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Richelle M Putnam

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Interview with Kathryn Lay
by Richelle M Putnam   

Last edited: Tuesday, September 03, 2002
Posted: Tuesday, September 03, 2002

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Kathryn Lay is an inspiration to writers for children and adults. In a few short years, she accomplished what most writers don't do in a lifetime.

Date: Saturday, August 24, 2002 6:35 PM

Please welcome Kathryn Lay to Gotta Write Network. In a short time, Kathryn has accomplished what most writers only dream of. Even though Kathryn has written since she was a child, for the past twelve years she has written to publish and has succeeded in having over 700 articles, essays, and stories accepted and published by various children and adult publications. Her work has been published in several anthologies, including Highlights for Children’s “Catbird’s Calling and Other Animal Stories, and Scholastic’s A Glory of Unicorns, edited by Bruce Colville. She has published 27 essays and articles in adult anthologies, such as: The Writer's Handbook 1996, 1997, 2002; Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul, Chocolate for a Woman's Blessing, Heartwarmers of Love, Heartwarmers of Spirit, Stories for the Family's Heart, Stories for the Woman's Heart, God Allows U-Turns Vol. 1, 7 Guideposts anthologies, Loved By Choice, How to Publish Your Articles, What's in the Bible for Couples, and others yet to be published.

She has published Children's fiction and nonfiction in: Boys' Life, Cricket, Pockets, U.S. Kids, Children's Playmate, Jack & Jill, Spellbound, Wee Ones, Devo'zine, Teen Power, Teen Life, On the Line, Straight, Livewire, HiCall, and CTB/McGraw Hill and other educational hi/lo work.

Her adult fiction and nonfiction has been published in: Woman's Day, Woman's
World, Guideposts, Kiwanis, Christian Parenting Today, Christianity Online,
Healthy ChildCare, Home Life, Decision, Discipleship Journal, Focus on the Family, Dallas Morning News, and hundreds of others.

Kathryn’s articles on writing have been published in: SCBWI Bulletin, The
Writer, Writer's Digest, Byline, Inscriptions, Inklings, Writing-World,
Writing for Dollars, The Busy Freelancer, and many others.

She has two picture books by ABOUT YOU! BOOKS. These are gift books with the child's name in them.

Kathryn also teaches online courses at Coffeehouse for

Let’s get on with the interview, shall we?

Kathryn, again thank you for joining us. It’s evident how busy you are and we sincerely appreciate your time. Share with us, if you will, the moment of that first sale. What was the piece and which publication bought it?

It was nonfiction. It was an article about my husband and I and our working with Hmong refugees. It sold to our denominational magazine. At the time, I was working for an insurance company, a file clerk. I got the phone call from the editor at work. I remember running around telling my co-worker friends that I was going to be a published writer. It set me on a course that changed my life and I didn't get paid a dime.

Were there many rejections before your first sale?
Probably about a dozen. I first sent out fiction to major magazines, but they weren't well done and weren't appropriate at all, such as the Bambi-like story I sent to Redbook. I had a lot to learn about marketing.

Since your many acceptances, do you still find rejections haunting your

Of course. I keep 40-60 manuscripts, queries, and contest entries in the mail most of the time, so along with the acceptances come plenty of rejections. Both by snail mail and now by email.

How do you continue to cope with rejection even after the success you have obtained?

It still hurts, especially a piece that means a lot to me, or something I worked specifically hard on for a specific publication. But one way I learned to get over being upset was by always having several possible markets planned for each thing I send out. That way, if it is rejected, I get it back in the mail quickly.

Our focus, of course, is your writing for children, but before we delve into that topic, please share your experiences with anthologies.

I've sold to fiction and nonfiction anthologies, for children and adults. My favorite is the short story that Bruce Coville accepted for his anthology a few years ago, A GLORY OF UNICORNS. Hardback came out in 1998, paperback in 2000. I still get a royalty check every 6 months, it's the short story that keeps on giving.

