Helen Ketteman interview with David Alan Binder

posted Mar 28, 2016, 5:53 AM by David Alan Binder   [ updated May 16, 2016, 6:25 AM ]

Helen Ketteman interview with David Alan Binder

 Links:   www.helenketteman.com

             Helen Ketteman page on Facebook

Amazon:     http://www.amazon.com/Helen-Ketteman/e/B000APCEI6


Her bio:  Helen Ketteman is the author of twenty-five (and counting) picture books. Her books range in age from preschool through fourth or 5th graders who may be studying tall tales in school. Helen Ketteman earned her Associate of Arts degree from Young Harris College in Young Harris, GA, and her B.A. degree in English from Georgia State University in Atlanta.

She has taught at the high school and elementary levels, and has also taught continuing education classes in writing picture books at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She’s spoken at adult writing conferences on writing picture books, and also appeared at young author conferences and on radio and television talk shows. She’s a frequent speaker at elementary schools. Helen Ketteman earned her Associate of Arts degree from Young Harris College in Young Harris, GA, and her B.A. degree in English from Georgia State University in Atlanta.


1.     How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)? 


It’s pronounced mostly like it looks – Ket-te-man (emphasis on the 1st       syllable).   Many people put either an L or an R in the middle, which feels natural, but it’s not there.


2.     Where are you currently living?


I currently live in Florida.


3.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?


Probably that re-writing is the most important part of the process.  There is an art to perfecting the language and rhythms in the words for a picture book, and even in re-writing, there’s plenty of room for creativity.



4.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?


When I am working on a story – really working on it – I can’t let go of it.  It’s in my head 24-7,  and I will sit at my computer and write and rewrite obsessively all day long, for 6- 7 hours, hardly stopping at all.  Reading a short, maybe 300-word manuscript over and over hundreds of times, changing a word here, a word there, a phrase or rhythm, over and over and over .  I’m kind of like a maniac while I’m working on a story.   Otherwise, I’m relatively normal (at least to people who don’t know me very well!)



5.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?


I can’t give you insight on self-publishing because I have never done it.


a.     Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?


I’ve been writing for over 30 years and have sold 25 picture books to different publishers.   My current publishers are Two Lions Publishing in New York, and Albert Whitman & Co. in the Chicago area.


6.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?   


Well, I grew up in a different time, so I’m a bit old-fashioned there.  I do love real, physical books that I can hold, and touch, and feel, and smell the pages.  However, I do sometimes read a book on my I-Pad.  When I’m traveling, it’s very handy to have several books downloaded.  And, too, children today are growing up with these devices.  They may well be more comfortable with E-books than the real thing.  And E-books have a lot going for them in that they’re less expensive that no trees are cut down to make an E-book.  They’re also more accessible, worldwide.  The internet is so amazing when you think of the access it gives people to information, books included.  A child in India or Australia or Japan can download my book in an instant if they want to.  It actually blows my mind to think about it.



7.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?


Only what I tell children about writing when I visit elementary schools – that writing, like everything else you want to do well, takes practice.  A lot of practice.  And that rewriting is a good thing, because that’s when a not-so-good story becomes a good story. 


8.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?


I have no advice in this department, as I do not have an agent.  I think agents are probably more important for novels and chapter books than the picture books I write. (Though I do expect I could make more money if I had an agent working for me in that department!)       


9.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

Write.  Find other writers to critique your writing.  Listen to them. Rewrite.  If your writing is good enough, your story will be published.  If you have submitted your story several times with standard rejections, put it aside and take a look at it after a few months.  If you can read it with fresh eyes, perhaps you can see what is not working.  If an editor asks you to rewrite, do it.  Editors see lots of manuscripts, and they know what works and what doesn’t.  Nothing you ever write will be so great it cannot be changed for the better.

