National Book Award winner Kimberly Willis Holt grew-up all over the world but now calls Texas her home. Author of picture books, chapter books and novels, Ms. Holt will be visiting Houston this month to celebrate the release of her new book for young readers, Piper Reed Gets a Job. Recently, I caught-up with Ms. Holt and visited with her about the craft of writing, small moments and inspiration.
Describe your path to writing.
I started writing on June 15, 1994. I didn’t own a computer, but I bought some yellow legal pads and pens and sat at the table on my screen porch.
Because I was new to the craft, I took every writing class in my city and attended conferences in a 300 mile radius. Some say you can’t teach someone to write. I disagree. Each of my teachers gave me something that I use today.
Like most new writers, I sent my work out too soon, and I was rejected. But I kept rewriting. Eventually an agent agreed to represent me. About six months later my first book, My Louisiana Sky sold.
Where do you find inspiration?
Often, ideas for my books are inspired from small moments in my life. These moments can range from going down a Louisiana dirt road like Tiger does in My Louisiana Sky, to standing in line to see the fattest boy in the world like Toby does in When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town. I rarely realize that these small experiences are potential starting points for novels. They wait patiently until the time comes when they knock on my door and ask to tell their story.
Describe a normal “writing” workday.
There is no normal writing workday. Those existed before I was published. Now the business of writing plays a role in my hours. Let me give you an example. I recently lost my assistant so yesterday I started my day answering email about booking events. I also answered a query about a picture book manuscript from my editor. Then I had a phone call interview with 88 fourth graders from Abilene. Next I sent out W-9’s, contracts, and books. This was all before lunch. After lunch I booked some flights and answered more email. Yesterday I didn’t put one word on the page.
Now this was not a typical day either. Usually I write in the morning before I do anything. Otherwise the business of writing starts to take over. People look baffled when I tell them I wrote more before I was published.
You write novels, chapter books and picture books. When you sit down to write, do you have a specific way to approach each different genre?
Not really. Each story comes to me in a voice. The voice determines the genre. I usually can only work on one story at a time. I love writing for different ages. I want my readers to grow up with my stories. But that hasn’t been a calculated decision. It just happened.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
One of the first children’s authors that I admired after I started writing was Pam Conrad. She taught me the power of similes and metaphors.
I learned how to vary sentence length from Han Nolan when I read a beautiful long lyrical sentence in Hand Me Down a Miracle.
Roald Dahl’s quirky humor inspires me to stretch because humor is hard for me.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Perseverance and passion endure. Writing is hard. But when you have a passion for something, it is worth every bit of time and effort. Work hard, dream hard!
This interview originally appeared in the October 2009 edition of the Houston Banner.