL: My writing process is as simple as putting butt in chair daily. That’s the short answer, but in reality, the complexity of that is hard to fit on one page. What it actually works out to is getting up at 5:30 every morning and writing for an hour before work, working through draft after draft until the story comes close to what I have imagined (I don’t think it will ever be exactly as I’ve imagined it). Editing, rewriting, editing, working on my craft in the evenings and weekends, and dragging myself out of bed to do it all over again every day is what I must say if I’m honest. But you can just say, putting my butt in the chair every day. They’re equivalent, aren’t they?
When I’m doing all of those things, my real and writing lives are not balanced. The house is a mess, and I sometimes nod my way through conversations rather than give up the story ideas chasing through my mind, but I accept that as part and parcel of creating something. There are other times when I’m stuck, or when real life concerns have to take precedence, and during those times, my manuscript has to accept the nod. It sucks, but it’s reality. And as a writer, I place a lot of value in reality. It’s where all the best ideas come from.
What have been your biggest challenges as a writer?
KL: My biggest challenges in writing revolve around getting the words to match my vision. I can envision what I want the characters to say, how I want them to act, and how all the moving parts will come together; but it’s craft that makes all of it work and coalesce into something I’d be willing to read. I’m a reader first and foremost, and my challenge is making the reader in me happy.
How do you keep your characters fresh and original? Do you have any recommendations for other writers who feel their characters may become stereotypes?
KL: One big way to learn how to create fresh and original characters is to read. There are masters at work, and their lessons are embedded in every book they produce. Reading their work, dissecting the decisions about character they make, really helps me think about how to build dynamic characters of my own. Additionally, I’m learning to really look at people, not just my impression of them, but who they are. Soak in their idiosyncrasies, hypothesize about the sources of those quirks, and then use pieces of those observations to build well-rounded characters of my own (at least that’s my hope).
If a writer is feeling the sting of stereotypical characters who read flat, they can read across genre lines, looking for new inspiration. Or, and this is a personal favorite of mine, they can consider joining a critique group or writing group. Discussing craft, reviewing the work of others, and having to think about your own writing in a more critical way, are all pathways to improving. And that improvement is not limited to characters: plot, setting, themes, etc. . . all are benefited by undergoing some microscopic views. Developing the writer will ultimately develop the characters.
How has working with a writing coach benefited your writing?
KL: I worked with Lori when I was at a kind of crossroads with SiIent Witnesses. I had worked on it, taken in feedback from my critique group, and even set it aside for a deep breath. And still nothing. I was stuck. I wasn’t telling the story the way it needed to be told, but I didn’t know how to fix that. So, I called Lori. We worked through the first chapter together, looking at the decisions I was making in that chapter, and how those decisions affected each character. Then she recommended some books that would help me develop in my problem areas, and bam — I was no longer stuck. The mess of debris that had weighed me down fell away, and I was able to rewrite with greater purpose and focus. I highly recommend it to anyone that needs new perspective on a challenging story.
What can we expect next from you?
KL: Ah, good question. I feel the need for an emoticon here. Can you see the hint of a smile and the twinkle in my eye? Anyways, I’ve had an idea dancing around in the dark recesses of my mind for well over a year now. It was born out of a short story contest I participated in two summers ago. It’s a fantasy story that I carry around every day, and instead of flitting away as untold nuggets often do, it continues to build, grow. We’ll see what happens when I begin writing, but it has a lot of promise.