Friday, January 25, 2013

Giveaway!! Autobiographical Fiction: Real Life at its Heart

Today you're in for a special treat! Katherine Schlick Noe is here to answer questions about her book, her writing and how authorship fits into her busy schedule.

1) Why did you choose to write a memoir for children?
Many readers have wondered about the line between fiction and memoir in Something to Hold! I describe the book as fiction that is "inspired by" my own life. Like Deborah Wiles'Countdown and Jack Gantos' Newbery-winning Dead End in Norvelt, my book is nestled into the genre of autobiographical fiction. Kitty, her family, and her friend Pinky are all based on my family and a long-time friend from Warm Springs. But I wasn't as brave as Kitty becomes, nor as aware as she is of the prejudice and hardship that affect her classmates. Some of the events are based on real life, yet at its heart, the story is fiction.

I lived at Warm Springs when I was Kitty's age. Like hers, my dad was a forester with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and my brothers and I were also among the few non-Indian students at the same school where she goes. Unlike Kitty, I always felt welcomed and accepted and made many friends. All my life, other non-Indians have asked me, "What was it like living on Indian reservations when you're not Native?" And like all of the complex questions in our lives, there are many answers and none is simple. I started writing as a way to figure out some answers for myself. I started writing little episodes based on memories from Warm Springs: A stern teacher who read the Bible to us every day; late-night calls on two-way radio in the hallway outside my bedroom that alerted my dad to sudden forest fires; an art project gone terribly wrong because of a razor blade. And then a story of longing, belonging, and learning to stand up for justice slowly began to appear.

2) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
I became a writer in the fourth grade at Warm Springs. I still have the first page of my first novel, Danger at Fort Bloodstone. I spent a lot of time living inside my own head, making up stories, thinking about people and the crazy things they do. I  wrote all the way through high school and college and then wrote poetry for a long time once I started teaching. I've been a teacher for over 35 years, which heavily influences my writing. I am driven by this "mission question": How can we help children and young people learn to live with courage and hope in an imperfect world? I now work with beginning teachers at Seattle University, and everything I do is grounded in that question. And it's also at the center of Something to Hold and certainly every other book that I will write.

3) The voice is very authentic, yet the work has a literary quality. How did you go about balancing that?
Wow -- thank you! That is the kind of writing that I love to read. It's what I so admire in other authors' work, particularly Deborah Wiles and Gary Schmidt. And it's how I want to be able to write. Getting Something to Hold from my head to the page was a long journey. It took me 14 years from the first episode until publication! And I am so fortunate to have worked with an exceptional editor who pushed me hard to learn the craft. She worked with me for four years, over many revisions before she was willing to offer a contract. And in that time, I threw myself into learning everything I could. So I'd say that balance didn't come easily, but I was highly motivated to learn how to write a book that I would most want to read. See my review of Something To Hold here.

4) Tell us about your process. Pantser or Plotter?
Since this is my first novel, I wish I could say that I have a "process." The journey was one of constant surprises, obstacles, and discoveries. I liken it to walking backward through snow -- I couldn't see where I was going, just where I'd been. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. In my new project (more about that below), I'm on the first draft, and I'm trying something new. I had a chunk of time in August, so set a goal of writing 1000 new words a day. They didn't have to be good words -- just keep going. Some days it took two hours; some days a lot longer. But I stopped right when I got just over the limit. By the end of the month, I'd written about 28,000 words! I'm hoping that this project will take far less time than the first.
5) What does a typical writing day look like?
Unfortunately, I have yet to have a typical day. I am writing in my head most of the time (yes, SU teacher candidates -- even when I'm with you!). I like having long expanses of time to write, but like everyone with an absorbing day job, I don't get that often. Right now, I'm trying out a shorter daily goal -- 500 words, which is about a page and a half -- to see if I can get a pace going.

6) Where is your favorite place to write?
My home office, which looks out on my Queen Anne alley, one neighbor's happily-quacking duck family, and another neighbor's huge pine tree.

