My special guest this week is Kim Piddington, author of middle grade (MG) fiction, and the current Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) in Missouri. Kim is a great promoter of reading, writing, and children’s literature. She has served on the executive board of the Missouri Center for the Book, is a National Writing Project Teacher consultant, and is on the executive board of the Language Arts Department of Southwest Missouri (LAD) which holds one of the largest and longest running writing contests for children.
Welcome, Kim! You are such an active participant in promoting reading and writing for both children and adults, and I appreciate that. Can you tell us what made you want to write for children?
I always wanted to write. I started emulating the authors I was reading when I was in elementary school. I took tons of creative writing courses in college. But no one ever counseled me how to make a living at it. After college, I packed my pencil and notebook away until my inner writer was reawakened by the bNational Writing Project/b (NWP) in 1997.
You have a teaching background. Did teaching influence you to go back to writing?
I think after teaching MG children for 20 years- the MG voice is what is firmly entrenched in my head! I write MG exclusively. I’ve written one historical fiction, one fantasy, and am working on a contemporary fiction.
In California, I taught 7th grade English for 5 years, then I moved to a self-contained 6th grade class (teaching all subjects) for 10. I moved to Missouri and finished off by teaching 5th grade English for 5 years. I was writing my first book at that time, and my students would come in at lunch to read my chapters as I finished them. It was very eye opening for me to see what words and concepts they stumbled over.
Do you work on one project at a time or more than one?
More than one.
What are you working on now?
My agent suggested some revisions to my fantasy, so I’m working on those. I also started a contemporary MG to keep me going when I hit the revision wall.
How did you meet your agent, and what do you think helped you to ‘connect’ with her?
I met my agent, Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary, at the 2013 SCBWI MO Fall Conference. I had sent in a query, synopsis and the first 5 pages of my fantasy to be critiqued. She really liked it, but I told her it was a work in progress and it wouldn’t be finished for several months. Then she told me she’d checked my webpage and saw that I had a historical fiction manuscript finished. She wanted to read that while I worked on the fantasy. I was actually afraid to send it to her! But thank goodness I did, because she loved it and signed me based on that book.
Moral of the story: personal connections really help and make sure you have a webpage!
How do you feel having an agent benefits you, personally?
I love Lori! She makes me feel like she is my biggest fan. She is positive, a great person to bounce ideas off of, and thanks to her, my manuscript is sitting on the desks of editors at places like Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, etc—places I had no access to without her. She really looks out for her clients—sending us links to writing advice, sending us news tidbits that pertain to the industry, and she even checks on and likes my facebook posts. Did I mention I love her? I feel very lucky!
When, and why, did you join SCBWI?
I used to take my students to a conference that featured great children’s authors every year. In 2010, my historical fiction manuscript had just won first place in the Pike’s Peak Writing Contest, Children’s Category—and I had no idea what to do next. One of the authors there suggested I join SCBWI—so I did. About six months later, Joyce Ragland asked me to be ARA (Assistant Regional Advisor) for SCBWI in Missouri. When she stepped down in 2013, I took over as RA (Regional Advisor).
SCBWI has opened so many doors for me—I’ve traveled to both Los Angeles & New York to attend the national conferences, learned a ton about the craft of writing by attending SCBWI workshops, and met the most fantastic people. And I met my agent at an SCBWI event. I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today as a writer without SCBWI.
I’m a long-time member and great supporter of the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). Can you share some reasons why you would recommend membership in SCBWI to other children’s writers and illustrators?
Writing can be lonely—SCBWI offers you an opportunity to meet up with others who have the same goals/dreams as you. They provide top-notch “training” for writers & illustrators via their conferences and workshops. You get the opportunity to have your work critiqued by the best in the business, which could eventually lead to representation. And you meet fantastic, interesting, caring people.
Is SCBWI a good fit for self-published writers as well as traditionally published writers?
SCBWI recently created an annual award specifically for self-published authors. And ANY author can benefit from the craft lessons that are such a big part of every SCBWI event. SCBWI also offers opportunities to network—which is invaluable when you have a book to market.
What are you working on now for Missouri children’s authors and illustrators?
Currently, we are working on the SCBWI Fall Conference. I’m so excited about our lineup—I really feel we have something for everyone.
In addition, we are working on choosing the finalists for the PB mentorship program with David Harrison, as well as running a scholarship contest for both writers & illustrators that is tied to the fall Conference.
I’m looking forward to the fall conference myself, which features three agents, two editors, several published authors, an art director, two author/illustrators, and a curriculum specialist! There is something for everyone, from picture books to middle grade and young adult. Critique spots are filling up fast, but there is still a chance to snag a critique with an agent, an editor, and a portfolio critique with an art director or author/illustrator!
Kim, you are also a National Writing Project (NWP) Teacher Consultant. What can you tell us about that?
The NWP focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners. The NWP is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university. We provide professional development, develop resources, generate research, and act on knowledge to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities.
The National Writing Project believes that access to high-quality educational experiences is a basic right of all learners and a cornerstone of equity. We work in partnership with institutions, organizations, and communities to develop and sustain leadership for educational improvement. Throughout our work, we value and seek diversity—our own as well as that of our students and their communities—and recognize that practice is strengthened when we incorporate multiple ways of knowing that are informed by culture and experience.
I have been a NWP member for 13 years. It shaped me as teacher, reminded me I was a writer, and gave me the skills (after serving as the Ozark Writing project Youth Coordinator and hosting an annual MG conference for over 500 students for several years) to plan and organize events for SCBWI. I’m still active in this organization and think the work they do is important and inspiring.
You are a member of ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) and several local writing groups including the Springfield Writers’ Guild and the Ozarks Writers League. How are these professional organizations important to you as a writer?
All of these organizations help me stay connected to other writers, as well as provide opportunities to get work critiqued, and learn more about the craft of writing. ALAN holds a conference each year at the end of NCTE, which is amazing! Dozens of successful and up & coming YA (young adult) authors in every genre speak either individually or on panels AND you walk away with an amazing box of books that would retail for 5 times what you paid for the conference. One of my “author dreams” is to be invited to speak there some day!
What can you tell us about the other projects/organizations that you are involved in that have to do with writing, children, education, etc.?
I served on the executive board of the Missouri Center for the Book for a brief time. They have a GREAT program- letters about literature- for school children. They also chose which Missouri book will represent the state at the National Book Festival.
In addition, I am also on the executive board of LAD which holds one of the largest and longest running writing contests for children. There are over 70 categories, k-12, and they receive over 5,000 entries each year. I love judging- it’s amazing to see the work these students produce.
Outside of writing, what other interests do you have?
I’m married and have two beautiful daughters. One is getting married in the fall and the other is heading off to college—so I’m spending as much time as I can with them now.
I love gardening (weeds sprout overnight in this weather), baking, and traveling. I also have several horses and a passel of dogs & cats—so I spend a lot of time scooping poop!
Thank you so much for sharing some of your writing life with us here, Kim!
Kim lives with her family in Ozark, Missouri. Readers can find out more about Kim on her website.