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Blaney Hall 105

MFA Spotlight: Katie Karambelas

Katie Karambelas works full time as a proposal writer for a clinical trial company but is often found writing fiction and memoir pieces in her (scarce) spare time. She holds a BA in Media Writing from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a MFA in Fiction from Cedar Crest College's Pan-European program. Her fiction and memoir pieces have been published in Imagination Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Speculation Journal, Matador Network, Parent.Co, Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and Thought Catalog, among others. Her travel and parenting lifestyle blog The Jet-Setting Mama has over 20,000 fans across all social media platforms. When she's not traveling, she resides outside Raleigh, NC with her fiance, two kids, and their dog.

Katie Karambelas

You have a passion for writing YA novels. Could you clarify what defines the YA genre? (And perhaps the YA subgenres?) What are the distinctions between YA and middle grade?

Young adult to me is the most tumultuous and exciting genre. Young adult asks the question of “Who am I?” internally. Middle grade asks this same question but externally. The concerns of a middle grade story are things like puberty, sibling relationships, and friendships. There’s still an air of innocence. In YA, the focus shifts to romance, sexuality, drugs, and peer pressure. In both scenarios, the narrator is learning more about themselves and who they really are, but YA has an edge of excitement. You get to experience first kisses, sex for the first time, applying to colleges, prom and graduation, teenage adventures, and everything in-between. Everything is urgent and intense.

What is it about YA that attracts you to the genre?

That’s a great question. I like to think that everyone has something about their adolescence that hasn’t been completely worked through. I guess I have a lot more of that than other people – so much so that I could fill novel after novel with it. I’m fascinated by the teenage experience. You’re in this moment where you’re gaining more freedom and independence and discovering yourself, yet you still are in the box full of rules governed by your parents and your school. It’s an interesting dynamic that I enjoy exploring.

In the same vein, why do you think YA appeals to other age demographics? (It’s been estimated that nearly 70% of YA novels are actually being read by ages 18-64, mostly women.)

No matter who you are, you’ve been a teenager at one point or another. Unlike other experiences like college, having children, and getting married, being a teenager and experiencing high school is universal. The topics in a YA novel will never be outdated because most everyone will experience them.

What authors of YA do you admire? (And why?) What YA novels would you consider to be quintessential? Is there anything current that you recommend?

Oh my, that could take a while. If I had to choose my absolute favorite YA writer, it’s without a doubt Sarah Dessen. The first time I picked up The Truth About Forever I had no idea what I was in for. Without her (and Harry Potter, of course), it probably would’ve taken me a lot longer to get sucked into the YA world. Sarah Dessen has the ability to pinpoint a moment in time and infuse characters with so much life that her work really speaks to me. I’ve probably read The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby more times than I care to count. I found something within her characters that I relate to on so many levels. I think a great YA author does that to you. They bring out a piece of your teenage life that either really traumatized you, really impacted you, or maybe even a piece that you missed completely but wish you hadn’t. Other quintessential YA novels? Forever by Judy Blume is high on that list. Authors like Lauren Oliver, Rachelle Mead, Lauren Kate, Sara Zarr, and John Green. If you’re into dystopian works, The Hunger Games trilogy and Delirium trilogy are both favorites. But all of Sarah Dessen’s books will always be the first ones I recommend.

You’ve published multiple memoir pieces. How do you recognize that a moment in your life needs to be written?

If I feel like my heart is bleeding, I need to write about it. Most of my memoir pieces have been about something that traumatized me, like the death of my mother. I’ve written some travel pieces that were more positive, but normally for me, a memoir piece has to show my heart wide open. If it’s something I can’t process without writing it, then it needs to be written. I find that I enjoy memoir the most when they’re honest. You can’t be afraid of other people reading your story because when it’s raw, that’s when people really connect with you. We don’t talk about the hard stuff enough, but that’s what people want to read. They want to know they aren’t the only person going through something.

What advice can you give to a writer who wants to work in memoir but perhaps struggles withf writing about real people?

There’s things you can do to protect people. You can change their name or use their initials. I wouldn’t let the fear of talking about a real person stop you from telling your story. It’s your truth; you need to speak it. If you’re fixated on other people, you won’t write your best story. I know it can be terrifying, and sometimes other people won’t love what you’ve written. Stay honest. That’s my best piece of advice. Don’t stretch the truth.

You operate your own travel blog, agency, website and social media. How do you feel that your travels contribute to your writing?

Travel has always had a big impact on me. When I was young, my dad was in the military so we lived a life of constant travel until I was in the 4th grade. We lived in Germany for three years so Europe specifically has a huge impact on me. I believe that traveling and learning about other cultures has helped shape my ability to write about characters outside of my own race, culture, and sex. I also think that it has allowed me to experience things that maybe someone who hasn’t traveled never experienced. A lot has happened to me while traveling. I got engaged traveling. I lost my mom while traveling. I studied writing while traveling. I fell in love while traveling. The people and the places, have their own stories, and I have loved being able to tell mine and theirs. Studying in Vienna, for example, gave me enough material to write about for probably the rest of my life. Places can do that to you. Sometimes they’re just as traumatizing or inspiring as high school!

What is the most important thing someone can remember to pack?

Oh man, that’s a good question. Deodorant. It took a good six or seven stores for me to find deodorant when I ran out in Vienna. I’ve never forgotten it since!

How do you find the time to balance your day job, your career, your writing, and your family life? What advice can you give to others who struggle to “make time”?

It’s hard. I’m not going to lie and say that it isn’t. Keep a notebook and pen with you at all times. I use voice memos on my phone a lot while I’m driving to take notes. Scheduling time is very important. But honestly, I just get very little sleep. Inspiration typically hits me late at night. It always has. Luckily having a baby means I’m up a lot at night anyways. You find time where you can. Writing is an itch that I will always scratch. After taking a class with Jake Lamar last summer in Barcelona, I’ve vowed to start writing down interesting things that people say. You do everything you can to make time. And hopefully, someday, it’ll be your career and you won’t have to worry about making time because you’ll have all the time in the world! One can only hope.


Follow Katie Karambelas at
Blog: http://www.thejetsettingmama.com
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/thejetsettingmama
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thejetsettingmama

Interview Credit:  Rachel A. Phelps
Photo Credit:  Jordan Lamotta