Welcome to The Writer's Life, Linda. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
Sure. When I was 12, I started writing stories with neighbors as characters, and then the next year, I started writing a Partridge Family mystery which was based on the old TV show. I’ve come to believe that both were excellent exercises in character development because I didn’t have the burden of creating characters from scratch. I could see a character that already existed and try to capture that person on the page.
Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?
Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story is the first chapter book in a series for ages 7 to 10. Katie, who is almost nine, moves into an old house out in the country with her family and soon discovers that the ghost of a 10-year-old girl, Kimble, is living there, too. Kimble gradually reveals herself to Katie and then once they meet, Kimble asks Katie to help her find out what happened to her mother. The books are lively and funny, but also pack a real emotional wallop.
When I was considering moving into children’s fiction, I wanted to do something that was a bit different. Over the years, I’ve grown tired of storylines where children are independent because their parents are just simply out of the picture—gone, dead, neglectful, abusive. I wanted to portray a girl who was growing in independence because her parents encouraged her to do so. So, over the course of several books, Katie’s parents actually become rather well-developed characters.
What kind of research was involved in writing Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story?
There are a number of historical and cultural references in the book, so I took great care to make sure I had customs and timing and history and logistics as accurate as possible.
Since Kimble and her mother died during the Great Influenza of 1918, a pandemic that killed more than 600,000 Americans, I wanted to make sure I had the timing of that correct. You know, which month did the flu spread and when did most of the deaths of the young, healthy people take place.
I also wanted to get Kimble’s look right, so after years of searching, I met up with a gal who owns an online costume gallery and she ended up helping me with an appropriate and realistic dress pattern for Kimble, plus the right hair style, the right print on the material (plaid), and the right accessories and shoes!
There is also a place where Katie’s mom tells her about the story of Hanukah since Kimble is Jewish and has left a dreidel (a spinning top) as a present for Katie. So I made sure I had the Hanukah story correct. And then later, Kimble teaches Katie how to play dreidel, so I needed to make sure that I had the Hebrew characters correctly named, identified, and the corresponding meaning within the game correct.
How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?
Oh, I hate to admit it, but I designed the thing in Word. Seriously. I wanted bright, vibrant colors that make a person feel alive, and that is really hard to come by. It’s not the usual style for children’s books. And there were only a few colors to choose from in Word.
I based the design on books I had at the same level as the Katie & Kimble books. Then, when my illustrator signed on, I said, I’d like this picture and it needs to be this size. And I sent her a copy of the template from Word so that she could see the true colors and the color scheme I was going for.
After that, and a lot of trouble, I hooked up with a graphics artist who was a friend of mine, and he smoothed out all the problem areas and made the covers interchangeable. So, now when we get to the cover of the third book, Katie & Kimble: The Golden Door, he can just insert the new picture, change a few little things, and we’re good to go.
Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?
Well, I’ve actually been published since I was a sophomore in high school. That year, I wrote a letter about the POW / MIA situation, sent it in to one of the local TV stations, and replaced Paul Harvey reading it on the news one night. Then, through the years, I’ve published in professional newsletters and journals, I’ve done advertorials, radio ad copy, blog posts, lots of magazine articles as a freelancer, and some magazine articles for kids, too.
For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?
I had always been interested in self-publishing. I feel that the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story series is different enough that doing it on my own is well worth it. I had approached several publishers over the years, had a couple of nibbles, but then print on demand (POD) just exploded on the scene and I knew it was time to birth the Katie & Kimble series into reality. I first tried CafePress. Too expensive. I then tried Lulu. Less expensive, but still not right. Then in March, 2008, CreateSpace started offering POD books, and I was in heaven. I could get my price point down to $5.95 in order to be competitive with other books at this level, AND since CreateSpace is an Amazon company, you automatically get your books posted on Amazon. A huge boon.
Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?
I have had an agent at a couple different times in my career. One of my friends who is an author recommended her, but she was the kind of agent to whom one has to pay a fee upfront. But since she came so highly recommended, I purchased her services. I think she submitted to two publishers during the six month period. I would not do that again. I suppose at some point I’ll have to get an agent, but I am not looking forward to it. I would hope that someone who represents me “gets” my vision for my little stories of healing and love, but that seems rather hard to come by.
Do you plan subsequent books?
Yes, since the beginning, I’ve had outlines for the first six Katie & Kimble books. Since each story builds on the previous story or stories, I need to know where I’m going. Right now, I’m in the middle of writing the third book in the series, Katie & Kimble: The Golden Door, which I hope to bring out in the fall of 2009.
Are you a morning writer or a night writer?
It sort of depends on whether or not I can sleep. I like to harness my best energy for writing when I first get up, but so often when I’m trying to sleep, ideas come through and scenes present themselves fully formed, or I start hearing dialog in my head, that I pretty much jump out of bed and run to my office to write the things down as quickly as possible.
If money were no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?
Great question! Even if I had an advertising budget of, say, some outlandish figure like $5 million, I’d still want to get the most bang for my buck. For example, taking out an ad in People Magazine for just one week costs close to a quarter of a million dollars. With that kind of money, I think I’d rather take a page from Obama’s book and blanket the Internet with ads. I’d also send out copies to public libraries and contact the children’s librarians, although I’d no doubt have to hire someone to do that for me, which is where all that money would come in handy.How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?
As much as I don’t like self-promotion, I think it is necessary. Truly, no one cares about getting your work out to the world the way you do. People may be interested and supportive, but only the author has that inner drive. And maybe the author’s mother!Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?
Being a former English language teacher, I had created a large number of teaching materials over the years and really loved doing it. So, part of my original plan was to create a set of free downloadable classroom / homeschooling materials to go with Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story. So I worked up seven or eight samples. The idea was to approach school systems. Hadn’t really done much about it, but in 2008, my mom decided the time was now and she had a school district in mind. So the two of us worked together to formulate an approach and to decide which materials to include. So my mom approached that first school system, and she scored big time there. They bought classroom sets of both books, Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story and Katie & Kimble: The Magic Wish. They also liked the sample activity pages and as I had offered to write a complete set, they took me up on my offer. For both books! So during the summer of 2008, I dedicated two or three months to doing nothing but writing 84 pages of reading and language skills materials based on the national standards for third grade. And we’ve continued to have success in approaching school districts.
Stick to your vision and don’t give up. I had a colleague who had written a powerful novel. Then he got an agent who demanded a huge rewrite. He’d had some storyline about hostages being taken by South American extremists and the agent thought the plot was just simply too unrealistic. So he bowed down to her opinion, did an enormous, exhausting rewrite, and the next thing we knew, that “unrealistic plot” made international news when it came to pass in reality.
Thank you for coming, Linda! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?
Certainly. Thank you. The first two Katie & Kimble books are available at Amazon.com. And you can find ME on the web at the Katie & Kimble blog. The Katie & Kimble blog is “kid friendly” and is closely monitored, and young readers can post comments and ask me questions. Plus there are an enormous number of free activities related to the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story series available to download.