Author Interview: Anna Marie Kittrell
Today’s guest is Anna Marie Kittrell. Anna works as a middle school secretary in her beloved hometown of Anadarko, Oklahoma, where she resides with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband of twenty-four years, and their seventeen-year-old daughter. With a son, daughter-in-law, and precious grandbaby nearby, life is her favorite story.
Anna has written for as long as she can remember. She still has most of her tattered creations—leftover stories she was unable to sell on the playground for a dime—written in childish handwriting on notebook paper, bound with too many staples. Her love of storytelling has grown throughout the years, and she is thrilled her tales are now worth more than ten cents.
Anna, welcome back to Inner Source. We are now at book three in the Redbend High series. I’ve followed Molly, Lenni, and Bianca through some rather exciting adventures, and I’ve truly enjoyed the novels. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Hi, Fay. Thank you so much for having me back. I love it here!
Like Molly, Lenni, and Bianca, I also live in a small Oklahoma town. Redbend is loosely based on my hometown of Anadarko, where my husband of twenty-five years and I attended school, started dating, married, and established our home. Our son graduated from Anadarko High School in 2010, and he and his wife live close to where I work. Nine months ago, they gave us a beautiful little grandson who straightaway captured our hearts—and I get to see him almost every day! Our daughter will graduate from Anadarko High School in May.
I have worked as secretary for Anadarko Middle School for going on fourteen years, and the time has absolutely flown by. With over four hundred pre-teens and teenagers forever needing Band-Aids, icepacks, and telephone usage, there is never a dull moment. Drama is prevalent, to say the least. When I’m not working, I’m writing—or, more honestly, trying to find the time to write. Although I love my job, my dream is to one day write full time.
So, I happen to know the inside scoop. Bianca is played by none other than your own daughter—at least on the cover. Would she mind if you tell us how that came about?
Yes, my daughter is the cover model for Lineage—making her a bit of a small-town celebrity. Miz (her nickname) and Bianca share many similarities, both in physical appearance and personality. They each have a style that sets them apart from the crowd, though neither of them have a clothing allowance to speak of. Miz loves costumes and wigs, and saves up money from birthdays, Christmas, and her part-time job in the school cafeteria to buy them. She wears her manifestations to school regularly, without a second thought to what her classmates might think. (Before the first day of school her freshman year, she shaved a widow’s peak into her hairline!)
I once asked Miz if she would dress like Bianca so that I could post her picture to Facebook, as an advertisement for Witcha’be. She put on her long red wig and corset-style top and snapped a photo. I later showed Prism’s editor-in-chief (and cover artist) Joan Alley, who agreed Miz looked a lot like my description of Bianca. When the time came to design a cover for Lineage, Joan surprised me by asking if Miz would be interested in posing for the cover, and if so, could we e-mail her a few shots. I think I was more excited than Miz! She got into her Bianca costume, set up a tripod in the spare bedroom, took six photos of herself, and I e-mailed them to Joan. Joan narrowed it down to two poses, and Miz and I picked the one that appears on Lineage. I couldn’t be more pleased. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous—and the perfect depiction of Bianca.
I have the book cover as my screen saver in the school office. A teacher I work with made the comment that Lineage was the perfect book for my daughter to appear on—because she is my lineage. I hadn’t even thought of that! Of course, I dedicated the book to my daughter, Miz.
The one thing that I have to admit to when reading the story is that times have changed since I’ve been a teenager, but certain things remain the same. Girls still giggle. They still flirt and have fun. You were very careful to detail some of the girls’ clothing in the story, and I was surprised that certain styles have returned. I can remember my mother forbidding me to wear some of the clothes that Bianca wore. In your experience as a school employee, what would you say to someone like my mother when it comes to what kids might wear?
Well, my daughter and her outlandish style pretty much changed my opinion on “appropriate” attire. I don’t allow her to wear clothing I feel is provocative or too short in length, but I do let her express herself through her outfits, hairstyles, and makeup—on the condition that she keeps her grades up (she’s a straight A student) and treats other people with respect. She isn’t allowed to have body piercings, except in her earlobes (although, she does have a fake lip ring), and is not permitted to get tattoos. I’m confident she will cross both of these boundaries once she’s out of our house and on her own. I don’t think she’ll ever move too far away, though, because her dad is her colorist—under those wigs her short hair is bright blue on one side, pink on the other.
The middle school where I work has a very strict dress code your mother would definitely approve of. The school administrators do not allow students’ hair to be dyed unnatural colors, piercings anywhere except the earlobes, or the wearing of tank tops or sagging pants. Shorts are measured with index cards to check for the appropriate five inch inseam length, and skirts cannot be more than three inches above the knee. Leggings must be worn with long tunics. No bellybuttons or cleavage can be visible. Students who violate the dress code must call home for appropriate clothing or, in some cases, visit the counselor’s office for a big, roomy t-shirt. Needless to say, Bianca would never make it at Anadarko Middle School. And my daughter could not wait to get out of my building and into the high school, where the dress code is much more relaxed.
