Author Update: Kimberly Willis Holt

When we last talked to Kimberly Willis Holt, her novel Dancing In Cadillac Light (Putnam, 2001), had just been published. See An Interview with Children’s Book Author Kimberly Willis Holt. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don’t work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted? Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

I always said that when I grew up, I would write picture books. I haven’t grown up yet, but I am now writing them. Which I guess means that I sometimes think like a five year old, as well as a twelve year old. My first picture book, Waiting For Gregory, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Henry Holt, 2006), comes out in April. I’ve sold a few others and they will be out sometime in the future.

2006 is a year of firsts for me. My first short story collection comes out in the fall. Part of Me: Stories of a Louisiana Family (Henry Holt, 2006) is set in various places around my home state of Louisiana.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

Waiting For Gregory was inspired by the birth of my nephew Gregory. In 1996 my daughter and I drove to a Tulsa hospital to wait for my nephew to be born. So many interesting things happened while we waited in the waiting room. I thought it was a shame that my sister was missing all those tiny moments. So I wrote about them in brief sentences and arranged the snippets in a photo album. I titled it Waiting for Gregory: Snapshots.

On the way home I decided I’d turn that waiting process into a picture book. The main problem with the original draft was that it took place in a waiting room and there were few picture opportunities. I’m ashamed of that early draft because it shows that I had not done my homework about writing picture books. Of course, it was rejected.

A couple of years later my editor asked to see it again and told me it had potential. When I asked if the text or the concept had potential, she said, “The concept.” I put away the original draft and didn’t think about writing it until a couple of years later when an idea for a new draft came to me. I rewrote it many times before I sent it to my editor. And then I rewrote it many times after that.

Part of Me: Stories of a Louisiana Family was inspired by a picture that I saw in my good friend Kathi Appelt‘s book, Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky (HarperCollins, 2001). The photo showed WPA book mobile librarians that worked in the Louisiana bayou communities.

While researching for the book in Houma, Louisiana, I met a former book mobile driver. She got the job in the 1940’s at the age of seventeen. She had such wonderful vivid memories of that time and she became the inspiration for Rose, the character in my first set of stories. Rose is a fourteen year girl in those early stories and the eighty year old great-grandmother in the last ones.

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

I am currently reading So B. It by Sarah Weeks (HarperCollins, 2004)(read excerpt). It’s a wonderful story that I put off reading for awhile, probably because it included a mentally retarded mother. Since I had visited that myself in My Louisiana Sky (Henry Holt, 1998), I was concerned that I might discover that Weeks had tackled that better than me. Isn’t that terrible to admit that? I’m not finished with the the book yet, but so far it is lovely and our stories are very different.

Two picture books I’ve most enjoyed recently are The Milkman by Carol Foskett Cordsen (Dutton, 2005). Cordsen manages to show us the day in the life of a milkman and tell a delightful story at the same time. It’s beautifully constructed. I should also give a salute to the illustrator, Douglas B. Jones. His charming pictures capture the time period well.

I love love love Grandpa Gazillion’s Lumber Yard (PDF interview) by Laurie Keller (Henry Holt, 2005). Of course, I love everything Laurie does. I wish I could borrow her clever brain for just one day.

I recently read Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2004) and enjoyed it immensely. I thought the sisters’ relationship was beautiful and the thought of the family’s struggle to buy a home still puts a lump in my throat. I’m happy I got to know those characters.

Kathi Appelt’s My Father’s Summers (Henry Holt, 2004) is powerful. I admit Kathi is my friend, but I am a critical person when it comes to reading. (ask Kathi) When I finished the book, I told Kathi the only thing I didn’t like about it was that I didn’t write it.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I am currently working on a chapter book about a Navy Brat. It is lighter than any novel that I’ve ever attempted and I’m having fun writing it.

I’m also working on a detailed outline for a historical novel. I’ve never used a formal outline like this before, but this story certainly calls for it. This in one of two books about a father and a son. I’ve struggled with the son’s story since 1997. Finally I realized I didn’t know enough about the father. When I started to explore the father’s background, I became very interested in his story. At first, I thought I would combine the stories. But after a year of struggling with that, I realized I had two books. That struggle taught me that sometimes we’re not ready to write certain stories yet. I’m ready to write those stories now.

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, whose debut novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003, 2005) was recommended on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Higher Ground” program on Sept. 10.

Kimberly Willis Holt Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Dick’s Picks by Richard Jackson: a children’s book editor looks back on some career highlights.