Cathy C. Hall is a children’s book author, essayist, freelancer, journalist, and humorist who has found additional success writing books for the Korean educational market, teaching children English. Besides having a background in education and being darn funny, Cathy is also a regular contributor to the Women On Writing (WOW), blog The Muffin and several other blogs.
Kathryn Schleich: In your late twenties (youngish mother stage as you called it) you penned your first book while your baby slept. I am presuming you got it published and it led to your next books, about a mother who never finds time to sleep?
Cathy C. Hall: Ha! That would’ve been awesome (and a great story, too)! But no, my earliest manuscripts never became books. Probably because those stories lacked important things like coherent plots and such. Maybe if I’d had more sleep…
KS: Are you also an illustrator?
CCH: Sadly, I am not an illustrator, unless you count stick figures. I have been known to add some fancy stick figure drawings to my stories. (It took me a while to restrain myself in adding copious illustrator notes to my picture book manuscripts. I still haven’t sold a picture book manuscript but the last one I wrote had only one illustrator note. Progress!) Note: Check out Cathy-On-A-Stick on her website for more fun.
Photo Note: Actor Henry Winkler holds Cathy-On-A-Stick at a children’s book conference. Both he and Cathy have authored children’s books.
KS: Like a lot of moms, it sounds like raising your family took priority over writing. Then you remembered you were a writer. Is writing humorist stories how you returned to your roots? (I must give you props for writing about your family – every time I’ve done that, my family has not been amused. And those are only the stories they know about!).
CCH: I went back to my journalism roots in the beginning of my writing career; I wrote pretty dry articles for a newspaper that my church published monthly. Occasionally, I could contribute a poem or maybe a church slice-of-life piece, but it was a start toward my essays and fiction writing. Then came a Year of Writing Badly (lots of short stories that were grim and wandered aimlessly) before I read about an essay contest that looked interesting. When I won third place, I took that as a sign and my humor writing career was born.
KS: You’ve mentioned the Society for Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators helped you hone your writing skills. For other authors that want to pursue writing children’s books, what are some of the most important things the SCBWI taught you?
CCH: Oh, that’s an excellent question, Kathryn, because by the time I joined SCBWI, I’d been working and writing as a freelancer for a few years and had a body of work under my belt. I thought I just needed SCBWI for the networking, but boy, I had SO much more to learn. I guess the most important thing SCBWI taught me was realizing that I had so much to learn. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I started going to conferences, taking sessions on specific kidlit topics, and networking, too. The support I get from SCBWI is invaluable!
KS: How did you find yourself writing for the Korean educational market?
CCH: Well, that’s a funny story, my road to writing for the Korean market. I had a writer friend—not through SCBWI but through Women-on-Writing—who knew I had a teaching background and wrote for kids. She’d been working for Darakwon and recommended me. You never know who might open a door for you!
KS: Do all your Korean children’s books help kids learn English?
CCH: Yes, they’re part of an extensive series designed for students (but of course, adults read them, too). Darakwon is primarily a publisher in the education market.
KS: I understand you’re also a big deal in China where Red Squirrel Magazine is distributed. What do you write for them?
CCH: Ha! That’s just me, being funny about my international credits. Though I’m glad you reminded me about this market; I hear from these editors periodically. They’re always looking for stories, but they also need non-fiction (science and technology). If you have readers looking to break into children’s publishing, consider international markets!
KS: Your children’s stories have been published worldwide (congratulations). Do you have a favorite?
CCH: It’s hard to choose a favorite! I had a story that was chosen for a British website where the kids read the stories, and I just loved that! I’m a sucker for a Brit accent and to hear a little kid read my story in that lovely accent always made me smile. But then the site went dark as they do so maybe if I can find the story, I’ll try to sell it somewhere else.
KS: You write for various editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. How did you find success with them?
CCH: I think in the early days of a writer’s group I attended, someone told me about Cup of Comfort books (they’re very similar to the Chicken Soup books) and I started writing those kinds of essays. From that experience, I heard about the Chicken Soup books and began submitting. It wasn’t a quick success story, though. Chicken Soup has a certain style they like and for me, it meant dialing back my humor and giving a bit more heart. It’s a tough market to crack, but once you get in a book, there’s that light bulb moment of, “Oh. NOW I get it.” And acceptances come more often.
KS: On top of all that, you’re also a writer of humor and a contributor to WOW. Is there one type of writing that you do that speaks to you, or do you love it all?
CCH: Well, I feel as if I’ve certainly tried every type of writing at some point in my career! I don’t do much of the freelance work these days; mostly, I tell stories. Sometimes, they’re true stories and sometimes they’re not. But it’s hard for me not to write funny. I have a YA manuscript that explores loss and life after death and I was struggling with the voice, trying to get serious. And an editor said to me, “Cathy, you cannot not write funny.” Yeah, it’s terrible grammar but I knew what she meant: be true to your voice. I love the writing where I’m true to my voice. Sometimes it’s essays, sometimes it’s poetry or puppet plays, sometimes it’s stories for Korean kids. If I’m smiling when I’m writing, I’m a happy camper.
KS: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
CCH: About six months after the Beneficent Mr. Hall up and died on me, I attended my regional SCBWI conference and Jacquelyn Mitchard was one of the speakers. Mitchard wrote her famous novel, Deep End of the Ocean, following the death of her husband. She was much younger and had little kids at home, but I thought, well this is serendipitous! I’ll ask the famous author for advice as she has just the experience that can help me because truly, I was having a very difficult time getting back to writing. I asked her, “How am I ever going to write again?” And she said, “Just write.”
Seriously, Jacquelyn Mitchard? I wanted to slap her. I mean, what kind of world-famous author advice was that? But those words tumbled around in my brain and wouldn’t let go. And eventually, I got it. Because you know, there’s always going to be stuff in our lives that will keep us from writing (or whatever it is we want to do). At some point, you’ve just got to do. (And she didn’t say I had to write well, so I felt like there was a lot of leeway in that nugget of advice.)
KS: I thought I read you have a new YA novel coming out, but now of course, I can’t find it. Am I correct or did I just make that up? If so, tell me about it.
CCH: I believe you made that up. Or maybe it was a prophetic dream! I’m definitely going with that! I’m a big believer in dreams.
KS: I’m good at making things up, happy to plant a seed! Any concluding thoughts?
CCH: Thanks so much for such thoughtful questions, Kathryn! Now that I’ve answered ‘em, I’m feeling…well, honestly, I’m feeling like maybe I should quit lounging around on my deck, sipping cold beverages and reading my friends’ books. Maybe I should get back to my desk and get to work on that YA novel you’ve dreamed up for me! (Or finish those revisions—always the revisions!)
On the other hand, I completely forgot about all that writing I’ve done over the years. So much writing! A gal needs a break every now and then. And it’s pretty hot in Atlanta, so maybe one more cool beverage. And just this last chapter. Or two…
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