Posted on Mar, 24, 2010
Joining us today is the brilliant Kate McMullan, author of numerous notable children’s books and chapter books. Along with her illustrator husband Jim McMullan, and her French bulldog who considers himself nobility, Kate has created the popular I Stink! picture books, as well as the loved Myth-O-Maniac and Dragon Slayer’s Acadamy chapter book series. Her Pearl and Wagner chapter books for young readers have recently won a Geisel Honor. In fact, for the first time, I have not been able to fit all of the books by the featured author on the top banner. ^_^
CZX: What inspired the idea for the Myth-O-Maniac Series?
KM: My editor at Hyperion, Susan Chang, and my agent, and I were looking for a way to retell the Greek myths with a twist. We came up with the idea of Hades. The Underworld is a great setting for lots of the story to take place, and Hades is Zeus’s older brother. Wouldn’t you hate it if your little brother was the Ruler of the Universe? So Hades has an ax to grind.
CZX: Why do you choose to write for younger readers?
KM: I came to writing from teaching. I taught sixth grade in Watts, California, and fourth grade on an Air Force base in Germany. I used to read to my students every day after lunch, and I began to wonder whether I could write books for kids. I stopped teaching – much too exhausting after a day in the classroom to write at night – and moved to NYC to find out.
CZX: How does writing chapter books differ from creating picture books?
KM: Writing picture book texts is something like writing poetry. The story is intended to be read aloud, and every word counts. My scripts usually start out at about 1,000 words and as I edit it down to about 3-400, it usually gets better. I’m always reading aloud as I work. Also, picture books need to appeal to toddlers as well as to parents or grandparents or teachers who are doing the reading.
Chapter books are to be read independently by relatively new readers. For these books, I also write long and then cut down the text, but the text is longer, and it’s easier (for me) to get a flow going on it and write a good number of pages in a day. For both, I do lots of rewriting.
CZX: What is the most challenging aspect of writing for you?
KM: I write mostly funny books, and while humor has its challenges, I’ve never been able to write a book that would make anyone cry. In my next life I hope to write tear-jerkers.
CZX: What is your process for revising, editing, and proofreading your manuscripts?
KM: Once I finish a first draft, I usually put the ms. away for a while. I’ve heard this called “falling out of love with your words,” and I think that’s exactly what it allows you to do. I do lots of revising, and when I send a script to my editor or agent, I’ve made it as good as I possibly can. Usually, editor and agent easily find spots where I can make it better, and for the most part, I welcome their suggestions. Sometimes I resist, and then I discover that if I make a certain change, other things fall into place and the story gets better. I usually print out to proofread because I don’t catch things reading on the screen.
CZX: What are you working on right now?
KM: I’m working on I’M FAST! about a freight train, which Jim, my husband, will illustrate. Also, BULLDOG’S BIG DAY. This one will be illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, whom I’ve worked with before on SUPERCAT and BABY GOOSE.
CZX: Can you give us a walkthrough of a typical day in your life?
KM: Hard to say. I try to be at my desk by nine, but if it’s nice out, I might decide to walk the dogs first and then get to work. I don’t usually put in an eight-hour day, but often when I take a break from work to do something else, my brain is still working on my story, and I’ll get ideas. When I get up in the morning, I try to shape my day to be a productive one, whatever schedule that takes.
CZX: Any advice for writers who are trying to break into publishing?
KM: Try to write every day, even if only for half an hour. I think when you do this consistently, part of your mind engages with your story in a way that it doesn’t if you write sporadically. I’m still waiting for the brain scientists to corroborate my theory, but I’m sticking by it. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – scbwi.org. It’s got great info, possibly you can find a crit group in your area, and if you go to their events, you can sign up for ms. critique from working editors and agents. And know up front that writing for kids is harder than it may seem!
One Word Bonus: Which kitchen appliance best represents you?
Thank you for the interview Kate! ^_^ Please visit her website for more information on her books, and her life, and her pets. Mrs. McMullan is also a fellow blogger and her entries are filled with information about the cool places she gets to go for school visits (like Birmingham, Alabama!), as well as the latest drama of her pets. She’s a super friendly, helpful lady and a joy to interact with, so don’t feel afraid to send her an e-mail praising her brilliance.