Author Q & A: Cathey Nickell

Cathey Nickell is children’s author and school speaker based in Houston, Texas. She is the author of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car and Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn.


What was your favourite book when you were a child?
A book I most clearly remember from my childhood is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. I loved everything about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle… her upside-down house, her dog Wag, her cat Lightfoot, and the hump on her back that was full of magic. I dreamed of getting to someday help her search for the buried treasure left by her late husband. Her “cures” were hilarious, and I still remember them so well.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
I don’t think I ever wrote a fan letter to an author. If I had gotten the nerve up, I wish I would have written E.B. White to talk to him about Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. They were such beautiful books that I read over and over as a child. I would have asked him how he was able to write animals in such a way that they felt like real people… like a best friend.

How did you learn to write for children?
I learned to write in college as a journalism major. I started off working as a newspaper reporter, which honed my research skills. Years later, I joined SCBWI, went to writers’ conferences, and read several books about how to write picture books and novels. One writer I follow and recommend is K.M. Weiland, and I really enjoyed her book, Outlining Your Novel. One of the websites that has helped me the most in picture book writing has been Tara Lazar’s Writing For Kids (While Raising Them) blog. Tara is so generous with her knowledge and just generally fun to follow.

What is your favourite activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
A favorite hobby that my husband, Kevin, and I enjoy is traveling. We love going to new places, snow skiing, hiking, and exploring unique restaurants. We also attend many musicals and plays here in Houston, Texas.
Who is your favourite kids’ author now?
My current favorite author is John Green, and I’ve read (and re-read!) every book he has written. He writes young adult books,  a genre I enjoy. A favorite kid-lit author/illustrator is Peter Reynolds.
Do you have a new book coming out soon?

 I don’t have a new book coming out, but I launched a picture book this past August 2019. Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn is my most recent children’s book. My first was Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car in 2016.

What are you writing these days?
These days, I’m writing a middle grade novel. I finished the last line of the story this past week and am now doing the edits. I plan to start querying this manuscript out soon to agents. Fingers crossed!

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I typically write whenever I feel like it, but due to the pandemic, I’ve been writing every single day. I decided to make good use of the down-time and set a goal to finish the manuscript of my middle grade novel. Goal achieved! Now that I’ve gotten into the habit of writing every day, I hope it is a pattern that I won’t stop.

How do you like editing and revising?
The editing and revising process is a fun part of the book-creating process. I don’t mind it, and I sometimes like it even better than the initial “cold” writing.

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I can say the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin! I took Latin in high school, and my teacher made us recite the pledge as a group every single morning. It stuck, and I can still say it to this day. It’s quite dramatic sounding.

What question do you wish I had asked… and the answer?
I wish you had asked me if I listen to music while I write. The answer would be: Yes! I have a playlist mix on my iPod that’s filled mostly with old 80s music. It’s just quiet noise in the background, but it makes me happy.

Thanks, Cathey!

Find out more about Cathey and her books:

Where to buy Cathey’s books:

Next up: Jane Whittingham 

By popular demand… and because my default is ‘Yes’ rather than ‘No’

I am now offering one-hour one-on-one Zoom sessions of instruction and discussion on a number of writing-related topics.

I’ve enjoyed presenting a series on online presentations over the past two months, and look forward to working with individual writers over the summer, and perhaps even into the fall.

More information here. Or email me for details, or to ask for a session on any particular subject.





Author Q & A: Naomi Danis

(Photo Credit. Joan Roth)

NAOMI DANIS is the author of recent picture books My Best Friend, Sometimes; While Grandpa Naps; and I Hate Everyone. She lives in Forest Hills NY.


 What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child? 
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. It was long, and I remember feeling consoled that it would go on for a while, that these moments of family togetherness with the book would last. My dad would read to me and my sisters after dinner. We would lie in a row on a rug on the floor with our heads on a bolster taken down from a couch. I still hear the up and down intonation of my dad’s voice when I read aloud to myself my own stories-in-progress.
Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
As an adult I wrote a fan letter to author Susie Morgenstern after reading her middle-grade novel Secret Letters from 0 to 10. I read it in French. Its themes of silence, abandonment, loss, reconnection and love touched me deeply at a difficult time in my family’s life. I looked for the author online emailed  her, told her a little about myself, and asked her  questions. Nine hours later I got an email back from her. We still exchange emails 20 years later. Writing a fan letter can be a lovely and surprising way to make a new friend.
How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
Reading and writing. And more reading and writing.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White made a strong impression on me. Also I’ve worked at Lilith magazine for the last thirty years and I have all along loved seeing how editing makes writing more clear and precise.
What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
Gardening. Cooking and baking for friends and family in the days when they could come over for a meal, and looking forward to doing that again one day.
Who are your favourite authors now?
This month? Amor Towles, because his A Gentleman in Moscow spoke to me during this pandemic about privilege, confinement, escape and compromise. I was so inspired I’m even considering  reading War and Peace now, though I am a very slow reader.
       But mostly I read middle grade and YA novels. Recent favorites include Merci Suarez Changes Gear by Meg Medina, Anne Blankman’s The Blackbird Girls, a middle grade memoir Free Lunch by Rex Ogle and the YA novel Color Me In by Natasha Diaz. A favorite picture book my grandsons ask me to read to them every time they visit is Rukhsana Khan’s Big Red Lollipop illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
BestfriendDo you have a new book coming out soon?
My Best Friend, Sometimes illustrated by Cinta Arribas came out in May from Pow Kids Books. It’s Cinta and my second book together, following I Hate Everyone. Forthcoming from Child’s Play International is a very young picture about watching cars go by.
What are you writing these days?
More picture books, I often have as many as a dozen I am tinkering with at the same time.
Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I try to write regularly, but often fail.
How do you like editing and revising?
 I love editing and revising.  Most of my writing is re-writing.
Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I  keep two compost heaps, one on each side of my front stoop, somewhat camouflaged in leaves, torn strips of newspaper and  pulled weeds. And I can sing a Chinese national anthem, ironically learned long ago from a college roommate from Hong Kong, and the Belgian national anthem, learned long ago from my mother.

Thank You, Naomi!

Learn More about Naomi.

Next up: Cathey Nickell