Coffee & Conversation with Katy Kelly: From Dreaming to Doing Conference

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying our From Dreaming to Doing SCBWI Conference interviews so far. We enjoy doing them every year as a way for attendees to get to know our presenters better! If you’ve missed any of them, no worries, plenty of time to catch up:

Today we have author Katy Kelly in the cyber chair!

katy-kelly-bio-pic-150x150Katy wrote both the LUCY ROSE and the MELONHEAD series with one goal: making middle readers laugh their heads off. It worked. The New York Times calls Lucy Rose “hilarious.” School Library Journal calls Melonhead, “laugh out loud funny, rivaling Stink and Fudge in its trouble-maker quotient.” Both series are set on Capitol Hill where Kelly grew up. Before writing for children, Kelly, the daughter of writers, worked as an illustrator before becoming a feature writer for USA Today and an editor at US News.

Katy will be speaking several times throughout the conference:

Saturday, 2:00-2:50 PM: Introverts, Extroverts, Ambiverts, Oh My!: Personality Types in Publishing

A panel of professionals of varied backgrounds and personality types discuss how to succeed in publishing and remain true to yourself.

Saturday, 3:00-3:50 PM: Writing Funny is a Serious Business

Kids are the most honest of audiences. They won’t humor the author. They won’t hang around waiting for the joke to unwind. And while a 30-year-old and a 60-year-old find the same things funny, a three-year-old and a six-year-old do not. Author Katy Kelly shows you how to tune into and deliver kid humor from picture books through YA.

Sunday Intensives, 9:00 – 12:00 PM: The Hero’s Journey

You’ve written, edited, re-written. Still, your hero isn’t presenting as heroic. The solution: The Hero’s Journey. This narrative pattern, first realized by scholar Joseph Campbell, then streamlined by then-Disney writer Christopher Vogel, is the foundation for all hero stories including ancient myths, “Charlotte’s Web,” Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet,” Batman. “Pride and Prejudice” and all Disney movies. The step-by-step guide takes the hero through an adventure, challenges, psychological/ spiritual growth and a triumphant return. Learn to apply this tool to your own writing.

And now, on with the interview! First off, Katy, what was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? And now, as an adult?

When I was 3 and 4, I took Blueberries for Sal out of the library every week for a year. As a 9 year-old, I loved Homer Price by Beverly Cleary. I was fascinated that the Price parents made their living by owning a tourist camp. Homer was my first crush.

As a teen I was wild for Beverly Cleary’s The Luckiest Girl. My daughters were too. I scared myself to near-death reading The Bad Seed. I’m much too much of a chicken to reread it now.

As an adult I read a lot of YA books. They are better constructed and more tightly edited than many adult books. I love Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, both by E.B. White, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, anything by Jane Austin, P.G. Wodehouse, especially the Jeeves and Bertie books, Martyr’s Day by Michael Kelly, who, as it happens, is my brother. And David Sedaris, of course. If the David Sedaris was a new release, I’d read him first.

What is your favorite writing how-to book, technique, or website that has helped you improve your craft or provided inspiration?

I’m not a huge Stephen King fan but you can learn about wrting by reading his books or just read Stephen King’s ON WRITING. Also good: WRITING WELL by William Zinsser.


How were you inspired to write your current or upcoming release?

I have two picture books making the rounds. In both cases the idea popped up full-blown. I wrote it down as fast as I could for fear that they’d pop out again.

Those books make me laugh out loud. I’m hoping an editor has the same reaction.

If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?

I’d be an illustrator. I was for the first ten or so years after graduation from art school and I still draw.

You’ve been locked in a bank vault Twilight Zone style, so you finally have time to read! Your glasses are fine, (whew,) so what’s the first book you crack open? 

Oh, no! Not a vault! A room. A room with an unlocked door. The book?  House at Pooh Corner or Where the Sidewalk ends.


For one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased author you want. Who do you pick?

Michael Kelly and how marvelous that would be.

You magically find a $100 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it?

On books, though I don’t see that as frivolous. I’d buy a good many of them at my library’s used book room. A hundred dollars would go a long way in there.

Alternate Fact: If I not only found a hundred bucks and then I found the world’s cheapest airfare, I’d go to L.A. and visit my high school friend, Carol. That would be a double win. She has a lot of books.

What is your favorite quote?

A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd.

What do you enjoy doing when not writing?

I spend time with my husband, daughters, Emily and Marguerite, my mom, sisters and friends. One of my favorite is eleven. My mom is 84. It’s good to have friends that span the decades.

I draw.

I procrastinate.

I make To Do lists that never get more than half done.

If you could sum up your best advice for new writers in only four words, what would they be?

Butt in chair. Every day.

Time for the lightning round! Do you …

Outline or wing it? I winged my first book because I didn’t know what I was doing. Since then, I’ve Outline.

Talk about works-in-progress or keep it zipped? Sometimes I talk about it but too much, too often and I get bored.

Sell by proposal or completed draft? First book sold was a complete draft. After that, proposal. Publishers increasingly want detailed, chapter-by-chapter proposals.

Prefer writing rough drafts or editing? Writing when it’s going well.

Dread marketing or love it? I like touring and bookstore signings. I really love visiting schools.

Read Kindle or traditional books? Usually traditional.

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work? Afternoon and evening.

Music to listen to while writing? I forget to turn it on.

Trick to staying motivated? Butt in chair. Chair at Starbucks.

Pair of shoes? My fushia loafers.

Guiltiest pleasure? Ice cream.

Line from a movie?

My father had four or five favorite movies. Cat Balou. Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines and The Wrong Box, which was about a group of millionaires who form a tontine that goes to the child of the millionaire who dies last.

Julia Finsbury explains how her father died:

Oh, I only knew mine vaguely. My father was a missionary. He was eaten by his Bible class.”

Thanks so much for stopping by, Katy, and we’re looking forward to seeing you at the conference!

Happy writing and drawing, everyone!


About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two awesome boys, wife of one fantastic husband, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She loves run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
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