Craft, Career & Cheer: Kelly Milner Halls

Learn about Kelly Milner Halls.

What do you love most about your creative life? Why?

Because my topics are so unusual, two things tie as my favorite elements of my creative life — the research and how the kids receive it. They’re undeniably linked, so I feel at ease with listing them both.

As I research, as I am now for In Search of Sasquatch (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), I’ll find a piece of treasure and think, “Man, the kids are going to love this.”

I went to a Bigfoot gathering a few weeks ago and interviewed a college professor who had studied encoded language for the military for more than 20 years. He had analyzed Bigfoot vocalization tapes and had concluded they shared language, not just sounds–Bigfoot to Bigfoot. I was astonished, listening to his research, and I knew the kids would be electrified too.

I measure each page I write against that milestone. If it doesn’t rise to my own level of expectation, it doesn’t make it into the book. Because I want those kids excited about discovery and research, and I feel I have the chance to spark their flames through exposure to my own enthusiasm.

I don’t imagine all kids will love what they see. But I see that one kid in my head, and I’m so excited.

When I sat down to write that passage–and others–this summer, I wrote feeling super charged with that thought in mind. Then, when I do a series of school visits and get to talk to kids about that piece of treasure, it’s like finding it all over again, this time with the kid I was picturing by my side. It’s the ultimate pay-off for the hard work I do.

Awards are nice, and they are always appreciated. But that kid’s reaction, that’s the real measure of my success. I hope I can do this forever.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

I love what I described in my previous answer, meeting the kids and sharing the wonders with them most, but I also love meeting other authors and illustrators.

Writing is such a solitary career choice. Even writing nonfiction, with all the travel and research and interviews that involves, is solitary. Because the people you meet to build a book are professional associates, not personal friends. They are wonderful, and some actually become friends after a book is completed. But the focus is somewhat narrow talking to each subject. It has to be to stay on track with the outlined book. Even if we get off track, it’s for the good of the project, which is in itself fairly narrow. So those human connections are limited.

Meeting other authors–just for the joy of it–is practically the opposite in nature. You may or may not make a real connection, but the possibility is always there. They, at the very least, understand the work you’ve chosen to do and all the unique demands that go with it. And that’s a comfort in an otherwise alien world. But once in a while, you make a friend — a real soul mate. And that’s such a special gift.

Whether I find a friend for life or a friend for the moment, every author I’ve had the chance to meet and talk with has been a treasure to me. That, along with the kids, is my favorite part of being a writer.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes, illustrated by William Sumner (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2009) will be out this fall. After that will be In Search of Sasquatch (Houghton Mifflin, 2010 or 2011). Then I’ll finish up Alien Encounters, a follow-up to Tales of the Cryptids, co-authored by Rick Spears and Roxyanne Young (Darby Creek, 2006).

I don’t have a publisher for Aliens yet, but I will soon, if only by sheer determination. The kids want it, so I’ll find a way to deliver it.

After that, I’m headed to Australia to a bat rescue hospital for a book project. And I have an early picture book about a T.rex family I hope to have firm news about soon, as well. Also, a book series proposal I’m shopping. To be continued.

As always, I have a lot of new projects in the works. Wish there were more hours in the day.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.