Author Interviews

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Sunday, 7 April 2013

Author interview with Kathleen J Shields (revisited)


Back in February 2013, I interviewed author Kathleen J Shields for my interview-only WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author and poet Kathleen J Shields. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Kathleen. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Kathleen Shields 5x7HKathleen: Hi. My name is Kathleen J. Shields.  I’ve been writing short stories and poetry since I was 12 years old. I found it more entertaining to create my own stories than watch someone else’ on TV. I grew up an only child in Houston, Texas and moved to the Texas Hill Country with my husband about 12 years ago. I can honestly say it would take an act of God to get me to move back to the city and even then I would question it.
Morgen: You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
hardback1Kathleen: I’ve written and published two young adult books but have always leaned towards story telling through poetry.  So when I met Leigh, my illustrator, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. In respect for my mother who was taken from me way too early in life, and in regards to a story about a troll she wrote when I was just a baby, I decided to do something with that.  I took her troll, custified his name, description and story and wrote “Hamilton Troll meets Pink Light Sprite” and dedicated the first book to her so her memory will live on forever.
Morgen: What a lovely thing to do. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Kathleen: I write under my name, I figure it’s easier that way. Maybe down the road I’ll use a pseudonym but right now, I am just trying to be found. As of now I have three Hamilton Troll books published, fourteen completely written and awaiting illustrations and am 27 pages into creation of the coloring and activity book, 18 recipes into the Hamilton Troll cookbook and have completed the outline for the next Hamilton Troll series I’m calling the visits series.
Morgen: What age group do you write for?
Kathleen: At the moment, 4 and up. But in the past young adult and adult, and I have future stories pending for adults as well as a Christian themed story and a children’s chapter book.
Morgen: Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Kathleen: Dr. Seuss was my favourite author growing up. I loved his rhyming stories, they were always so bouncy and happy, but as an adult I find his use of ‘fake words’ distracting. That is why I use real words in my stories and have incorporated vocabulary definitions for younger children who may not know the word (or parents that may need the assistance with the “What does that mean?” questions.)
Morgen: You’ve written for both, do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Kathleen: I wouldn’t say it’s easier, since I rhyme every other line, but poetry flows through me without much effort so yes.  I find any book needs research, and educating the youngest generation means you have to work even harder to get it right.  You can’t just accept what Wikipedia says as the God’s honest truth, because these stories stick with them throughout their life.
Morgen: Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Kathleen: I share my stories with various people across the board. From friends and clients to children and other writers. It is the eye of everyone who catches the mistakes. In fact it was a child of about 8 who caught a typo that 8 other adults didn’t catch because at her age, she sounded out every letter and the letters were scrambled: titled instead of tilted. The word was spelled correctly according to spell check. The adults read it correctly but only the little girl caught the error.
Morgen: :) Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Kathleen: Make it fun. If you have fun writing it, they will have fun reading it.
Morgen: Like any kind of writing. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Kathleen: I tried going the traditional route. I contacted every child’s book publisher that didn’t require an agent, then contacted every agent I could find. I followed all of the rules, but the industry is moving towards e-book or they are too busy. I figured I’d do this myself and save them a step. I mean even publishing companies expect you to do your own marketing so why not become your own publisher. My mom always said, if you want it done right, do it yourself….
Morgen: My dad said the same. Wise people. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Kathleen: My children’s books are available in paperback and eBook through Amazon. But I took it a step further and have hardback books available as well (everywhere books are sold online). For children, hardback stands up to daily wear a lot better and give a stronger longevity.  To me, it feels more substantial. Besides, I’ve never seen a Dr. Seuss paperback.
Morgen: I thought I had, but now I’m not so sure. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
hamiltonKathleen: My series is about Hamilton Troll and he is the lead character.  In each book he’ll meet a new character or two, have a new adventure, learn something new, have a new experience, so my favourite character is Hamilton Troll. However, since each book is designed to have visits from other characters anyone can have their own favourite character as they will all be making appearances in future books.
