Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Conversation with Kelsey Macke, author of DAMSEL DISTRESSED

Kelsey Macke, author of DAMSEL DISTRESSED
Hi Kelsey! I feel so lucky because I keep interviewing one after the other of my favorite online writer friends! (Weird how you're all with Spencer Hill!) You are such a force to me in this world of writing. Your inspirational vlogs, your sunny presence on my Twitter feed, your work with charities and teen groups. I mean, WOW! But here's the story I want to know if you're willing to share. On a blog post you wrote about being whisked to NYC because a song you wrote got some attention and they got interested in you as a performing artist. I'd really love to know more about that story. Teens often have these types of dreams and it sounds like yours had the opportunity to come true. Can you tell us this story? And then tell us a bit about why it wasn't the right time for you?

Hey Jaye! I feel the same way about you, and I'm so proud of the amazing people in our YA community. It's amazing that so many of our dreams are coming true. 

But, like many people, I have more than one dream, and I have even more dreams that have been left behind me as my aspirations have grown and changed. 

When I was seventeen, I was sure that if I kept writing songs and kept singing as often as I could, I would eventually be noticed and would be able to be a "REAL" singer. A singer with a tour bus, and with a manager, and with her own specially designed guitar.

I'd been writing songs for several years when the Twin Towers fell in September 2001, and like many artists, I processed my fear, anger, and hope through my work. I wrote a song called "After Today." 

Interestingly enough, I'd been planning to go into a local radio station to try and "sing to win" concert tickets. But when the whole country was upended, they pushed my segment back a week. So, on the one-week anniversary of the tragedy, I was in the radio station, with my guitar, ready to sing for tickets. But as it was exactly one week later, there were some special moments of silence and the National Anthem was being played throughout the morning, and for some reason, I mentioned to the producer that I'd written a song the night before and would be happy to play it in tribute. 

Of course, in reality, the song was rough and un-practiced, having been written only a few hours before. 

But the meaning and heart was there, and I sang it on-air and shortly after, they had calls pouring in of people pulling their cars over on the highway to cry and to thank me for singing what they hadn't figured out how to say. 

In the ONE WEEK after I first sang the song, it "went viral" (though that term really didn't exist yet) and it was being played on local and national news and radio programs, I had recorded a CD single to sell in order to raise money for the Red Cross, I was interviewed by several national entertainment shows, I was performing everywhere, and then I was flown to New York to perform live on a major network's early morning talk show. 

I remember walking up to Ground Zero with my mom, just TWO WEEKS after it happened. I remember the smoke still swirling and the taste of ash still in the wind. 

While we were in New York, a few record label A&R reps had asked for meetings. 

What they offered was almost like my dream, but not quite. 

They wanted me to put down my guitar, lose 20 pounds, and start taking dance classes. 

I wanted the chance to make music for a living, but I didn't want it like this. 

After lots of thinking and frustration, I decided the answer was no. And that version of my dream died. 

But I'm so glad, because if it hadn't, I never would have met my husband, Daron, and we never would have formed our band, Wedding Day Rain, and we wouldn't be releasing a record of songs we LOVE and believe in now. This version of the dream is so very much sweeter. 

Goodreads Link

Oh, wow. Thank you so much for the full story. That must have been so huge a deal to just walk away. But how amazing that as a young woman you had the strength to know "hey, this isn't right for me." And now, thanks to the efforts of your agent, Jessica Sinsheimer and your editor at Spencer Hill, you have a kind of landmark young adult book deal with Damsel Distressed. Most people when they submit their manuscripts think they're going to end up with a book deal. You and Daron ended up with a whole lot more. Do you remember when the idea was first pitched? Who brought it up, how did it come to be?

The album cover for Wedding Day Rain's  (Kelsey & her husband, Daron) companion piece to Damsel Distressed.

Actually, Jessica was the person who really connected the dots. She and I had discussed the story that I just recounted to you. I spoke to her about my former life as an almost-teen-popstar and about how Daron and I were making music together with the hopes of putting together a record in the future. She was the person who picked up on the performance components of my book and asked if there was some way that the two parts of me could work together. 

When she asked the question, it was one of those lightbulb moments. I knew that she'd hit on something important and RIGHT. I knew right then that there was traction here and that if we were lucky enough to have the support of Spencer Hill, this would be one of those special, once-in-a-lifetime types of opportunities. 

I told Daron about the idea and he felt it right away too. We started playing through the handful of songs we'd already begun writing and we found song after song that overlapped in theme/content with the novel. It's like those songs always belonged to this project, even before the project was a thing. 

That gave me chills. Seriously. Don't you love those moments of serendipity or faith or stars aligning? When you absolutely know things are as they were meant to be.

Speaking of absolutely knowing, tell me about being a writer. Was there ever a moment of magic that made you sit straighter in your chair and own it? When you knew, without a doubt (and we're not talking self-doubt), you were meant to write?

I have to honestly answer NO. 

I am a creative person and have always been. I spent my younger years writing good and bad poetry, singing, writing songs, acting, and coloring everything with rainbows. 

If I wanted to make something, I did. If I wanted to sing a song, I did. If I wanted to write a song, I did. 

So, when the day came that Imogen's voice echoed through my head with such clarity, I couldn't deny her, I wrote her story. 

It was difficult, but it was also easy. It was supposed to come out, so it did. 

I'm one of those rare writers that believes in writer's block and being unable to tap into the art. I do think you can force writing and make things worse than if you'd not written at all. I try and listen to the muse, whatever she may be, and I believe I can do that because I see myself as a lowercase "w" writer and not a capital "W" Writer. Writing is something that I do. Something I love, but it's not my whole identity.

All I know is that I'm a writer today because Imogen's story needed to be told. I have a few more stories I'd like to tell, but if my dreams shift again in a few years and sculpture or photography or graphic design calls my name, I'll listen--no matter what my current job title might be. 

I love that you are unabashed about your creativity. I'm a metalsmith, photographer, writer, art dabbler and I've done each of them professionally at some point in my life. I have friends who are like "what CAN'T you do?" And it cracks me up because, um, math, sports, musical instruments. But to lots of people creativity seems like a frightening, illusive thing. What they don't get is creativity brings a ton of head monkeys (aka insecurity) with it, too.

You, like me, are also a teacher. How important do you think it is to give your students an inside view of the dreams you're fulfilling?

I'm definitely an emotional teacher. 
I spend as much time trying to make sure my students know that I love, accept, and support them as I do making sure that they're academically prepared. 

I think that there are so many ways to contribute to our world, and math, science, reading, history--all the basics are part of that. But I also believe that the world needs dreamers, activists, musicians, and volunteers as well. 

I am virtually hugging you right now. Every answer makes me go "oh..." and "aw..." and I can't wait to meet you IRL one day! And more than that (or maybe equal to that :)), I can't wait to read and listen to Damsel Distressed and Imogen Unlocked!

Sadly though, our chat has come to an end. Would you share with us the next three books on your TBR pile, the liquid in your cup, and the song you've had stuck on repeat lately? And thank you so much, Kelsey!

OMG! I'm so glad you asked about the song stuck in my head! This past week, I was on a writing retreat and we stopped in this little tiny town and they had this amazing, very cool, alternative-esque hamburger joint (I'm getting to my point, btw.) and we'd been stuck in a one room cabin with NO WIFI OR CELL SERVICE, so this place was an oasis, and this song was on this guy's random pandora and it's been in my head SO SERIOUSLY STUCK. 

I actually JUST had to go buy it this very night. 

Dirty Work by Steely Dan
(Seriously, it's a good song. Go listen to it on YouTube)

The next three books that I'm reading are (in no particular order): TWO 2014 debut arcs that I have been DYING to read, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by my friend Jen Mathieu, and LIV, FOREVER by Amy Talkington. Book number three is a manuscript by my friend... it's going to be amazing. I already started it and I can't WAIT for him to be majorly famous.

Lastly, the liquid in my cup: water. 
I'm trying to kick a MEAN Dr. Pepper habit. :D

I love you, JRo! Thank you so much for having me and for your friendship (and for your amazing writing, omg. NO PLACE TO FALL made me have way too many feels)! 

Here's to our books and a happy and productive 2014!

Aww, thanks Kelsey, now I'm blushing. Be sure and stop back week after next when I'll be chatting with Natalie Parker, author of BEWARE THE WILD. Next week I'll be hosting Rachel Harris for the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt!!


  1. Okay, wow, interesting stories galore here! Great to get to "meet" Kelsey here, and best of luck to her with all her amazing projects!

  2. Great and inspirational interview! Helps me want to keep plugging away and reaching for my dreams!

  3. This was awesome. Kelsey, I had no idea your full story about the music, and I have so much more awe for you now. Everything truly happens for a reason!


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