Before I became a full-time writer, I worked for eleven years for four companies as a children’s book editor. While on the job, I wrote mysteries in the Trixie Belden series, a Little Golden Book, a collection of Christmas carols, and a 24-book concept series. My very first published book was THE BUGS BUNNY BOOK (fiction), an auspicious debut to be sure.
You say you wrote for the Trixie Belden series. I see this was a series which was written by Julie Campbell Tatham. How do you pick up and write someone else's series?
Julie wrote the first 6 books, but after that they were written by freelancers under the house pseudonym Kathryn Kenny. As editor on the series, I revised many of the manuscripts extensively, & wrote my own - Trixie Belden and the Hudson River Mystery.
During those11 years as an editor, you also said you wrote a 24-book concept series. Did you edit those books yourself?
I never thought of it that way, but yes I did edit myself. This was the "Beginning to Learn About" Series with Richard L. Allington. They covered the topics of colors, shapes, numbers, hearing etc.
You’ve always been an avid reader. Is there any book you’ve ever read that you wished you had written? If so, what book was that?
Harry Potter, naturally, and many many others. I think being an avid reader has always inspired me--striving to be in the company of all the great writers out there.
Most of your books tend to be non-fiction based. How did you get your start in writing non-fiction books? Did you start with a packager?
My mind does gravitate toward organizing large amounts of interesting information into the form of a story. Have never worked with a packager, but my first success, LIVES OF THE MUSICIANS, was pitched as a joint endeavor with the artist, the amazing Kathryn Hewitt. I minored in music in college, it’s one of my passions, and when I looked at the musical biographies that were out then, I wanted to do something fresh and more relevant to contemporary kids. Its success has led to seven more LIVES OF books, and inspired many of my other books as well.
How do you decide on the facet of the person’s life that you want to cover? How do you go about doing your research?
I think of myself as a large (5 foot, 2 inch) flashlight, illuminating any avenue of information I can find. Most often, that road takes me to the library, of which I am a heavy user. For real research, detailed information that’s been digested by scholars and carefully edited—you need books. The Internet—not so much. I also have learned not to pay too much attention to diaries and autobiographies, because many people tend to, um, lie about their lives for various reasons.
Instead, I seek what the best scholars have done with this material. I see my role as taking the valuable work of scholars and distilling it into a form that I hope will make children love, or at least like, history. I take a mountain of notes on what is most interesting, and then revise, tinker, revise, edit, whittle, and then revise some more. If there is a key to what I do, it’s that I don’t use most of my information. As Voltaire said, “The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.” I list my sources and suggested reading at the end, as I think one of the goals of a biography is to direct readers outward to learn more.
Did you ever find something that surprised you in doing research on a topic or person?
My research constantly jolts me, for better or for worse—one of the perks of the job.
Is there anyone in particular that you would like to write a book about that you have not yet done?
I have lots of people I want to write about-- especially women, because I think they’re still underrepresented in the historical record. Maybe Lady Gaga????
Your husband is an illustrator, but sometimes your writing credits show him as a co-author? How do you decide who does what?
With the books co-written with Paul Brewer-- FARTISTE, LINCOLN TELLS A JOKE, and new THE BEATLES WERE FAB-- he has generally come up with the idea and done the bulk of the research. We do the writing together, passing the manuscript back and forth many times until neither one of us has a quibble.
How do you handle it when he is your illustrator?
With the books he illustrates, I never tell him what to illustrate; I’m available for consultation in my office next to his, but even then I find that he and other artists that have illustrated my books come up with ideas a million times better than mine.
Does writing a story come easier now that you’ve written so many books?
I WISH it came easier, but it really doesn’t--I still go through just as many revisions as I did in the beginning. I do have more confidence that I will eventually have something publishable, while in the beginning I was more in the dark.
Is there one book you’ve enjoyed writing than any others?
I enjoy writing all my books--I pick topics I’m passionate about--and how long they take varies wildly, from a few weeks to several years.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I like all parts of the writing process, but my very favorite is getting what seems like a good idea. Pure exhilaration.
What’s one of the best pieces of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
As for advice, I believe this comes from Hemingway, who said he stopped writing for the day when the writing was going well, not when he was blocked. He said this makes it easier to get back on the saddle the next day, and I’ve found this to be true.
For those who want to learn more about Kathleen's work, you can visit her author page
f you would like to have her visit your school to talk about writing, nonfiction or biographies, you can reach her by email
To see all her "LIVES" series of books, each accompanied by its own downloadable Activity & Discussion Guide, click here