Working at the school has made me realize there are many, many more disturbing behaviors to worry about than unconventional wardrobe choices. I suppose I would share with your mother that bizarre clothing and hairstyles used to make me wonder where in the world the parents were when the child left the house. But then I went and had one of those children. Now I enjoy watching my daughter walk downstairs in the mornings. It’s fun to see who she’s decided to be each day.
I love your answer. It is perfect. I have learned that what’s on the inside (heart, soul, and mind) is so much more important than the outside—and I have one of those wonderful kids, too. He’s older, but he definitely doesn’t think like his mother.
Your experience as a school secretary shows in these novels. You take me back to a time when I used to act and cut up in the same way with my friends. And music—I was very particular about my favorite bands and musicians. I have to laugh at the girls’ obsession with their favorite singer. Besides your background in the public school system, did you pull on anything from your teen years to create these teenagers?
I love the sense of humor of our middle school kids. I truly believe if you work around kids long enough, you start to behave like them, at least a little bit. My coworkers and I are living proof of that, and it makes going to work each day a total blast.
People often say things to me like, “I bet you find a lot of book-writing material at the school.” But I really don’t gather as many story ideas at school as one might think. While all of my years spent in the school office have made it easy for me to remain in a “young” state of mind, the emotions and experiences I draw on when writing are almost always from my own adolescence.
Pretty much everything is a huge deal to teenagers—which, from the standpoint of a YA author, is terrific! When writing young adult stories, I don’t have to dial down the emotion as I do for my adult novels. Teens are dramatic—oftentimes melodramatic—by nature, which makes them very fun to write. I remember the euphoria and agony of those adolescent years well—sometimes too well. I recall everything as if it happened yesterday, which is both a blessing and a curse. When I look in the mirror, I find the jarring reality that my teen years are forever behind me. Writing about young people lets me recapture a part of my youth that is gone. Long, long, gone.
I have always felt that the best YA novels transcend the age group. They bring back memories for the older reader, and they let us know that not much has really changed. You do that well, and I want to know what’s up next for you? Any other books in the Redbend series, or are you delving into something new?
Storm Season, the final book in the Redbend series, is scheduled for release in the spring. Although I’m very excited about this story, letting my Redbend girls graduate from high school and go out into the world on their own is very bittersweet. I’m going to miss them.
I’ll share the blurb with you:
Sometimes the shelter is more dangerous than the storm.
A courageous stranger risks his life to save Molly, Lenni, and Bianca from a deadly tornado, leaving the girls thunderstruck. As his injuries heal, the hero claims the girls’ hearts while reclaiming his strength. Is their friendship strong enough to withstand the brutal winds of jealousy, heartache, and betrayal? Or will graduation from Redbend High really mean good-bye forever?
Anna, that sounds like a wonderful story, and of course, I need to have you back so I can interview all the girls together. Maybe a little therapy session for their emotions. *Smiling*
Thank you, Fay, for once again asking me to visit Inner Source. As always, the experience is my extreme pleasure.
Following the death of her mother, Bianca and her dad are on their own. But when a redheaded stranger at the funeral claims to be her biological father, Bianca’s reality crumbles. She soon finds herself trapped between the alcoholism of one father and the wicked schemes of another–no way to escape.
Is the power of forgiveness really stronger than a Witcha’be spell?
New to the small community of Redbend, Molly Sanders is delighted when she and Lenni Flemming become instant friends during the final weeks of her first Oklahoma summer. However, Bianca Ravenwood, Lenni’s best friend and self-proclaimed witch in training, is less than thrilled. In fact, she’s cursing mad, vowing to destroy Molly while honing her craft in the halls of Redbend High School.
Molly’s new school becomes a waking nightmare as Bianca, beautiful wannabe witch, targets her in a jealous rage. Plagued by terrifying, inexplicable occurrences and an embarrassing case of panic-induced hiccups, Molly is unable to escape Bianca’s snare.
More About Dizzy Blonde:
All of her life, Lenni has been the perfect child, but still her parents are divorcing. Invisible and angry, Lenni trades her innocent princess image for the rebellious likeness of her favorite rock icon, Dizzy. In an effort to shed the old Lenni, she turns her back on those who love her most, trading true friendship for a dangerous affiliation with a shady upperclassman. When deception and rumors threaten to ruin Lenni’s life, she learns the value of good friends and the importance of an honorable reputation. But can this realization save her from the clutches of danger? Or was the lesson learned too late?