Sunday, January 25, 2015

Getting to Know Kathy Kottaras

by Hilde Garcia

I am so lucky!  I meet the coolest people in the most fun places.  As a mom, teacher, and writer, there is never a dull moment.

About 18 months ago, I am at the Americana waiting to board their trolley.  Our school is launching our Principal’s Book Club at the Barnes & Noble store and the line for the trolley is longer than the state of California.

Enter Kathy.

KK       SO have you read the book?

HG       Yes, I love When You Reach Me!

KK       Me too.  I love middle grade and Y. A.

HG       Middle grade? YA? No one uses those terms. You must be a children’s book writer.

KK       I am! I’m Kathy.

HG       I’m Hilde.

And that was the start of our beautiful friendship!

HG      What went through your mind when you got the call for a two-book deal?

KK      I was expecting a call, but I didn’t think it was going to be right at the start of the week on Monday.  So I decided to drive around town, and I went to a thrift store.  I mean what else do you do when you’re nervous?  Shopping, of course.  But the store was closed.  As I pulled up to the store, my agent called.  I parked anyway and took the call.  During the phone call, I tried to keep my composure and sound perfectly professional (at least I hope I did!).  When I hung up though, I got out of the car and started screaming and jumping up and down.  I was by myself in an empty parking lot, but I couldn’t help it.  It was just so exciting. 

HG      Tell me about your writing journey.

KK      I taught high school for seven years before teaching community college, and I have always loved YA lit.  I started writing for myself when I was about 25 by taking classes through UCLA extension and Litreactor.  Eventually, I published some short articles, poetry, and short stories.  I was just sort of finding my way, finding my voice.  I was a fan of YA lit, so I decided to try my hand at one.  I spent four years on that book.  I tried to query it, but I didn’t get any response.  I think that experience was about me learning what it means to write an entire book.  I shelved it and started from scratch.  That was in 2012.

HG      When will your book be out?

KK      Fall of 2015. How to Be Brave- St. Martin's Press.

HG      That’s so cool.  Tell us about your book.

KK      It’s a YA contemporary entitled How to Be Brave. It’s about Georgia Askeridis, a seventeen-year old girl whose mom passes away and leaves her a letter to ask her to live differently from how she lived, to be brave and do everything.  Georgia’s sort of cynical by nature and is trying to buy into the whole positive thinking thing, so she creates a bucket list.  She wants to honor her mom and live differently, but she also has to face her own demons along the way.

HG      Sounds sooooo good.  I want my copy. Hey folks, you want to see brave, check out the link above and watch Kathy zip through the air!

KK       Thank you!

HG       What’s your position at Pasadena City College?

KK       I teach composition, creative writing, and literature.  Currently, I’m also teaching a children’s literature class which spans from picture book through YA.

HG      How does that job fuel your writing?

KK      Of course you learn just as much from your students as they learn from you.  I also get to talk about writing all day.  My job is to get them excited about reading and writing, so it motivates me.  It’s just a great job to keep my mind active what it means to be both a reader and a writer.  I am constantly inspired by my students and by their desire to engage with the world.

HG      I know what you mean.  I feel the same way too.  My students are busy writing mini novels, and it’s amazing to take them through the process.  My daughter still talks about your creative writing workshop last fall. 

KK      That’s so cool!  And I’m so glad she enjoyed it!  Thank you for letting me know!

HG      How did you secure your agent?  What was that process like?

KK      Well, I just did a blind query.  I started in June 2013.  I sent out some queries and I got some responses, so I knew immediately that I was in a different situation than with my first manuscript.  I then went to the SCBWI Summer conference here in LA, and I got more feedback and inspiration.  I took a break, went through my book one more time, and then started querying again in September.  By November, I had interest from four agents. I happily chose Courtney Miller-Callihan with Sanford J. Greenberger & Associates.  She’s amazing.

HG      I remember you came up to me during morning drop off at school.   You leaned in and whispered, “I got an agent.”  It took all about one second before we looked like a couple of schoolgirls who had been asked out to the prom.  Just hugging and jumping like no one was around.  And getting lots of stares from parents not privy to our conversation.  I was so happy for you.  How has being a member of SCBWI furthered you along?

