When it comes to her love of ghost stories and all things supernatural, Western alumna Kelley Armstrong, BA'91, tends to blame “too many Saturday mornings spent watching Scooby-Doo.”
“I was telling stories before I was old enough to write them down. Honestly, I cannot remember the first thing I wrote, but I can remember some of my early (stories) and they would have been ghost stories. I was very young and they always had some supernatural, scary element to them,” she said.
Armstrong, who has published 21 fantasy novels for both adults and young adults, is coming to Western Nov. 23 for the fall edition of Western Reads to discuss her 2015 thriller, The Masked Truth, with Western alumni and members of the campus community.
“I was writing stories as a child, novellas as a teen, and then, I had never really planned to become an author and only because I kind of knew that wasn’t a valid career choice,” she said. “It’s not like saying I want to become a psychologist or computer programmer. It was sort of a hobby. People now are horrified when I say I am a full-time novelist, but on this side, I know how rare that is.”
Before becoming that full-time novelist, Armstrong tried her hand in the above fields. She came to Western and graduated with a BA in Psychology in 1991, then moving on to Fanshawe College to pursue computer programming after. This was a strategic choice, she noted, that would give her more time to write while pursuing her “other great love” – a computer programming career that paid the bills.
“I didn’t write when I was at Western – so many essays and such – it was the one and only time I didn’t write. Although I did try. They had one creative-writing course. I applied to that – you had to submit something to get in – and I didn’t even make the waiting list. That was kind of a downer,” she said with a laugh.
After switching gears to computer programming – and starting to raise a family – Armstrong began to focus on novels. She took writing classes, joined groups and made time to write.
“As much as I love short stories and novellas, if it is hard to make a living writing as a novelist, it’s probably a hundred times harder as a short story writer. I continued until I got something published,” she explained.
“I have no shortage of ideas. It’s not coming up with ideas; it’s having enough time to write all the ideas down. Everything sparks ideas. Everything is a ‘what if’ question. It’s just the time. I got into it at a difficult time, personally, when I sold my first book. I was six-months pregnant with my first child.”
If you want to be a successful writer, Armstrong said, you have to make time. Working and raising three children, she “learned to grab every little bit of time” and learned to refine her process. Now that her children are older – the youngest is 15 – she finds herself with tons of time to write, only because she learned to do with so little when she first started writing.
“You can’t wait for inspiration to come; you have to hunt it down with a club. If you’re a commercial novelist, you can’t just sit and wait for inspiration. It really is this muscle that is worked. I treat it sort of like a job – and it happens to be a job I love doing,” Armstrong added.
She’s looking forward to discussing The Masked Truth, in which a group of teenagers is taken hostage at a therapy camp, with the Western community later this month.
“If I was to have done that story with adults, it would have been a completely different story. For me, a (young adult) story makes a far more interesting story because of all the extra obstacles introduced by the fact the characters are teenagers,” she said, adding her daughter reads all of her young adult books and has helped her master the adolescent voice.
“If you are to pick one book I would love to talk to readers about it’s this one – it brings in my psychology background more than I’ve ever done because it is dealing with mental health,” Armstrong went on.
She knows there is great discussion potential here.
“I will stress that mental health is a sub plot – the main plot is a thriller – but the sub plot is kids dealing with mental health issues. I wanted to bring that in and present it in as realistic a way as possible.”
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