Newbury Park High School in Newbury Park, California. So did my best friend, Andy Smith -- Andrew Smith, the meteoric Young Adult author. We went out that night. We had dinner, we held hands and wandered the sidewalks of Westwood, shopped at Pier I, and we laughed. We always laughed.
In time we drifted apart, but the truth is, I never stopped thinking about him. I missed him just about every day of my life, and started looking for him when the Internet made that possible in the mid-1990s. My detective work failed.
"Where's the novel?" I asked.
"What makes you thing there's a novel?" he replied.
"Where's the novel," I repeated. Fiction had always been his first love, and I couldn't believe that love had really ended, even after all those years.
"It's in the drawer," he said.
"Get it out," I said. "We're going to get it published."
Horn Book Award winner for fiction, and I had to smile. Even in high school, I knew Andy was destined to be a writer. He made me laugh, sure, but he also had depth beyond his years or his peers, depth that drew me to him. In fiction or nonfiction, he had something to say, and smart people listened.
So I want to congratulate him on this award and every marker of success he's enjoyed and will yet experience. I am so glad you're a part of my life again. And while I respect that you are Andrew Smith now, I'm glad you'll always be a little bit Andy, to me.
See you in November!
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Sunday, May 25, 2014
I’ve done this once before, so forgive me if it seems silly. But when Susan Goodman asked me to join her team for this round of THE WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOURS, I couldn’t resist. Susan sent me to David Elliott’s blog to remind me of the four questions, and he reminded me that lots of other great authors, like Carmen Oliver, and Sara Zarr, are also taking part.
So here’s my latest take on THE WRITING PROCESS, in four questions. I hope you’ll also explore my friend’s Claire Rudolf Murphy and Kenn Nesbitt as they offer their points of view on the same four questions.
Onward to excellence.
What am I currently working on?
For a writer who has written more than 40 nonfiction books, it’s amazing for me to admit, I’m working on three 12,000 word novels – fiction inspired by true stories – for Andrew Karre at Darby Creek/Lerner for the first time in my life. And while I’ve written several fictional YA short stories, this really is a first for me. A challenging, exciting first. So I’m pretty excited about it.
On the fiction front, we’ll have to wait and see to answer that question. On the nonfiction, it’s easier. Most writers of young reader nonfiction search for “award winning” topics to document. I wouldn’t mind winning awards, but that’s not my niche. I look for topics that will draw kids into the books – especially kids that might not otherwise love to read. I was a reluctant reader growing up, so I write for those kids now. Topics like Bigfoot, aliens, sea monsters and ghosts carefully researched and presented set my work apart from other nonfiction writers. When it comes to my animal stories, they are usually laced with human drama, which might set them apart, too. I hope so.
Why do I write what I write?
I write what I write because these are the books I would have wanted to find in the library as a kid – books I never did. I write for the child in myself, and for children everywhere. I write to my passions, hoping the work will shine with that enthusiasm.
What is my writing process?
My process is unconventional. The research isn’t. Like all writers of nonfiction, I read a whole lot about my topic – articles, books, academic papers – and do interviews with prominent experts. I do field trips to explore the places or subjects about which I’m writing. All that is fairly typical. But how I tackle the actual writing process might not be.
I wake up in the morning, tackle my email, play a few video games, then write for as long as I feel excited about the topic. Then I clean house, walk my dog, play more games to break the day up. Once that’s done, I’m ready to write again. I write as long as I feel the work is fresh, then break again. All the while, I have the television in the background, usually MSNBC – I’m a liberal news junky. I cannot write if it’s too quiet. I think that started when I did magazine features as a single mom with two kids. I had to learn to write amid happy chaos, and now I can’t seem to manage without it.
So my process is a little scattered and seems random. But it’s not. It is a pattern that works FOR ME. And if I can convey any one thing in this blog, it’s that there is no WRONG process, as long as it works, as long as it helps you produce your finished product.