Morgen: Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
hardback2Kathleen: While I realize that the titles “Hamilton Troll meets Pink Light Sprite”, “Hamilton Troll meets Skeeter Skunk” and “Hamilton Troll meets Barney Bee” are kind of bland, it tells you three things, it’s a Hamilton Troll book, he’s meeting a new character and it shows them an idea of what’s going to happen. When we begin the ‘visits’ series I plan on keeping the title them and naming them; “Hamilton Troll visits Australia” and “Hamilton Troll visits China”.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kathleen: We plan on a very busy year for 2013, we have four books planned, a project for a dinosaur museum and finalizing the coloring and activity book.  Book 4 of the series is “Hamilton Troll meets Chatterton Squirrel” and this is a fun tale about a young squirrel who is afraid of heights. In addition, this year Hamilton Troll will meet Elwood Woodpecker, Boswell and Baxter Beaver, Whitaker Owl and Rachell Raccoon.
Morgen: Wonderful names. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Kathleen: I run my own business and write during my free time, but I have definitely suffered from writer’s block. I think that is why I have 14 stories written, ideas for a couple dozen more and at least two additional series for Hamilton in the planning stages so if I get stumped with one story I can move on to another.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kathleen: I look up characteristics about each new animal or location I introduce and then it just comes to me.  I usually give creative license to God though as I’ve tried plotting out an outline only to watch the story take a completely different turn and it always end up being better than originally planned so I just go with it.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
HTwSkeeterKathleen: I shy away from basic names as much as possible, Bob and Sam are so undescriptive. But Skeeter sounds like an adjective for scared which this skunk is. Or Chatterton makes sounds like a good name for a chatty squirrel. I try to find names that sound like the adjectives for the character and that helps them seem more believable and makes them more memorable. Sometimes you can’t do that but by giving them utterly unique yet memorable names, I feel that helps the believability.
Morgen: Which is so important. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Kathleen: With poetry, besides rhythm, there is not much to edit. With traditional writing, I could edit and reedit for the rest of my life.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Kathleen: Yes. If it is going to be informative and provide educational content, research is a requirement. You have to know what you are talking about. They say to write what you know, and in my opinion, if you don’t know find out. Learn something new each day.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Kathleen: Third person is the easiest for some stories and first person works for others. I find both to be overly important to help with the feel of the story and to get the reader involved.  I’ve been told I can write great conversation scenes and those tend to be more third person so the emotions can come from either direction.
Morgen: Your children’s books have rhymes, do you write any other poetry?
Kathleen: I have written poetry for greeting cards and speaking engagements for years. I kind of feel that poetry not only shows writing ability, but the strongest use of the English language when you are trying to portray a scene or message with s strict limitation to syllables and the need to rhyme every other line.
Morgen: Have you have written any non-fiction or short stories?
Kathleen: I do have a few short stories in play that I plan to run with this year but non-fiction is too hard for a creatively-eager writer as myself. I write to escape the real world, to go to a fun and exciting place.
Morgen: I’m the same; the only non-fiction I write is about writing. :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
hamilton trollKathleen: I hope not. With the technology available for self-publishing, even the small stories have a shot of exposure. However that being said, I did come up with a character name for the Hamilton Troll series I don’t think I can ‘safely’ write about for children… Duncan the Dung Beetle…
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Kathleen: Rejections are part of the game. You accept them and move on. Besides, most rejections aren’t personal, they consist of we’re too busy or your story doesn’t fit our image.  Hardly ever do they write something like your story is not good, give up.  Constructive criticism is hard to come by as it seems politically correct responses are all you get.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions?
Kathleen: This year I plan on entering a few contests but haven’t decided on which ones. There are basic contests, independent publisher contests, children’s book contests and each have various categories that I could qualify for. If I’m going to pay the enter fee, I need to do a lot more research on that and unfortunately, between running my graphics and website design business and then writing, layout and marketing my future children’s books, free time is hard to come by. Maybe my work will speak for itself somehow.
