Interview With Member Kay Fenton Smith

We are posting a series of interviews with some of our members so people can learn a little about our members and see what their experience in the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop is like.

Here is our interview with Kay Fenton Smith, a veteran member of the DMWW. She has some particularly good writing advice to share that’s good for new and veteran writers to hear.

What genre(s) do you write? 

YA fiction and creative nonfiction.

Where are you in your writing journey? (just starting out, been writing for several years, querying, published?)

I started writing as a kid in journals that my grandmother gave me. My first book was published in 2011, Zakery’s Bridge: Children’s Journeys From Around the World to Iowa. I co-wrote this collection of stories with friend and fellow author, Carol Roh Spaulding. I am currently working on my first YA novel along with other shorter projects. I am also an editor, writing coach, and teach creative writing workshops.   

What are your goals as a writer?

I want to enjoy the challenge and continue to explore new worlds and cultures through writing. More specifically, I want to finish my YA novel and help others in their storytelling projects.  

How long have you been a member of the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop?

Since the summer of 2014.

Why did you join?

I met fellow DMWW member, Kamerhe Lane, at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. At that time I was looking for a community where I could grow my craft and share feedback with other novelists. When Kamerhe mentioned that there might be an opening in her DMWW critique group, I jumped at the chance to join.   

Do you remember what your very first group was? Were you anxious, excited, nauseous, etc.? How did you feel after your critique?

I was nervous at first. Kamerhe offered support, but I did not know anyone else or what they were writing. I also didn’t know how a YA historical fantasy would go over. It turned out that the writers were working on everything from upmarket women’s fiction, to sci-fi, to international thriller. Everyone was open to YA and added unique perspectives in their feedback. After the critique I felt encouraged and grateful to have specific suggestions for improving my chapters.        

Do you feel like you’ve grown as a writer? How?

Yes. Having writing partners waiting to read the next submission is a huge motivator. With their encouragement, my confidence as an author has grown. Sharing work with talented, supportive writers allows me to stretch my storytelling from one scene to the next. It has also made me a better editor and teacher across different genres.  

What’s your favorite thing about being part of the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop?

I love the bond among writers. Being part of a dedicated group that shares ideas and gives honest, constructive feedback is invaluable. The support system—and built-in deadlines—are the best.

What’s your advice for people who are scared/nervous to join a critique group?

Join when you’re ready. Some writers like to have input from the beginning of a project. Others prefer to have several chapters, or a first draft, before they share their work. Once you’re ready, there’s no better way to get feedback and move your story forward.

Is there any particular piece of writing advice you’ve found helpful and would like to share with other writers?

Keep writing. As a mentor once told me, you can’t edit a blank page.  Don’t worry about whether your sentences are perfect. You can fix them in the next draft. Get the possibilities down. Keep a notebook and hand-write ideas. This can boost creativity when it’s not flowing through the keyboard. (Scribbling pictures in the margins is an added bonus.) Sometimes the connection from hand to page can help unlock the idea for your next sentence—or book.

The Des Moines Writers’ Workshop is continuing to grow. Are there certain things you’d like to see happen with the workshop in the future—things we aren’t offering yet?

The Workshop offers everything I need. Having writers of different genres is one of the things that makes the DMWW a strong and unique group. Since I write for young adults, I enjoy working with other children’s and YA authors. In the future, it would be great to provide workshops for new writers, and for those who want to preserve family history through stories.

Beth Burgmeyer

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