When did you write your first book? If you’re Katie Wilson, you started writing– and publishing–at just seven years of age. Katie’s parents are both authors, her mother is author Patricia Lee Macomber and her father, David Niall Wilson, is also a publisher of Crossroad Press. David and illustrator Dan Monroe just published a new children’s Halloween book, The Skeleton Inside Me!, which also took inspiration from Katie. To celebrate this family collaboration’s launch, we asked David to talk about how writing and publishing became a family affair –and what other parents can do to encourage their children’s creative writing.
1. How did Katie start her publishing career?
Katie sat down one day, without any provocation or warning, and started to write a story. I asked her what it was about, and she told me it was about aliens, and pumpkins. She described the story to me, and we started to work on pictures to go with it… Usually when we draw together, I draw the pictures and she colors them, or adds to them. The thing that her mother and I keyed in on was – she finished the story. A lot of writers at all levels have trouble with this, and at age 7 she had accomplished it.
I took that story, broke it into one and two line pieces, edited it for her, and we worked on the rest of the illustrations. I thought it would be interesting to see how she would react to a full-blown book, so I got my business partner, David Dodd, who does most of the Crossroad Press book covers to make her a cover, and we formatted and published Mars Needs Pumpkins, which has actually sold reasonably well. She knew that her mom and I make money writing, and she decided she would write books so she could buy more things for her American Girls dolls. An entrepreneur was born.
2. As writers and parents, what do you think about your experience influenced Katie to start writing and to start publishing?
Our lives are centered around creative activity. I write, and run a publishing company. Trish, who is an award-winning editor and author, writes, copy-edits, proofreads, and is proficient in more crafts than I even knew existed. We both play multiple musical instruments – the environment, in other words, is one where creativity is encouraged.
Katie’s older sister, Stephanie N. Macomber, also has a book out, written when she was 16, titled Tales From the Southern Hotel, and Steph has always been a big influence on her little sister. My son Zachary also showed interest early on in writing, though he’s not pursued it through publication. Katie has always been surrounded by creative people. Her other two brothers, Will and Zane, are both guitarists and photographers, and Zane is also something of an artist, when he sets his mind to it. All three boys are serving now in the US Navy.
3. For Katie, what’s the best part of being an author?
When I asked her that question, she laughed and said “money,” but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. She’s been able to share her book, Bob Goes to Mars, with her friends. There is a copy in her school library. She and I participated in “The Peke Project,” last year, where a group of students became pen pals with Pekingese dogs all over the world and learned about where they lived, their families, etc. Katie and I sent all of those kids a copy each of our books, Bob Goes to Mars and The Kingdom of Clowns. The reactions from all those kids reading her books has been amazing. She’s even gotten notes telling her how the story in Bob Goes to Mars has helped children – you can tell that means a lot to her. Bob learns, in her book, that it’s great to dream of being something amazing, but that the best thing you can be is yourself. Pretty heavy stuff for a ten year old.
She has also been asked by the director of the International Child Art Foundation to do a workshop in Washington D.C. one year to talk to other kids about writing, and books.
4. How do you, David and Trish, work together with Katie on her books?
We have read to her since she was a tiny baby. Trish and I both make up stories all the time, and we encourage her to do the same. Katie has a group of stuffed animals we have always called “The Bedtime Bunch,” and some of them are the stars of the eBook she and I wrote together – Perilous Pink PcGee – featuring a pirate pig, his first mate Flounder, and an “Aaarrrr bor Seal” for a cook. We draw with her, listen to her read, and generally encourage her to see projects through. She has amazing focus for her age.
5. What do you think the benefits are for Katie to launch her writing at such a young age?
She has been able to develop her grammar and artistic skills in ways that are fun, and at the same time very adult. She has used her creativity to earn her own money, has been able to see the benefits of some minor celebrity, being an author guest at a science fiction convention and reading to other kids. It’s helped her to expand her awareness of “story” – in writing that is often the hardest thing for young authors – finding something uniquely your own without copying the stories you love, and being able to express those stories coherently. Katie is also an avid reader and nearly always has a book somewhere close.
