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Twenty Questions with
Kelly Kittel, writer & intrepid sea swimmer :
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Twenty Questions with
Kelly Kittel, writer & intrepid sea swimmer

Kelly Kay Kittel (in her words: a nauseatingly extreme bit of alliteration which confuses way too many people and results in them calling me Kitty – though I (vm) love a bit of alliteration in a name!) Lives in Portsmouth, RI, US. Alongside her passion for sea swimming (find out more below), Kelly has written a number of non-fiction books on the subject of family and loss, subjects that lie at the heart of my fiction too. We’ve had fun sharing the overlaps between how these subjects are treated in both our genres. Her books include Breathe, A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict and she has essays in many anthologies, blogs and online literary journals. Kelly is currently working on a handful of essays and a travel memoir about living in Costa Rica!

Here’s a little insight into Kelly’s world:

Which three words would you use to describe yourself?

Energetic, Pensive, Curious

What do you love most about writing?

I completely lose myself when I write. I’d live in my chair if it weren’t for my hungry family and the laundry and my efforts to avoid a chair-shaped ass. Still, I imagine some day I’ll climb into my laptop, close the lid and disappear.

What do you find hardest about writing?

Stopping. And grammar!

Tell us a bit more about what inspired you to write your beautiful book,

They say there’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. For me, Breathe was that story. It has been 18 years since the story timeline began and 15 years since it ended so I carried it around for a long time. It took me 7 years to write and publish it. Breathe is a love story to my sons and I wrote it to tell their story and help others.

In Breathe and in much of your other writing, you explore the juxtaposition between grief and hope, loss and love. How do you see these seeming contradictions working together in life and writing?

Loss and grief are the prices we pay for living and loving. In school we were taught about opposites like joy and sadness, hope and despair. But I’ve come to understand that they’re not opposite, they’re circular. Without knowing one you can’t know the other and we spend our lives moving around on the continuum. That is the Circle of Life!

How do you see the relationship between your role as a writer and your role as a mother?

My by-line is Mom, Author, Part-Fish in that order. I’ll always be a mom first and foremost and my children are and will remain my greatest accomplishments. I didn’t start writing in earnest until my last baby was napping; indeed, the first working title of my memoir was exactly that—Naptime! I spend most of my days balancing those three things—mothering, writing, and swimming!

I gather there’s a pretty awesome story behind how you met your husband – do tell!

I just had an essay about this called “Finding My Future” in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Volunteering and Giving Back. I met Andy in Jamaica, mon, where we were both Peace Corps volunteers. He worked with yam farmers in a town called Wait-A-Bit and I taught environmental education with the Jamaica Junior Naturalists. My mother named us East Meets West as I hail from a New England Mayflower family and he from an Oregon logging family and we definitely had our honeymoon first! Irie!

What kind of child were you?

Curious, Active, Outdoors!

Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series, instead of Claire, obviously!

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Don’t Lets Go to The Dogs Tonight, because that would mean I grew up in Zimbabwe like the author, Alexandra Fuller.

Do you have any writing tics that you’re forever editing out?

I am the queen of hyperbole and have a propensity for lengthy exposition! And exclamation marks! But it can’t be overstated that Brevity is not my forte . . .

You are famous for being an intrepid sea-swimmer. Tell us a bit about this passion and how it relates to your writing life. I’d also love to know about your most exciting sea-swimming experience.

Well, I haven’t set the English Channel record so the fame is relative! Swimming year-round in the ocean is positively addicting, exhilarating and, yes, cold. If I had my choice, I’d swim in warmer water but you can only swim where you’re at. I usually write with my coffee in the mornings and take a mid-day swim break, when the air is the warmest. While I swim, I solve my writing problems and think about whatever I’m working on.

The most exciting, as in terrifying, experience I’ve had was during a 2-mile beach-to-beach swim a group of us did a few years ago in memory of our fellow mermaid, Mary. I was in the process of moving back to RI from OR and we’d pulled the moving truck into our driveway just the night before. I hadn’t swam in the Atlantic for awhile so I rifled through the plastic bins stored in my basement ‘til I found my old swim fins to wear before falling into bed.

We hit the beach bright and early and headed out to sea and I was having the hardest time keeping up with everyone. Long story short, I soon became exhausted and when we arrived at the half-way point, which was literally a point of land where a bunch of surfers were riding the sizeable waves, I was about to grab ahold of one of their boards and make them take me to shore.

Seeing my distress, my friend, David, swam over. “I’m done,” I said.

“Come on, Kelly, you got this,” he replied.

“I don’t,” I said, sucking wind, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today but I can’t keep up!”

David and I went to high school together so we’ve known each other for decades. “You grew up here, you can do this, you even have fins!” he said, “Let’s go.”

He stayed by my side and we swam together. I was so tired. As we swam along, I stared down into the depths and imagined I could easily just stop swimming and relinquish myself to that green, watery grave. But like most fantasies this, too, was best left unrealized. I matched my breath to David’s and kept going, breath by breath.

When we finally arrived at the beach, I stood up, pulled off my fins, and discovered that I had fin rot! My fins had been in storage so long they had literally rotted into sections and were flapping around on the ends of my feet, creating resistance and making it even harder for me to swim!

What are you reading at the moment?

Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. It’s a fascinating nonfiction book with a humorous tone about this vessel we’re all living in. Just finished the chapter on airplane crashes in which I learned not only how fragile we are, but that the largest demographic who survive them are men, because they push people out of the way. Ouch.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

We are not in control! Especially when flying…

Which writer do you most admire?

So hard to choose one! Ann Lamott, Alexandra Fuller. Diana Gabaldon. TS Eliot (Maryann Evans), Kate Atkinson, Barbara Parks!

What song or piece of music would you choose as the theme tune to your life?

So many choices! Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” might be a good one. Closely followed by The Tubes, “What do you want from life?” because I recently went to their concert. And the Lion King soundtrack!

Where do you write?

In my basement, right now! But my favorite place to write is in our yurts on the OR coast where I can hear the sounds of nature all around me.

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What or who inspires you?

People who have the nerve to live their dreams without compromising their morals and values, who risk being unliked, like Patch Adams or Ghandi or maybe even Jane Goodall.

When were you happiest?

August 9, 1997, the day before Noah died. But in general, the most amazing moments in my life have been just after delivering my babies. And I’m always happiest when I have sand in my toenails.

 What are your top three writing tips?

  • Never give up.
  • You don’t need anyone’s permission to be a writer. To to be an Author, maybe, but a writer? No.
  • Then read some more.

Besides reading her wonderful books, you can find out more about Kelly Kittel from her website and Facebook page. Do also follow her on twitter and

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