KK      Oh my gosh. 100 million percent!  If it wasn’t for SCBWI, for sure, I would not have gotten this far this soon.

HG       I agree!

KK      I am in complete and utter gratitude to SCBWI.  I’ve been to the SCBWI national conference three times, the OC Agents Day event twice, and the OC Spring Retreat in Temecula twice. 

HG      Me too.  I did the Ventura County events and they are always amazing.  I always get re-connected and inspired, and I feel like I can scale a mountain, or at least my draft.

KK      Many of my closest friends, including you, I’ve met through these events.

HG      Same here. It’s our own little Idaho and I am forever grateful for everything SCBWI provides in the way of support, knowledge, and networking.  How do you balance being a mom, working as a teacher, writing and even the laundry?

KK      I have a very supportive family, which includes my husband, who is always encouraging me.  We all figure it out together.  I have a good team, and we are in it together.  But also, sometimes the laundry just doesn’t get done (although right now I’m hanging up clothing as we speak.) 

HG      Yep!  I swear Mt. Washmore never ends and if I am too tired, I just push the laundry aside and sleep.

KK      Ha! I’m there with you. Also though, it feels like a team effort.  I am really blessed that way. The people in my life are always willing to help me.

HG      Let’s just say, my husband is the dish man, and if I have to chose between the and laundry, well, it’s the dishes, because my kids know what to do.  If they can’t find the underwear, they come to my bed.  It’s there, somewhere, but clean dishes?  That’s where I draw the line!  What was the biggest struggle you had in getting this MS to this point?

KK      Well this book is about facing fears, and I would say the hardest part has been facing my own fears and self doubt.  That’s what I explored with this particular story.  I had to work through my own confidence, even with the first step of sharing my work with others.

Actually, the first person who read it was my childhood best friend.  She read it quite by accident.  I always email myself a copy of my drafts. I’d meant to send it to myself.  Her name is Kate, and I am Kathy, and I didn’t pay attention to autocorrect.  I guess I had accidentally sent it to her.

One day, I received a text from her telling me how much she loved my book.
At that point, it was only at about 20,000-words, but she also said that I should keep going with it.  I was so confused.  I wrote back and asked, “How did you get it?”  And she said, “You emailed it to me.” At first I was freaked out, but I realized that she was complimenting me on it. That gave me a push to finish it (and double check who I send my emails to).

Seriously though, I value her opinion, and that’s what I meant about my family and friends supporting me.

And I am really putting clothes away right now.

HG      Yeah you sound quite breathy.  Did you have a second book started when you got your deal or did you have to begin from scratch? 

KK      I had the concept, but I wasn’t sure fully what the story was.  I have about 20,000 words complete at this point, so I feel like I have a direction, but it’s still the early stages.  You know how it is.  But I am excited about writing it, and I am having fun.

HG      Is it a sequel or its own stand-alone novel?

KK      Stand alone, YA contemporary, as yet untitled.  It’s set in Chicago like my first novel, but this one is set in the summer.

HG      So, where can we find you?

KK      Here's my site. And I'm also on Twitter- twitter@ekatwrites.

You can also find the book on Good Reads and Amazon.

HG      I am going to pre order my copy now!  Kathy, you inspire me. And your friendship this year has kept me going.  It’s nice to have the mom, teacher, writer connection all in one.  Kindred spirits indeed! 

Thank you for this interview.

KK      Thank you! You’re so awesome for calling me up to do this!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Earthquake, Chocolate and Book, Oh My

By Susan J Berger

It's the Anniversary of the Northridge quake and I'm out of chocolate. This is a disaster.

I always check my emergency supplies on January 17th. Anyone who remembers the quake knows that terror requires comfort food. Chocolate is the number two staple on my emergency supply list. Right after batteries.

