Monday, February 22, 2010

MINI-VIEW: KATHI APPELT

MINI-VIEWS:
Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.


KATHI APPELT is the author of over thirty books for children and young adults. Her book, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS (Henry Holt, 2004) won the Paterson Poetry Prize for Young Adult Literature and was selected as “Book for the Teen Age,” by the New York Public Library, as well as a “Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers.” Her picture book, BUBBA AND BEAU, BEST FRIENDS was given the Irma and Simon Black Award for excellence in children’s literature.

Her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, was a finalist for The National Book Award, a Newbery Honor book, and the winner of the PEN USA Award for Children’s Literature.

Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She and her husband Ken live in College Station, TX. For more information, check her website: http://www.kathiappelt.com/.

You're a master of picture book writing, whether it be non-fiction (MISS LADY BIRD’S WILDFLOWERS, ELEPHANTS ALOFT) or fiction (BATS ON PARADE, or your newest title, BRAND NEW BABY BLUES), to prose (the BUBBA AND BEAU series) to rhyme (ALLEYCAT’S MEOW, OH MY BABY LITTLE ONE). Can you tell us about your process? Are there some things that you consistently do with every story or is each one a new journey its own right?

What a good question! And oh, if only I had an answer. To be honest,
I used to pay a lot more attention to process than I do now. I hope that this lack of attention-paying is because I've just gotten more used to writing rather than a laziness on my part, but I'm not so sure about that. Certainly, each book has its own path. Some come a lot faster to me. Some, not so much. Most of my stories require multiple drafts, and we're talking multiple, like fifteen, twenty, more. I think I rewrote Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers about fifty times.

If there is, in fact, a common process element, it's that I always begin with something from my own experience and life, even it means bats or cats or hound dogs. I'm also really kind to myself when it comes to early drafting. I try not to be too judgmental about what shows up on the page, at least not until I've gotten a couple of drafts down.

I also never talk about a book in progress. It's a superstition of mine. I learned this when I was a graduate student--that if I talked about a project before I had words on the page, then I found that I couldn't write it. My brain was already convinced that the project had been completed. And it's funny because when people start to tell me, "I have an idea for a book," I'm quick to say, "No, don't tell me. Write it. Then we can talk."

You're also an accomplished writer for older readers with many books for teens on writing, poetry and novels, including THE UNDERNEATH, which won a 2009 ALA Newbery Honor. Could you briefly share with us how winning a Newbery Honor affected your life? Can you tell us a little about your next novel?

In a million ways, writing The Underneath changed my life. Just the writing itself was where the change occurred. It's hard to explain, but I felt as though I had to simultaneously step out of my own skin in order to get the story down, but at the same time I had to dive as deeply as I could into the darkest realms of my own life in order to find the true story. Winning the Newbery Honor was amazing. Truly. It was a gift. I'm still amazed by it.

Next novel: Keeper. It's due out in mid-May and is about ten-year-old Keeper who lives with her foster mother, Signe, along the Texas coast. Keeper believes that her real mother, Meggie Marie, is a mermaid because the last time she saw her, Meggie Marie swam away. So, the book is Keeper's quest for her mermaid mother, who may or may not be a real mermaid. There's a companion dog and an errant seagull who go along for the ride. August Hall has created some beautiful art for the interior and his jacket is drop-dead gorgeous. I told my editor that I want to blow it up and paper my bedroom wall with it.

What's your favorite children's joke?

Hah!
Q: What do you have when you have snakes on the windshield?
A: Windshield vipers!

Hee-hee! Thanks so much, Kathi!

4 comments:

Lisa Green said...

Wonderful interview! So inspiring!

valerie hobbs said...

Keeper sounds fabulous. Can't wait to read it! Terrific mini-interview, Terry. Kathi is a treasure.

Jean said...

Nice interview, Terry.

I wondered if Underneath changed Kathi, because it felt so deep. I thought to myself, "How could writing this amazing story not change a person?"

At least, I knew it would change me.

Kathi sounds like an amazing person.

Terry P. said...

Absolutely. As I've said before, Kathi is a shining light of guidance for any student of writing.