Kerry Spencer is the winner of the 2005 Heather Campbell Essay Contest for her essay, When Life Begins. Kerry teaches writing at Brigham Young University. She grew up in California and now lives in Utah with her husband and two babies.
Segullah: Tell us a little about yourself. Where have you been, where are you now, and where do you hope to end up?
Kerry: Well, when I was in sixth grade I was 5’10”. That’s huge. But now I’m 6’0″ and hope to stay there.
Segullah: 5’10” in sixth grade! Wow. There’s a book in that. Have you ever thought of writing it?
Kerry: Ha! No, I haven’t. But sometimes I make my characters tall and gawky.
Segullah: What else can you tell us about yourself?
Kerry: I live in West Jordan but I grew up near San Francisco. I teach at BYU. I have two children: Sam who is 2 and Lily who is 5 months. (Sam was one of the blastocysts in my essay. Lily is a whole series of essays in and of herself.) My husband’s name is Steve and I like him.
Segullah: We want to congratulate you, again, on winning the Heather Campbell Essay Contest. How did you first hear about the contest?
Kerry: I heard about it through a colleague of mine. She’s on the editorial board and she was showing us the first edition of Segullah. It looked really cool, so I went online to the website and found out about the contest there.
Segullah: What did winning the contest mean to you?
Kerry: It was really nice. Writers spend so much of their lives just sitting alone in a room. There isn’t always a sense when you’re typing away that anyone is ever going to *read* any of the junk you’re producing. But every now and then something you write breaks through to the outer world and people talk to you about it and you realize that your life isn’t some strangely monkish exercise in solitude. There’s a whole world out there and you have the power to reach them. To change their minds. It’s kind of awesome.
Segullah: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
Kerry: I don’t remember exactly when or if or how I decided to become a writer. I wrote my first little “book” when I was in third grade. It was twenty pages long and had really big writing and lots of funny crayon pictures. I remember thinking that it was a very, very profound book. There was a big hurricane. I think everyone may have been dead at the end, but I don’t remember. I had a tendency to be rather dramatic and rather morose, but my mom would always make me change the endings of what I wrote so that 1) there were no crazy mothers and 2) there was always a happy ending. She likes happy endings. And I like her, so I try to give them to her.
Segullah: What kind of writing do you do primarily? Fiction? Essays? Poetry?
Kerry: I primarily write fiction and essays. Probably more fiction than essays. But I haven’t published any fiction. So what does that make me? A time waster? Hmm . . . . I’ll have to think on this.
Segullah: How did your winning essay–“When Life Begins”–come to be written?
Kerry: The professor who took us all to England, John Bennion, decided that we needed to compile a book of essays about our experience as a group. Since Steve and I had a unique purpose in going to England, he asked me to contribute an essay about it. So I did. That essay was called, “Ghosts of Conception.” After he read it he decided that I was going to have to write him about twelve other essays. “When Life Begins” was one of those.
Segullah: Where are the other eleven?
Kerry: Sitting on my computer, stewing in themselves. Though, “Ghosts of Conception” was published in BYU’s Collegiate Post.
Segullah: What projects are you currently working on?
Kerry: I am working on a book called “Secrets of the Mami Wata.” It’s about a girl whose grandmother was the head of a cult. It’s kind of a girl-power book about accepting your roots and learning to harness your inner divinity. I think it’s going to rock. And I’m very humble about it, too.
Segullah: Do you have a dream publisher for this book? Is it YA?
Kerry: Anyone who will take it. It’s a YA cross-over–that is, the primary audience is probably YA, but it may cross into the Adult market. (Not “Adult” as in XXX. “Adult” as in for people older than 18.)
Segullah: How do you balance home life, church activity, teaching, and writing?
Kerry: Ah, balance. The funny thing about balance is that most of us have too *much* to do. But since I’ve been raising two babies, I’ve spent the last few years with too *little* to do. I used to walk around Wal-mart for hours at a time because that was the only thing that would keep my little Sam-boy happy. Any writing I did happened in my driveway–when Sam was asleep and moving him would wake him up. I have a little more balance now that Sam is a little older and can entertain himself. Unfortunately, his main venue of entertainment is to spend massive quantities of time surfing the internet. I haven’t decided how I feel about this.
Segullah: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Kerry: It depends on what they’re aspiring to. If they’re aspiring to make sacks of quick easy cash I’d tell them to stop writing and go get an MBA. If they want to get published I’d tell them that trying to get published bites bricks and they need to be OK with that. I had a professor once, though, who told me something really encouraging. He said that the kind of people who publish books are just the kind of people who finish things. If you’re a person who finishes things, you’ll publish something. Eventually. That’s kind of nice to think about.
Segullah: Thank you so much for your time, Kerry, and good luck on your future endeavors. May you continue to finish things!