The Northridge Quake occurred in the early hours of Martin Luther King Day. The fact that it began at 4:30 AM on a holiday probably saved countless lives. That was twenty one years ago. My son commented, "The Northridge Quake is now old enough to drink.."
No California resident twenty one or under has any experience of what it feels like to be in a devastating shake. But if you lived in Northridge, Sherman Oaks or Santa Monica in 1994, you probably have a cellular memory of what it felt like. Some moments are like that. 9/11, for example.

Ventura Blvd South of Tyrone Ave. Sherman Oaks. Those stores are still there.

Corner of Hazeltine and  Moorpark Sherman Oaks.
Broken Freeway. Not sure where.
I was a Sherman Oaks Resident. That day is burned into my memory. So much so, that a decade later, I wrote a book for children on earthquakes.

Earthquake was aimed at a second grade level. Guardian Angel Publishing published in 2009. It won an Honorable mention in The Green Book Award. It had approval and nice comments from FEMA administrators.

Fired with enthusiasm, I got a list of school districts in California, Washington and Alaska and wrote them all.
I contacted Libraries and my local Fire Department.
No response.

I got a  book trailer.


I made a website 

I did a Teacher Activity Page 

My favorite activity is a hands on demonstration of the strength differences between numbers on the Richter Scale.


I made a tab for Emergency Supplies and links to other Kid Friendly Earthquake Websites.

I added a tab listing Grant resources for teachers wishing to use the book in their classroom.

I started a Facebook Page Which I update with reasonable regularity.

I took it to the SCBWI Summer Conference twice as part of the PAL book sale.
I don't think anyone really wants a preparedness guide for younger grades sprinkled with humor and factoids.
Occasionally I get a comment. After the 8.8 Earthquake in Chile in February 2010, I received a letter from Julio Vogel
Dear Susan
I´m very interested in your book about hearthquake as you should understand due last events in Chile.
I work at school preparing parents and teachers in several matters of comunications between them and with childrens, and a subject like hearthquakes today is a must.
How can I do in order to reproduce your work into spanish and spread it trough my blog, for me is very important with the huge numbers of childrens that survive an experience of an earthquake of 8.3 degrees, also if you can introduce me to places where i can found subjects about post traumatic stress for children.
For me is useful in english also because I work with several bilingual school and they talk only in english
Hope my english is ok for you 
warm regards.
I used Google Translator to make a copy of the book in Spanish. Hilde Garcia and her husband, David Krol proofed it for me. I sent it to Julio. I hope it helped.
In six years I  have done two school visits. On February 22nd I will be doing the Encino Elementary Charter School Book Fair.
I am proud of Earthquake. I think the editor/book designer, Lynda Burch did an amazing job of putting together.
I can't say it's a failure. The people who read it, seemed to like it. But there haven't been many readers.
Earthquake is available in paperback and hardback.The Kindle version is skewed. It doesn't get the factoids, pictures and text in proper order. It's better to buy the 5.00 pdf from Guardian Angel Publishing and send it to your reader program, should you be minded to check it out..
(In putting this post together, I notice that I have six reviews on Amazon, and three ratings on Goodreads - One of them from me. If any of you would like to review the book, I will be happy to send you a PDF.)
So my question, dear reader is what would you have done differently? How could I do a better job of selling the book?

Happy Birthday,  Martin Luther King. Post I have A Dream from January 20, 2014


Monday, January 12, 2015

My Journey to Kickstarter and Self Publishing

Guest Post by Lucy Ravitch

I'm a children's book writer (and mom, blogger--Kids Math Teacher, entrepreneur, wife, Secretary of CBW-LA, and lots of other good stuff)!  After much thought, years of revisions, many conferences, I've made my choice: I'm running a Kickstarter to independently publish my book!  I hope some part of my experience might motivate and inspire you to reach for your goals.

I'm excited do this guest post for the Pen and Ink blog--they are some amazing people and dedicated writers!  Before I go into my story and share my Kickstarter tips/advice/experience (so far), here's my KS video!  If you get a big black space - instead of the video, here is a link to the video on Kickstarter.

First Menu Book Made as College EL Ed Class Assignment 1999
It was a simple format, but has now gone through tones of revisions.

I thought it would be totally fun to have a book like this when I was a kid!

