Interview With Author Kelli Lawrence

Today we have a book author with us to share a bit about the experience. Anyone who is starting out or thinking about writing a book can benefit from reading this interview–and if you like skating, you’ll really enjoy reading this book!

Please welcome author Kelli Lawrence…

Lawrence_skating_cover_pic1. Tell readers a bit about your book.

Skating on Air basically traces a symbiotic relationship between figure skating—long known to be one of the biggest draws at any Winter Olympic Games—and the media, particularly television. Skating became popular in the U.S. thanks in large part to Sonja Henie’s film career and incessant touring in the 1930s and 40s, and really came to be appreciated as a sport (not just a source of entertainment) when the Olympics found its way to TV in the 60s. Then the “figures” part of skating faded, and popularity grew and grew till it exploded with the infamous Tonya/Nancy incident in 1994… then remained as mainstream-popular as its ever been for the next decade or so, but got into a backlash situation of sorts with the pairs judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics. All of these things in skating’s narrative (and much more) were perpetuated by its visibility on TV, and I wanted to tell that story.

So, 30+ interviews, countless YouTube videos, and dozens of photos later, here I am. The interviews are with skaters, skater/ broadcasters, commentators, and many behind-the-scenes broadcasters (directors, programming execs, etc.), and the lion’s share of photos come from the personal collections of folks at ABC and CBS that snapped shots while a major skating event. 244 pages in all, including 5 separate appendices, bibliography, and a very detailed index!  Whew!

2. What writing experience did you have prior to writing this?

I was fairly prolific as a kid, having completed two full-length fiction manuscripts by age 18 (plus songs, poems, short stories, etc.). But when I couldn’t get an agent to latch on to anything, I let my creative writing fall to the wayside as I got more immersed in the writing required for my classes in Journalism/Mass Communication at Drake University. Writing’s always been necessary for my career in TV and video (which began in the late 80s), but I expanded to writing “for print” as a freelancer around 2005.

As for writing on this particular subject, I’ve had articles published in PSA (Professional Skaters Association) and Skating magazines—both about 2006 Olympian Matt Savoie, which led to my working with his coach and mother on the very early stages of a book about his skating career. (That book never materialized.)  I’ve also blogged about the sport since 2008.

Author Kelli Lawrence
Author Kelli Lawrence

3. What skating experience did you have?

I was inspired to learn figure skating after watching Dorothy Hamill win gold at the 1976 Winter Olympics—I was 7 at the time.  I competed, mostly in the Chicago area, between 1979 and 1981. But then I started growing to the perfect height for a basketball or volleyball player (in a sport better suited for tiny dancers), and quit in 1982. (I never got to triple jumps, but they weren’t nearly as prevalent among female skaters in general 30 years ago!)

4. What made you decide to write this book?

While researching the skating book market for the aforementioned book about Matt Savoie, I realized there had never been a book done that studied TV’s relationship with the sport… a relationship that happened to be coming to an end, at the time, in the U.S. with ABC/ESPN losing the broadcast rights). I was sad at the thought of how many aspiring skaters and/or new fans the sport would lose, simply because people didn’t as many opportunities to stumble across it via broadcast TV.  So when the Savoie book project fell apart, I got on this idea almost immediately.

Incidentally, NBC now owns some of those rights lost by ABC/ESPN, so non-Olympic skating events pop up every now and again. But a plethora of factors have caused general coverage to split into a plethora of alternate routes… that’s the kind of thing that gets a lot of discussion in the latter chapters of my book.

5. How long did the process take–start to finish?

My biggest concern early on was getting people to interview for the sample chapter necessary to get myself a publisher…but within a matter of weeks I’d pinned down Doug Wilson (a producer/director of figure skating and other sports that spent over 40 years at ABC before retiring in 2008), David Michaels (producer/director involved with skating for 30 years, currently with NBC), and Rick Gentile (former executive producer of sports at CBS). All of them were extremely cooperative, and next thing I knew I had my book proposal’s sample chapter.

That was in the summer of 2008. I started shopping my proposal to agents and publishers near summer’s end; by Spring 2009 I had signed with McFarland Publishing. From there, I had my hands full for the next 18 months with phone interviews, email interviews, searching for photos, transcribing interviews… not to mention my regular freelance work and being a mom to 2 grade school-age kids! To be honest, I pretty much knew the way I wanted to tell skating’s story from the beginning… I just wasn’t sure how to reach all the different people I wanted to speak with, nor did I have any confidence that they’d want to give me a minute of their time with me being an unknown writer and all. But by and large, people were very accommodating and kind.

Then came all the captioning, loose-end tying, and indexing…! Start to finish—including the proposal—was three years.

6. What were the most difficult parts of the journey?

Three things come to mind…

1) Finding all the “right” people to interview, and accepting the fact that a choice few were unwilling to participate. Oh, and knowing when enough was enough! If I’d taken up every suggestion made to me about “who I should interview next,” I’d still be setting up interviews today!

2) Rounding up photos, and coordinating all release info needed for each… which was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be. There were several wild goose chases… thankfully, most of them paid off.

3) More time-consuming than difficult, I guess, was “putting it all together” (meaning the text). As I mentioned before, I basically knew all along how I wanted to present skating’s Made-for-TV story… but if you liken a 1500-word magazine article to a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle (as I tend to do), this book was a 50,000-piece puzzle. One of those kinds where all the pieces are the same color… No, I’m kidding. The pieces are actually graduating shades of blue. (I’m not sure that’s much better, but I do like to think I got it finished!)

7. What was the best part of the process?

Getting to talk to people I admire so greatly—Scott Hamilton and Janet Lynn come quickly to mind, as do all the people directly involved at some time with producing and directing figure skating coverage. The stories they tell are fascinating to someone like me!

“Having” to watch so many vintage YouTube clips (where you can find tiny films of skating dating back 100 years!) was also a lot of fun. The best kind of research is the kind that doesn’t FEEL like research!

And once the book was out, I got some very nice feedback from those I’d interviewed… which was extremely gratifying.

8. Any advice for those who are thinking about writing a book?

I can only advise for non-fiction so far!

1) Study what’s out there, and try to write about your topic of choice from a fresh/unique perspective.

2) Having a great “platform” (huge blog following that shows expertise in your topic, lots of public speaking, etc.) never hurts, but it’s not the be-all-end-all for getting published.

3) If you’re ever at a writer’s conference and get some one-on-one time with an agent, make every minute count: I was pitching a work of fiction once at such an event, and once the agent advised me on that matter, I spent the last few minutes of our appointment sharing my ideas for what became THIS book (Skating on Air). She happened to be a skating fan and encouraged me to carry it through, advising me further to pitch it to mid-range publishers (rather than big ones) because I’d get a better response that way… and, I could do it without paying commission to an agent. She turned out to be right on both counts.

4) Do your homework on not only what specific agents/publishers are looking for subject-wise, but what they need from you up front. Some need a more detailed proposal than others. Some need one sample chapter; some need more than that.

5) Be as professional as you can throughout the process. Study each publisher/agent’s specific guidelines. Show everyone you submit your work to that you’re capable of following directions.

6) Be patient. Most of the industry, as I understand it, prefers email (and social media in some cases) to a phone call. Getting answers can take more time that way, but—with any luck—it’ll be worth it.

9. Where can people purchase a copy?

Since Skating on Air is a non-trade book, it’s unlikely to be at your bookstore of choice right this minute. But you should be able to special-order it from them.

It’s also available at the publisher’s website as paperback and ebook:

And at online booksellers such as Amazon (in paperback and Kindle):

And (paperback only; still working on Nook): .

AND, I’ll be selling & signing copies at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville this Friday and Saturday (April 13/14) during the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships. For anyone who drops by for a copy and mentions you heard about my book via this blog, I’ll knock $5 off the cost.

Author BIO:

Kelli Lawrence was a competitive figure skater for four years before growing up to become a freelance writer/producer. She is a Drake University graduate who has worked in broadcast, corporate, and institutional video for over 20 years. Her work has received Telly Awards, the Silver Screen Award (U.S. Film and Video Festival), and the Gold Award (Worldfest Houston), among over 60 other accolades. Her blog State of the Skate has been in operation since Spring 2008; she’s also written about skating for publications such as PSA Magazine, The Peoria Woman, and SKATING. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband and their two children.