All Four Kids: An Interview with Kendall Kulper, author of Salt & Storm


If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Man, I wish there was a sweeping historical romance about whaling and lighthouses with a setting so vividly drawn that you could smell the salt in the air as you read”? Look no further! Today on the blog we have Kendall Kulper, author of the aforementioned sweeping historical romance, SALT & STORM, which was published Tuesday by Little, Brown.

salt and stormSixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she’s to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane–a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.


First of all, congratulations on your beautiful novel and its impending publication! Could you tell us a little about what sparked the idea for SALT &STORM?

Thank you! And thanks for having me on the Fearless Fifteeners blog!

I started thinking about SALT & STORM after I read a book that was set on an island. I enjoyed the book, but I felt like it didn’t quite capture what I knew about island communities—there’s an insularity to them that can be both really warm and comforting and very stifling and isolating. I wanted to write something about that, so I started thinking about the island I know best (Martha’s Vineyard), which has a rich history of whaling. The more I researched, the more I thought it would make a great book!

One of my favorite things about SALT &STORM is the atmosphere. Prince Island really came alive for me. How do you go about creating such a vivid setting? Was it based on a real place?

Prince Island is mostly based on parts of Martha’s Vineyard and other small towns in New England. Size- and environment-wise, it’s probably closest to Chappaquiddick Island, and the town of New Bishop in the book is based on Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford, MA.

I love your main character, Avery. She is so determined and feisty, but also very realistically (and lovably) flawed. Do you share any traits with Miss Avery? Or, if not, what character are you most like?

Actually, not at all! Avery is a very different person from who I am now or even who I was as a teenager. I was pretty quiet, I had a few close friends, and I tend to think very carefully about what I want to say, where Avery will just blurt out whatever’s she’s thinking, especially if she feels annoyed by someone. It was really fun, though, to write a character so different from me (and there are definitely days when people annoy me and I wish I had Avery’s sass). She said and did a lot of things that I personally disagreed with, but it was important for me to show Avery making mistakes, facing consequences, and learning from her actions.

I don’t think I’m really like any of my characters. They all have small pieces of me, but none of them are really close to my personality. (And I will add, for the record, that I have a lovely, wonderful mother and our relationship is in no way similar to Avery and her mother’s!)

All the witches in your book have a gift unique to them. Avery reads people’s dreams. What would your power be?

Oh wow! Hmm… I think I’d like to be able to magically teleport from one place to another. I’m not a big fan of travel, and it seems like my friends and family are increasingly scattered around the globe. I’d love to be able to blink my eyes and visit my brother and sister-in-law in Hong Kong or go to my nephew’s soccer game in Philadelphia. Also, never having to fly Spirit Airlines the day before Thanksgiving would be pretty amazing…

You give such a detailed and complex picture of whaling in the 1800s. And the historical setting in general! What sort of research did you do?

I read a lot of books (Leviathan by Eric Jay Dolan and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick are wonderful) and watched a lot of documentaries on whaling and whales. I visited the fantastic New Bedford Whaling Museum several times and asked the very patient guides increasingly-weird questions about whaling and life in the 1860s. I even went out on an authentic tall ship and interviewed the captain and crew about all the little details on sailing that I wasn’t finding in books.

You do a wonderful job of mixing history and fantasy, which is no easy task. What was the inspiration behind the fantasy elements of the novel, and how did you go about blending them with history?

I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to add a fantasy element, but when I was researching, I came across stories of women who would make good luck charms for sailors (and sometimes curse sailors who slighted them). I thought it was such an interesting take on power and fate, so I decided to make my main character part of a family of these women.

And like the details on whaling, a lot of the magical elements came out of real research. Most of the spells described in SALT & STORM are based on real practices or sailing superstitions—some (like the idea that tattoos can offer magical protection) which are still used today.

The language in this book is so gorgeous! Do you have a favorite (non-spoiler) line?

I really like the moment when Avery is furious at her mother for hurting someone she cares about, and as she’s racing back to confront her, she imagines the two of them as sea creatures about to face off: “But I was a whale, strong and muscular, long-jawed and sharp-toothed, and I was going to find my terrible squid of a mother and chomp-chomp her so she’d learn to keep her blasted tentacles to herself.”

Do you listen to music while you write? Could you share some songs from your SALT AND STORM playlist?

Music was a huge inspiration to me! Basically, anything by the bands The Decemberists or Sea Wolf was on repeat while I was writing and editing the book. “Dear Avery” by the Decemberists gave Avery her name and is one of my favorite songs, and “Whirlpool” by Sea Wolf is just so lovely and atmospheric.

Lastly, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

I’m pretty freaked out by the idea of something happening to someone I love—my family and friends are bar-none the most important things in my life. I’m not scared of failure. I think failure can be such an excellent teacher and can be a wonderful opportunity to see your weaknesses and make you stronger—it’s one of the things that has made this whole “debuting a novel” thing a little more manageable!

KendallAbout Kendall Kulper:

Kendall Kulper writes historical fiction with a fantasy twist for teen readers and knows more about nineteenth century whaling than she ever imagined. Her debut YA novel, SALT & STORM will be published by Little, Brown September 23, 2014. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in history and literature in 2008 and spent several years as a journalist before deciding to write full-time. She grew up in the wilds of New Jersey and now lives in Boston with her husband and chronically-anxious Australian Shepherd mix, Abby.


Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, Diet Coke fanatic, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. Her YA reimagining of Frankenstein, THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING, will be published by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins in 2015. Find her on Twitter, Pinterest, or on her blog, where she talks about books, Boston, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

One thought on “All Four Kids: An Interview with Kendall Kulper, author of Salt & Storm

  1. I must say that I have honestly wished that very wish you have described! A whiff of salt air will have me diving into a book without a second thought. So Salt & Storm has moved up to my must-read-urgently list, now! I love the New Bedford Whaling museum, and am a fellow practitioner of the questioning sailors research method. Fabulous interview – I’ll be reading this one very soon.

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