7) What did or do you find most challenging in creating the story and getting it published? What do you wish you would have known?
The greatest challenge was in crafting the story, because though I'd tried a novel in the fourth grade, I really had no idea what I was doing. I was extraordinarily lucky to have an editor who was willing to read a draft -- and willing to keep reading and responding ("It's not there yet, but if you want to revise, I'll read it again") until I was able to send her something she wanted to publish. The challenge was the time that it took (7 years total), but I knew that I had a golden opportunity to learn from her, and I wasn't going to waste it. All you need is a great story and dogged persistence.

8) What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
Write short chapters. It's really concrete, but it had a tremendous influence on me. My chapters are all about 5 to 8 pages long. Teachers tell me that their less-comfortable readers will tackle a book if the chapters are short.
9) Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us about it?
My next story started as a hazy image that was stuck in my head for months: A girl, about 15, leans against the railing on the Monorail platform at the Seattle Center. I can't see her face. She never gets on the train and she never talks to anyone. I didn't know her story, but I knew right away that something was terribly wrong. I was at a writing conference and sat down with my computer -- and this girl just started talking. She kept talking through the week and all through the long drive back to Seattle. I had to pull off the freeway to jot down what she was saying because she'd finally decided to tell me her story. Glory's life is one long string of disasters -- but she taps into a well of grit and creativity, and deals with them in surprising ways.

Katherine also runs the Literature Circles Resource Center 
"I developed the Literature Circles Resource Center as an educational service to teachers in elementary grades through middle school. The purpose of this site is to provide in-depth information and resources on literature circles. The site evolved from a classroom action research project in which I spent one day a week in each of six classrooms in the Seattle area -- grades 1 through 6 -- learning with and from teachers and students as they tried out literature circles for the first time. The research project led to the book, Getting Started with Literature Circles (1999), co-authored with Nancy J. Johnson of Western Washington University in Bellingham. The site also presents information specific to middle school from the book, Literature Circles in Middle School: One Teacher's Journey(2003), co-authored with Bonnie Campbell Hill and Janine A. King. Both books are published by Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc."—LCRC
10) What advice would you give others that write for children?
Join the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators -- we have an awesome chapter in Western Washington! Go to their monthly meetings and the annual conference. Learn everything you can from other writers who are extraordinarily willing to help you. Read widely in the genre you want to write. One of the most helpful things I did early on was to "dissect" middle grade novels that I had loved as a reader to find out how they were constructed. That's where I learned about the power of short chapters.

Bonus Question: Tell us one thing about yourself that would surprise us.
I've always wanted to be a back-up singer for Bruce Springsteen!

I'd like to thank Katherine for taking time away from her busy schedule to share her ideas and let us get to know her a little bit better! Okay, now for the giveaway...

Katherine said she's decided to try a shorter daily writing goal, what is it?  Answer the question and you could win a signed copy of her book Something To Hold. Enter before midnight on January 31st. Winner will be announced on February 1st.

Giveaway February 14th! 


  1. Answer: to write 500 words a day.

    Thank you for this fantastic giveaway! I really enjoyed the author interview and shall be adding "Something to hold" to my to-read list.
    Thank you x

    Email; lfountain1(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk

  2. She wants to write 500 words per day (about a page and a half)! Something to Hold is such an amazing book! :)

  3. 500 Words a Day or a Page and a Half!

    Katherine has been an incredible inspiration not just to me, but to many teachers and writers. I have been lucky enough to take a class from her. She read aloud from Something to Hold each day. Listening to her read aloud, and feeling viscerally how caught up in the story I and others were, led to my most powerful insight as a teacher: daily read-alouds rock, and propel students into the Big Reasons we read. Teaching explicit strategies for text comprehension is a useful tool, but listening to an excellent read-aloud brings it home-- reading is a joy and a refuge. I will always be thankful to Katherine for that moving experience.

    Andrea baumgar5(at)seattleu(dot)edu

  4. Katherine is trying out a shorter daily writing goal of 500 words (~1.5 pages) "to see if I can get a pace going"!


  5. "I'm trying out a shorter daily goal -- 500 words, which is about a page and a half -- to see if I can get a pace going."

    Yay!! I hope I win!!!


  6. "I'm trying out a shorter daily goal -- 500 words, which is about a page and a half -- to see if I can get a pace going."

    Yay!! I hope I win!!



I would love to hear from you!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...