CLAIRE M. CATERER
PAL Author interview of the month
Welcome to our new Kansas/Missouri SCBWI Chapter website! Each month KS/MO will feature an interview with one of our PAL authors.
Claire M. Caterer has been a freelance writer and editor for more than a dozen years. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Woman’s World. She started writing for kids because she wanted to write something for the pure joy of it. And the audience was a lot more fun. Claire enjoys writing fantasy and adventure for upper middle grade and young adult readers. Her newest book, The Wand & the Sea, is a sequel to The Key & the Flame. Claire is our March 2017 PAL author of the month.
Welcome, Claire! When you have an idea for a book, how do you go about writing it? Do you use an outline?
I spend a good deal of time playing with the idea before trying to write anything concrete. I brainstorm on loose-leaf notebook paper, on the computer, and sometimes on my iPad. Eventually I print everything out and put all the notes together in a binder. I’ll keep adding to them as I think about the idea and get a basic structure together. I like to know the end of the story before I start really writing so that I have somewhere to go with it. But while I have a loose idea of the plot points, I know the story will change and evolve during the writing process. When I finally get down to writing, I outline just far enough ahead to see where I’m going. I always want a very clear idea of how the next several scenes will unfold—enough for perhaps 1500 words—and then write. Then I’ll brainstorm the next few scenes for the next day’s work. That way I never have the excuse that I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
I met my agent the old-fashioned way: I researched. I used AgentQuery.com to generate a list of people who were interested in the genre and age group I was writing for. Then I read interviews, websites, blogs, LiteraryRambles.com, Publisher’s Marketplace—anything to give me insight into those agents on the top of my list. I looked at the books they’d represented, trying to gauge what each agent was into. By the time I was ready to query my top picks, I knew the agents’ likes and dislikes pretty well. Then, when I queried, I followed each agent’s requirements to the letter. As it turned out, my very top pick was not taking submissions until after I’d queried several other people. When I came back around to him, he was taking submissions again, and he signed me within a couple of days. So my instincts were right!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
It’s always tough to just sit down and do it. I work as a freelance editor from home, and I’m a mom as well, so there’s always something else I could be doing—and some of it pays quite a bit better than writing. The best way to beat that challenge, though, is to get myself into a groove—to schedule the writing time on my calendar like any other appointment and most of all to come into each session prepared. If I haven’t thought about what that day’s writing will entail, if I trust myself to just wing it, it very well may not happen at all.
Where do you turn for instruction and inspiration?
There are so many great resources out there! I love Susan Dennard’s newsletter and the treasure trove of writing and publishing tips on her website (SusanDennard.com/for-writers). I don’t know anyone out there who’s better at giving concrete, usable daily tips to keep your writing fresh and your motivation high. I also love Cheryl Klein’s books, including her newest, The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults. Cheryl is a marvelous editor at Scholastic, and she tells you what works from an editor’s standpoint.
What are your favorite titles today and why?
I love following a writer’s work as she develops. Rebecca Stead is a marvelous writer—she gets inside kids’ heads and she reminds me that I’m still eleven years old inside. I especially loved When You Reach Me. Books like Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po are beautifully written as well as beautifully realized as stories. Brian Selznick is amazing—his words and drawings work together to evoke such emotion. I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Marvels. I look for stories that draw me in and won’t let me go, and stories that evoke a mood, a magical feel.
What do you love about being a writer?
Making up stories is the most fun I’ve ever had. I love that I can go in a room, shut the door, and create something magical out of nothing at all. Second to this experience is bringing the outside in—talking to young readers and hearing what they have to say. I’m not kidding when I say I really do feel like I’m still eleven years old, and talking to those kids is a lot easier than talking to most adults.
What is the most difficult part about being a writer?
As far as the writing goes, the hardest part is letting the words come even if I know I’m not on my best game that day. As an author, the hardest part is self-promotion. I never feel comfortable with it and it stresses me out. If I was successful enough, I’d have my own private publicist to arrange tours and blog posts and Twitter stuff. All of that pulls me out of the inner world that I need to inhabit in order to write, so it feels like a betrayal to the real work to spend time on it. But it’s what we have to do.
Where and when do you write?
It often changes according to the book, but most often I find morning to be my best writing time. I love writing in the summer because I always did that as a kid, and because I have longer uninterrupted blocks of time. Last summer it was my daily ritual to take my coffee and iPad out on the deck and write for a couple of hours every morning. It felt very easy and natural.
Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?
Read as much as you can in the genre you’re interested in. If you don’t like reading children’s books, you probably shouldn’t be writing them. Read to find out what’s already been done and to gain insight into how the best writers make magic. And write as much as you can too. Write to the very end of your project—finish something! Persistence is perhaps the most valuable item in your toolbox.
Thank you for taking time to share your writing life with us here, Claire!
Claire lives in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Find more about Claire and her books on her website at http://www.clairecaterer.com/. Then check out her blog, book reviews, and other fun stuff while you’re there.
You can send an email to Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Wand & the Sea, Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster 2015
FORMER Authors of the Month
Sue Lowell Gallion writes picture books, early readers and chapter books for children from her home in Leawood, Kansas. She is the former Regional Advisor for Kansas SCBWI, and is currently Co-Regional Advisor with Kim Piddington for Kansas/Missouri SCBWI. Sue has been published in children’s magazines and educational publishing. PUG MEETS PIG, released in September 2016 from Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), is her first picture book. You can find out more about Sue on her website at www.suegallion.com
Lisa Wade McCormick has written eighteen non-fiction books for children, and her stories have appeared in several children's magazines. Besides being a children's book author, Lisa is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years experience as a newspaper reporter and television producer. She is currently the investigative producer at WDAF-TV in Kansas City. You can find out more about Lisa and her books on her website at www.lisawademccormick.com
Rita Arens is the author of the contemporary realistic young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013), a 2016 Library Journal Self-e Selection. Rita is also the editor of a parenting anthology, SLEEP IS FOR THE WEEK (Chicago Review Press), winner of a 2009 gold National Parenting Publications award (NAPPA) and winner of an honorable mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival. You can find our more about Rita and her books at www.ritaarens.com
Patricia J. Norton is the author of phonics-based beginning readers and narrative non-fiction for children. In 2006, she started a new publishing house, Short Vowel Phonics, to provide phonics-controlled short stories for beginning and struggling readers. You can find our more about Patricia and her books at http://shortvowelphonics.com/phonics/
Amy Houts, Maryville, MO, is a freelance writer and former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction books on assignment for educational publishers, as well as working on her own projects. She is the author of over 60 books, many for young children ages 3 to 7. You can find out more about Amy and her books on her website, www.amyhouts.com, or follow her blog at http://www.houtsandhome.com/amys-blog.
PEGGY ARCHER, O'Fallon, MO, loves to talk to students and adults about writing and her books. Readers can learn more about her author presentations on her website at www.peggyarcher.com. They can also check out her author blog, Peggy’s Pages, at http://www.peggyarcher.com/blog.htm. NAME THAT DOG! ( Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN# 978-0-8037-3322-0) is also available through Scholastic Book Club and Scholastic Book Fairs.
JANIE CHEANEY is the author of novels for middle-grade readers. Her book, THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, was named a 2008 Kansas Notable Book by the Kansas State Library. Janie is also a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and co-publisher of RedeemedReader.com.
HOLLY SCHINDLER's first two published works, A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt, were both YA novels. Her debut MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, released with Dial / Penguin on February 6, 2014, and her next YA, Feral, is forthcoming from HarperCollins. Find out more at hollyschindler.com
BRIDGET HEOS is the author of Mustache Baby (Houghton Mifflin, May 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0547773575) She lives in Kansas City with her husband and four children. Check out her Facebook page, Author Bridget Heos, or website www.authorbridgetheos.com for updates!
BONNIE HINMAN writes non-fiction books for children. She lives with her husband in Joplin, MO, close to their children and grandchildren. You can find out more about Bonnie and her books at http://www.bonniehinman.com.
SHANNON MOORE is the former Assistant Regional Advisor for Missouri SCBWI. You can find out more about Shannon on her blog, Great Books for Children, where she reviews children’s books. http://greatbooksforchildren.com/index.php/about/.
JODY FELDMAN lives in St. Louis where she writes middle-grade contemporary novels for young readers. The first book in her series, The Gollywhopper Games, was an ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults nominee, and received the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award Honor Book for Children’s Literature. The second book in the series, The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion, recently made the St. Louis Post Dispatch Best Sellers list for kids' books. http://jodyfeldman.com
NANCY POLETTE of O’Fallon, MO is the author of picture books, fiction and non-fiction for middle grade readers, and has four easy readers coming out this year. Nancy is a former teacher of students in K through 8th grades, and is currently a professor of education at Lindenwood University where she teaches Children’s Literature.