10.                        What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

When I first started writing, I thought I was a good writer and had great ideas for stories, and I was actually surprised that my stories didn’t sell for a long time.  I had has no idea I had so much to learn. I was, after all, an English major.  Writing just takes a lot more patience that I realized – patience with the process of creating a viable story, patience with your own writing and re-writing, with your publisher, with the whole process of turning the manuscript into a book.   It takes a long time to create one picture book.  Many people are involved – it’s not just you and your editor, or you and your editor and your illustrator.   There are teams of people who work to make every book as great and successful as it can be.


11.                        How many books have you written? 

I have 25 published books – and countless others, which have yet to see the light of day, at least as published books.  Some have been sold to children’s periodicals.

12.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)? 


If there is some trick to writing, I would like to know a few.  My best tips are that you need discipline and persistence.  You will need thick skin, because rejection hurts.  You will have to learn to listen to the advice of others and learn how to filter that advice and use what works for your story. And if you really want to be published, you should not give up. Ordinary people get published – but they’re hard-working ordinary people.


13.                        Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

A twist in a story is a great thing.  But it has to come from the story, not just out of the blue, or it will never work.  In my first picture book, Not Yet, Yvette  (Albert Whitman & Co) , a young girl and her dad plan a surprise birthday for the mom.  Throughout the book, while they prepare for the party, Yvette asks, “Is it time yet, dad?  Is the cake ready yet? Are we done shopping yet? NOW is it time?”   “Not yet, Yvette,” he answers every time.

At the end of the story, Yvette is watching out for mom while dad is in the kitchen waiting for word to light the candles.  Finally, dad asks, “Is it time, yet, Yvette?”  And Yvette gets to answer, “Yes, dad, it’s time!”

This is a simple twist and satisfying twist that grows out of the story.

I twist fairy tales around – tell them from a different perspective.  In Bubba the Cowboy Prince, which seems to be a huge favorite of a lot of people, Bubba, a rancher, is Cinderella, with wicked stepbrothers and a wicked stepdaddy.  Miz Lurleen, a successful and pretty rancher, is looking for a feller.  With the help of a Fairy Godcow, Bubba gets to go to the ball, that is, hoedown, where the real magic happens.



14.                        What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?


A successful picture book is one that kids want to hear not just once, but

over and over and over again.  The words have to sound pleasing to the ear every bit as much as the pictures to the eye.  I think it’s my language that have made my books successful, because children want to hear them over and over.  This is what creates readers.  Young children are initially drawn to the pictures because they don’t understand anything about printed words.  But after hearing the story many, many times, their attention gets drawn to those printed words, and they want to be able to read them for themselves.


15.                        What are some ways in which you promote your work?


I do author visits to elementary schools, and have an author website at www.helenketteman.com,   Teachers and librarians can visit the site to learn about my books and my school visits.  I have writing tips for teachers and children on the site as well.  I also have an author site on Facebook, as well as a page on Amazon Author Central.  And because I have been at so many elementary schools over the years, and because many elementary school teachers and librarians use my books, if you merely google Helen Ketteman, many, many different things pop up about either author visits, or various ways schools have used my books.


16.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why? 


I kind of wish I had worked at being more versatile as a writer and tried novels, but I chose to work really hard on one type of book, the picture book, which is probably where my heart has always been. 


I suppose if I could choose one thing to change now I would get back to my earlier days in writing where I was more disciplined about writing.  For years, I wrote every day, which is what it takes, but now I write more when the spirit moves me to do so.  My husband is retired, and somehow, life seems to get busier in retirement.  I keep threatening to retire from doing author visits, but it hasn’t happened yet – it’s just too much fun being with the kids and teachers and librarians.



17.                        What would you like carved onto your tombstone?  Or what saying or mantra do you live by?


Oh, dear!  I am getting older by the minute and really don’t want to think about tombstones! 


But the one thing I’ve always been passionate about is helping children develop a love of reading while they’re young.  If we can do that, then they will be lifelong readers, and lifelong learners.  And if my books have helped in that regard, then I feel like I’ve done something worthwhile with my life.



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