Don’t try to copy any other writer. Try they’re styles on if you’re just beginning – if you like. But feel sure the process you adopt, the one that fits your life and rhythm will be just as good as anything you read about anywhere else. The main objective is to keep writing. Do that, and it all falls naturally into place.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
To my sheer delight, the first episode of KELLY'S CURIOSITIES debuted on Monday, September 23, 2013. If you've read my other posts, you know we filmed all ten episodes on August 29 and 30 of this year, and it was a crazy, fun two days of hard, amazing work. The producer/editor, the camera person and the animator are all brilliant professionals, and I think we've created something special together. So I hope you'll check them out, starting with this one.
This video was inspired by the remarkable space rock that thundered across Russian skies in February of 2013. I couldn't get enough of the videos and news reports of the stellar event. I was so hungry for information, it was thrilling. Yeah, I get thrilled by facts -- weird, I know.
As I watched and talked to my friends about the "space rock," I started wondering why reporters were calling it a space rock, rather than by a more specific name. Then I realized, I didn't know what to call it either.
All my life, I've heard about comets and asteroids and meteors and meteorites, but I realized, I didn't know what made them each DIFFERENT from one another. So I decided to find out, and this two minute video is the end result.
Each of the ten videos we shot will be about high interest, sometimes weird topics including:
A Creepy 1920's Mystery Bust
Mexico's Island of the Dolls
Raptorex vs T. rex
And five more crazy subjects.
We wanted to celebrate weird information in an easy to digest format, and I think the MSN team did a magnificent job! So I hope you'll watch the videos and share the on your blogs and Facebook pages, your listservs and in your classrooms. Because they're perfect for viewers 9 and up, to be sure.
If we get enough views, we might get to do more, and I'd LOVE to do more. But even more to the point, I think this hard working team DESERVES recognition. They made me look good. And when you're a 56 year old chubby lady with gray hair, that's not as easy as it sounds.
Let me know what you think, okay?
Thursday, September 12, 2013
|Writing life? Sure. But sometimes, you stop and hug your dog.|
Because being a writer is my day job -- and my only source of income -- I do something writer related every single day, rain or shine, holiday or non-holiday, for at least ten hours a day. I am almost always on deadline for something or I won't make my bills. So I juggle it all as efficiently as I can.
I wake up when I wake up, now that both my girls are able to drive cars of their own to get where they need to be. If my body says I need 8 hours, I sleep 8 hours. If it says I need 12, I sleep 12. I am very flexible with sleep when I'm at home because that pattern seems to keep me from getting sick. Rest is really important to my writing life. Once I'm awake, I start by checking my email, because email will determine my priorities for that day. I juggle at least 4 projects at any given time -- proposals to backlist. And every book deserves attention.
A lot of my email is school visit related, but that's part of the job. So I coordinate those first. I do between 40 and 60 school visits a year, so that's pretty time consuming, from invitation to completion. But it helps pay the bills, and it sells lots of books. A lot of my email is in response to interview requests, as well. So tending to that correspondence immediately is terribly important. Most of my books take about 4 years to research and write, with a huge uptick toward their submission deadlines and their release dates.
Research fills the rest of my hours -- some for projects sold, some for projects about to be pitched to acquiring editors at various houses. I do a LOT of research long before the book sells to be sure I have enough information to merit a book. Some say that's risky, and maybe it is. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. I have yet to do research on a book idea without selling it, eventually, with only one exception, and I still haven't given up on that project. I'll sell it, eventually.
I don't write actual book text as efficiently when I'm traveling for school visits, but I do write in hotels and I absolutely do revisions in hotels. I am pretty tired after a full day of school visits, so I'll sometimes take a 40 minute nap right after school, write until bedtime, then wake up for the next day's school events. I am far slower with original text in hotel rooms than I am at home, but I can and do make it happen.
I also promote my books on social media, but I do more toward building and keeping my professional relationships strong. I'm lucky, because a lot of the librarians i visit become real friends to me. So when I talk to them on Facebook -- when I ask about their kids or their vacations -- I really do CARE about their lives, not because they buy my books but because we've connected in a real way. But that also keeps my career healthy.
Chris Crutcher always says there is nothing in this life that is not about human connection and relationships. I absolutely agree with him. So I attend to those relationship every day, in all my writer capacities. The work makes me happy...not rich, but happy. So I feel really lucky to have that opportunity. Lucky, but REALLY hard working, too.
