Today we are talking with Kathryn Powers, an up-and-coming middle-grade and picture book author and illustrator.
Kathryn, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I lead something of a double life. By day, I work as a library office manager, pouncing on the UPS guy every time he delivers a new children’s book, as well as volunteering as the Illustrator Coordinator for Central/Southern Ohio Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
By night, I stay up until the wee hours writing about swashbuckling ferrets and equine heroes, and doodling everything cute and fuzzy.
Whatever I’m doing, you will find me attempting to stave off years of sleep deprivation with coffee, lots of coffee!
You sound like a superhero to me—library office manager by day, children’s writer and illustrator by night. We need to make that into a movie, something like “Book Girl: The Adventures of a Literary Super Hero.” The title needs work. I need your help to sort that one out.
So, tell us “Book Girl ” Kathryn, what are your earliest memories of books?
I was lucky to grow up in a household where my parents and older sisters read to me all the time. I especially loved anything that featured animals, like P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! and Robert Lopshire’s Put Me in the Zoo. If there was a horsey or kitty or doggy on the cover, there was a good chance I’d bring it home with me!
One of my all-time favorite books is No Such Things by Bill Peet. I had a revolving-door relationship with the book where I would check it out from our school library, return it when due, and immediately sign it out again.
The book is all about different imaginary creatures, like goats who can ski on their horns and pie-billed birds who spear cherries with their fork-shaped feet. I was captivated by Peet’s illustration style and creative mind. The critters were unique, but totally seemed like they could live in the “real world.”
How did you go from being a reader to being an author and illustrator?
I’ve been writing and drawing ever since I can remember. My teachers encouraged me throughout my school years, and planted the seed in my head that “maybe—just maybe—I don’t utterly stink at this.”
While obtaining my creative writing degree, I started writing my first novel, a manuscript that’s now safely tucked away in the darkest corner of my computer. I returned to my art a year or two later after realizing how much I missed that creative part of me. I eventually discovered that my ideas and interests were better suited to children’s books Then, it was as if the sun broke through and I had permission to let my imagination run wild.
Now—almost ten years later—I’m still at it, hoping that with every draft and every submission, I’m closer to achieving my dream of publication.
You mentioned you “eventually discovered that your ideas were better suited to children’s books.” That’s a big insight. How did that happen?
I was writing children's literature before I ever realized it. My strongest memory is from high school when a friend complained one day about her assignment to write an ode to a ______ (the blank being the writer's choice). She thought it was torture; I thought it was the best project ever!
So while my friend grumbled beside me, I whipped out a silly poem about a toaster who burns a little girl's breakfast one morning. It felt strangely natural to imagine a toaster's emotions and tribulations. Writing it made me happy.
Instances like this kept piling on top of each other, for years. When I signed up for a children's literature class in college, the pieces all came together. I loved reading stories about wizards and rodent warriors and big red dogs; I doodled smiley flowers and prancing ponies; I wrote about sentient toasters, for goodness sake! Of course, I was meant for kids' books! It was truly a "duh!" moment.
If we were to stop by and watch you creating, what would we see?
My writing and illustrating processes depend on the sort of project on which I’m working.
For my middle-grade manuscripts, it’s all about the words first (although I strongly hope to illustrate them, too!) But for my picture books, I find that the words and images go hand in hand.
I tend to be an all-in sort of worker, as I write and illustrate around my day job. I do what I can during the week, but when the weekends or holidays hit, I’m a one-way train pouring my heart and soul into my projects.
I’ll skip meals, stay in my robe all day, and put off everything non-essential. So please be kind if you come to my house. It’s, um, usually a mess.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep moving forward on such an uncertain path, but my favorite pop culture reference helps. I’ll geekily admit that I love the TV show “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” In the show (and also seen on the awesome toys from the 80’s!), each pony has a “cutie mark” that adorns their flank, announcing their unique talent to the world—from music notes to math equations and everything in between.
I feel like I’m still earning my mark, but I very much hope it will include a book or two when it appears on my tushie someday.
What are you working on right now?
I currently have two projects I’m excited about.
One is my middle-grade novel, Pirate Ferret. It’s about a ferret called Tentacles who is the pet of a pirate captain. Tentacles is sneaky, sassy, and oh-so talented at thieving, but his greedy paws get him into trouble! It was inspired by my pet ferrets who swiped everything from granola bar wrappers to bags of toilet paper. They showed me how even tiny creatures can accomplish big, bold feats.
My second project is a picture book called Blink. It’s about a baby bat trying to make a new friend in the forest, but he has a hard time finding someone who sees the world as he does. My goal is that it will give comfort and hope to anyone who has ever felt like a square peg in a round hole.
What is the best advice that you have been given so far during this journey toward publication?
I can say with 100% certainty that the best advice I have received is to join SCBWI.
I joined in 2008 after leaving college when I had no clue what to do with my writing or illustrating. I immediately got involved in my local chapter, and have spent the years since attending conferences, workshops, and every event I can.
SCBWI has given me publishing guidance, knowledge, and encouragement, plus the best buddies for which I could ever ask. I will always be grateful for the education and friendships I’ve gained by being involved with this wonderful organization.
My second piece of advice comes courtesy of The Psychedelic Furs and their awesome song, “Love My Way.” Whenever I’m feeling cowardly, I remember these lyrics: You can never win or lose if you don’t run the race.
Be brave and give your dreams your best shot. Yes, you might fail, but you might also be a great success. You’ll never know unless you try.
If there was a biography about your life, what would the title be?
I think the story of The Little Engine That Could is pretty much my life. Or maybe my biography would be titled If You Give a Kathryn a Cookie, as I do like to eat cookies.
That mouse is adorable! I enjoy your work--it has such a lighthearted feel to it. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and for letting us get a peek at your upcoming projects. Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Thank you for asking me to be part of your interview series! I’m not an expert and know I still have a lot to learn, but I hope my experiences and insights will help someone else on their journey to publication.
To see more of Kathryn's work or to contact her about a writing and/or illustration project, visit her website www.http://kspowers.blogspot.com/ . Find her on Instagram at @k.s.powers