ANN INGALLS was born in Cleveland, grew up in Detroit, and now lives with her husband and three children in Kansas City. You can find out more about her and her books, including J is for Jazz, on her website at: http://anningallswrites.com/ann-ingalls/
CYNTHIA COLLINS, from Jefferson City, enjoys writing for the teen and young adult audience. Her debut novel for teens, THE UNICORN TREE, was released by Mockingbird Lane Press in 2012. Two of her short stories published in the quarterly writers’ journal, The Storyteller, received a People’s Choice Award for 1st Place in Fiction. You can find out more about Cynthia and her writing on her website at www.cynthia-collins.com, and you can contact her at email@example.com
KRISTIN BAIRD RATTINI, Foristell, Missouri, is a freelance writer who has written for children’s magazines for 17 years, Kristin has enjoyed the challenge of introducing young readers to a wide range of topics and the thrill of hooking their attention with writing that’s both educational and entertaining. You can find out more about Kristin and her books at: Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kristin-rattini/5/900/33a and MediaBistro: http://www.mediabistro.com/fm/PD.asp?user_id=6628
MARGO L. DILL, of St. Louis, Missouri, is the SCBWI Missouri webmaster and a children's and YA author. She currently has three books out: Maggie Mae, Detective Extrordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies (picture book), Finding My Place (middle grade), and Caught Between Two Curses (young adult). She is also a freelance editor and writing teacher. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com
SUE BRADFORD EDWARDS writes from her home in Florissant, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and son. You can find out more about Sue and her work on her website at www.suebradfordedwards.com, and on her blog, https://suebe.wordpress.com/
VEDA BOYD JONES is the author of 47 books and over 500 articles and short stories. She writes children’s picture books and middle grade novels, fiction and non-fiction, and has been published in children’s magazines. She also writes romance novels for adults. Find out more about Veda and her books on her website at www.vedaboydjones.com
CYNTHIA REEG writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her writing includes fiction, non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Her books have been published by Guardian Angel Publishing, and her work has been published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her newest book, BUNNY BUSINESS, was released from Guardian Angel Publishing in September 2014. http://www.cynthiareeg.com/index.html
STEPHANIE BEARCE is the author of non-fiction for children and she also writes middle grade fiction. She is a past SCBWI Regional Advisor and is a full member of the Missouri Writers Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers. Find out more at www.stephaniebearce.com
BARBARA STUBER, from Kansas City, brings visual art and writing together as she weaves artwork into her stories for young adults. Her latest book, Girl in Reverse, was an NPR (National Public Radio) pick for the Best Books of 2014 in five categories. Her earlier book, Crossing the Tracks, was an ALA Wm. C. Morris Award Finalist in 2010. Find out more at http://www.barbarastuber.com
JEANIE FRANZ RANSOM, from O’Fallon, Missouri, sold her first story to Seventeen magazine when she was a teen, and has been writing ever since. She is an award-winning author of children’s picture books, and her books have received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. She is also a former elementary school counselor. Find out more at www.jeanieransom.com
JODY JENSEN SHAFFER is the author of 26 fiction and nonfiction books, which include titles like NINJA WARRIORS, INSIDE MY MUSCLES, BLACK-FOOTED FERRETS, and FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Her debut picture book, ROCKY, releases in 2017 from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. Find out more at: http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com/
ANOLA PICKET is a former teacher and school librarian and writes historical novels for middle grade readers. She is also the author of an I-Can-Read book for younger readers, and co-author of a book for teachers and parents, Multiple Intelligences and Positive Life Habits. Anola lives in Kansas City but loves to travel and finds ideas and inspiration in her travels. You can find out more about Anola and her books at www.anolapickett.com, or meet her on Twitter at anolamarie.
AMY SKLANSKY, University City, is a former editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, Amy writes picture books and board books, and is the author of children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her books have received many awards including the Bankstreet College of Education Best Books of the Year, Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council, and have appeared on the St. Louis Independent Bestsellers list. You can read more about Amy at: www.amysklansky.com.
CATHY GILMORE, St. Louis, is a picture book author, and freelance editor. Her goal is to help children discover the joy of God’s love through her books. A Certified Catechist of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, she creates stories that bring the gospel to life for children. Her newest book, LITTLE LAMB FINDS CHRISTMAS, won the 2015 USA Best Books Award in the Children’s Religious books category. Read more about Cathy and her books on her website at www.catherinecgilmore.com.