Morgen: I’m sure it does already. Fingers crossed.  Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Kathleen: I do not have an agent, even though I tried. In regards to their role, I’ve heard two versions of agents, some will get you in the door to a publishing house then they leave you. Others will be with you the entire way. I also know that there are a lot of agents to choose from and finding the right one can be difficult.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kathleen: I do it all. I am a website designer so I keep up the website, I do the email newsletters, I contact the schools and libraries, I research and find reviewers, and take care of the sales and speaking engagements, I create the book trailers, update the social media pages... I can’t afford to pay someone else to do the job.  The only thing I lack is the “contact” an agent has already acquired, but give me time. I’ll figure it out.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Kathleen: I love to write. I hate not having enough time to write. I wish there were more hours in the day.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kathleen: Keep writing. Don’t give up. And if it bores you, it’ll bore the reader. Keep it exciting and flowing and if a section is too hard to continue at the moment, move on to something different. Never try to force a scene to get it done.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Kathleen: The first, Dr. Seuss. I wouldn’t mind the chance to get into his mind. The second, James Michener. I was related to him on my grandmother’s side and as such a successful author, I would have loved to have met him and learn about how he did it. The third, my mother. Since she is no longer with me I would love to see her smile when I show her what I’ve accomplished for her.
Morgen: I’d have Roald Dahl for the same reason as James Mitchener (not related, but my father did some photography for him) and my father (my mother’s still alive). If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Kathleen: Not a clue, that sounds like a nightmare. Anything I would have written would never get saved if the same day kept repeating so not a writing day. I guess I’d pick any day that I didn’t have any other work obligations for, that way I could go a different direction each time and learn something new each time. Of course having done extensive travelling by car I know I couldn’t drive very far in one day so maybe a day I start out at an airport, I could change my flight each time and go somewhere new each day. Of course half the day would be wasted on a plane… maybe a day of shopping with my mom, of course that would eventually get boring as well when we run out of places to go. While that would be the best alternative, I say – Please don’t make me do it! I can’t get stuck in a situation like that! :)
Morgen: <laughs> Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Kathleen: Super-awesome. It says I can do it. I can handle it. I feel great. Things are wonderful. You can’t upset me. Thank you for everything and puts a smile on your face.
Morgen: Whenever anyone ‘likes’ one of my blog pages (which they often do :)) I get an email from WordPress (which I forward on to the relevant guest) saying the reader thought the item was ‘awesome’. Makes me smile. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Kathleen: I write press releases for other business clients, poetry for special occasions and meetings, bios for companies and people for their websites, resumes for clients… just about anything.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Kathleen: I own my own graphic and website design business, if I am not being creative for myself I am doing it for an array of clients and industries. I am self-taught and enjoy learning new programs. I have taught myself flash animation, video creation, audio splicing, game creation… if a client asks it of me, I’ll learn it.
Morgen: I’m the same with my ask me feature. I had a question in overnight asking for science-fiction resources. It’s not a genre I write but I’ll find the information they want. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Kathleen: www.rhymezone.com for poetry, www.wikipedia.com for research, www.blazingtrailers.com for trailer ideas.
Morgen: I’ve not come across blazingtrailers, I’ll have to check it out. I use rhymezone when I’m writing limericks for Facebook friends’ birthdays. :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Kathleen: Social networking is helpful but time consuming. With a full time business to run, a family to raise and a writing career to expand upon finding any free time for this is difficult, especially if that takes away from my free time to write, or market. But I am on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter…
Morgen: Me too, and loads more (more than I can cope with actually). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Kathleen: I think the future will be turning towards e-book, but I also feel that there will always be an industry for hand held books (especially for children). I also feel that if you can combine audio with print you’ll be providing a service for children who don’t have parents to read to them each night.
Morgen: It’s certainly the way books are going, and it’s getting more people reading which can only be a good thing. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Kathleen: website: http://www.hamiltontroll.com
Morgen: Wow, that’s a list. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Hamilton Standing Front headKathleen: The Hamilton Troll series is dedicated to my late mother, Nancy Shields, as the Hamilton character was originally her own.  She wrote about Hamilton Snoot in 1978 but back then, trolls were angry and smelly and mean and I never saw Hamilton that way. So when I wrote my own version, changing his name to simply Hamilton Troll, I made the character kind and the stories light-hearted.
