Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Do you have any children?
A. My two wonderful daughters are adults now, and I love to watch movies, go shopping, and talk with them. One teaches third grade and the other teaches middle school. They live near me, and they give me ideas for my writing. I live with my husband near the sea in California.
Q. Is it hard to write a book?
A. Yes, writing a book takes time, a lot of research, and many revisions.
Q. How long does it take to write a book?
A. Usually, a book of about 100 pages takes six months to a year to write. That doesn't count time spent revising, checking for errors, and printing. The process can take a year or longer. I've revised some stories and books more times than I can count.
Q. Where do you get your ideas for books?
A. Ideas are everywhere. Something real-a person, an event, an article, a book-can spark an idea. Sometimes, children give me ideas.
Q. What is your first step when you're writing a book?
A. The first step is finding a good idea for a book, especially one that is new and exciting. Next after that is doing research.
Q. What is the hardest part about writing?
A. For me, it's the first draft. You know your writing is rough at first, and you will have to revise, but first you have to get some words down on paper.
Q. What do you like about writing?
A. Writing is a like shaping a ball of clay. You start with an idea, and try different ways to get the words to come together into an interesting shape, something that young people will want to read. I like that part about writing. Through writing books, I am able to escape to other times in history, and meet people through my writing that I would never have met. People's real lives are more interesting than anything I could make up.
Q. Where do you get the pictures/photos/illustrations?
A: Sometimes, a writer has to find photographs to illustrate books in libraries, historical societies, or newspaper records. Most writers do not draw or paint their own pictures for their fiction books. Publishers ask artists to do that. Rarely, there are people who are both artists and writers, like Steven Kellogg (Pinkerton, Behave!), Rosemary Wells (Ruby's Beauty Shop), or Chris Van Allsberg (The Polar Express).
Q. Where do you study for your books?
A. I spend a lot of time in libraries, on the Internet, and reading through documents that I get at museums and historical societies. I also observe adults and children in parks, at grocery stores, airports, or stores, and many other places.
Q. Do you write books at your house?
A. Yes, I do. That means I can dress in comfy clothes, and trot down to the kitchen for snacks.
Q. Do you have to travel to different countries to write?
A. I once did research in Scotland for my Alan Pinkerton book. In the United States, I have traveled to do research in Colorado, Illinois, Hawaii, California, Louisiana, and Minnesota.
Q. Do you know other authors?
A. I know many writers. I love meeting other people who do the same thing that I do-write. Writing can be lonely, so it's great to talk with other authors. Several of my friends and some relatives are writers.
Q. Have you ever made a book for kids and adults?
A: With another author friend, Edith Fine, I've co-authored two funny books (illustrated with cartoons) about grammar, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. Both adults and young people enjoy these grammar guides.
Q. What do you like to do when you are not writing?
A. I enjoy playing the violin, singing, reading, cooking (especially baking bread), swimming, biking, walking, sewing & knitting, and spending time with my family.
Q. What do you like most, fiction or nonfiction?
A. In these past years, I've written more nonfiction books than fiction books. But since I love to read fiction in my spare time, I'd like to write fiction as well.
Q. Are you the only one in your family that writes books?
A. No. My sister Catherine Koemptgen published a book about mothers and daughters, Connections & Reflections: Mothers & Daughters in Their Own Light, in Their Own Words. I have a cousin who writes books, another cousin who writes and edits magazine articles, and a grandmother who wrote poetry.
Q. How much time do you spend writing?
A. Sometimes, I write every day. Sometimes, I write only some days in a week. The amount of time I spend depends on what else is happening in my life.
Q. What's the best part of being an author?
A. The best part about writing is talking with or hearing from young people who have read my books.
Q. What is your favorite book that you have written?
A. My favorite book is usually the one I'm working on at the moment.
Q. What was your first book?
A. My first book was about insects. It helped me to conquer my fear of bugs.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm working on a few projects that have been sitting on my shelf for a while. Writers usually have ideas/projects waiting to be tackled.