Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meet Award Winning Author, Kathryn Lay

Katie: Kathryn, welcome to my blog. Please give us a brief look at your professional background.

Kathryn: I’ve been writing since 3rd grade, but since 1991 for publication. I’ve had 4 children’s books published so far (2 were work for hire several years ago), a book for writers, and I’ve had 1600 articles, essays and stories published for children and adults in magazines and anthologies (so far I’ve been in 75 anthologies). I teach online writing courses, speak at schools and events and writing conferences. My college was in secretarial work, which was definitely not my area of interest.

Katie: Your latest book is a picture book entitled, “Josh’s Halloween Pumpkin,” which is obviously a Halloween book. Can you share how you came up with the idea to write a seasonal book?

I’ve always loved pumpkins and Fall. This was originally a short story idea, but as I worked on it more, I thought it was visual enough for a picture book. So, my original plan was to have a Fall book for kids with a sweet story that had nothing to do with scary stuff or trick-or-treating. Bookstores have told me they love the idea of a ‘non-Halloween’ Halloween book.

Katie: You’ve written quite a lot. Do you write a lot of picture books? How different is it to write a picture book as opposed to say, a chapter book?

Kathryn: I enjoy picture books very much and have written several, but my main love is chapter books and middle-grade novels. It’s very different in that obviously, picture books have a lot of pictures whereas novels don’t. In a picture book, there has to be enough picture possibilities, otherwise it’s a short story instead. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s easier to write a picture book than a novel, they are difficult to do and the language is tighter and flows differently. In a chapter book or novel, you have a longer time to develop the character and the story. You use lots of dialogue and scene description and emotions and so on, something that must be done quickly and succinctly in a picture book.

Katie: You are a versatile writer that has produced six books that are part of an educational series. How did you come about to write in that genre? Is it more or less difficult than the other areas in which you write?

Kathryn: This is still new to me as I just recently received the contract on those and have only completed two of them. So far, there’s nothing different in these because they are fiction, but I am very aware as I write that they will mostly be purchased by schools and libraries, so I have worked hard to create what I hope will be something educational, but fun, and include experiments and facts at the end of each book.

I saw information from a fellow writer mentioning this market and I spent a couple of weeks working on a detailed outline of each book, the titles, the theme of the series, the characters, and the add on’s I would have at the end of each. One thing that made it a little easier was that I’d already had this series in mind for awhile, but was working on other projects I hoped to sell through my agent. This is work-for-hire, so it’s all on my own. It is easier in that I already know it’s got a market, but more difficult in that the time to get it done is a specific deadline.

Katie: Do you have a teacher’s guide that you have written for these educational books? Why or why not?

Kathryn: Well, as I said, I’ve just begun them. I do have small teacher’s guides for my 2 other books, but I am waiting on these to see if it’s something the publisher does or not.

Katie: As a writer in different genres, do you find that you are working on several different books at a time in different genres? Of so, how do you handle skipping from one manuscript to another?

Kathryn: I’ve always worked on more than one project ever since I first started writing to sell. I usually have a short story or two, several articles and essays going while I’m working on book projects. Currently I’m rewriting a middle-grade science fiction/fantasy that is very important to me, while doing this work for hire series. I also have several picture books I want to rewrite, a few old middle grades I have ideas for ‘repairing’ and several new ideas I have just begun but haven’t had time for.

With the books, I generally don’t switch around too quickly. I may write an hour or so in the morning on one and then on another in the afternoon. Or, spend one day on one project and the next day another. Or if there are deadlines, I’m more focused on that project. I’m not saying it’s always a good thing to approach writing this way, I do think I’d have less difficulty on some of the books if I focused on one alone perhaps, but it doesn’t make me happy and it’s the only ADD area I have I believe.

Katie: You have a book currently out in hardback through Holiday House called, “Crown Me!” and the same book out in paperback under the name “How to Rule the School.” Tell us more about this book and how you came to write it.

Kathryn: “Crown Me!” is a humorous middle grade novel that deals with politics, friendship, leadership in a contemporary setting using some medieval fun. It is the story of a 5th grade boy who longs to be President someday, but for now wants to be voted in as Student Council President. His very cool teacher has given them a history project in class and chosen Justin as King for two weeks and his rival as Queen. They create a dungeon in the classroom, choose a knight, jesters, and so on. Chaos ensues as they vie for peoples votes and Justin learns what a true leader is by the end of the book.

The idea came many years ago when at a Renaissance festival and I saw a young boy tell the King, “If I were king at my school, there would be no homework on weekends, pizza every Friday in class, and if anyone made me mad they’d go to the dungeon.” I thought, Wow, what a fun idea. It took several years of writing it to get it to the point where I found an agent. I rewrote it again for her, changing from third person to first, and it sold to the first editor she sent it to. The paperback was sold to Scholastic who changed the title and the cover.

Katie: You have written for both children and adults. Which group do you find the most difficult to write for, and why?

Kathryn: Children. I believe the quality of children’s books are amazing for the most part. Kids want to be entertained and you’d better not disappoint. They don’t care as much about what reviewers or award people say, but whether their friends recommend the book. You have to get character, plot, scene, climax, dialogue, emotion and everything that goes into any book in a much smaller amount of words, and make it interesting. No long pages of backstory or boring introspection for paragraphs on end. But, I find it the most satisfying too, knowing a child is being entertained and educated, people who aren’t already jaded. I loved books as a kid and am thrilled whenever I’ve gotten a letter from a kid telling me he loved mine.

Katie: What advice do you give to a new writer who hopes to publish in multiple genres?

Kathryn: I would say to study any area you are interested in writing in, and I wouldn’t try to write something that doesn’t interest you. In other words, I love reading fantasy, humor, school kid problem books, family stories, etc. Those are the areas I tend to write in as well.

Katie: Thanks Kathryn, for being with us today. For more information and Kathryn and her books, contact her through her website.


Nancy Famolari said...

Great interview! I love the encouragement. Writing what interests you is excellent advice. I also love the cover for Josh's Halloween Pumpkin!


elysabeth said...

I'm interested in knowing what your "educational series" is about. I went to your website but didn't see anything on it and I'm wondering how you get in with the educational market. I have a geography series I'm writing and the first one is out but I have yet to see vast amount of sales and very few in the educational market. I have teacher's guides to go with each book (write them as soon I finish the book). Contact me please, so I can kind of get an idea of how to go about getting in with the educational market - thanks - E :)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

A very nice interview, Katie.

Thanks, Kathryn, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life. You sound really busy.

Congratulations on your series and on your other books, too.