Peg Kehret’s middle-grade books have won fifty state young reader awards; all were voted on by students. Abduction was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. She has also won the PEN Center West Award in Children’s Literature, the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Henry Bergh Award from the ASPCA.
A long-time volunteer with animal welfare groups, Peg has included dogs, cats, llamas, elephants, bears, horses, deer and many other animals in her books. Her new memoir, Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue, is a Fall 2012 selection of the Jr. Library Guild. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish?
The excitement never wears off. Each step of the process – acceptance, contract, advance, finishing the manuscript, and the long-awaited actual book – is a thrill.
How many words have you written in one writing session?
I don’t keep track anymore. I used to aim for five pages (1250 words) a day, and I usually managed that. Toward the end of a book, I write faster and do more words each day than I do at the beginning, mainly because I’m eager to find out what’s going to happen.
What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
“Don’t write a novel for children. They are impossible to sell. Write another how-to book instead.” This advice was from my first agent, who had just sold a how-to book for me. I did not take her advice. Instead I wrote Deadly Stranger which she sold to the first publisher who read it. Not long after that, she and I parted company.
Best writing advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t follow the fads. By the time your book is published, the fads will have changed.” I heard this at a writer’s conference, but don’t remember who said it.
Are there certain characters you would like to return to?
I especially enjoyed writing from the cat’s viewpoint in the three books that I co-authored with Pete the Cat.
What has been the toughest blow to your professional career?
Post-polio syndrome. I’ve had to give up school visits, can no longer travel to most conferences, and can write for a shorter time each day.
Of all your books, what was your favorite chapter to write?
The chapter in Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio where I went back to my first hospital and walked for Dr. Bevis, the intern who had been so kind to me. (Note that the worst blow and the best chapter came from the same experience.)
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Besides the basics of website, Facebook page, and blog, I use postcards to answer fan mail. The cards have a book cover on the front and a short list of some of my other titles, and my website, on the back. I go through about a thousand cards a year. At library and book store events, I give away bookmarks which list some of my titles. I have a glossy brochure and a multiple-book poster that I give away at conferences. These items are my personal investment in my career, and I believe it’s been money well spent. For those of us who write for children, I think school visits are the best promotion of all.
One word of caution: It’s easy, via the Internet, to over-promote. I enjoy receiving notices of new books – but I only need to be told once. I also like to hear about local author events and I try to attend or to tell someone who might be interested. I buy a lot of books, but I don’t like to be nagged. One acquaintance sent me so many emails, blog links, and mailings about her new book that I was sick of hearing about it before the book ever came out. I didn’t buy that one.
Do you collect anything?
My house is full of an eclectic jumble of my enthusiasms: autographed books, 1940s Raggedy Ann & Andy dolls, miniature dog figurines, log cabins, antique advertising mirrors, vintage automatic musical instruments, Elsie the Borden cow, polio memorabilia, special pens and pencils (including one that declared a Peg Kehret Week in Putnam, Oklahoma) and much more.
Do you come up with your book titles?
Many times I know the title at the beginning of the book. Other times it comes during the writing when I realize that a phrase I’ve written would be a perfect title. I was asked to change the title of Cages because the publisher didn’t think it had enough appeal. I spent three days experimenting with other titles and, in the end, refused to change. Cages fits the book perfectly.
What is the easiest part of the writing process? Hardest?
The easiest is revising, especially after I get any editorial comments. The hardest is the first draft. I envy writers who can work in a white-hot heat to get the first draft done. I struggle.
Ever participated in a parade? What did you do?
To get from my home to anywhere else, it is necessary to drive down the main street of tiny Wilkeson,WA. One summer day my granddaughter and I left my house and when we got to Wilkeson, the street was blocked off because a parade was about to start. We watched it, and then pulled in behind the last entrant, to drive out of town. The people lined up on the sidewalk thought we were part of the parade. They clapped and waved. A few even cheered. Of course, we waved back, pretending that we were celebrities.
Any advice to share with aspiring writers?
Write what you care about. Put your heart into your work. If you let yourself and your feelings shine through your words, you will attract like-minded readers.
Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?
It depends on whether or not there is a sleeping cat who doesn’t want to be disturbed.
What is your very favorite part of the day?
I have two favorites. The first is early morning, when I walk my dog down my long driveway to get the newspaper and then sit with a cup of coffee and watch the birds have their breakfast. The second is when I read in bed, which I do every night no matter how late it is.
Would you rather plan a party or attend one?
I am not a party person, although I love to plan get-togethers for my family. I can speak easily to an audience of hundreds, but I’m shy in social settings and rarely attend large gatherings.