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.

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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: https://www.catheynickell.com/books/

Next up: Jane Whittingham 


Author Q & A: Mark David Smith


Mark
Smith teaches children by day, and writes for them by night. He lives in Port Coquitlam, BC with his lovely wife, adorable children, and obnoxious cats.
 He is the author of Caravaggio, Signed in Blood.

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What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
Gordon Korman’s Bruno and Boots books were hilarious—they always created the kind of mischief I wished I had the guts to try. As an alternative, CS Lewis’s sci-fi Perelandra always stood out for me as creepy, weird and fascinating.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
I never wrote them as a kid, but I’ve written a few now as an adult. My highlight moment came when Ken Follett retweeted me.

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
I like how you use the past tense, as if that learning is over! Ha! I really benefitted from a book on editing called The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. I lent it out once and then was terrified I wouldn’t get it back. From now on, friends, get your own copy!

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
I really like power tools, especially my pneumatic nailing gun. Unlike writing or teaching, construction yields immediate results. I’ve never been good at delayed gratification!

Who is your favourite kids’ author now?
Well, I’m very partial to Mo Willems’s pigeon, and Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series is something I can’t get enough of. For older kids, all things Kenneth Oppel will do!

Do you have a new book coming out soon?
Soon is a relative term in the world of writing. I’ll say, “Yes.” By yes, I mean sort of: I have a picture book coming in the fall of 2021, and then in Spring of 2022 the first of a series of beginning chapter book mysteries, both with OwlKids Books.

What are you writing these days?
I’ve just finished editing a YA historical novel that I’m beginning to shop around, and I’m going back into a few stories I’ve had rejected that I would really like to retool. If a story is rejected but I can’t shake it from my mind, that’s a good indication there’s something there. I just haven’t quite found it yet.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
Who ever feels like it? It’s a compulsion, really. Everybody needs a vice, and I don’t smoke. But I teach full time, and have three school-aged kids, so this compulsion is managed in fits and starts. My regular is somewhat irregular.

Caravaggio_coverspineback_4_Layout 1How do you like editing and revising?
Like exercise: it feels great when it’s done. But that sounds cynical. The truth is I find it satisfying to take a clunky sentence and streamline it so that it zips, or sings, or dances, or whatever metaphor means “it sounds good.”

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
That’s tough. Everyone knows what’s strange about a person except that person. Aren’t I completely, 100% normal? (Don’t ask my children. They’re biased.) I know my wife used to hate the fact that I insisted we not dig into the popcorn before the movie started, but she has broken me of this. Now, what’s weird? I really like brushing the dead fur off of my cats—sometimes I get so much it looks like I’m holding a second pet. I could also pull clover from the grass for hours if I’m allowed. Are the two practices are related?

What is the answer to the one question you wished I had asked?
Chocolate. It probably doesn’t matter what the question is. In fact, I’m thinking I should revise all my previous answers now.

Thanks, Mark!

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Next up: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

If you or a writer you know one would like to be profiled on my blog, please contact me.


Author Q & A: Barbara Renner

US author Barbara Renner has written eight picture books that all contain facts about wildlife and include QR Codes so the animal calls can be heard.

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What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
I liked to read mysteries, so the books I remember reading as a young girl are the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. I still have my original collection.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
No, I don’t recall writing a fan letter to an author. If so, it probably would have been to Carolyn Keene. I wanted to be Nancy Drew.

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
The creative writing class in high school and a writing class at Arizona State University were very influential in forming my love for writing. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of webinars. I would recommend books by Ann Whitford Paul and articles by Harold Underdown to learn about the craft of writing picture books.

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
Walking, hiking, gardening, playing golf, and anything outdoors are the activities I enjoy the most. I also love to travel – anywhere and everywhere.

Who is your favourite author right now?
Just one? To name a few, my favorite authors are Kate DiCamillo, Jane Yolen, Lisa Genova and Erma Bombeck

Do you have a new book coming out soon?
The second book in my Trumpeter Swan series, Summer! Time to Search for Food, will be available this summer. I’m also working on a book about my dog, Larry’s Words of Wisdom. It will be ready by the end of the year.

What are you writing these days?
I’m working on two informational fiction picture books. One book is about two female painted turtles who intuitively feel it’s time to leave their lake and find soft, sandy soil. They encounter several dangerous obstacles, one of which is crossing a busy road. The other book is about a roadrunner who wants to compete in a flying contest with his raptor friends. I also write a weekly blog on my website and am making the final revisions to the Larry’s Words of Wisdom book.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
Since I’ve had so much free time lately, I’ve been writing almost every day.

How do you like editing and revising?
Unfortunately, I tend to edit as I write, which is why I haven’t tackled writing a novel . . . yet. After my critique partners give me feedback on my picture book manuscripts, I let them cure for a while, and then I’m ready to revise. Actually, it’s quite exciting to see how the story will change.

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I tend to be a little OCD. My spices are alphabetized, and my desk is either in terrible disarray or well organized with papers in folders and trays.

What’s the answer to the one question you wished I had asked?
What are your plans for the near future?
My friend and I are taking a river cruise up the Rhine River in April 2021, and I want to travel to either Scotland or the Scandinavian countries with my adult children next summer.

Thanks, Barbara

Find out more about Barbara Renner
     Check her website
     Find her books through www.indiebound.org.


Next up: Mark David Smith

If you, or a writer you know, would like to be interviewed, please contact me.

 

 

 

 


Pitching in 140 characters

 

Picture books are devilishly hard to write. I continue to toy with them from time to time because I love the form so much.

I agonize over every word and phrase, read them aloud, and more often than not put them away in a drawer to ‘season’.

Ocassionally I send them out and watch as boomerang-like they return to me. Sometimes with an encouraging note. More often with a form rejection that I know REALLY means, “Please never bother us – or any other publisher or agent again – with such drivel.”

But being an optimist, I persist.

Tomorrow is Picture Book Pitch Twitter Day. And today I have been trying to condense a couple of story summaries into 140 characters. 140! If I thought writing a 300-600 word book was hard, this was pure agony. But worth it. In that it really helped me drill down to – what to me seems to be – the heart of the matter.

Even if the two stories I pitch tomorrow meet with only resounding silence, the effort of refining, revising and editing the pitches will give me tools I can continue to use as I continue my quest to place just one picture book story in the hands of young children and their parents.

#pbpitch