In the words of her father, Kendra Fortmeyer was “born in a barn and raised in a stable environment.” She grew up in the lush woods of central North Carolina, surrounded by stacks of books from her local small-town library.
Now a Pushcart Prize-winning fiction writer, Kendra has been recognized by grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Dafna Zamarripa-Gensundheit Prize, and the Michener Center for Writers, and her writing has appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, One Story, Lightspeed, The Toast, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in fiction from the New Writers Project at UT Austin, and is a 2016 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.
HOLE IN THE MIDDLE, her debut magical realist YA novel that challenges the way society teaches girls to think about their bodies, is available now.
Hi, Kendra! Welcome to YA SH3LF! I loved your book Hole in the Middle. I’d love to hear from you — what are some things you hope readers will see in this story?
The greatest wish I have for this book is for readers who feel weird or lonely or unloved to realize that they aren’t alone. Everyone has something that makes them feel different from other people. It’s very easy to isolate yourself, to let your pain fester until it feels too enormous to face. But when you’re brave enough (or just tired enough) to be open and honest about who you are and what you need, even if it brings a storm of trouble raining down on your head, your bravery can inspire great love in others, in your community, and in yourself (the most important of all – because friends come and go, but you will always have you, so learn to love yourself, dagnabbit; it is the most valuable thing in the world).
What inspired you to write Hole in the Middle?
I was flopping around on my bedroom floor once after a mediocre date, thinking about how dating was The Worst (spoiler: dating is The Worst), and then this weird thought popped into my head, which was, “This would be so much harder if I had a hole in my middle.”
I sat straight up, thinking, “What?”
And the voice, clear and plain as day, responded, “Here are the options for a girl like me….”
And I jumped up and grabbed my pen to start scribbling. The voice (Morgan’s) went on to become a short story, and then it still wasn’t done talking, and so it became a novel. The novel grew to encompass all sorts of things I love and am obsessed with –feminism, magic, sideshow freaks, society’s terrible and hypocritical standards for female bodies – but it all grew from that one tiny seed of an idea. (Always respect your weird ideas, writers! You have no idea where they’ll take you.)
So which characters do you relate to most in HITM, and why?
There is so much more of me in Morgan than I want to admit! We’re not quite the same person, but when I was younger, we had a lot in common – both creative introverts with stubborn anti-authoritarian streaks and a tendency to avoid serious moments by making dumb jokes. She’s meaner than I am, but her life is also a lot harder! I feel very protective of her – not like she’s me, so much as like a little sister I’m very close to.
What did you find most challenging about writing this book?
This is the first novel I ever wrote, and I was shocked by the difficulty of simply holding the entire thing in my head at once. Before this, I wrote a lot of short stories and flash fiction, and it’s possible to remember precisely which words you’ve used already, and on which pages. Novels are so many words and so many pages – at some point, they become bigger than you are and start to spill out over everything! It’s very much like trying to carry an armload of spaghetti up the stairs. I developed a super crazy clothesline covered in notecards to keep everything in order.
Who are your biggest literary influences? And, in that vein, your favorite author?
I deeply love the magical, weird stories of Aimee Bender, Miranda July and Kelly Link, three writers who shocked my young brain by taking reality and bending it past the point of breaking into polished, bizarre worlds. Whatever I’m working on is always influenced by what I’m reading in the moment. Right now I’m listening to lots of Annie Dillard, and it’s turning my prose epic and mystical and grand (which is really funny in scenes where my protagonist is talking to her best friend about fan-servicey anime). It’ll all even out in the wash.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring young authors?
Love and honor your weird! If an idea seizes you and won’t stop talking, listen to it, and fie to anyone who tells you otherwise. When I first came up with the idea for the short story version of Hole in the Middle, I told my writing teacher, who looked at me funny and proclaimed, “I have no idea how you’re going to pull that off.” If I’d let him discourage me, this book wouldn’t be sitting in front of you today – what a sad alternate universe! So ignore that. Ignore the naysayers (I mean, seriously – Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fanfiction, and look where it is now). If you’ve got an idea that won’t let you go, cling to it like your life depends on it. Write every day. Write out of order. Be okay deleting things. Just go, go, go, and don’t stop until it’s done. I’m rooting for you.
INTERVIEW : YA SH3LF