Freaky Friday-Interview with aspiring children’s writer Katie Carroll

Filed under: Freaky Friday

If you’ve seen the movie Freaky Friday, you know that its premise is about change and growth through role reversal. For my Friday Blog entry I thought it would be interesting to interview aspiring authors; writers who spend lots of time reading the interviews of published authors and dreaming of the day when they might get their book on the shelves…
It has been awhile since I’ve posted a Freaky Friday interview, but this one will be worth the wait. I had the pleasure of meeting Katie Carroll last April at the Eastern PA Poconos Mountain Retreat. We were roommates for the weekend and had a wonderful time getting to know each other. I think you are going to like her too…
Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to be a children’s writer?

Fair warning, my journey to becoming a writer starts off on a very sad note. I was 19 and a sophomore in college. I was on track to start graduate school for physical therapy at the end of my junior year. I was an English major who was also taking a lot of science courses (in preparation for physical therapy work), but I had chosen English as more of a diversion than anything else. It was something to break up all the science and math that I had to take for graduate school.
So I was well on my way with my 6-year plan that would ultimately lead to a Masters in PT and job in the health field. Then, my previously healthy 16-year-old sister, Kylene, got sick. We thought she had pneumonia. A week later she was admitted to the hospital. It wasn’t pneumonia, but the doctors at Yale couldn’t figure out what was essentially eating away at her lungs. Bottom line, within two weeks from being admitted to the hospital, she was dead.
You don’t go through something like that without it irrevocably changing your life. None of us really knew what to do in her memory. There’s no causes to join for people who die of unknown lung diseases. After reevaluating my life and life in general, I realized that I loved to write and that I wanted to write books for young adults and children as a career. A good portion of my family thought I was crazy to just ditch my whole 6-year plan to become a writer (very unlike me to start something and not follow through with it), but I had had a change of heart and there was no turning back.
Now, Kylene loved the Harry Potter books (I think only the first four had come out by the time she died). She shared them with so many people, many of whom hated reading, and so many of them fell in love with the books too. I think reading the books gave my sister so much joy that she just wanted to share that joy with the whole world. She was that kind of person. My dad, I think in a way to reconcile with my crazy decision to become a writer, suggested that I write a story for Kylene. She never got to finish her life story, so I gave her what I could by letting her live out a great adventure in fiction. That story became the first novel I wrote, a young adult fantasy called Katora. It’s been over 7 years since my sister died, and I’ve been writing ever since.
I think that she would be very proud of you. It takes a lot of courage to follow your heart… Can you tell us a little bit about Katora and where you are with that book? Maybe a little bit about your WIP too.

Katora is a quest novel. Katora’s family are the keepers of a secret healing Elixir, and Katora’s father selects her to lead a mission into the dangerous Faway Forest to retrieve the secret ingredient, which are peaches from a tree that grows on the top of a giant mountain called The Sleeping Giant. What she doesn’t know is that when she picks the peaches, she will be bound to use them to serve the greater good. In addition to all the outside forces influencing her, Katora begins to wonder whether or not she is ready to take on such a big responsibility. This manuscript has been making the rounds with a few editors. I’ve had a few nibbles of interest with it and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the big bite.
My current WIP is a reimagining of The Little Mermaid, tentatively titled Ariel. I started this for NaNoWriMo and got a good start on a first draft. I’ve borrowed some of my favorite elements from the original Hans Christian Andersen story and from the Disney version. I used to watch the Disney movie everyday when I was little. My niece gets mad when we’re watching it and I sing all the songs! I’ve also added a major character, who is Ariel’s best friend. He’s a human whose family runs a pearl farm. I’m totally in love with him. The ending has a big twist in it too, which I’m really excited about. This novel is still in a really rough form and it’s new enough that I’m haven’t gotten sick of it yet.
Both stories sound great! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that good things come your way. As I mentioned earlier, we had the pleasure of meeting through the Eastern PA Poconos Mountain Retreat last year. We had a sort of “blind date”, signing up to be roommates without having met before. Getting to know you was one of the many perks of attending a SCBWI Conference. Why would you recommend getting out from behind the lap top and attending a conference?

