I read about author Kira Jane Buxton in the Breaking In column, Writer’s Digest, October 2019 issue. I especially appreciate what she worked through to realize “. . . letting go of outside expectations while writing Hollow Kingdom afforded me the freedom to take great risks.”
Her advice for writers: “Just have fun with it. Write the thing that’s burning inside you.”
I enjoyed reading about her writing journey. I hope you will, too.
Kira Jane Buxton
I had a solid ten years of professional rejection under my belt by the time I realized I wanted to be a writer. Ten years of trying to ignite an acting career and an art career, seemingly with a broken match and wet kindling. A creative writing class at Santa Monica College (a gift from my husband that I deferred for a year because I was petrified) got my blood pumping and made me realize that all along, what I’d wanted to do was bring characters to life, and it didn’t have to involve the grueling audition process. I realized I wanted to write a book, and—since I’ve always believed that a dream should never be burdened with limits or stipulations—I wanted to publish that book. To be very brave and share my words with the world.
I wrote my first novel, painstakingly tapping it out on an iPad because I’d saved up for one and it made me feel fancy. It was, in line with many a first novel, not spectacular. The plot was exciting, but I hadn’t yet found my voice. It was, however, filled with passion and something that can’t ever be phoned in—a writer’s enthusiasm for writing itself. I queried agents with this novel to a response like the chirping of crickets (I should mention that the query itself was absolutely horrendous and started with, “Dear Agent, The leg is human.”)
No stranger to recovering from a letdown, I picked myself up and wrote a memoir about a strange experience I had while living in LA (one of a great many strange experiences I had in Hollyweird, La La Land). I queried agents again, this time with some interest. An agent who reps one of my favorite authors wrote back, saying that while she felt the book didn’t work, she loved my writing and could see this memoir fictionalized as a humorous mystery series. Huzzah! I jumped back into the saddle and spent the next year rewriting the novel. I sent it back to the agent who felt that it was on its way, but still needed work. I hired two great independent editors (working with them separately). I edited this novel for many, many more months. In fact, I edited it into the high heavens. I edited it into oblivion.
One day, I opened up my document and couldn’t see a word of this novel I’d worked so very hard on. I took breaks and would come back to it, only to discover I still couldn’t see it. Ever the optimist, I decided that I should write the sequel to this novel I was blind to! I wrote the sequel, came back to open up the document, and still couldn’t see it.
The words no longer felt like my own. And I had to admit that I’d lost the novel, that it was well and truly dead. Things with the agent fizzled out, and years of work suddenly seemed like a phenomenal waste of time.
I fell into despair. All the rejection I’d ever experienced (which was, frankly, all I’d ever experienced) came crashing down on me. I cried a lot. I figured I’d never achieve anything creatively. I often make light of this time, because that’s how humorists cope with difficult times, we transmogrify them into manageable jokes—but it was incredibly hard.
It was my husband who told me to “go and write the thing about the crows.” I love crows. I’m an animal lover and spend time with two wild crows daily, they’re family to me. My husband then gave me the best writing advice I’ve ever had. He said, “Just have fun with it. Don’t write it with an expectation of getting an agent or getting published, just write for you.” I took his advice to heart. I wasn’t sure how to write about crows, but one day, while driving, it hit me. “What if a crow is telling the story of our species? And what if a crow is telling the story of our extinction?” I got goosebumps. I raced home and wrote the first chapter, from the perspective of S.T., a domesticated crow who loves humans. His language was fouler than I’d anticipated or ever imagined writing (and certainly couldn’t see getting published!), even his name is an expletive. I poured my passion into the book—my deep love of animals and an exploration of how disconnected we’ve become from the natural world (which is frankly, the only world we have). It was an environmental parable filled with humor, horror, adventure, facts about nature, and poop jokes.
I braved reading the first chapter to my writing group, who encouraged me to query this novel I called Hollow Kingdom. And then I was flying out to New York to interview the agents who had offered me representation. I signed with Bill Clegg of The Clegg Agency and we sold Hollow Kingdom at auction to Grand Central Publishing. It is being translated into many different languages and AMC have optioned the rights for a TV series.
I don’t believe that words are ever wasted. The novels in the drawer are essential to our process and should be cherished, whether they get published or not. No one should ever be made to feel ashamed about their ambitions and dreams—the bigger, the better, I say—but those external goals shouldn’t be the only reason you’re writing. They can be motivating and used as fuel, but they shouldn’t be the core reason you share your words. Write the thing that’s burning inside you. Write your story, no matter how weird or different or afraid you are to tell it. There are currently 7.7 billion people on earth and you’re the only one who can tell us your tale. Enjoy the journey as much as you can. Now that I’m on the other side of publishing a book, I can tell you that the most magical part of the whole process is still sitting down, tuning out the real world, and exploring the creative dance between mind and page. Take breaks when it’s hard and be careful of over editing. Know that you are always going to be the leading authority on your writing. Build community. Be kind to other artists, especially because you know how tough the process can be. Reciprocity is everything, when one writer does well, celebrate, it’s a victory for all of us. Above all, just have fun with it. Every editor who made an offer on Hollow Kingdom said that they could feel what an incredible time I had writing this novel. I stopped trying to be the writer I thought I should be. I let go. Energy is everything and everything is energy. Take the pressure off yourself and trust that when you are in the flow, when you let go of your chokehold on an outcome, your very best writing will take you places, literary and literally, you could never imagine.
Kira Jane Buxton’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, NewYorker.com, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Huffington Post, and more. She calls the tropical utopia of Seattle home and spends her time with three cats, a dog, two crows, a charm of hummingbirds, and a husband.