As I found an open seat on the last day of the three-day, Marvelous Midwest SCBWI Conference last month, I had the joy of sharing a table with picture book author, Kathleen Doherty. As children’s writers, we fell easily into conversation and talked about the stories we love to write, what we’re currently working on, and she shared some of her “behind-the-scenes” journey for writing Don’t Feed The Bears (like receiving her publisher’s acceptance for her manuscript while enjoying an Alaskan vacation!) Then, I asked if I could interview her and follow up the next week with a review of her book.
She said, YES!
When I came back home, one of the first things I did was purchase a copy of Kathleen’s book, read it (of course), laughed like crazy at the zany antics between the bear and park ranger in the story while I wondered how a picture book could be written in such few words and tell such a thoroughly entertaining story. I LOVE IT!!!
From Kathleen’s website –
Kathleen Doherty is a Reading Specialist and an Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s written standardized test items for Pearson, Inc. in alignment with the Common Core Standards. She’s also won the Highlights Pewter Plate Award, the Highlights Celebrate National Poetry Contest, and received a letter of merit from SCBWI’s Magazine Merit Competition.
Kathleen donates 100% of her author earnings to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Me: Some writers have always known they wanted to write picture books while others stepped onto this path after having children. Can you take us back to the moment when you knew you wanted to write for children?
Kathleen: The idea to write a picture book sparked years ago while I was working on my master’s degree in reading and taking a children’s literature class. My professor’s love for children’s books was palpable. I remember wondering why he never wrote a book . . . and I told myself someday I would.
Me: What were the first steps you took to begin your writing journey?
Kathleen: I was first published in TIME Magazine with a letter to the editor. It was so much fun seeing myself in print, I started to pursue writing. I took classes from the Institute of Children’s Literature, Highlights Foundation workshops, and joined SCBWI.
Me: What is the most challenging aspect of writing a picture book?
Kathleen: It’s difficult to write a tight story using creative language . . . to make sure there are 14 different page spreads . . . and to include a twist at the end.
Me: For each manuscript I’ve written, I remember the Ah Ha moment that sent me running to type up my ideas. Can you tell us what inspired you to write your picture book, Don’t feed The Bear?
Kathleen: While visiting Alaska, I saw signs that said Don’t Feed the Bears. I began to play “what if.” What if campers were feeding a bear. What if the bear could read and got angry seeing the ranger pound a Don’t Feed the Bear sign into the ground. What if the bear retaliated….?
Me: What surprised you most on your writing path from the book idea to its publication?
Kathleen: I had an agent at the time who turned down my manuscript. She said Don’t Feed the Bear was a cute story, but she didn’t think it would sell. So I was free to submit it myself. It sold to the first editor I sent it to.
Me: If you could go back to the first months on your writing journey, what important advice would you love to give yourself?
Kathleen: Play with words, experiment, and take risks. Confidence, skill, and voice will develop with practice.
Me: Where do you most love to write and what makes this place special to you?
Kathleen: I have a comfy leather chair with an ottoman and a tray for my computer. It’s a special place because it’s my favorite room. Can you tell I love clocks?
Me: Some authors take one year to write and polish a picture book manuscript while others write and edit over many years. What was the time frame for writing Don’t Feed The Bear?
Kathleen: It took about six months to write and revise Don’t Feed the Bear.
Me: In your story, Bear’s favorite grub campers leave him are mac and cheese, carrot cake and meatball stew? What are your favorite foods to snack on while you’re writing?
Kathleen: Ha! No crunchy Cheetos. No chocolate covered peanuts. No chewy caramels. Just fruit. Boring.
Me: What was the best comment/reaction you have received from a child about your picture book?
Kathleen: At one school visit, a little girl was waiting in line to get her book signed, and she was jumping up and down saying, “I just love my mother! I just LOVE my mother! She bought me a book by a real live author!” [as opposed to a dead one]
Me: I’ve often imagined sipping coffee in a small café when an author I admire breezes in and happens to sit at my table. Which author would you love to chat with over coffee?
Kathleen: Kevin Henkes. . . Kevin, if you’re reading this, I’d even buy lunch.
(On a side note, Kevin Henkes is the picture book author and illustrator of Chrysanthemum, Lily’s Big Day, A Weekend With Wendell, Owen, and many more. And frankly, I’d love to chat with him over a cup of coffee, too.)
Me: Can you share something interesting or unexpected most people don’t know about you? (A hobby? Something on your bucket list that you did or hope to do? An unusual pet you had or have?)
Kathleen: Years ago, I ate fried mealworms and a chocolate covered cricket at Purdue Lafayette’s Bug Fest. I wrote a story about the experience and sent it to Highlights Magazine. But the story never sold. Blech.
If you’re interested in reading other interviews with Kathleen or reading reviews of her book, click on the links below.
And now for the Giveaway!
One lucky person who leaves a comment will receive a copy of Kathleen’s picture book, Dont’ Feed The Bear. I’ll announce the winner on next Friday’s Perfect Picture Book review of this very book!
See you then!