IT'S INTERVIEW TIME AGAIN! And I'm pleased to welcome author Keena Roberts to the blog today as she builds up to the release of her incredible debut coming out in November!
Keena Roberts is the author of WILD LIFE: Dispatches From a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs, a memoir about growing up in a research camp in Botswana and the transition back to the life an American high school student in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia.
Keena is a born adventurer, drawn to stories featuring strong female protagonists and survival in incredible worlds full of danger, animals, and natural beauty. Though her time in Botswana was sadly devoid of the dragons she loves to read about in fantasy novels, she faced her fair share of elephants, hippos, and lions, and is either a delight or a bore to visit the zoo with, depending on your tolerance for animal facts.
Follow Keena here...
Keena Roberts split her childhood between the wilds of a monkey research camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of an elite Philadelphia private school. In Africa, she slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. It wasn’t unusual to be chased by lions or elephants on any given day. But the far more dangerous landscape of the social hierarchy at her preppy, private school cowed this brave young girl from the bush every time her parents took her back to the United States.
Most kids Keena’s age didn’t spend their days changing truck tires, baking their own bread, or running from elephants when they were supposed to be focusing on algebra homework. They didn’t carve bird whistles from palm nuts or nearly knock themselves unconscious trying to make homemade palm wine. But Keena’s parents were famous primatologists who shuttled their family between Philadelphia and Botswana every six months. Dreamer, reader, and adventurer, she was far more comfortable avoiding lions and hippopotamuses than dealing with spoiled middle-school field hockey players.
In Keena’s funny, tender memoir, Wild Life, Africa bleeds into America and vice versa, each culture amplifying the other. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Wild Life is ultimately the story of a daring but sensitive young girl desperately trying to figure out if there’s any place where she truly fits in.
Who are you and what do you write?
Hello! My name is Keena Roberts and my debut memoir WILD LIFE: DISPATCHES FROM A CHILDHOOD OF BABOONS AND BUTTON-DOWNS comes out on November 12! It's the story of how I grew up half in my parents' primate research camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and half in a fancy private school outside Philadelphia - basically, the real life Mean Girls! Even though my debut is non-fiction, my follow-up book is fantasy fiction also set in the Okavango with baboon protagonists based on the monkeys I grew up with.
Where and when and how did the writing life begin for you?
When we first moved to Botswana I started keeping a journal as a way to practice writing since I wasn't in any kind of formal school. It became a habit, and I kept a journal every day for the next ten years, writing about growing up in camp, all the crazy animal encounters we had, and what it was like going out with my parents in the field with the baboons.
How has the journey to this point been? Can you give us a basic rundown?
It's been long, but extremely rewarding! Wild Life was very challenging to write since it had to cover two settings (Botswana and the US) and a different cast of characters in each place over the same time frame. To be honest, it was a mess when I first began querying, but I was lucky enough to find an agent who was patient and thoughtful about helping me fix it before we went on submission. It took a long time and several full rewrites, but it has been well worth it in the end.
What's been the hardest part of your writing/publishing experience so far? And the most enjoyable?
All the rewrites, FOR SURE. I think there have been four complete rewrites since I started? It's pretty daunting to think of rewriting a 100,000 word manuscript, but when you get feedback that you really believe will make the book better, it's a little easier to jump back in. The most enjoyable has definitely been meeting other authors! As others would probably agree, writing is a very solitary activity and when I was querying I didn't know a single other writer. The community out there is amazing and especially the groups of other 2019 debuts.
Would you go back and change anything?
I don't think so. Even the difficult parts have been good learning experiences and I'm grateful for where I am and what the rest of the year holds.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time? And 10? Or, what are your plans for the future?
I'd really like to have my second book coming out! The pressure is on with my second book, and it feels like the stakes are higher in switching to a different genre. I'm proud of the story, though, and now that I have a solid outline I just need to get the words out and see how it ends up.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to new writers just starting out?
Patience, patience, patience. Everything in publishing takes a long time, but that doesn't mean it won't work out for you if you just keep pushing ahead and believing in yourself and your stories. Even the most famous authors had to start somewhere.
Ketchup or Mayo? Neither.
Night or Day? Day!
Inside or Outside? Outside!
Dogs or Cats? Both.
Twitter or Facebook? Twitter! Come talk animal facts with me: @roberts_keena
Ebook or Paperback? Ebook, but only because I travel a lot and a Kindle makes it easier to carry many books at once.
Walk or Drive? Drive.
Sun or Rain? Can I pick both?
Keyboard or Pencil & Notebook? Keyboard.
Comedy or Drama? Comedy. 100%.
Chips or Chocolate? Chips.
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!