I could probably take more days off, if I wanted to. But I get too antsy to take a whole day off. I do play video games to break up the day a little. When I finish part of one project, I'll pay a game to clear my head -- to prepare my mind to do something else. So as odd as it sounds, playing is part of my writing process. I have to play little tricks on myself to keep all the balls I'm juggling in the air. So far, so good.
If I have any advice for others, it's write every day, even if it's just a little bit. Be flexible with yourself, because every one of us will forge our own path, our own way. A glimpse at someone else's process is informative, but what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. So use other people's patterns to help you understand your way is GOOD for YOU. If you don't have a process yet, try a few on for size, then customize them for you lifestyle. Before my girls were grown, my babies were top priority, and I still managed to build a career.
One last thing, writing friends keep you sane. Never overlook the value of friends who do what you do -- who take it seriously. They are armor against all those people who ask when you'll write a real book or ask, "How you written anything I've heard of?" People outside the circle will still ask those dumb questions. But your writing friends will make it easier NOT to resort to violence in response. : )
Hope this helps!
Kelly Milner Halls
Thursday, September 5, 2013
What turned out to be hard was pronouncing several Russian, Chinese and Japanese names. The fact that I had to trip over those pronunciations really distracted me from telling the stories associated with the names. It surprised me that the worry over those three or four words slowed me down so much. But once we got those episodes complete, it was a little easier.
Easier. That's a relative term. It was never entirely easy, because it's a fun and complicated process. My job was to give the producer and camera person the bits and pieces they needed to go back to Seattle, to their computers and animators and musicians and jigsaw the videos together.
It was hard at times, but always fascinating and mind blowing. Videos staring me? A plump, aging writer of things weird? It's like an old lady Cinderella story, and I know it.
I am so grateful for this opportunity. I hope people like them so much we'll get to do another ten episodes...then another ten...then another ten. I hope they are so much fun, they go viral so we can travel to locations to shoot the stories where they unfold. But even if that doesn't happen, color me delighted!
I got to be a video star for two days in my living room. It doesn't get too much better than that!
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
I can't talk TOO much about it yet, but in the next few months, I'll add something new to my writer's resume -- video episodes. Thanks to the good folks at MSN, I'll write and play in ten 3-minute explorations of things odd and amazing.
So my daughter Vanessa (in the photo above) and I have been working really hard to turn our living room into a set for these quirky little news programs, and this is the result.
A lot of that stuff was already on my living room wall. But we ramped it up pretty high to prepare for the big days (August 29 & 30). We won't get to see the finished products until the very talented producer, editor and animator add the REAL magic. But the scripts are finished, and so is this weird backdrop.
It's a little hectic and scattered, like I am. But it's me -- so very me. There are four professional reproductions of the four chapter illustrations for TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS -- a gift from the illustrator and my friend, Rick Spears.
There is a photo of a mother and baby bat Mary Kay Carson's photographer husband was kind enough to give me -- shot for Mary Kay's stellar book BAT SCIENTISTS. I love that book.
There is a drawing of BABY MOUSE that Jenni Holm asked her brother Matthew to draw and send to me. I can't tell you how much that means to me.
There is a drawing of the upper crust Sasquatch featured in THE SECRET SATURDAYS drawn by the show's creator, Jay Stephens. He sent it to me because TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS helped him prepare for writing the series. How cool is that?
Jonathan Auxier drew the fun sketch of Sasquatch chasing ME when we both spoke at the Cavalcade of Authors in the spring of 2013.
There is a tiny bottle of Yeti Cologne courtesy of Lisa Yee and ComicCon, a stain glass rendition of the chick from I BOUGHT A BABY CHICKEN created by my father, a tyrannosaur skeletal representation Rick gave me, two masks Kerry gave me of Pikachu and CatBug, a snaffle bit I used when I had my horse more than 40 years ago, a modest collection of Funko POPS and more.
Every item represents a part of who I am. Kelly's Curiosities will, too. I'll tell you more about the video series very soon. In the meantime, here's a sneak peek at me as a cartoon character. You'll see more of cartoon Kelly, too!
Stay tuned! The fun has just begun.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
A few days ago, my friend Bruce Hale (on the far right) invited me to join him on the Children’s Authors Blog Hop, created by Phyllis Griggs at her IndieChatter Blogspot. I agreed. How can you resist playing with Bruce Hale?
What does that mean? It means I’ll answer the four blog questions, like all the stellar writers before me. Then I’ll introduce you to my three recommended children’s writers – the same way Bruce introduced me and two others!
Hope you enjoy the fun as much as I have!
What are you working on right now?
I just finished two books for a series called LIE DETECTOR – fun question and answer books for young readers. One was about dinosaurs, the other was about animals. I hope they are the first of many books in the same series, because they were enormously fun to write and the illustrations are going to be sensational. I am also finishing my new book for Millbrook called GHOST. It will offer evidence for and against people living on as spirits after death.
How does it differ from other works in its genre?
GHOST is very much like the books I’m best known for, and I love it. I love delivering books kids love to read for fun. LIE DETECTOR is a little different because it’s for younger readers. But the publisher loves the way I find surprising details to share, and they allowed me a lot of room to exercise my voice. So maybe they’re not so different, when you really get down to it.
Why do you write what you do?
I write what I write for the curious child I was, and the curious adult I continue to be. I write for all the kids out there like me. Being curious is wonderful, but frustrating if you can’t find answers or theories on answers. I like moving the discussion forward through the books I write. I like empowering kids to dig deeper themselves, too. I think my books do that.
What is the hardest part about writing?
Nonfiction probably pays less than any other genre, so as a single mom, that’s the hardest part of writing. But nonfiction is my heart and my passion. So I do my best to find a way. Thankfully, school visits help for nine months of the year, and I am enormously grateful to those schools kind enough to host me..
Now, let me introduce three of my favorite nonfiction writers – dedicated professionals who care as much about curious kids as I do, even if they write wonderful books that are very different from my own.
I met Larry when we both staffed the Highlights Foundation’s Workshop at Chautauqua in New York six or seven years ago. He was so smart and so friendly, we became instant friends and I couldn’t wait to read his books. Neither could thousands of other people, thanks to his astonishing hard work. One of my favorites is BLACK AND WHITE: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor.
Larry worked so hard to present a clean, clear vision of how the Rev. Shuttlesworth fought for the civil rights of African Americans while Bull Connor fought to preserve the status quo. He brought the heart and hope of war torn Birmingham, Alabama into focus and he brought me to tears. Such a brilliant project – if you haven’t read it, give yourself a treat and read it now.
When I moved to Spokane, WA, I had lunch with my friends Chris Crutcher, Terry Trueman and Claire Rudolf Murphy (right, next to Meghan Nuttall Sayres, another wonderful author). Chris and Terry were talking about what movie tie-in Happy Meal toys might look like for Terry’s book STUCK IN NEUTRAL about a profoundly disabled teenage boy. Chaos ensued, while Claire and I watched.
I figured if she could take that craziness (craziness I LOVE), I wanted to know her better, and I’m so glad I had that opportunity. I discovered Claire feels as passionately about American History as I do about all things weird. She writes for those kids aching to know more about what life was like in the “olden days,” and she helps them see how those days gone by have helped shape the world we know today. Her book MARCHING WITH AUNT SUSAN is one example, but she has a new book on the horizon you won't want to miss. Top secret for now, but trust me. I’m so proud I can say, “I knew her when.”
Like me, Mary (far right, with Trent Reedy and John Bladek, two MORE great Spokane writers) started as a freelance writer, crafting short nonfiction for both kids and adults, so she had mad props from me even before we got to know each other. But as I’ve watched her nonfiction children’s book career unfold – and as she’s stewarded the Spokane SCBWI group KennNesbitt and I started many years ago –I’ve gained a whole new respect for her unique abilities as a writer. She finds topics that surprise and enlighten me and I can’t wait to see more.
I love her book, JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD, but I REALLY can't wait for her new book about World War II nurses trapped in a Japanese prisoner of war camp long after the war was actually over. Mary is a winner -- watch for big things from this remarkably talented author. I'll post about it as soon as I'm allowed!