Thursday, February 2, 2023

Kimberly Behre Kenna Interview - Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

Photo Credit: Ashley Abel Photography

KIMBERLY BEHRE KENNA: After years as an adolescent and family counselor, and then as a fifth grade teacher of ecology and language arts, Kimberly returned to school for her MA in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her middle-grade novel, “Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade” was a finalist and received Honorable Mention in the 2019 Tassy Walden New Voices in Children’s Literature Competition. It will be published by Fitzroy Books 2/2/23. Another book in her Brave Girl Collection, “Jett Jamison and the Secret Storm” is forthcoming from Black Rose Publishing 8/3/23. A third in the collection, as yet unpublished, won second place in The Institute of Children’s Literature 2022 MG Mystery First Pages Contest. Her poems and short stories have been published in American Writers Review, Mused, Plumtree Tavern, and Rubbertop Review. Her full-length play, “Ana’s Hummingbird,” was given a staged reading at The Dramatists Guild in NYC. She’s a member of SCBWI and PEN America, and now devotes herself to writing full time.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre? 
One of my favorite children’s books is Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt because of her poetic writing (best opening paragraph ever!) and the big life questions the story invites the reader to explore. Aside from kid books, I love any book by Toni Morrison and Dorothy Allison, for the same reasons I just mentioned.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
As I write this, my publication day is still ten weeks away. But the best thing that’s happened to me since signing my first book contract is the network of writing friends I’ve gained. Established authors ahead of me on the journey have supported me and my writing by sharing wisdom, encouraging me to stay strong and keep going, and writing blurbs for my books. Writing can be a solitary activity, but at some point along the way I need to brainstorm my way out of a block, or get feedback on a chapter, or hear another writer’s perspective on whether the book is ready to query. For me, publishing a book is impossible to do alone, and it’s much more fun having others involved.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 
Doubting myself. Perfectionism. Editing lines before I had a somewhat cohesive story on the page from beginning to end. I know that’s not just one thing, but they all reside under the same roof and manage to bring my creativity to a screeching halt.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us? 
Telling stories is a way to reach out to others and offer connection. When readers see themselves or others they know in books, they feel less alone and learn to develop compassion and empathy. Reading and discussing books bring people together to share, wonder, and question. Not only do we get to know others better this way, but we also get to know ourselves better.

Can you tell us when you started ARTEMIS SPARKE AND THE SOUND SEEKERS BRIGADE, how that came about? 
I began writing this book over six years ago, and it’s gone through many revisions. Artemis came to me as I hiked trails around a nearby CT salt marsh, the same place I took my fifth graders when we studied Long Island Sound ecology. Like Artemis, nature has always been my sanctuary, and keeping it healthy is important to me. As I took in all the beauty around me, I wondered what would happen if it were gone. The story is about Artemis embracing her voice, even when she despised the sound of it, in order to protect the things she loved. Her interactions with nature, her friendship challenges, and her willingness to persevere are based upon my work with students during my teaching years.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? 
When there were times the story felt flat, I realized that I wasn’t allowing my characters enough freedom. I was holding back somehow. It surprised me that in order to write a powerful story, I had to flesh out my protagonist better by understanding my own personal issues with voice and fear. Once I did that, character emotions and motivations became much more palpable, and the story lit up. For me, the journey of writing fiction runs parallel to being in therapy!

  • 1. The settings in the book are a mashup of local areas I’ve enjoyed as a kid and adult here on the CT shoreline.
  • 2. I deliberately chose lesser-known ecologists to join Artemis’s brigade because they deserve to be honored, too! Also, it’s great for kids to see that you don’t have to be a celebrity to make a difference.
  • 3. My fifth grade students taught me as much as I taught them, and they inspired me to write a story about a fictional young person’s budding activism. I hope Artemis will also be a teacher for all ages.
  • 4. There is a scene I regret cutting, where the hotel chef is teaching Artemis how to make New England clam chowder. The two had a nice relationship just waiting to be developed…Plus, it was my dad’s chowder recipe. Oh, well.
  • 5. Actually, there are forty-one pages of cut scenes on my desktop. Most of them deserved it!
  • 6. I’m a nature guidebook nerd. When visiting parks, I always pick up a guide, along with a map. I love maps. Looking at guides and maps allows me to get away even when I’m stuck at home on a rainy or snowy day.
  • 7. The original title of the book was Art & War, but we changed it since it sounded like a few adult books out there. Artemis is named after the Greek goddess of the hunt and nature, protector of women and children.
  • 8. Readers can look for other ecologists’ names “hidden” in random places throughout the book.
  • 9. I write in silence. Even as a kid I couldn’t do homework with the music on.
  • 10. When I start a first draft, I search for photos on the internet that fit my characters or settings. Visual prompts work well for me, and the search for them gets me asking good questions that help flesh out my characters.
What is the first job you have had? 
Breakfast cook at local restaurant…with no experience cooking

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning? 
I notice the sun on my bedroom walls…or not. Then I think about how the weather might influence my day or my mood and set an intention before I even get out of bed that’ll keep me positive and remind me to be grateful.

What is your most memorable travel experience? 
Time spent in Sicily, in an old farmhouse overlooking the ocean

What's your most missed memory? 
Walking down that steep sandy trail in Sicily from the house to a secluded beach, a fully immersed sensory experience

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep? 
I try not to think before sleep because then I don’t sleep. Instead, I listen to guided meditations or calming sleep music. If I didn’t listen to them, I’d be hearing all kinds of worries and deadlines whirling around my mind!

What was your favorite subject when you were in school? 
I actually loved spelling because we had a list of words we had to learn each week, and one of the assignments was to use as many of them in a story as we could. It was fun having to connect words that didn’t go together via a common story thread.

First Love? 
My husband of 40+ years—high school sweethearts

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home? 
Hand-carved locks on doors, secret panels in the wall, and mirrors that allow you to see around corners…seeds for the next book in my Brave Girls Collection!

"...Artemis Sparke is pure energy! ...Kenna’s well-crafted debut is a timely gift.” —Leslie Connor, National Book Award finalist and author of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle and Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?

When Artemis Sparke has had it with humans, she heads to the nearby salt marsh to hang out with the birds, plants, and mollusks who don’t make a big deal of her stutter. The shoreline sanctuary is predictable, unlike her family and friends, and the data in her science journal proves it. But one day that data goes haywire, and her bird friend RT confirms it: the salt marsh is dying. Artemis discovers that the historic hotel where she lives with her mom may be part of the problem, but speaking up would mean confronting the cranky hotel owner who happens to be her mom’s boyfriend and boss. Artemis conjures up help from deceased ecologists, and as she works to untangle their clues, she finds family secrets that could be the key to saving the salt marsh but also may destroy her life as she knows it.

You can purchase Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KIMBERLY BEHRE KENNA for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Artemis Sparke and the Sound 
Seekers Brigade by Kimberly Behre Kenna.


  1. I wouldn't have taken the trip to Virginia and Arkansas in 97 . Waste of time

  2. I would havebwent to college directly after high school