Interview with New York Bestselling Author Kathi Appelt

TLA_13_16Introducing Kathi…

Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than thirty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, THE UNDERNEATH, was named a National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book, and the PEN USA Literature for Children Award.  That was followed by KEEPER, which was named an NCTE Notable Children’s Book and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Her memoir, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS (Henry Holt, 2004) won the Paterson Prize for Young Adult Poetry.  Ms. Appelt was presented with the A.C. Greene Award by the Friends of Abilene Public Library, which named her a “Texas Distinguished Author.” 

Her newest novel, THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP, has received starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. 

In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

She and her husband Ken live in College Station, TX with six adorable cats, Django, Peach, Hoss, Mingus, Chica and Jazz.  They are the parents of two even more adorable sons, Jacob and Cooper, musicians who both play the double bass. For more information, check her website. 

Quirky Questions 

If you were a cartoon, who would you be? 

I think I’d be a Fabulous Furry Freak Brother.  Why?  Because I love saying Fabulous Furry Freak Brother, and also because they have a fabulous furry cat. 

What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?

One day I played a game of “chicken” with a friend of mine.  I was driving my father’s car up and down the country road that he lived on, and my friend stood out in the middle of the road, right in front of me.  I knew that he’d move, so I sped up.  But he didn’t move and I slammed on the brakes just in time.  I still have nightmares about that.  Both of us acted extremely stupid, and both of us were extremely lucky that the brakes were good.

What’s your idea of a good time?

A porch, a glass of wine, my husband playing his guitar, friends at hand, the cats.  It doesn’t get better than that.

Have you been told you look like someone famous?

I’ve been told that I look like Senator Elizabeth Warren.  I consider that a compliment.  She’s a hero of mine.

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be? 

I don’t really have a daily schedule.

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? 

April Lurie has the most beautiful tattoo I’ve ever seen.  It’s the tree of life and it runs on the inside of her arm.  I think it’s gorgeous.  But it looks far better on her than it would on me.

Crayon or paintbrush?

Either.

Name one thing that drives you crazy.

The Tea Party.  Right up there with the NRA.

Name one thing you can’t live without.

Coffee.

As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?

A cowgirl.

What’s your motto in life?

Be kind.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

Oh gosh, where do I begin?  

Who was your favorite teacher? 

Professor Elizabeth Neeld. She taught me the truth about writing, about being honest, and about letting it lead me to where I needed to go.  She’s now one of my best friends.

Describe your ideal day.

Coffee, cats, a long walk, a good book, maybe a movie.

Do you believe in UFOs?

Of course.

What song best describes your work ethic?

I don’t know why, but “Puff, the Magic Dragon” comes to mind.

If you were a road sign, what would you be? 

“Slow traffic keep to the left.” Because I like taking my time, and also because I lean to the left. 

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?

Generosity and also a sense of humor. 

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Riding in a car with my two sisters.  I have no idea where we were going, all I know is that we spent a lot of time in the backseat of a car.  At least that’s what I remember.

What is your favorite board game?

Scrabble.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Cucumbers.

Underneath by Kathi AppeltWriting Questions

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

My first grade teacher told me that she believed that I would grow up to be a writer.  I’ve never forgotten that.  Other teachers encouraged me, but she was the one who planted the seed.

What books are you reading right now?

Because I’m teaching picture books at Vermont College, I’m reading a lot of picture books right now.  How great is that?  Aside from those, I just finished Jerry Spinelli’s beautiful new novel, Hokey Pokey.  I loved it.  I’m in the middle of Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven.  I think it might be better than One Crazy Summer  if that is even possible.  I also just finished Falcon in the Glass by Susan Fletcher, which is drop-dead gorgeous.  And on my bedside is Uma Krishnaswami’s newest, The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic. So many great books!

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

I’ve had so many supportive friends and acquaintances, but there are a handful who have been there all along:  Elizabeth Neeld, Debbie Leland, Donna Cooner, Marian Dane Bauer, Alison McGhee and Holly McGhee.  What would I do without them?  I also have my home team:  Dinny Linn, Rose Eder and Janet Jones.

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?

A few years ago, I felt very “stuck.”  I had a crisis of faith moment in which I felt like I needed to do something drastically different, or find a new occupation.  What helped me continue was a question that my agent, Holly McGhee asked me:  “Where do you want to go with your writing?”  I don’t think anyone had ever asked me that, and it made me sit down and really consider my hopes and dreams for my work.  Holly asked me to write it all down.  Seeing it there, on paper, gave me the impetus to move on.

What’s your favorite writing quote?

From Ray Bradbury:  “Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My writing motto is “Write like your fingers are on fire.”  In other words, write fast and write a lot.  It’s the best way to get there.

What inspired you to write your first book?

My grandmother’s elephant collection.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I think I have a particular rhythm to my work that underlies most of my writing.  But I hope that each book has its own “voice.”

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

I think I’m pretty good at endings.

What books have most influenced your life?

Gone with the Wind; Black Beauty; The Jungle Book; The Old Man and the Sea; Moby Dick; Missing May and a thousand others.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Marion Dane Bauer.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?

Sitting down and doing it.

Who’s your favorite author and what strikes you about their work?

I love the poet Mary Oliver.  I love the clarity of her lines and the honesty that runs through every poem.  I simply love her work.

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