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!


  1. That's so cool how you two met. And fun hearing how Courtney got the call from her agent. Her book sounds interesting. Congrats to her!

  2. So young. So published.
    Appropriately Envious

  3. Love reading about your journey. I took the UCLA classes too. I added How To Be Brave to my Goodreads list. Thank you Hilde and Kathy for the interview.

  4. Sounds amazing. Keep up the good work.
    Penny (


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