Author Update: Dian Curtis Regan

Though I’d known her through an author list serv, I first met Dian Curtis Regan in person at the 25th Anniversary Conference of SCBWI in Los Angeles. We’ve stayed in touch since, and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting her at her home in Wichita.

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

Newly painted office. New art on walls. New display shelves. This is also known as “circling” AKA “getting ready to get back to writing.”

When Ernest Hemingway was asked how he prepared to begin a new novel, he responded, “First, I defrost the refrigerator.” I can relate.

In the works: New mystery anthology coming out soon from Scholastic. Picture book in production at Holiday House and board book in production at S&S. A promise to write “Twenty Years After” for the editor of Byline Magazine since I was the children’s market columnist there when my first novel sold twenty (!!!!) years ago.

Could you tell us about your new book, The World According to Kaley (Darby Creek, 2005)? What was your inspiration for creating this book?

The concept for Kaley came to me while I was living in Venezuela. My husband and I were walking into the MareMares Resort to meet other expats, and I had one of those ‘slip of the tongue’ moments that made me immediately think of it as a book idea. I don’t remember the exact comment, but it was historically anachronistic. Or maybe it was hysterical fiction.

The idea stuck with me, and I knew I’d have to do a lot of research. However there were no libraries in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, and Google was just a baby.

I’d become friends with the director of a local private school, Escuela de las Americas, so I asked if I could borrow a few history textbooks. This turned out to be the perfect solution for finding historical facts, then twisting them a bit to make them funny.

I was back in Venezuela earlier this year when I found out the book was going to be published. Nice closure.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I wrote the first draft in 2000. The original title was Twisted History, and Kaley was not even in it. An editor told me, “No child is going to pick up a book with the word ‘history’ in the title.” Uh, good point.

After several more drafts, the book landed in its almost-final form, but then was shelved during the long move back to the USA. I’m awfully glad I finally took it out of storage and sent it off into the world.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Besides figuring out how to do the research, I needed to design the chart, graph, and spot art. I am not an illustrator, but I am a closet cartoonist and have had cartoons published. I spent a lot of time working on the graphics. The publisher brought in a few 4th grade girls to recreate some of the doodles and handwriting.

The main character had three different names along the way. I think “Kaley” is a perfect fit. Also, a subplot was changed at the eleventh hour.

Lastly, it’s easy to poke fun at ancient history, but as the essays drew closer to the 20th century, I noticed that history wasn’t so funny anymore. I had to come up with a way to segue into modern times and find topics I could address in a humorous way.

How about children’s or YA books that you’ve read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I recently revisited Stolen by the Sea by Anna Myers (Walker, 2001). It’s a haunting book, set during the 1900 Hurricane in Galveston. I kept thinking about the story all during the Katrina tragedy.

Other favorite new books:
Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005).
Double Helix by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2004).
101 Ways to Bug your Teacher by Lee Wardlaw (Dial, 2004).
Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (Atheneum, 2005).

Currently reading: What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005) and Totally Joe by James Howe (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

The publisher is nudging me to write a sequel to The World According to Kaley. Kaley has already started talking to me, so I can say that the story is underway.

I’m also eager to begin an SF novel I’ve been researching for a long time. See note above about circling. Guess I’d better go see if the refrigerator needs defrosting…

Cynsational News & Links

Attention Austinites: Free Writing Workshops at Barnes & Noble Westlake—As part of its “Year of Writing” program, B&N Westlake is featuring author Susie Flatau at 7 p.m. Thurs. Sept. 22. Susie will discuss “Metaphor-Based Writing.” On Wed. Oct. 12, 2 p.m., author Pat Flathouse will present “Writing the Stories of Your Family History.” On Sat. Nov. 12, 10 a.m., author and storyteller Tim Tingle will share “From Oral Tradition to Written Stories.” And on Sat. Dec. 3, 10:30 a.m., Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will give tips on “Writing the Young Adult (aka Teen) Novel.” Source: Austin SCBWI.

Author Q&A with Ursula LeGuin by M.E. Wood from BellaOnline: The Voice of Women.

Not So Wild About Harry: Independent booksellers say latest ‘Harry Potter’ book boosts store visibility, not bottom line by Laura B. Weiss from School Library Journal.

YALSA offers recommended reading for teens in light of recent disaster from the ALA. [Please continue to support Katrina survivors. Though many have responded in these early days, the need will persist. Thank you.]