Fast forward 5 years (to 2004), my 3 and 1 year-old kids would play with that book and it gave me the idea that there could be a whole collection of them.

Fast forward to child #3 going to preschool (2009): I finally had a bit more breathing room (AKA time) and I decided to pursue getting the books published.

From then on I've been going to SCBWI events, writing, joining and running critique groups (mostly on-line, since family life made attending regular ones almost impossible--Plus, two more kids came along! Yes, five in total!), helping CBW-LA grow, goal setting, etc.

What I tried to get my book published and how I came to choose Kickstarter.
When I first started writing, I only worked on the Kids Menu Book series. After two years I decided I to work on other writing projects too (it's good to have more than one idea, right?).  So, I thought I love math and I want to help kids like math.  I'll write about math concepts in books--but in a fun hands-on way.  For me, that works.  I'm always impressed with people who can write different genres. During the next three years I wrote/planned out about a dozen math-related books, some picture books and some novelty books.  I can't wait until I get to share them all with you!  I want to help kids enjoy learning (hence my writer business name--Enjoy Learning Something--more commentary on that in this blog post, along with ideas to help the campaign if you're reading this and it's still January 2015)

Over the last 5 years as I've schmoozed, listened to, and learned from and with aspiring writers, published writers, and famous writers, I've noticed a common theme: Don't give up!

You'll hear it everywhere and I'll tell you too! Follow your dream--your passion!  We're in it to make a difference in kids' lives--yes, some monetary compensation would be nice, but we want to share our talents and hope it helps someone somewhere (At least I feel that way. Maybe some books seem pretty out-there, but even those are someone's--someone who took time to create something).  Writing/creating books is an art and, with all art, you will find people that love it or hate it and have feelings about your work along that whole spectrum.  You might notice, the more you do it the better your work is (Thank you revision!--even though we have a love/hate relationship).  Lots of good things take time (unfortunately. Don't we all want things and we want them now?!).

Do what you want to do, what you feel compelled to do, and what you are passionate about.  While it's good to take into consideration what critiques you get, you still need to stay true to what you want your creation to be and become.  It's going to be a LOT of work, but if you love it, you can't give up!

For the longest time I had hopes that Scholastic would be the one to take my menu books.  In December of 2012 I submitted the text and a sample dummy to an editor I met at an OC Editors Day (submission #49). (Note that at this point I didn't have finished drawings since I was not sure if I would be the one illustrating it--they only had simple sketches.)  I got a response four months later which wasn't a rejection.  I was asked to take some things into consideration and re-submit if I wanted.  (Way big grin! What every author wants to hear!)  I happily made revisions I could live with and waited seven month before finding a contact email for the editor.  He quickly replied and researched that my submission had gone to another editor who left on maternity leave, chose to not return, and whose position was open for a few months.  The position was just filled and hopefully the new editor would get to it shortly.  He was sorry for it taking so long.  After another couple months I changed the layout completely for the dummy and wanted to bring it up to Scholastic.

Eventually they did pass.  I was glad to have closure so I could keep on moving forward.

It's hard being an author! I'm not hurt my favorite publisher passed. I was ready to move on and see how else I could get this published.  By this time, April 2014, I had several editors and agents validate my book, saying they thought it was a good idea and such.  Many said they don't rep education things, or "I'm not sure how I'd sell it", so I continued on the stream of rejections.  With the roller coaster or emotions and self-doubts I still felt I couldn't and can't let kids down--they need my book!

In June 2014 I saw LeVar Burton run a Kickstarter for Reading Rainbow (right after I had read an SCBWI Bulletin with an article on crowdfunding) and I was getting the inkling that maybe, just maybe I should do it.  I had also had another writer friend, Sheri Fink, who is so, so happy with her choice to be independently published.  She presented to CBW-LA (Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles--the non-profit writing group I'm part of) just after I decided to take the plunge into going indie with this book series.  I had looked into using Create Space, but I didn't care for the limitations of book size and quality of the print.  So, with this indie, I'm talking about doing it all... buy ISBNs/barcods, format it, work with a printer, handle shipping and distributing (or hire someone), the whole process.  Sheri did it, she's inspiring, and she is loving it!  I know with my family life I might not be able to go to as many events as some other authors, but I'm going to publish it independently.  It's worth a try.

