Interview with 2019 Debut Keena Roberts!

In 2019 our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and spread the word about their debut novels. Follow us this year as we pick the mind of the 2019 debuts and chat with them. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats and more!
Over the summer of 2018 we had Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books and we found Keena Roberts, debut author of her amazing memoir, Wild Life! We are so excited to have her on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 

About Keena! 
Keena Roberts
Keena Roberts is the author of WILD LIFE, a memoir about growing up in a tented research camp in Botswana and the transition back to the life an American high school student in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia. The daughter of two prominent primatologists, she is a graduate of Harvard University and holds two Masters degrees from Johns Hopkins University in international health and development economics. She has worked in the world of global health for more than ten years, mostly in the field of HIV/AIDS, and credits her time in Botswana for developing her interest in this field. A born adventurer, Keena is drawn to stories featuring strong female protagonists and survival in incredible worlds full of danger, animals, and natural beauty. Though her time in Botswana was sadly devoid of the dragons she loves to read about in fantasy novels, she faced her fair share of elephants, hippos, and lions, and is either a delight or a bore to visit the zoo with, depending on your tolerance for animal facts.
Keep up with Keena: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Instagram / Facebook


The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?
Keena: Thank you! It feels very exciting and very overwhelming. I’ve been working on this book for *checks watch*… seven years? So the idea that it’s close to being “done” is a really intense one.

The Book Bratz:  In your opinion, what is the hardest part of the writing process? What's the easiest?
Keena: Great question! I think the hardest part of the writing process is making The Big Changes. Writing is already really difficult, so when you get feedback that “this character is boring” or “this whole plot thread needs to be reorganized” it feels like an insurmountable challenge to fix it. Why not just give up? Walk away and become an alpaca farmer? It would be so easy to give up, but this is the point where your book really Gets Better, even though it’s often really hard to see that in the moment. And the easiest part? For me, it’s description. There are a lot of things I struggle with when it comes to drafting, but description isn’t one of them. Sights, smells, sounds… I can make you feel like you’re there, and I love doing those sections.

The Book Bratz: What made you decide to start writing WILD LIFE?
Keena: WILD LIFE is structured around the journals I kept from age 8, when we first moved to Botswana, to around age 19, when we left for good. I always viewed those journals as just a cool way to remember all my stories, but over the years so many people have asked what our life was like in Baboon Camp that writing a book seemed like the best way to put all my memories down in one place. Plus, many of the stories are pretty frankly unbelievable that I need published verification that I’m not just making the whole thing up!

The Book Bratz: What was your favorite part of WILD LIFE to write? What was the most difficult?
Keena: Oh by FAR my favorite parts to write were the animal stories. Most of these came directly from my journals, and it was so much to go back and read what 9 or 11 or 16 year old me had to say and then add the in the details to make the story really come to life. It was tons of fun to relive them all again, knowing that this time there was zero change of actual death. The book is balanced pretty evenly between life in Botswana and life in my private school back in the US, and the US parts were much harder to write. No one likes to re-live teenage embarrassments over and over again and that’s what I had to do to write those sections.

The Book Bratz: What was one of your most memorable experiences that you talk about in WILD LIFE?
Keena: REDACTED! Just kidding. There are so many good stories in there, and I can’t wait to see which resonate the most with readers. There are a couple that really stand out to me in terms of significance: there’s one in the US when I’m 14 or so and trying to learn how to be an American. I really struggled writing that part because I’m terrible at introspection, but my agent loved it so much it made its way into my final proposal, and I’m really proud of it, though it’s sad. Then there’s The Incident near the end of the book that still haunts my nightmares. You’ll know it when you see it. And the end. I have read the ending of my book at least a hundred times, and I tear up every single time. I hope it carries the same weight for others.
The Book Bratz: What do you hope readers will take away from reading WILD LIFE?
Keena: That being weird and different is what makes you special, even if takes you a while to figure that out. I also filled the book with science and animal facts, so I hope readers will also learn some cool new things about baboons, lions, hippos, elephants, and all the other animals I grew up around.
The Book Bratz:  Do you plan on returning to the story of WILD LIFE in the future, or do you have other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?
Keena: No, I don’t. The story ends at its natural conclusion, and while it’s kind of a sad ending, it’s exactly the ending Baboon Camp needs. What I’m working on now is a fantasy based in the Okavango Delta in Botswana where I grew up, and featuring some of the baboons in the troop we studied as the protagonists. Think Watership Down, but with monkeys. It’s already beautiful and bloody and epic and I can’t wait to share it with you! 



Title: Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs
Author: Keena Roberts
Publisher: Grand Central
Publication Date: November 12th, 2019

Summary: Keena Roberts split her adolescence between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of an elite Philadelphia private school. In Africa, she slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. She could wield a spear as easily as a pencil, and it wasn't unusual to be chased by lions or elephants on any given day. But for the months of the year when her family lived in the United States, this brave kid from the bush was cowed by the far more treacherous landscape of the preppy, private school social hierarchy.

Most girls Keena's age didn't spend their days changing truck tires, baking their own bread, or running from elephants as they tried to do their schoolwork. They also didn't carve bird whistles from palm nuts or nearly knock themselves unconscious trying to make homemade palm wine. But Keena's parents were famous primatologists who shuttled her and her sister between Philadelphia and Botswana every six months. Dreamer, reader, and adventurer, she was always far more comfortable avoiding lions and hippopotamuses than she was dealing with spoiled middle-school field hockey players. In Keena's funny, tender memoir, Wild Life, Africa bleeds into America and vice versa, each culture amplifying the other. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Wild Life is ultimately the story of a daring but sensitive young girl desperately trying to figure out if there's any place where she truly fits in.

Thank you so much to Keena for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about WILD LIFE and can't wait for it to be out in the world on November 12th!

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