This week, I’m so excited to welcome Toni Kirkpatrick to the Debutante Ball! I first conducted this interview in 2016 back when I was unagented and unpublished, and Toni graciously agreed to answer my eager questions. Then, last summer, I finally had the privilege of meeting Toni when she hosted a writing workshop near me. At the time, I was weeks away from starting the editing process with my publisher for They Could Have Named Her Anything. I’m so glad I took Toni’s workshop–she gave me just the advice I needed to revisit my work with fresh eyes!
Toni is a freelance editor who for over 10 years worked as an editor at St. Martin’s Press. Her collection of short stories, The Bolero of Andi Rowe, which was published under her maiden name Toni Margarita Plummer, won the Miguel Mármol Prize in 2009. It’s a book that’s set largely in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley and give readers a touching glimpse into the inner lives of an array of characters: “From a Border Patrol agent whose own mother crossed the border illegally to a lonely woman seeking companionship with her hired day-laborer, characters seek revelation in the most ordinary of experiences, their actions filled with humor, longing, and honesty.”
I highly recommend you pick up The Bolero of Andi Rowe–or you can enter our giveaway for a chance to win a copy! Below is our Q&A with Toni. You can follow her at @tmargaritaplum on Twitter and find more details about how to enter our giveaway are at the bottom of this interview.
Stephanie Jimenez: For years, you worked at a big 5 publishing house as an editor. What brought you to publishing? Did you always know you wanted to be an editor?
Toni Kirkpatrick: Although I was a voracious reader growing up, I didn’t really think about being an editor as a career choice until some Notre Dame grads came to talk to us about publishing as a good option for liberal arts majors. It made sense. I loved books, and other than becoming a famous author, this seemed like what I should do. The grads had gone to the Denver Publishing Institute. So I attended DPI the summer after graduation, then moved back to Los Angeles to attend USC for a Master of Professional Writing. After I got my degree I worked as a substitute high school teacher. I couldn’t find any other job! I had this idea that I would like to live in New York for a few years. And I knew that that’s where the publishing industry was. So with a green light from my mom I made the move, with only an interview with Random House scheduled. I stayed with a friend on Long Island and job hunted for three months. The same week I started temping (out of desperation), I was offered a position as an Editorial Assistant at St. Martin’s Press, where I worked for over ten years. And here I am, still in New York, much to my mother’s dismay.
SJ: Your story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe came out in 2011, was blurbed by Sandra Cisneros and Lorraine López, and continues to be met with great acclaim. How has your work as an editor informed your success as a writer?
TK: I had written drafts of mostly all the stories before I started working as an editor, but I continued to work on them until I won the Miguel Mármol Prize in 2009, and then up until the final manuscript was due for publication. Being an editor has absolutely made me a better writer. Because I read so much of other people’s writing, I know not to be indulgent with myself. And I’m more concerned with story and not just writing cool-sounding passages. I know you have to always have the reader in mind. That’s what I was always looking for as an editor and as a reader.
SJ: What are some of the friendliest journals and residency opportunities for writers of color, particularly emerging writers? What are some of the best publication opportunities specifically for Latinx writers?
TK: Kweli is a wonderful journal run by the amazing Laura Pegram. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Submit to them! They also host writers conferences and workshops. I also highly recommend the Macondo Workshop. It’s a group of incredibly accomplished and generous writers, many of whom are people of color. There will be another workshop next July and you can apply in the fall. For Latinx authors specifically, these journals come to mind: Label Me Latina/o, PALABRA, The Acentos Review, and Huizache. I’ve been published in the first three.
SJ: Where have you found a community of writers? What suggestions would you give to those who are seeking community?
TK: I definitely count Macondo as a very important community for me. I only attended the Workshop twice, but I continue to keep in touch with those writers and am part of a small writers group (we “meet” online). I know that if I ever have a question or need a reader, I can rely on them. I also keep in touch with writers from my graduate program, but you don’t have to get an MFA to meet other writers. Depending on the genre you’re writing in, sometimes there are communities focused on that genre, like Sisters in Crime for mysteries, which I’m also a member of because I’ve worked with so many mysteries. There’s Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Historical Novel Society…the list goes on and on. There’s no reason to be the only writer you know. And if you work in publishing, there are always other writers to be found. My first writers group in New York was made up of publishing folk.
SJ: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
TK: Write! It sounds so easy, but I still struggle following this advice.
SJ: What do you enjoy most about freelance editing now?
TK: I most enjoy having the time to really help someone with their work. Sometimes that means asking them to make big changes to the story, but that’s okay because now is the time for them to do this work, before it’s out on submission. When I was working as an Editor, I may have got in a submission I found promising. But if it wasn’t quite strong enough or needed a lot of editorial work, I ended up declining it. I needed manuscripts that were much closer to being ready for publication. I would tell the author/agent my thoughts, but I didn’t really have time to get into a lot of detail with them about what changes I thought the manuscript needed. And maybe I didn’t even finish reading the work. Now I can suggest overhauls without being faced with production deadlines and colleagues’ expectations. It’s all about taking the time to get it right.
SJ: Anything good you’ve been reading?
TK: I want to write a middle grade novel next, so I’ve been reading more of those, catching up on what’s being published these days. It’s a lot of fun! And I’m reminded how much you can say in a children’s book. I’ve read Kate DiCamillo and Anne Ursu. I really enjoyed Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, which is YA but with just too good a premise to pass up. I’m looking forward to reading many more!
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) March 9, 2019