CAROL GORDON EKSTER: Kim Chaffee joined our SCBWI critique group a few years back and was an instant shining light in her dedication to the craft, her talent and personality. I’m so excited to interview her here for her debut title which released on April 2nd, Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon.
Kim, can you tell us about your journey from being an elementary teacher into writing for children?
KIM CHAFFEE: Well, let me start with a big thank you for that sweet introduction. Finding the Writers’ Rumpus critique group was a huge turning point for me and I’m so grateful to have such wonderful people in my critique corner! Ok- to answer your question- I taught second grade for six years but ultimately decided to stay home once I had my daughter. While teaching, reading was my absolute favorite part of the day. I loved that, at that age, not only am I teaching them how to read, but I also get to teach them to love reading. I’m a big believer in giving kids a choice in what they read. When a child chooses a book, regardless of the reading level, it’s because the topic/story interests them somehow. That’s how kids grow a passion for reading. I believe that my writing career started back then, in my classroom, but I didn’t actually start writing until 2014. I got to be the student for a while- taking lots of courses and learning the craft. The day I took the leap to attend my first writing conference, the NESCBWI Spring Conference, I knew I had found “my people.” I walked in not knowing a single person but left with an invitation to join a local critique group (Writers’ Rumpus!) and the certainty that I had found what I was meant to do.
CGE: Happy book birthday! Can you tell us about the story behind the story of your debut picture book, Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon.
KC: It’s been quite a journey. I started subbing Her Fearless Run (then titled The Right to Run) out in early 2017. I received some interest from an agent, but ultimately, she passed after not loving my other stories. Then, I totally missed the #PitMad window in February but checked out the hashtag (who was liking what kind of pitches) and found Kristen Nobles at Page Street Kids. She was interested in nonfiction and open to unagented submissions so I took a chance. She emailed me back five days later saying she, too, loved Kathrine Switzer and felt her a very worthy subject of a picture book biography but asked if I was willing to revise my ending since it felt less than satisfying to her. I was fully on board to make revisions! My editor, Charlotte Wenger joined the team shortly after and we went through a couple more revisions and then I got the offer. I remember checking my email and the words OFFER was in the subject line and I gasped and walked away from the computer without even opening the email. My husband was working from home that day and I actually had him read it first because I couldn’t. It was a day I will never forget.
CGE: That’s the best feeling ever! And then you got more good news…you got an agent. Tell us about that.
KC: In March of 2018 I attended the most wonderful conference- Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat. It was such a special, intimate weekend with the most wonderful people. I got to spend time with my editor, Charlotte Wenger, who is just about the sweetest and most fabulous person on the planet, AND I met my amazing agent, Natascha Morris! I was so impressed with her knowledge about kidlit and submitted to her soon after the retreat. After asking to see more work…and then even more work, she offered representation!
CGE: What are you most excited about regarding becoming a published author? And what are you afraid of?
KC: Well, as a former teacher, I’m most excited about having students hold my book and doing school visits. I’ve already started scheduling some and I am pinching myself that I get to do both things that I love at the same time- write and teach!
I think the thing I’m most afraid of is not being able to write another book. I definitely have that, “I just got lucky” thought floating around in my head. But I do my best not to listen to it when it comes around. Writing has its ups and downs and I try not to let it bother me too much if I’m having a hard time with a story or getting any words on the page at all. I know it will pass and the stories will start to flow again.
CGE: What is your writing schedule like?
KC: Both of my kids are in school now so I have that time during the week to work on my writing. On most days, I like to get a dance or two in before I sit down to start working…yes, I said dance. I’ll blast some upbeat music, like The Greatest Showman Soundtrack or old school beats from Janet Jackson, and dance around my kitchen(a favorite of mine is Black Horse and The Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall). I probably look like Elaine from Seinfeld but who cares! It gets the blood flowing and puts me in a happy mood to sit and work. Then I switch up the music to movie/show scores like Braveheart and Game of Thrones. Those help me focus and be productive. Also, there must be coffee or water or chocolate (preferably all three) nearby at all times when I work.
CGE: Kim, I knew we had a lot in common besides the obvious teaching and writing! Black Horse and The Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall is one of my all time favorite songs, too! And now for a final question: what does the future hold for Kim Chaffee?
KC: In the very near future, on April 15, I will be running the Boston Marathon!
I’m so excited to run for Kathrine’s organization, 261 Fearless, Inc., as a charity runner. I’ll also be signing books with Kathrine and Ellen Rooney, the amazing illustrator of Her Fearless Run, on April 12 as part of the marathon festivities! It’s going to be one fantastic weekend!
CGE: Congratulations, Kim!
Kim is generously giving away a signed copy of Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon. Make a comment below for your chance to win this fantastic picture book. A winner will be chosen at random. (Must have a US address to enter.)
And if you’d be so kind as to mark her books “Want to read” on Goodreads, that is so helpful to an author, and of course, when you read her fabulous book, please leave a review.
You can connect with Kim here: