Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kelly's Curiosities -- Phase I: Space Rocks

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:

Space Rocks

A Creepy 1920's Mystery Bust

Insect Fossils

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

The Writing Life -- Do What's Right for YOU!

Writing life?  Sure. But sometimes, you stop and hug your dog.
A week or two ago, someone on my NFforKids listserv asked how we all work on our writing.  I responded, and several people encouraged me to post it on my blog.  So here it is.  Hope it proves no way and every way is the right way to be a writer.  : )  Just do it! 


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
Children's Writer

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ten Episodes Video Taped!

A week ago today, my friends Brian and Mel drove from Seattle to Spokane and transformed my living room into a video set.  Together, we filmed ten, full episodes of KELLY'S CURIOSITIES for MSN on Thursday, August 29 and Friday, August 30, 2013.

Our biggest challenge -- I thought -- would be my dogs.  Abbey is a 4-year-old Great Dane and Pug is a 14 year old pug, as you might have guessed.  I thought Abbey would be like a bull in a china closet with all that expensive equipment -- cameras, monitors, lights, reflectors, boom mikes, the whole nine yards.  But thanks to my daughter Vanessa's skill with animals, they became our calm studio audience.  Pug's snoring as she slept was the biggest hurdle.  She is still wondering why we kept waking her up, I'm sure.   Abbey was totally zen.

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.

So I did the same stories again and again and again -- as many times as it took.  Then I recreated different motions I made in each re-telling so the camera could zoom in for close ups on the items I was holding.

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

Kelly's Curiosities

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

Children's Authors Blog Hop!

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!  


Why we write what we write.

People ask me, OFTEN, why I write the kinds of books I do.  And the answer is pretty easy.

I write about weird stuff for two reasons.  First, I love weird stuff.  I always have.  From the time I was a little girl growing up in Friendswood, Texas, I collected all things odd and amazing, from animal skeletons to lizard eggs, to odd stones I found exploring the woods.  I sat in my father's lap watching documentaries like Walter Cronkite's 21st Century.  I lived a life full of wonder.

The second reason I write about weird things is not so different.  Kids still love weird stuff as much as I loved it 45 years ago.  They have as many questions as I did, and I love the idea of helping them find answers. 

I know I'm on track, too.  I don't win a lot of awards, though I would love to.  That's not the feedback that keeps me confident.  It's the reaction of librarians and kids.  Every week, I get letters from kids who love my books and can't wait to tell me.  I also get drawings inspired by my books like this one from April.

After reading ALIEN INVESTIGATION, April wrote to me to tell me how much she loved it.  And she drew her own version of an alien to share with me.  When a 5th grader takes the time to read, write and draw, that's an all around win.

I will write more traditional books like SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO and DINOSAUR MUMMIES.  My latest books are two early chapter books for National Geographic, TIGER IN TROUBLE and COURAGEOUS CANINE -- both more traditional.  And kids love those too. 

But writing weird holds a special place in my heart, because when I was little, no one could answer my weird questions.  Are aliens real?  Do UFOs mean us harm?  Is Bigfoot waiting to kill us at our campsites?  They may seem like silly questions to adults.  But thoughts like these kept me up at night as a kid.  And no one would talk to me about them. My books offer well researched evidence to answer those questions -- or at least to help them draw well informed opinions of their own.

We each have our own reasons for writing the books we write, and every one is valid and important.  Because there are kids waiting for the book only you can write.

Get to it, no matter what you decide "IT" should be.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Because I was enchanted by the artistry of the theater advertisements, and because my 22-year-old Vanessa wanted to see it, I took a chance yesterday and saw RISE OF THE GUARDIANS.  I never saw a compelling advertisement, never really got what the movie was about, beyond Santa, Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman.

To my absolutely delight, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS turned out to be a brilliant, beautiful story full of passion and heart and true imagination, thanks to William Joyce, one of my all-time favorite picture book authors (left).

Driven in large part by the invisible Jack Frost's quest for his identity and purpose, the story begins as Jack is called by the Man in the Moon to be a new Guardian.  The Boogie Man, known as Pitch is souring the dreams of children and threatening to do worse. All the talents of all the Guardians will be required to stop him.

Jack has heard of the others, of course, known to each other as North, Tooth, Bunny and Sandy.  People believe in them, and they can be seen because of it.  But the boy, once frozen in an icy pond, is invisible, even to the kids delighted by his wintery skills.  What good can he do?  Why was he chosen?

North challenges Jack to find his core, the one thing that defines who he really is.  North admits his core and purpose is wonder, and says he inspires wonder within children around the world.  Tooth is loving guardian to childhood memories.  Bunny is the champion of hope.  And Sandy, of course, helps kids to dream. 
Jack agrees to battle Pitch, even if he doubts his own worth.  Together, they offer us a story as gripping as any theatrical film I've seen this year in a visual feast second to none.  I loved Pixar's BRAVE and Disney's WRECK IT RALPH, but this film produced by Dreamworks was far better -- just as Dreamworks HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON was the best animated film of 2010.

As a children's writer, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS reminded me that each of us who write for kids are guardians too -- people who remind kids of the wonders of the world through the stories we tell.  And more than once, the movie had me in tears, proud of doing what little I can to be a worthy ally to the characters in the film.

Life can be hard, for kids and adults.  Our fears, like Pitch, threaten to silence those things in life that make us feel rich.  Those things are more valuable than money or anything it can buy.  Those things define who we are and who we want to be.  RISE OF THE GUARDIANS reminded me of those core gems each of us should nurture.  I'm grateful for that -- and for William Joyce.

I interviewed William many years ago by telephone, and hung up wishing I could be his friend.  Now I feel that way, all over again.  Thank you, for creating something with a magical core to enrich us.