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Eastern NY SCBWI Member Spotlight

Created September 30, 2023 by Kyra Johnston

New York: Eastern Upstate

An interview with Eastern NY Co-ARA Kyra Johnston by Janine De Tillio Cammarata

Eastern NY SCBWI Member Spotlight

Kyra is definitely a writer and performer to look out for–she’s planned a four-book series and has been seriously writing since high school. Her talent, poise, generosity, and support for others is not only apparent through her interview but also in her actions through SCBWI. 

Her connection with Kim Sabatini (Co-ARA) proves how empowering this organization and mentoring can be. That’s the wonderful part of being a writer. The networking and desire to help other writers has created a vibrant community. 

As a lover of YA and Fantasy, I cannot wait to read her books. I know that she’ll find an agent and publisher not only because of her fabulous writing but her tenacity, love of life, and Kickass characters! 

Get to know all about Kyra, where she gets her ideas, what her current WIP is about, her advice for writers, and how to stay in touch. 

I appreciate her words and wish Kyra the very best in her publishing career!


Can you tell us about yourself? Anything you want to share about your family, hobbies, likes, joys?

Sure! I was born and raised in Beacon, NY, by my mom and alongside my two older brothers. All of us were super active kids, I was in multiple dance classes, on two soccer teams, in a Girl Scout Troop and did horseback riding lessons. (My mom was a total Superwoman for keeping up with all of us and encouraging all of our endeavors!) But when I wasn’t doing any of that, I was either reading a book or riding my bike around my backyard, creating stories in my head. That’s really where my love of storytelling started and I’ve chosen two careers based on that; writing and performing. 

How long have you been a member of SCBWI?

I’ve been an official member for about 2-3 years, but I’ve been going to meetings with Kim Sabatini ever since I was in high school. (I’m 24 now.) Kim has been my mentor for years, and we actually met at our local dance studio in a class that combines advanced dancers and alumni. After class, we would always chat about what books we were reading at the time and it went from there!

What interested you in volunteering and becoming an Co-ARA?

Lin Manuel Miranda did an interview a while back, and he explains how he’s done every job in theatre; lights, set design, sound, costumes…you name it, he’s done it. And he said how learning every asset helped him become the amazing artist we know him to be and that’s the philosophy I try to use with every opportunity I get; learn everything I can about all the sides so I can better understand the industry, use it to my advantage and truly appreciate all the hard work that’s done. Plus, I absolutely adore Kerry and Kim, I love being a part of their team. 

What are some of your responsibilities?

Some of my responsibilities include updating the website’s calendar of events, and doing reminder emails for those events. 

Why should someone become a member of SCBWI?

I’m a huge believer in the power of community and making connections. I’d say that’s the biggest benefit of joining the SCBWI. You’re surrounded by other artists who share the same goals as you and struggle with the same problems. It’s a safe place to create and share your work, which is so incredibly important in our industry. Not to mention all the free critiques and ShopTalks!

What age group/genre do you write?

I write YA Contemporary Fantasy right now, but for future projects I’m looking to dive into that weird YA Crossover/New Adult age range in the High Fantasy and Contemporary genres. 

When did you know that you wanted to write for children/teens?

Like I said earlier, I’ve been creating stories since I was in elementary school, but I got serious about it in high school.  

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a YA Contemporary Fantasy novel about a high school senior, Lanta, who discovers her childhood best friend is not human. I was inspired by the thought of telling the story from the human’s perspective, because typically we always get the POV of the character whose life is changed or the ‘Chosen One,’ and not the human ‘sidekick.’ Lanta has to figure out how to make herself indispensable in a supernatural society that will kill her otherwise, while also dealing with the broody bodyguard she’s assigned and the rogue serial killer who’s running around the town killing young girls. Suffice it to say, she’s got a lot going on. I wrote this book as a love letter to all my friends, because I truly have the most amazing friends in my life, so while there is a romantic subplot, the story is focused on friendship and how far one would go to save it. It’s the first book in a planned series of four. 

Can you share about your process? Do you start with character, plot? Are you a plotter or pantser?

I’m a weird combination of plotter and pantser, a plantser if you will. With my current project, I was listening to One Direction’s ‘Story of My Life,’ and the lyric, ‘written on these walls are the stories that I can’t explain,’ sparked the image of these two best friends sitting on a bed looking at all these pictures on the wall and kinda reminiscing about all they had been through, so I started with character. And from there, I dove into mythological research and created mental tent poles from there. Funnily enough, I was super against outlining and beat sheets up until recently, you can ask Kim, it drove her crazy! The only reason I ended up outlining not just the first book, but all four of them, was because I was procrastinating writing my query letter and synopsis. I’m super glad I did it though, and I’ll definitely do it for the next projects I have in mind. But on the other hand, sometimes I really just have to write and see where it goes.

What does your writing day look like? Do you have a daily routine?

I don’t have a daily writing routine right now. I’m trying to find the right balance between my job, my writing, my performing career and simply being a young woman living in NYC. Plus, I literally just moved apartments so that stress has consumed all of my time, but now that I’m almost completely settled, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to start getting back into a more normal writing routine.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to write for children/teens?

Research the market you want to sell to by reading as much as you can and studying the social media of the fans and authors. No matter how you feel about social media, it’s a great tool to get to know your audience. But on the other hand, write the story you want to write. It’s a fine line to walk because you want to tell your story, but you also have to consider the state of the market at the same time. I’d say my biggest piece of advice though is to develop a thick skin and get used to rejection. If you’re looking to be published in the traditional sense, querying, especially right now, is ‘effing’ rough and it’s a lot of no’s. My third semester Musical Theatre teacher said something to me in terms of auditioning that has truly saved my mental health in terms of dealing with all the rejection. He told me to look at each audition, or query for us, as a business transaction. It’s not personal. It doesn’t necessarily mean your work is bad, it’s just not the right fit…for now. 

How have the last two years affected your creative process?

The last two years have been my most productive years for my writing process. The quarantine really allowed me to sit down and just write every day. 

What forms of self-care do you bring into your day while writing?

I can definitely get too much into writing, so I have to make a conscious decision to stop and eat snacks and drink water. I also don’t force myself to try to write if I’m not feeling it. I’ve found my process is high peaks and low valleys and if I’m in a valley and I try to force myself out of it, I only dig the valley deeper.


Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

Music, motion and the shower inspire me. Two out of the three projects I have came from certain song lyrics and the third came to me while I was in the shower. For my current WIP, I get the best ideas while I’m on the treadmill or on the train. And also past experiences. All of my work is deeply personal to me. I’ve been saying if you read my work, then you basically know everything about me. 

What are a couple of your favorite children’s books from the last five years?

My absolute favorite author is Jennifer L. Armentrout, so quite literally anything she’s released. I also adore Sarah J Maas, Leigh Bardugo, VE Schwab, and Chloe Gong. My current read is Crave by Tracy Wolff.

What’s your website/social media handles?

@kickass__kyra on Twitter, 

@kickass__Kyra on Instagram

@kickass__Kyra on TikTok

Is there anything else you want readers to know?

The world is so incredibly bleak right now, which means our stories and community are even more important. 

Keep writing. 

Keep reaching out. 

Keep living as good humans.