Even as a young girl, Kandi J Wyatt had a knack for words. She loved to read them, even if it was on a shampoo bottle! By high school Kandi had learned to put words together on paper to create stories for those she loved. Nowadays, she writes for her kids, whether that’s her own five or the hundreds of students she’s been lucky to teach. When Kandi’s not spinning words to create stories, she’s using them to teach students about Spanish, life, and leadership.
How did you get started writing fiction, and how long did it take you to first get published?
I’ve been writing fiction since high school. However, most often than not, I had unfinished stories or very short stories. Then in 2009, I had an idea for a story, and I sat down to my laptop and began writing. To my surprise, about a month later, I had a novel! Okay, I had the workings of a novel that I refined over the course of the next six years. I also had created a world into which several more stories sprung into existence, fleshing out the universe.
In 2015, I went to a writer’s conference on the Southern Oregon Coast. There I met an author, Tess Thompson, who said her publisher was accepting submissions. I debated hitting send on Dragon’s Future. By the end of the weekend, I submitted my novel without telling anyone. Three weeks later, I received an acceptance letter. At that time, I really weighed my options. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go through with the publication! Happily for my readers, I did. The publishing company accepted the series, and gave me a start. A year later, they closed their doors, and I stepped into the realm of Indie publishing. With the contacts from my publishing company, I felt confident in the move.
Your main series is the Dragon Courage Series. What drew you to write about dragons?
Believe it or not, it was a family vacation. We passed a sign for Three Mile Canyon, and in my mind’s eye I saw a dragon spraying fire down a box canyon. That was the humble beginnings of Dragon’s Future.
You write young adult/middle grade fantasy and young adult/adult Biblical retellings in both historical fiction and steampunk. How do the different genres differ in the way you approach writing them?
Actually, both are fairly similar in my writing itself. I create the world the story will take place in and then start writing. Where they differ is the time before writing. My fantasy may take time to percolate, but I don’t need a ton of research. Occasionally, I’ll have to look up names, places, and other small research, but it’s fairly simple.
However, my Biblical retellings require me to dig into the Biblical story. I’ll do a Bible study on the story, and in the case of The One Who Sees Me and an ancient Egypt story I’m working on, I take notes during Sunday School. The other difference is in how much freedom I have with the plot. My fantasy stories can go wherever they want or I want them to. Whereas, I take great care with Biblical retellings to stick to the original story-line and the character representation.
Your book The One Who Sees Me is a retelling of a story from the biblical book of Genesis about how even when things don’t make sense, God will guide you. Is this inspired by personal experience on your part? When have you felt this message in your own life?
As a young mom of four, abuse came knocking at our family’s door. I searched for answers for my struggling children. Through the circumstances, memories I had suppressed for over a decade came to the fore. As I dealt with those memories, I learned the lesson that although life didn’t make sense mk I couldn’t understand why abuse happens to children, God was there. He was there when the abuse happened —- not condoning it or approving it, but hurting and holding us. He was the One who had the way through those terrible times. It was only from knowing He was there holding me that I made it through and came out on top sane and not bitter.
Your middle grade book Journey from Skioria is described on Amazon as “Lord of the Rings meets Narnia.” How do these two famous prototypical fantasy series inspire this book?
Journey from Skioria really was the first novel I’d written. At the time the only fantasy books I’d read were Narnia and Lord of the Rings. The story of Skioria falls into the same format of the journey of the hobbits in Lord of the Rings. Much like the Pevensie children, Tania also must find her way home. The majority of the story is Tania’s journey home with the help of characters that would be quite at home in Hobbiton.
How do you make your writing effective for middle grade readers?
My books fall into a category that one librarian said was much needed. She called them the transition books for middle graders. They have the length and action of young adult books without the harder content that many young adult books explore. The chapters are shorter, making them more accessible to younger readers. At the same time, I don’t dumb the vocabulary down. My dad often marveled at my word choice when I was a child. Several editors have worried that middle grade readers wouldn’t understand the words, but I argued to leave them in and allow readers to use the dictionary if they need to.
Besides being a writer, you are a teacher. Do your students enjoy the fact that their teacher is a published author, and do they read your books?
My current eighth grade students last year were in my Language Arts class. They loved the idea of having an author for a teacher. I actually used their advice for Journey from Skioria. My editor thought I needed to change the classic literature approach of third person omniscient. I wasn’t too sure. After much debate, I rewrote the first chapter. I read both chapters to my class. They voted on the one that is in the published book. This fall at a vendor event, one of those students stopped by and purchased Journey from Skioria.
With my current 6th/7th grade Language Arts group, I’ve seen Dragon’s Heir in their hands, and many of them have opened Dragon’s Future on our Kindles that we have.
Can you describe to us about your writing process?
When I write, I usually start with an image or an idea. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a question, “What if?” Other times, it’s the thought of a dragon flying over a place. Yet others have come from a scene my husband told me about. From there, I begin taking down notes on the world I will create. I look for names from other languages or that sound right. Then I come up with some kind of an outline. For Biblical retellings, I take more notes from the Bible for the outline. Finally, I start writing. As I go along, if I need to do research, I do. That’s when my Pinterest board comes in handy. I’ll pin websites to the board for the current book. That way I have the reference to go back to.
Once the book is finished, I let it sit for a while. I’ll return to it later to polish it up. Then it goes to a small group of trusted beta readers who’ll give me feedback. I’ll rework the story based on their suggestions. Then it’s off to an editor. The editing process can require major rewrites, or it can fly by smoothly. After that, my proofreader catches all the final needs, and often acts as a third party for any arguments my editor and I had. Once it’s gone through proofing, it’s then ready for Advanced Reader Copies to send out for review.
What authors’ writings have most shaped your own writing?
I’m really not sure. I love reading Timothy Zahn’s sci-fi. The way he has with words and his humor keep me coming back for more, but I don’t see myself able to work with words in the same way. Recently, H. L. Burke’s books have helped me see the craft of writing good chapters. As I listened to Beggar Magic and Cora and the Nurse Dragon in audio format the chapter endings stuck out. I’ve been able to adjust my own chapter endings now. I guess, Michael Phillips’ Secret of the Rose series did make me want to have stories that not only told a good story, but had characters that challenge the reader to be a better person.