I first "met" Kathy through reading and reviewing her debut middle grade novel, Like a River. In our correspondence, she has jokingly referred to herself as the "poster child for perseverance." When I heard she had received the first Grateful American Book Prize, I asked her to share her journey.
|Kathy with her husband Jim|
and her award winning debut novel.
CAROL: At one point you said it took you 39 years before you published your first book. What were the highlights of those years? What sacrifices and choices did you make? How did you balance life (raising kids, teaching, etc.) with writing? Most of all, how did you keep going?
KATHY: There is no short answer. It was thirty-nine years between my first novel submission to an editor (1974) and the day I was offered a contract for my novel, LIKE A RIVER (2013). I actually began writing poems when I was five years old.
In the late 1970’s, I took a series of classes from author Stephanie Tolan. She taught me the correct way to submit a manuscript and encouraged me to keep at it. She read a couple versions of an early manuscript and gave me feedback. Having Stephanie tell me I had talent was a definite highlight.
During the 1980’s, I joined SCBWI (which was still SCBW). I wrote, submitted, and received a lot of rejection letters. The slow turn-around from editors taught me how quickly manuscripts became dated. That’s when I combined my love of writing with my other passion, history. Historical fiction was always my favorite read, so why not write it?
As I headed into the 1990’s, I wrote mostly historical fiction. In January, 1990, I joined a critique group in Newport, Kentucky. It has been the source of not only good criticism, but also great friendships. I attended conferences. I craved being with other writers, people who understood the struggle and shared the drive, people I could learn from. In 1996, one of my short stories (MALL MAGIC) won a prize from Children’s Writer. What a highlight that was!
My critique group told me about the Highlights Workshops at Chautauqua. I told them I couldn’t afford it, but I applied for a scholarship. The highlight (from Highlights) that changed my writing life was when I was offered a partial scholarship to attend Chautauqua, 1999. That workshop was fantastic, magical, and my introduction to the Highlights Foundation and their incredible workshops. It was definitely life changing, and an opportunity to make more writer friends.
In 2002, I was invited to join a second critique group in which nearly everyone was published. I felt quite out of my league initially, but they extended a warm welcome. MY FACE, a poem, was published in Ladybug magazine in 2002. That year, Meadowbrook Press ran another of my poems (NO RETURN) on their website. In 2011, another of my short stories (ONE YEAR AFTER) won a prize from Children’s Writer. In 2012, another poem (IMAGES OF 9/11) was published in an anthology from a small press that no longer exists, and in 2013, ONE YEAR AFTER won a prize from the Center 4 Writing Excellence. In the context of writing novels, these may seem like small victories, but they were confidence-building. And a victory is a victory.
|Kathy's second critique group which she joined in 2002.|
When I was writing that first novel I submitted in 1974, I was expecting my third child. (In 1977, I added a fourth.) I worked in part-time sales in those days to help make ends meet. Money was tight, but I learned how to be frugal. I taught beginner French and Creative Writing. I tutored Language Arts and helped prepare eighth graders to take their high school entrance exams.
We couldn’t afford expensive vacations, so we went to places where we had friends or family to stay with. We took short trips to nearby locations. We visited Hodgenville, KY (where Abraham Lincoln was born), Shaker Village (KY), Mammoth Cave (KY), Conner Prairie (IN) and much more. My kids might disagree, but I never felt those trips to be sacrifices. They were family time and experiences that fueled my historical interests.
|Toby Wiechman, 1989, exploring Mammoth Cave|
I wrote whenever I could snatch a bit of time. When my kids played outside in the yard, I sat at the picnic table and wrote. When they played games in the family room, I worked at my desk in the corner. I also wrote late into the night after everyone was asleep and the house was quiet. I often stayed up until 4:00AM. I was younger then and could manage on less sleep. You might say I sacrificed housekeeping, and I was much too willing to skip that.
What kept me going was my passion for words and stories. I truly love writing! The person who made it possible for me to keep going was my wonderful husband, who bore the financial burden for all those years. He was also always ready for a road trip so I could do research. He took an interest in all the places I needed to go.
In short, the highlights were the writing itself, small victories, workshops, family trips, and making friends.
I hope you'll come back on Monday, December 7 to read about the people in the industry who helped Kathy, her thoughts about receiving the Grateful American book prize, and her next book, Empty Places. After her next post I'll give away a copy of Like a River. If you leave a comment on both posts (with your email address if you don't think I have it) I'll enter your name twice. Share it on your social media of choice (and tag me!) and I'll enter your name accordingly.