There are really so many reasons to attend a conference. I think anyone that is involved in a job that can be as isolating as writing, needs to step out and meet others in the field. A writing conference is a great way to learn about the craft and business of writing directly from experienced writers, editors, and agents. Even when a talk may reiterate some of the things I thought I already knew, it’s helpful to hear the ideas again (kind of like studying for a test) and there’s always new ways to apply them to my WIP. There’s also the networking factor. Gaining face-to-face time with editors and agents is invaluable.
More than all the professional things that can be gained from a writing conference, I just find them very refreshing. After months of writing, revising, and collecting rejections, I can get a little burnt-out and discouraged, thinking it’s never going to happen for me. Then I go to conference and hear a hugely successful writer talk about experiencing the same obstacles and the same feelings. There’s also all these other writers just like me, who are going through the same things at the same time. The sense of camaraderie at a conference goes a long way.
Plus, conferences provide an environment that forces me to leave my comfort zone. There’s nothing like facing a room full of strangers to make me confront all my insecurities, which is especially useful for a YA writer. I really think that pushing myself in life somehow makes me a better writer. Without conferences, I’ve never would’ve met you and wouldn’t be doing this interview right now. Oh, and I love collecting signed books from all the great writers I meet.
Katie, can you tell us about your top five books and how they have influenced you?

Okay, it was hard to narrow it down to five books, so I cheated a little and put a couple of series on my list.
1. The Harry Potter books: I think my answer to how I became a writer pretty much covers how these books influenced me. I think they also served as a reintroduction into children’s literature for me and made me realize that my passion was for literature for teens and children.
2. The Little House books: My mom used to read these to my sisters and me before we’d got to bed. Even though most of these stories took place over a hundred years before I was born, the Ingalls family was a lot like my family. We shared many of the same values and a similar sense of closeness. It’s amazing no matter how much time passes, the most important things in life tend to stay the same. My mom even made us bonnets just like the ones the Ingalls girls wore.
3. Bears in the Night: This is the only picture book on my list, but it is very deserving. (Big Dog…Little Dog and Go, Dog, Go! were a close second and third.) I’m not much of a picture book writer, but Bears in the Night shows great use of sparse text, pacing, rhythm, repetition, and allowing the pictures to contribute to the story. Everything about it, from the setting to the language, sparks my imagination. I particularly like how the last page is only a picture of the mother bear quietly sitting in her chair, seemingly none the wiser of what her little bears have been up to. My mom made up a line of text to wrap up the book, and after awhile, one of us kids got to make up the line.
4. Little Women: I loved this book for a lot of the same reasons I loved the Little House books. Family has always been one of the most important things in my life, and this book was a mirror of my family in many ways. The March sisters were Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, and the Carroll sisters were Kelly, Kerrie, Katie, and Kylene. The female characters in Little Women are just so rich and unforgettable. I see a little (or a lot) or myself in each of the March sisters. When Kylene died, I told my sister Kelly that Kylene was “just like Beth.” They were both too good for this life.
5. The Giver: Believe it or not, I was not a big fan of fantasy or science-fiction as a kid (I still have never been able to finish A Wrinkle in Time). I read The Giver in fifth grade, and it totally blew my mind. When Jonas suddenly realizes the weirdness he has been seeing is color, I was floored. In my eleven-year-old mind, the reveal of this book was just perfect. As the layers kept being peeled back and more and more truth was revealed, the book just got better and better.
Thanks so much, Kim, for interviewing me. It was fun to remember why I started seriously writing in the first place.
That is exactly how I felt about the Giver too! I LOVE that book. *Kim sighing with contentment*.

Katie, thank you so much for stopping by and being freaky. I can’t wait to see you in April at the Poconos Conference Part 2. If you would like to read more about Katie, you can find her on her blog the Observation Desk.


7 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Glad you enjoyed it. :o)

  2. Thanks again, Kim. I'm also looking forward to seeing you at the Poconos conference. Keep me posted about all your writing news.

    Oh, one more thing. I'm entering this great kidlit contest from agent Mary Kole. Here's the link to it http://kidlit.com/kidlit-contest/ for anyone who's interested.

    KT 🙂

  3. You are welcome-it was so much fun! Can't wait to see you in the Poconos. I won't have to walk around to everyone going "Katie? Katie?" LOL! Thanks for the link too!

  4. Great interview! Katie, it's amazing how you've been able to take something painful in your life and use it to create something positive. Best of luck with your writing!

  5. Great job finding that silver lining Katie-I agree Anna…she is pretty awesome! :o)

  6. Thanks for the encouraging words, Anna. Kim…you're awesome too!

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