6. What’s Katie’s experience been as an author?
She’s been a convention guest, and done group readings. She’s reached out to students in schools far away, and has planned an entire series of “Bob the Starfish” adventures. Next up, I think, is Bob the Starfish and the Great Koi-Rate Tournament, which she’s been plotting. Other stories involve Bob wanting to be the star on a Christmas Tree, A Sheriff’s Star, etc. In Bob Goes to Mars, the first book, Bob wanted to be a Shooting Star.
Writing is only one of Katie’s creative passions, but I think the ability to see it through from the initial idea to an actual book has given her a more well-rounded creative experience. She has gone on to accomplish a lot of other amazing things, crochet projects, huge engineering toy roller coasters, sewing, and is now studying piano and clarinet. Along with all of that, she will always be able to add “published author” to her resume.
Top Ten Tips for Parents Encouraging Writing
1) Read to your child regularly. Read the stories they like, and find a variety of things that they have not heard. Interacting with you and books is the first and best way to interest them in the words behind the stories. When Katie was little, we bought a several volume set of antique children’s books. For nearly six months I read her a story from those every night (some – as it turns out – no longer appropriate for children were edited or skipped).
2) Ask questions about the stories you read. Ask what they think happened next. Ask what they like. Always ask if they have questions about the story, and then, involve them in the answers.
3) Encourage Drawing and other crafts, and integrate these into storytelling. Have them draw a picture, and you write something to go with it, then turn the tables and draw a picture for them to write about.
4) Once the urge to write has hit, encourage follow-through. With Katie, once she had the idea for her first book, I pushed her to finish the writing portion. It took some time, and needed to be edited (I shared this with her too, now she proof-reads things on her own) but when it was done, and we were on to the illustrations, you could see that there was a real sense of accomplishment. That first book was “Mars Needs Pumpkins,” and was published right about the time Katie turned 7. At age 10 she has two published books of her own and a third that she and I collaborated on.
5) While trying to keep things light, and fun, emphasize grammar and writing fundamentals. Break stories down into their essential parts. Explain concepts like conflict, introduction, and conclusion. Every type of writing has a structure, or a pattern, and children are particularly good at picking up on and memorizing patterns. Good habits learned at an early age can provide an amazing advantage in education, and in future projects.
6) Along with assigned reading, encourage your child to read for fun. Even if what they choose to read is nothing that interests you, provide the opportunity. Make books available and if you can think of a way to reward the reading without making it an “earning” thing, go for it.
7) Encourage your child to read aloud, not just their own stories, but those they read for school, and for fun. This is a habit that will stick with them, and is invaluable to any writer. What feels right when you put your fingers to the keys or the pen to the paper may not sound the same to you when read aloud. The sooner they master dialogue that feels “real” and sentence structure that doesn’t make the reader stumble, the sooner their writing develops a smoothness and style of its own.
8) Without letting it get excessive, watch movies and television with your child. When appropriate, talk about the plots, why things are funny. Ask what they like about the storylines, and then – ask how they would have written them. You might be surprised by the thought behind the answers. Katie – like many children – is like a sponge. She soaks things up and she doesn’t forget them.
9) Publish your children’s work. In this digital age, a little homework and thought is all you need to turn a young person’s hard work into something tangible. eBooks are not too difficult to create, and provide a way your child can show off their work. Katie was thrilled when her first book went up online, and people actually started buying and reading it.. It provided the motivation to work harder and to keep creating. There will be many more adventures for Bob the Starfish.
10) When your child has written something, provide the audience. Appreciate the work they have done. Find others to share that work, maybe with their own children, and allow your child the opportunity to experience feedback. Katie listens to criticism, learns from reviews and remarks others make, and absolutely loves it when others enjoy her books. The more fulfilling you are able to make the experience of writing and creating stories, the more likely it is to become a life-long journey.