I’d like to welcome my friend Deborah Kops to the blog today. I met Deborah about a year ago at the first NESCBWI Meet Up I coordinated—a great side benefit to Meet Ups is that you get to make great friends! As it turns out, we live about five miles apart and regularly enjoy a cup of coffee together at a local coffeeshop.
Deborah’s new book TheGreat Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 came out several weeks ago—and I was so excited when it did. I’ve always been fascinated by this bizarre tragedy.
K: Thanks for being here Deborah! First of all, where can people find you? Do you have a website?
D: Yes, finally (www.deborahkops.com). It went up about half an hour before an interview with me on WBUR’s Here and Now aired on February 21. There’s a link to the interview on my website.
K: The interview on WBUR is fantastic—congratulations! The link is here: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/02/21/great-molasses-flood
Your book The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 is based on a tragedy that isn’t widely known; how did you become interested in it?
D: I was surfing the Web and came across an article in Yankee magazine about the flood. It was such a bizarre disaster, and I was pretty sure it would interest kids. But I was having trouble finding enough information about the flood to write a book. Then Stephen Puleo’s book for adults, Dark Tide, was published in 2003. In his acknowledgments, Puleo noted the forty-volume transcript of the court hearings that took place after the flood. The transcript contains the stories of the victims of the flood—from the fireman who lost his life to nine-year-old Antonio DiStasio, who survived. When I learned about the transcript, I knew I could write the book.
K: While Deborah does a great job telling the story, the Puleo book is fabulous and much more in depth for adults—if you want even more info about this bizarre event, I strongly suggest you read it. Ok, back to the interview, What made you start to write seriously?
D: I began writing freelance articles for Vermont Life magazine, the Connecticut section of the New York Times, and other publications decades ago. Later, I worked as an editor at Blackbirch Press, a children’s publisher in Connecticut. I enjoyed the editing work a lot, but I envied my authors. So I decided to try writing children’s books. I discovered that researching a kids book isn’t all that different from researching a magazine or newspaper article. But I found writing a book much more satisfying.
K: A freelancer after my own heart. J Do you have a current work-in-progress? Can you tell us about it?
D: I’m retelling a folktale with American and European roots that I hope will be a picture book. I’m also researching a longer work about a woman who was active in the women’s suffrage movement and should be better known than she is.
K: It sounds wonderful—good luck with both of those projects. Many people are currently pondering whether or not to query agents or go it alone. You’ve got an agent—can you tell us a bit about that relationship? How long have you been together, etc.?
D: I’ve been represented by Stephen Fraser, of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, for almost five years. Steve is very experienced and knows a lot of people in the children’s book publishing industry. He’s also an insightful reader and a lovely person. It’s wonderful to have access to someone who can give such well-informed advice. When Steve sends out a manuscript, he gets responses much more quickly than I would on my own. And getting the inevitable rejections secondhand is easier, too.
K: I can relate to the second hand rejection emotion—it does feel less harsh when deliverd by someone who loves your work. Where do you find your inspiration?
D: I keep a notebook of ideas for books. They come to me at random moments. I may be washing dishes or looking at kids books at an exhibit. If I find that my mind keeps drifting toward a particular subject, I begin researching it and thinking about how I might shape it into a book. Reading children’s books sometimes gives me ideas, too. So does talking about the craft of writing with other authors.
K: Some of my favorite times are talking about craft with other writers. It’s always nice to vent about successes and challenges. On that note, what is your biggest challenge with your writing?
D: I find it hard to stick with a writing routine. Twitter and the Internet in general are temptations that are difficult for me to resist. Jane Yolen’s famous advice—BIC, or butt in chair—still applies. I would add, And eyes on the WIP. Time management is crucial for me because I juggle writing with freelance editing work, which involves frequent deadlines. The daily and weekly To Do lists are helpful, unless I decide to ignore them!
K: Oh my goodness—yes, BIC and EOTWIP. What are your favorite books?
D: I have a lot of favorites. Among the books I’ve read recently I love Barbara Kerley’s picture book Those Rebels, John & Tom and Thanhha Lai’s book for older kids Inside Out and Back Again, which won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. I think Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell, a picture book about Jane Goodall, is terrific. I read books for adults, too, especially literary fiction. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth knocked my socks off.
K: You just gave me some books to add to my TBR pile. Lastly, just for fun, do you have a favorite “guilty pleasure” you want to share?
D: I like to read a gossipy article in People magazine when I’m stuck on a long line at the supermarket checkout.
K: LOL. Um, me too. What did I miss? Anything else you’d like to share?
D: A reporter from Channel 5’s Chronicle came to my home to interview me the other day. That was pretty exciting! I’ll be included in a show devoted to local authors, which will air in a couple of weeks. When I know the date, I’ll note it on my website. Then I’ll be talking about The Great Molasses Flood and signing books at the Concord Bookshop on April 1 (no fooling!) at 3 p.m. My friend Heather Lang will be there, too, to talk about her new picture book Queen of the Track.
K: Congratulations on the Chronicle interview! That’s big news! Can’t wait for that to air.
D: Thanks so much, Kris, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog!
K: You are very welcome. I wish you the best of luck with the book. Deborah can be found on twitter @DeborahKops and on her website www.deborahkops.com