The first book has a bit of my mom’s inspiration in it as Pink Light Sprite “will always be with you” and “will never leave you when you are caught up in thought” and “remember my friend that I do love you.” Her inspirational words are like echoes of my mother to me and I feel her presence when I read that book to others.
The series will continue to grow at about 3-4 books per year for the next oh…. 4-10 years. I have 14 stories written, ideas for 12 more on the “meets” series and then have started working on the “visits” series as I plan to have Hamilton travel the world. Then of course when he gets back there is a lot to see in the “American” series… We are all very excited about it. Plus we are working on a coloring and activity book (maybe two), a cookbook (maybe two), and other marketing options like plush animals and toys all for the Hamilton Troll series, and even though it may be a long shot, I can visualize a cartoon series and movie for the visits series already!
Morgen: And you’re clearly loving what you do. :) Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Kathleen: Your blog is rather in-depth and covers a great deal about you. You are an impressive lady and I only hope to have some of the accolades you have. I can’t think of anything to ask per se except to see if you have any suggestions for self-published writers trying to get more exposure, although this blog is amazing and does just that. Thank you.
Morgen: Thank you very much. :*) The blog is coming up to two years old and it develops all the time. If I spot something on another site that I think would be useful, I add it. I’d recommend being a guest on as many blogs / websites as you can. Being a guest gives you the spotlight and I know from this site that readers do go off and buy books because they’ve got to know the author. Thank you, Kathleen.
I then invited Kathleen to include an extract of her writing and this is from ‘Hamilton Troll meets Skeeter Skunk’…
Today had been joyous, Skeeter was pleased.
He was all but relaxed, when the red robin sneezed.
Her sound was thunderous, it startled the quiet.
Made everyone jump. It started a riot!
Their heads turned to Skeeter. Their eyes opened wide.
They were sure that had done it. They should all run and hide.
They awaited the stinky, with tightly gasped breath.
They were ready to be gassed, half near to their death.
Their muscles had stiffened. Their hearts skipped a beat.
They planned to escape it. They jumped to their feet.
But Skeeter just sat there, a smile spreading wide,
He hadn’t been scared. His face beamed with pride.
He started to giggle. His friends stopped and stared.
“I wasn’t afraid!” Skeeter declared.
“I’ve had so much fun this wonderful day,
That I think I found out how to hold up my spray.
Because I was frightened my smell had been thrown,
No one stayed with me, I was always alone.
But now I have friends, you all stay by my side,
When you see me coming, you don’t run and hide.
You make me feel welcome, like one of the pack,
I’m not being judged by my white and my black.
So maybe tomorrow, we all can just play,
We’ll have fun together, because all is okay.
***
and a synopsis…
In our latest book “Hamilton Troll meets Chatterton Squirrel”, Hamilton meets a family of squirrels teaching their young to jump from tree to tree. Chatterton’s other siblings are able to make the big leap with ease but Chatterton is terrified of falling! As he looks down at Hamilton and the great distance he could fall he comes up with a plan on how to get from this tree to the next but his parents don’t appreciate his genius. So Hamilton Troll comes up with a fool proof plan to teach Chatterton how to leap and soon he’s ready to fly through the trees.
***
Kathleen J. Shields is a very creative, highly imaginative and extremely dedicated, hard working individual.  She has published two young adult books, three fully-illustrated rhyming children’s stories, Hamilton Troll’s Adventures” and runs her own graphics and website design company.
The Hamilton Troll children’s series was something that came about early 2011 when Kathleen met an amazing illustrator, Leigh A. Klug who has helped bring Hamilton Troll to life.  As well as award-winning artist, Carol W. Bryant, who has created Hamilton’s world in colorful watercolor. These two ladies are instrumental in bringing a whole new depth to these stories.
With over 14 stories written and ideas for a few dozen more, Kathleen is putting forth every effort to see this children’s book series succeed and will stop at nothing to promote its success.  Kathleen has been writing poetry and rhyming stories for years both for fun and for hire in custom greeting cards and for local speaking outlets. She enjoys sharing her rhyming stories and talking with folks about how they too can write if they put their mind to it.
***
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on the mixed blog but everything else (see Opportunities on the main blog) is free.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have this blog, http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com, on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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