A major book deal has one SIUC alum bidding grad school goodbye and embarking on a literary career.
Kathleen Hale said she closed a two-book deal with HarperCollins’ young adult division Jan. 25.
She wrote the first novel, tentatively titled “No One Else Can Have You,” while attending SIU from fall 2010 to spring 2011, she said, and it is slated to come out in 2014. The second book will be a sequel and is set for a 2015 release, she said.
The novel follows high school girl Kippy Bushman as she solves a murder mystery in her small Midwestern town, Hale said.
“She gets in a lot of trouble — and gets the shit kicked out of her — in the process,” she said.
Hale said her experiences at the time she was writing, including thinking a lot about kindness and meanness, show up in the novel, and the protagonist has a lot in common with her.
“Kippy Bushman is pretty emotional and bumbling and creates a lot of emergencies for herself, which I guess is sort of me in a nutshell,” she said.
As for the novel’s setting, Hale said though she grew up in the suburbs as opposed to a small town, she still writes about Wisconsin because it’s what she knows best.
Professor of English Pinckney Benedict said he worked with Hale at writing conferences when she was still an undergraduate at Harvard University. Impressed by her talent, he pitched SIU’s graduate program to her.
He said he’s worked with many talented young writers over the years, but seldom has it been so clear that their ability, drive and uniqueness would translate to success in the marketplace.
“It’s such a pleasure to see a young writer begin her career on such a powerful up note,” he said.
Hale said she began the novel when she was approached by the company Full Fathom Five to write a novel in six months. She worked on it obsessively during her time at SIUC and finished it last April, she said.
Full Fathom Five sent it to publishers a few weeks ago, and it was picked up by HarperCollins, she said.
Hale, who is currently on leave from the MFA creative writing program, said since she now has the book deal, she won’t be returning to SIUC.
She said her own work was at odds with the norm in the program, and was often met with resistance. Part of the graduate program is finding one’s voice as a writer, she said, which could include becoming more critical of others’ work. The challenge was figuring out what to do with the resistance and how to decide what criticisms were useful.
Jessica Easto, fellow graduate student and friend of Hale, said Hale has worked incredibly hard to get where she’s at, and she was a maverick in the program.
“She’s not trying to fit anyone else’s aesthetic; I think she’s just appeasing whatever kind of mischief happens to be gnawing at her brain,” she said.
Benedict himself landed a book deal while still in graduate school, but his early success pales in comparison to Hale’s, he said.
MFA programs offer advantages such as a safe haven for writing and built-in readership and mentorship, but now that Hale’s already reached this level of success, Benedict said, and though SIUC is strong in these areas, it would be great to see her make a career on her own.
“She has achieved the success that we hope our students will achieve after we’ve finished educating them and then some,” he said.
A good thing about the publishing industry is that there’s no set way for one to be successful, Benedict said.
“It’s nice because it means a 21-year-old or a 16-year-old can say, ‘Oh, careers have begun this way,’ and a 69-year-old can say, ‘Oh, careers have begun this way,’ and they’re both right,” he said.
As for the next step in her career, Hale said she’s already started work on the sequel.
“I spend my mornings and evenings coming up with even more gruesome and bizarre and hilarious things to throw at the now 17-year-old Kippy Bushman,” she said.