So, from June on I researched IndiGoGo and Kickstarter and I liked Kickstarter better.  I worked on finishing the illustrations (waking up early to draw and using the skills I've learned through blogging to digital manipulate layers and format the pages).

I researched to determine my funding goal, getting quotes from printers (I'm using MCRL), getting shipping/packaging quotes from an indie postal shop (Joe's 24/7 Postal Center in Redondo Beach), hiring a copy editor (Pat at The Language Delegate), hiring a graphic designer from Odesk (Sam) for my logos, and more.

Doing a Kickstarter is a mad dash from the time you launch.  Part of it is luck, lots of it is consistently reminding people, and a good idea/product is key. Not everyone will be willing to support, but having them share it with others is all you can hope for.  Getting the word out there is the hardest part.  We always hear about things going viral, but in reality that is a small percentage.  (Remember, don't get your hopes up--once you put your mind to it and commit to a goal, keep focused on the goal. Trying new things is good, most of the time a learning experience, and if you never try you'll never know what it's like.)

Expect that lots of people you know who have influence (i.e. large mailing lists, lots of supporters, have made a name for themselves) are not willing to promote you because they are scared that if they do, then everyone else will ask them for their support and they will be feel obligated to promote everything.  I'd like to say to them, I get it, but if you truly like an idea/product use a fake name to back a project.  Using Kickstarter is a grassroots plan.  It is going to be a lot (and I mean a LOT) of work--emailing, contacting (call, text, whatever), writing, and probably lots of praying and hoping too.

As a silver lining, there are enjoyable things about planning a Kickstarter:
Brainstorming all the exciting 'additional' items you will offer as rewards! (so proud of my Ultimate Fun Pack)

Coming up with rewards and envisioning people loving your stuff was, and still is, super fun : )
Talking to people about my project that I love is awesome too!

I hope you enjoyed part of my story and adventure.  Best of luck with your writing/projects/etc.  I can't wait to see what the future holds for us! Thanks for your support (and especially if you took the time to read this all--it took quite a while to put together : )

The best way to reach me is using the buttons in the header of my Kids Math Teacher blog.

Wishing you all the best!  Thanks for having me as a guest Pen & Ink blog!

Thank you for guesting, Lucy. If you would like to support Lucy's Kickstarter, here is a link to Lucy's Pledge Page  You can see how she set it up and maybe contribute a dollar or five or . . .

If a hundred readers contributed a dollar each, that would be amazing.
Follow your dreams.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dispatch #32: New Year's Resolutions

by Lupe Fernandez

I, the Foreign Correspondent stationed in the Northern Hinderlands, hereby resolve in the Year of Our Lord 2015 to:

  • Use the letter L more often.
  • Unflinchingly delete adverbs from my manuscripts.
  • Use less sparkly adjectives.
  • Remember I comes before C, except after E.
  • Finish my lessons in Finnish.
  • Complete editing a manuscript.
  • Stop procrastinating by watching YouTube; I'm on this kick of Parks & Recreation excerpts. The cast is funny; Amy Poehler hilarious and Aubrey Plaza and... 
  • Read more young adult books, except the ones where the guy looks good in jeans and always has a smoldering look.
  • Read more middle grade books, except the ones that know what I mean.
  • Wash less dishes.
  • Wash more laundry.
  • Practice patience with crowded refrigerators.
  • Check my posts for spelling errors.
  • Eat more broccoli.
  • Avoid eggplants. It doesn't taste like egg at all.
  • Write more query letters.
  • Submit.
  • Submit.
  • Submit.
  • Stop crying at rejection letters.
  • Stop complaining about rejections letters.
  • Embrace my inner orange juice.
  • Cast out the demons of declinations.
  • Find a location for a local SCBWI schmooze.
  • Write serious posts for Pen & Ink that do not wonder aimlessly or include vacation photos or cute cat photos.