Welcome to Frog on a Dime, Kris.
Thanks for inviting me over, Vicky!
So, when did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight. I won my first writing contest in second grade. I wrote about stranger danger (even as a child, I went for the controversial topics.) I gave my stories as gifts when I was in middle school and took independent creative writing classes in high school. Then, I entered a writing contest my senior year of high school and didn’t even earn an honorable mention. I thought I’d “outgrown” my talent. So, I stopped writing for years until I became an elementary teacher. As a teacher, I modeled writing for my students and I felt like a long-lost friend had returned. I joined SCBWI in 2000 and I’ve been working on my writing ever since.
What is it about writing for children, specifically, that appeals to you?
I like the freedom of it. Groundhogs can talk, hippos can fly. And almost always, there’s some sort of happy ending. Kids’ books are hopeful.
I tend to write (and think in) picture books. I’ve begun writing my first YA novel, and it’s a little overwhelming to grapple with hundreds of pages instead of 32, but I’m digging watching the characters unfold at deeper levels.
You’re had an exciting development in your writing career recently, can you tell us about the day you got “the call” from Charlesbridge—and don’t skimp on the details!
February 2, Groundhog’s Day, is my birthday. I was at the library at my job as a children’s librarian. My editor, Yolanda Scott, and I had been through two rounds of revisions on a manuscript, but I hadn’t heard back from her in over a month and I figured she was trying to find a way to gently break bad news. The smallest, bravest part of me dared to wonder if I’d get “the call” about my manuscript that day because the story is about Groundhog’s Day and I liked the synchronicity of it all. The superstitious part of me didn’t want to jinx it by thinking about it, and the hugely self-doubtful part of me said “prepare yourself for another rejection.”
Yolanda was away from her office speaking at a conference, it was a Saturday, I had no right to hope she’d call that day. But she did call, around 4 p.m., and I grabbed my phone to run to the back offices. When Yolanda told me that Charlesbridge wanted to acquire my book, this amazing, breathless, telescopic feeling came over me. The eight-year-old me, the twelve-year-old me, the twenty-nine-year-old me, all the me’s who had waited for this day felt elated and justified in putting forth the effort over all the years. And it felt like “of course the call came at this time from this supportive, generous editor.” I couldn’t have plotted it better if I’d tried.
That’s amazing, Kris! Congratulations! I was actually listening to Yolanda present at the SCBWI conference the day you got the call. I enjoyed hearing Yolanda, have I to admit I was distracted because I kept thinking—stop presenting, Yolanda, and call Kris already!
I predict your story is going to give encouragement to a lot of writers, especially since you were able to land your first contract without an agent. What advise would you give to someone who has been pursuing publication for a long time, with close calls, but no contracts?
Keep going! It took me 12 years from the time I sent out my first manuscript to the time I finally sold a book. If I had called it quits after 5 years, or after 10, I never would’ve received “the call.”
I have to ask . . . how did you keep going for 12 years?
Have you heard that quote “writing makes me crazy, not writing makes me crazier?” I kept writing because characters talked in my head, or I’d have a flash of a scene in a dream that I just had to put on paper. Being a member of SCBWI and having the camaraderie of those who get that, and who never said that writing for children is “sweet,” made the years of rejection bearable.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Kris. You are a true encourager!
Be sure to watch for the debut of Kris’ picture book in fall of 2015–illustrated by wonderful illustrator Matt Faulkner (who is also Kris’ husband!). You can count on Frog on a Dime to celebrate that exciting event.
And to wrap things up, Kris’ favorite quote . . . If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison
Bonus Information! Kris blogs about picture books and ways to use them in the classroom to teach the Common Core State Standards. You can check out her recommendations.