Monday, May 3, 2010

Inquiry III: Kelly Bennett

This week I am delighted to introduce a dear friend and fellow VCFA graduate, Kelly Bennett.

Kelly is a prolific writer who dabbles in several genres, but is perhaps best known for her wonderful picture books. Picture books include NOT NORMAN: A GOLDFISH STORY, DANCE Y'ALL DANCE, DAD AND POP, and YOUR DADDY WAS JUST LIKE YOU.

A native of California, Kelly graduated from Huntington Beach High School in 1976. Upon receiving an Associate of Arts Degree in Liberal Arts from Fullerton College, she continued her education at the University of California at Fullerton and CaliforniaState University at San Jose, where she majored in Communications with a Public Relations emphasis. Kelly is a graduate of the Vermont College Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Kelly is represented by Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Let's get started!

EEM: Did you always want to be a writer? If no, what was your initial dream and what led you to writing later?

KB: The idea of being a writer never, ever crossed my mind until after I was a mom. And that is the only thing I always knew I wanted to be--a Mom. I got married young--to have children. After several years in a less than blissful marriage, I reached a point where I was ready to grow up and become a person. I decided that it was time to do something for myself, so I went back to school. My thought has been to take a volleyball class. I had played volleyball in high school and college, and thought it would be great fun and great exercise. While searching through the Community College catalogue for a volleyball class (which they didn't seem to offer in Tulsa, Oklahoma back then) I came upon a class on writing and marketing literature for children taught by an editor from the Tulsa World Sally Bright. The rest, is history...

EEM: When you began, was it instant success and riches or did you find you had to work other jobs in order to continue your dream of being a writer?

I achieved immediate success--in the form of praise for my stories from my teachers and positive comments on rejection letters. Fueled by these positive crumbs, I continued to write. I supported my family, and my writing, by working as a waitress. The flexible hours were perfect for writing. I could take my children to day care at 8:00 am, return home for a few hours of uninterrupted writing before reporting to work at 11:00.

EEM: What jobs have you held to help sustain your writing career?

KB: Waitressing has been my most constant "wage earning job" while I have been writing. The flexible hours and lack of "take home" responsibilities suited my life style and my writing ambitions. I sold my first book, Sherlick Hound and The Valentine Mystery, co-written with Ronnie Davidson, about a year after I began writing professionally. Since I did need the money, Ronnie and I began writing magazine articles. Each sale meant that I could "give away" a work shift. As we sold more and more magazine articles--traveling, parenting and human interest stories to regional magazines--I began to waitress fewer and fewer days.

EEM: Which job was the most challenging or strange to you?

KB: The most challenging job was as an "order clerk" at Council Oaks Books. At a writing conference, one of the speakers said that if we wanted to be serious writers, we should seek jobs "within our field." And so, when I learned that a position in the order department at a local publisher was available, I applied for it. Although the job had nothing to do with writing, I learned so much about how the book business works, author discounts, wholesale discounts, when books are reordered, promotions for authors, etc. etc. that the job proved invaluable later...when my books were being published. From my experience at Council Oaks, I knew so much more about the publishing business--I also knew what I could and could not expect as an author.

EEM: Which job was your least favorite?

KB: Secretary in a High School counselor's office. The job was stressful and distressing. Working in the school counselors office means one deals with either the "perfect children" who have everything ahead of them and all the opportunities, and the "problem children" who, because of family and/or personal situations have difficult obstacles to overcome. And often, just when we, as the counseling office, could step in and actually work with children, out of fear or need, the families would yank them from the school and move. It was distressing to know that those young people were just being shuffled from place to place without having a real chance to learn or succeed.

EEM: Did your day job allow you to write regularly? Or did you have to get creative to get those word counts in?

KB:I am fortunate that I no longer have to work a "day job." My husband's income is sufficient to support us. However, I find that I need the deadlines and interaction working with others provides. And so, I have involved myself in writing groups wherever I live. This has included serving as program director and president for Tulsa Writers, and assistant regional advisor for the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I have organized conferences and meeting, and have found both enlightening and beneficial as I have have the great fortune to meet many authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, agents, etc.

EEM: Any fun stories from the job that inspired your stories?

I write a lot of travel and parenting articles based on my own experience. And I have about 200 pages of stories from my days of a waitress tentatively called, "Confessions of a Waitron Dog." Additionally, my last 2 picture books are based on my observations of my children and family. Dad and Pop is about a girl who, like my daughter, Lexi, has 2 fathers; and Your Daddy Was Just Like You was inspired by my son Max's struggles and frustrations trying to grow up and do everything his father could do.

EEM: Have you ever based a loved protagonist or an evil villain on one of your co-workers? Wished you had?

KB: Not yet....but ohhh baby, I will....I sure will. Be warned....

EEM: Thanks Kelly!


  1. What a great interview! Thank you so much, ladies.

    I stumbled upon your blog and am grateful I did--what wonderful interviews. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I

    would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have

    enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  3. Found your blog through Cynsations. I really like it so far. I love hearing about writers and how they balance their writing with work/day jobs.

    I'm going to feature your blog on my blog this Wednesday! :)

  4. Thanks guys! And thanks for stopping by. Come back soon for more!
    Karen, I would be so honored to be featured on your blog. What fun! It's very much appreciated. :)