CAROL GORDON EKSTER: I met Katey Howes at the 2016 NESCBWI conference and her smile and warmth lit up the air around her. I’m so excited about her upcoming debut book and for you to meet her.
Katey, of course, we want to know how you journeyed into the world of writing for children.
KATEY HOWES: Carol, first let me say how wonderful it was to meet you at the New England conference. I’m always impressed by what a generous, supportive community SCBWI is – and that conference did not disappoint!
I’ve always written – short stories and poetry mostly – but thought of it as more of a hobby, an outlet for my emotions and creativity. I was the poetry editor for a student-run literary magazine for a year in college, but otherwise never took myself too seriously.
When my third daughter was born, I took some time off from my job as a physical therapist to be home with my children. And when she started preschool in 2013, I found myself with time on my hands for the first time in a decade!
I considered going back to PT, but found myself in the blessed position of having the opportunity to try something new. I knew I loved reading with my kids, and creating stories just for them – but had no idea if my stories would be interesting to others. I started researching what was involved in publishing a picture book and quickly found SCBWI, the KidLit411 online community, and the SubIt Club.
In January 2014, I resolved to give writing with the intent of publication a year of serious effort and to see where that took me. I started a blog, kateywrites, about raising kids who love to read, as another way to connect myself to the world of children’s literature. I took online writing courses, attended conferences, and I found critique partners who taught me so very much!
With hard work, luck, the support and friendship and knowledge of an amazing kidlit community – and with hundreds of rejections under my belt – I found a publisher for Grandmother Thorn in spring of 2015.
CGE: Tell us all about your debut picture book, Grandmother Thorn, from the idea of the book to your holding it in your hand. You must be so excited that it comes out next month. (… but is ready for pre-order now!)
KH: I often say that Grandmother Thorn is a book I could only have written before I learned what picture book authors are “supposed” to write. When I started it, I had no idea that many people felt main characters in children’s books should be children, or child-like characters. I had no idea that the typical word count for a picture book was under 500 words, and shrinking fast. I had no idea that some people felt the theme of this book – letting go of control in order to achieve balance and happiness – was too difficult for children to comprehend.
You are supposed to know the rules before you break them. Since I’m NOT traditionally a rule-breaker, it is really lucky that I didn’t know these “rules” when I started submitting Grandmother Thorn! I certainly learned them once I started querying. Editors and agents made me quickly aware!
By the time I sent the manuscript to Ripple Grove Press, I was getting a little discouraged. But I also had high hopes. I’d seen the beautiful books Ripple Grove was making, and could tell that they cared much more about artistry and impact than about “rules.” When the RGP editor, Rob Broder, called me to tell me they had read the manuscript over and over, and always wanted to read it again, I knew it had found its home.
From the little glimpses along the way, to the finished product, Rebecca Hahn’s illustration work on this book has astounded me. She brought so much more to the project than I could ever have imagined, and in a style and format I never would have pictured – and yet everything about her art suits the words and elevates the story.
When I received my first copies of the finished book just last month, it was a momentous day. My children opened the box with me, and as I marveled at everything from the weight of the paper to the intricate details in the illustrations, they each took a copy and started reading. That was magic for me.
And now comes the fun part – sharing the book with the world! I’m starting to book school visits, Skype visits, and bookstore signings for fall. I’m nervous, but also so excited.
CGE: You have another picture book coming on the horizon as well. Can you tell us about it?
KH: Absolutely! My second picture book is entitled Magnolia Mudd and the Super-Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe. It is being published by Sterling and is scheduled to release on January 2, 2018. The illustrator, Vallerio Fabretti, has done an incredible job bringing humor and heart into this book, and working with Sterling editor Christina Pulles has been an amazing experience. The entire Sterling team is patient and caring and enthusiastic – I can’t imagine a better home for Magnolia.
Magnolia Mudd is an irrepressibly inventive girl who loves spending Friday nights tinkering in her lab with her rocket-scientist uncle. But when Uncle Jamie announces that he’s marrying the oh-so-fancy Miss Emily, Magnolia has to invent a way to be part of the wedding, without ending up tossing petals in a frilly dress.
It’s a perfect book for kids who like STEM, or for kids who just like doing things their own way – rather than the way things have always been done. Since I’m raising a few of those kids, I consider myself kind of an expert. It’s also got some fun insights into wedding traditions around the world – and maybe a little lesson in not judging a book by its cover (or a bride by her fashion sense.)
CGE: What is your writing process like and what are some of the ways you work on your craft?
KH: My writing process has been evolving over the past three years, and it does vary depending on the kind of project I’m working on. Katey Howes writing a draft of a middle grade novel looks very different than Katey Howes writing a picture book in verse. A few things hold true though, no matter the genre.
- I require black coffee to write and Moose Munch to revise.
- I need peace and quiet to put words on paper– no coffee shop writing for me!
- I write every day, if only for 15 minutes.
- I could not do it alone – I would be a wreck without my current online critique group (Panda Power Forever!) and I would never have gotten Grandmother Thorn or Magnolia Mudd in submission-ready shape without the support of the “Critter Cave.”
- My moments of inspiration frequently come when my mind is allowed to wander – when I’m driving, gardening, showering…or about to fall asleep!
- Though I read children’s literature extensively, when I’m deep in a project, I cannot bear to read “comp titles.” I end up comparing my work way too much, and it limits my creativity. So for pleasure reading I go way outside the genre I’m writing in – lately it’s been cognitive neuroscience. You know, because that’s a nice light read.
CGE: What does the future hold for Katey Howes?
KH: I wish I had a magic 8-ball to tell me! I feel like I’ve found my home in the world of children’s literature. There are so many genres and styles I want to explore, so many stories I want to tell, and so many creative people I want to get to know better. I’ve been lucky to be part of the incredibly supportive group of debut authors and illustrators at Picture the Books – and I know my future is full of long-lasting friendships formed there, and of celebrations of the amazing books they are going to create. I’ll also continue to be a team member at All The Wonders, where I can help connect readers with fantastic books in new ways.
In the more immediate future – I’m moving to Pennsylvania this summer, so I’ll be busy setting up a new office in my new home. I’ll be reading Grandmother Thorn at my local Barnes and Noble soon, and at Powell’s Books and Green Bean Books in Portland on September 16 and 17th.
You can connect with Katey here: