Children’s author, Karen Kulinski, has had a lifelong interest in trains and railroading. Her father was a railroad man, and for many years Karen has been curator of the Griffith Historical Park & Depot Museum in her hometown of Griffith, Indiana, where at one time more than 180 trains passed each day. She has many train stories to tell, and THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN is her first published book for children.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen about her book. Here is what she had to say. Can you tell us a little bit about your book, THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN, and what inspired you to write it?
While children, and some adults, still love trains today, most people have no idea of what an important part they played in people’s lives in days gone by. This is particularly true for those living in the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. And it’s this time frame in which The Cabooseman is set.
What I hope this story does is to convey the real connection that the crews on many of the freight trains had with the families living along the rail lines. Children never failed to wave at passing engineers and then wave again at the conductor and brakemen who rode in the caboose. These children felt they got to “know” the crews, and it was frequently the same for the men on the trains. You come from a ‘train’ family, and you also have your own background related to trains. Can you tell us about that?
I was one of those kids who waved at the men in the locomotives and in the cabooses. But more than that, I came from a railroading family. My father was a railroad man, albeit one who wore a suit and tie and worked in the administrative end of railroading.
In his job, he traveled quite a bit, on trains, of course, and always brought home souvenirs to me. Decks of playing cards with different railroad company logos immediately come to mind. But my favorite railroad souvenir was the yearly calendar the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad put out every year featuring Chessie, the company’s mascot kitten, which hung proudly in our kitchen all year.
From the time I was born, I rode trains. Not the freights like the one in The Cabooseman,
but passenger trains. Because my father worked for the railroads, we rode free so we traveled frequently. My favorite memories were sleeping in Pullman bedrooms – we had to pay some for this luxury – and eating in dining cars. I even remember the evenings spent in “club cars,” at the end of the train that featured plush chairs and couches, drinks and snacks, conversation with other travelers and even music sometimes.
Heady experiences for an impressionable child, and one that prepared me, for sure, for the stories I write. And for my work with the Museum.
THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN is published by CreateSpace. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and why you decided to publish your book there?
THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN doesn’t fit the parameters that today’s publishing firms require. It is much too long for a picture book and much too short for a novel. But it was a story close to my heart and a part of railroading that that I feel would’ve died with me and been lost forever.
So, I turned to Amazon’s CreateSpace, which allows writers to publish books of any and all lengths for free, or a nominal fee. It’s a do-it-yourself program, which leads you through each step and answers questions as you go along. Professional help with covers, editing, and other facets of publication is available for a fee, but having done newsletters for years, I didn’t feel the need to use these services. It took work, but I am extremely pleased with the way the book turned out.
Will I sell a lot of copies of THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN? Not at all, since marketing independently published books is still a major hurdle. But the story that was close to my heart will now live on after me. What can you tell us about yourself? Did you always want to be an author? What other interests do you have besides writing?
I was always a reader, which was a blessing since I was an only child and my railroad man father moved us more than a half a dozen times before my high school years, and once during them. I could always count on books while I was making new friends and losing old ones.
But it was a high school teacher who convinced me that I could be a writer and I never looked back from that moment. I majored in Journalism in college because I knew it led to a paying job and, in fact, worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for several years until I had my first two sons.
It was then that I tried my hand at other types of writing, four years as a humor columnist for our local daily newspaper, and ten years writing and editing a monthly employee publication for a local manufacturing facility. Jobs that fed my creativity and that could be worked around the lives of my four sons.
I came late to writing for children, but it’s what I’ve done for the past 15 years or so, and will do until the day I die.What other books are you working on now?
Oddly enough, the book I’m now revising for the umpteenth time, a middle grade novel entitled Haunting Mom, has nothing to do with railroads. It’s about a boy whose life is changed forever when he meets a young girl ghost who inhabits the attic of the house his mother has just inherited. Determined to rid himself of both the house and the ghost, the boy discovers through the course of the book that in the right place at the right time with the right person, or ghost, change can be a good thing.
I do have a couple of railroading books that are finished and making the rounds to editors. Railroadin’ Harry is a picture book about a rabbit that is saved by a conductor and comes to live aboard a caboose with him. Rescuing Ivy tells the story of a girl who loves an elephant and must risk everything to save the innocent animal when it is condemned to death for killing a man and only the girl knows the truth. She teams up with a young circus boy, two hoboes and her older brother to spirit the elephant away to safety.What tips or advice do you have for aspiring children’s writers?
Keep on writing. But know that children’s publishing, in fact all of publishing, is a tough business right now because the whole industry is in flux. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) and go to their conferences and events. And, above all, try to join a writer’s group – local SCBWI chapters can often help with this – because the feedback you get from your critique partners will be invaluable in your growth as a writer. Is there someplace on the web where readers can learn more about you and your book?
I am in the process of building a website, but you can check me out on my agent’s website: Alp Arts
THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN
Karen Kulinski, author, Eileen De Sando, illustrator
CreateSpace, May 2012
Amazon: The Cabooseman's Garden
CreateSpace: The Cabooseman's Garden
. Read More