This article about Sandra Kitt was written by Leah Mullen and originally appeared on WritersandPoets.com © 2001,
If you’re an aspiring writer but think you don’t have the time to pen that future Pulitzer Prize winner that’s been living in your head for the last few years, well think again. In addition to a full-time job, professional organizations and an active social life, best-selling author Sandra Kitt has managed to write over 20 books. Her titles including Suddenly, Close Encounters and Family Affairs have earned a significant amount of praise within the publishing industry.
Significant Others, published in 1996 with Signet, was named by Amazon.com as one of the 25 top romances of the last century. The novel is about the ’color complex’ within the black community.
In a recent interview with writersandpoets.com Sandra shared with us her secret to keeping so many stokes in the fire without getting burned!
Sandra’s literary career began in 1981 when she came up with an idea for a story and wrote it down. Up to that point the Harlem native’s educational background was in fine arts and her professional career centered around libraries. So at first she wrote for her own amusement then two manuscripts later she was reading an article in the New York Times about an editor who was opening a new office in New York and she was looking for writers.
’So I called information, got the number and called her up,’ Sandra said reminiscing. ’I knew zero about publishing at that point.’ But as it turned out it was her lucky day. Most editors won’t talk to writers over the phone. They’d rather receive a book proposal through the mail. However, the editor was so charmed by Sandra’s naivet’ she invited her in for a meeting and ended up buying the book.
Sandra sold the first 11 books in a similar manner, writing them first and then shopping them around without an agent. This was in the 1980’s when there weren’t many novels featuring Black characters and her books were well received. Helped along by favorable reviews and a steady following of readers, as time passed the manuscripts began to get easier and easier to sell to publishing houses who were eager to sign her up.
Today Sandra writes under the pressure of contractual deadlines, which she must meet by working around her full time job as manager of the research library in astronomy and astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But that’s not all Sandra has on her plate, meetings and social events keep her out all day sometimes until late in the evening. So how does she do it all?
’A typical day begins either at 6:30 or 7 am or 4 or 5 am if I decide to do some writing,’ she said. ’I’ve also been known to get up in the middle of the night, work for one or two hours and then go back to sleep.’
Writing a book is more than sitting at a computer typing, the process also involves a heavy amount of research to make the characters and story line real. Close Encounters involved a woman getting shot. Since Sandra knew little about describing such an incident, she went to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and talked to doctors about gun shot wounds and what happens to a human body when it is impacted with a bullet. She’s the One featured a fireman. To make the events in the story true to life, Sandra visited a fire station. She walked around asking about different pieces of equipment and talked to the fireman about their work.
All of this takes time. ’I have to be disciplined. If I have a deadline I might have to postpone something else,’ she said. Fortunately considering her schedule, Sandra is a fast writer with the ability to crank out 10,000 words in one setting. It can take her under six months to compose an entire manuscript.
Also Sandra’s got something that only comes with time, and that’s experience. Drawing strictly from intuition, the first 15 or so books came straight from her head. Now her process has evolved and she uses an outline to manage her thoughts.
Each book gets more detailed,’ she said. ’Now I write a synopsis that acts as a guidepost or map to guide me.
In terms of building the story, Sandra says the ending is known to her, but she’s not always sure how the characters will get there.
Writing, of course, for the most part is a solitary activity. Once the manuscript is complete the next step involves an editor. There are several things that Sandra looks for from her editor. First of all the editor needs to like the book and understand what Sandra is trying to convey with the story. To do that the editor reads the manuscript as a whole trying to identify any lapses in continuity and to make sure the story ’hangs together’ as Sandra puts it. Meaning that by the ending, the story has resolved all of the ’problems’ or issues that a character encounters.
Sandra does not discount the role the editor plays in making her books better. ’I need the editor to be objective,’ she said. ’I’m too close to the project.
When you’re writing you’re not always thinking in terms of continuity, motivation, arching a character or peaking and building tension,’ she said. But that’s okay because Sandra’s best advice to other writers is that they should create from their intuition and not worry about the audience or the editor.
Just write it, the way you feel from your heart,’ she said.
In her own work, Sandra explores the complexities of human interactions and the whole relationship dynamic, not just with men and women, but between people in general.
Family Affairs is a semi-autobiographical portrait of two families, one African American and one white, and how their lives become intertwined.
Girlfriends, an anthology featuring three stories about friendship written Sandra Kitt, Anita Bunkley and Eva Rutland was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in fiction for 1999.
Learn more at sandra kitt’s official website