Some anthologies found me. I've been contacted by editors who have seen my work online or in other anthologies and asked to reprint it in theirs, such as 2002 Writer's Handbook and Guideposts anthologies. Anthologies don't always pay well, some do, but they are fun and often buy only one-time or reprint rights.

I watch for anthologies in market information online and send to them often.

What advice can you give our readers regarding submissions to anthologies and will you share the dos and don’ts you have learned?

Always check the rights that they are asking for. Some want all anthology rights or won't allow you to sell a reprint for a year after publication. Don't just leave your manuscript in limbo, especially with biggies like Chicken Soup who often can take years to respond. Send the essay to magazines as well.

You write both fiction and non-fiction. Do you have a preference, or do you simply love it all?

I do love it all, writing is such a part of who I am. But my true heart is with children's fiction, especially fantasy and humor.

When writing for non-fiction, have you discovered a particular selling factor you’re sticking with?

Not specifically since I enjoy essays, features, safety articles, profiles, how-to’s, religious, and so on. But, I'd say that personal experience pieces are my most often sold and resold.

How do you choose your non-fiction categories?

Sometimes by what pops into my head. I keep idea-lists from personal experience events, ideas I read about and become interested in, newspaper articles, etc. Sometimes I just brainstorm and try to come up with ideas to fit specific publications, and sometimes branch off on them. For example, I sent an idea to Woman's Day about an article on safety-proofing your world. They loved it and had me do it. With all the information I garnered, I later wrote an article on weather safety for a childcare publication, an article on teaching kids to be safe for Kiwanis, and another short and specific winter safety article for Woman's Day.

Can you give our readers pointers on researching non-fiction markets before submitting?

Study what a publication has published before. Make a list of story articles, activities, and columns. See what types of stories they have done. Look at their advertising and read the letters to the editor.

You also enter many writing competitions. Can you tell us why and what winning or placing in competitions has achieved for you?

My first contest win was in high school for a first place in short story, judged by college professors. It hooked me and inspired me that my writing was good. I still keep the plaque above my desk. Contests help me prepare my work for publication, give me a pat on the back, and often provide extra income.

Please tell us something about your online course and how we can sign up.

I teach 2 courses at One is Writing & Marketing
Personal Experiences, and the other is Writing for Magazines. You can go to and look for mine. They switch every month and both are listed as Popular.

Relative to writing for children what type stories do you most write for children and why?

Mostly fantasy and humor, or a combination. I've done some serious contemporary pieces, such as the recent short story in Cricket's August issue and in religious publications. I read lots of fantasy and science fiction, and did so as a kid. I was enchanted with Madeline L'engle and Ray Bradbury Tokien, later Bruce Coville and Brian Jacques, so I naturally wanted to write such stories.

Do you prefer fiction over non-fiction?

Yes, it's my writer's soul, but nonfiction is my bread and butter.

When writing non-fiction, can you offer suggestions as to how writers can write non-fiction that is not only informational, but also adventurous and exciting?

Include anecdotes and personal stories, humor if possible. Use some fiction techniques, setting scene and dialogue, especially with personal experience, essays, and travel pieces.

In children’s publishing, what grabs the publisher’s eye? Is it character more than plot, vice versa, or both? Can you elaborate?

I think that depends on the publisher and the story. Not being a publisher or editor myself, I'd say from what I've heard, that all those elements are important. Characters and storylines should be fleshed out, something I'm learning from my agent. Dialogue should be realistic. Go over the edge and be different, whether it's with humor, fantasy, or contemporary issues.

Tell us about your two picture books with About You! Books and how our readers can order them. Has this been a good and profitable experience for you?

This was several years ago. They were local and looking for writers. These are books where the child's name and friends and city is added to the story. I collaborated on one book with a fellow writer friend, and wrote the 2nd myself. I was paid a work-for-hire flat flee, so it wasn't exactly profitable, but it was fun. In the past, I went to a few book signings where they printed the books right there for the kids, and it was fun. Kids thought it was cool to see their names in the story. For a while, they sold at Sam's Clubs and Walmart during holidays, though I don't know if the company exists now.

You are entering a new phase in your writing world and working on publishing middle-grade novels. How has this experience been thus far? Challenging? Frustrating? Exciting? Or all of the above? Please elaborate, if you will?

I've been writing (and not publishing, unfortunately) middle-grade novels for several years. It's very challenging, as any would-be author will tell you. I love novels. You can delve much deeper into the story, the problem, and the character. I've had tons of compliments on my work, some came close to selling, but I'm learning that there are areas I must improve to make them saleable, mainly the idea of digging deeper. I'm also learning that, though I've always written in 3rd person, I seem to be able to dig deeper when I write in 1st person and it works well.

You have obtained an agent. Do you feel this helps your chances of becoming a published author of children’s novels? Why?

I certainly hope so and believe so. She likes my writing, she is helpful and encouraging and confident. And, she knows which editors are available and wanting what more often than I do. She's helping me rewrite my books and now that a couple of them are out with publishers, I feel much more confident and proud of them.

Can you tell us something about these novels so we can look forward to them hitting the bookstores shelves?

Well, I hope we'll see them there someday. One is a fantasy about a clumsy boy who greatly desires to be a knight. After dropping hot stew in a knight’s lap at his parent's inn, he convinces the knight to allow him and his dog to accompany him on his king's quest, where they meet up with a girl who's 'gift' allows animals to speak when she is around, a talking seer lizard, and a singing duck who takes them all to find the Wizard of Forgotten Forest and cure his illness.

Another is contemporary humor about a boy who wants to be a politician and finds himself 'king' of fifth grade during a school project. The teacher chooses the medieval time and chaos ensues with dozens of kids dressing up to crash a P.T.A. meeting, a bicycle joust between the boy and class bully, and finally a medieval faire to raise school money.

You are very active in SCBWI. How has this organization been beneficial to your writing career? Do you recommend that every writer be a part of a well-established writing organization?

Oh definitely. I've been a member for 12 years. I've learned to hone my craft and made wonderful friends. I've met editors and attended conferences. I've sold articles to the SCBWI Bulletin, which gets my name in front of tons of writers and editors and agents. I got involved in a weekly critique group when I began going to SCBWI and am with the same people all these years. They have been an inspiration and help in my writing and marketing.

Congratulations on becoming Regional Advisor in your local chapter of SCBWI. What will this position require of you? Do you fear that it might interfere with your writing?

I'll need to get information to new writers and members, lead our group,
approve decisions and financial issues, write articles for our newsletter
and the RA newsletter, and help with our conferences.

It won't interfere with my writing much, I'm so busy anyway. I homeschool and help run a volunteer English school with my husband for refugees and immigrants and help with a homeschool support group, so I'm overly busy anyway. Our local SCBWI is amazing and we have a huge and wonderful group of volunteer workers, so it's certainly not a one woman or man show.

Kathryn, I know our readers are anxious to read some of your stories and articles as well. If you don’t mind, could you tell them where they might go to enjoy your work?

Like I said, I have a story in the August issue of Cricket, a short story in A GLORY OF UNICORNS published by Scholastic, many pieces in Woman's Day the last 2 years, Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul, Writer's Handbook 1996 and 2002. You can also check online at Google or Yahoo and put 'Kathryn Lay' in the search and come up with tons of online pieces of my writing.

I know our readers have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you, Kathryn.
Kathryn has written a booket entitled "The Organized Writer is a Selling
Writer," and you can order this booklet my emailing Kathryn. Thank you so much for your time and we certainly look forward to seeing your work in the future. Please take the floor with closing comments and give your website and email information

Thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed, I feel honored. I love this world of writing and find it amazing to use words, move them around, and say so much to entertain, inform, or touch readers.

My website is a work-in-progress. It is at:

My email addy is

Web Site: Kathryn Lay

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