Todays interview is with Bill Kirk of the book "A Whale Of A Tale" - A story about a boy on a whaler ship. See the book on Amazon.
When did you become an author?
I suppose I officially became a published author when my first children's picture book ("There's A Spider In My Sink!") was published by Guardian Angel Publishing (GAP) in 2008. That book was the first of 14 books published by GAP before they closed up shop a couple years ago.
Do you have a writing background?
I have no formal training in writing, although I have had a long-time interest in it as far back as high school and college in the 1960s. Over the years, I have done bureaucratic writing in the military and state civil service positions. On my own time, I have also written poetry and prose pieces for a variety of local news outlets and small magazines. But most of that writing has been since the early 1990s.
How did you come up with the story?
For a long time, I have been intrigued and fascinated by reports of what I would call benevolent interactions between humans and other species such as deer, birds, sea life and various other critters. A few reports have been about small whales or other sea life having been washed ashore, unable to get back into the water before it is too late. Those reports, particularly of whales, captured my imagination sufficiently to get creative with characters and a setting during the heyday of whaling in the mid-1800s. So, basically, this story started with a baby whale.
How did you come up with the character?
When I was in the 5th grade, my teacher gave me a book to read. It was "Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes. At 246 pages, it was by far the longest book/story I had ever been challenged to read. I wasn't sure I could finish it. But once I started, I could hardly put it down. Then my teacher gave me another challenge: write a book report about it. The image of the young silver smith apprentice, Johnny Tremain, who struggled with many youthful hardships during the American Revolution, stuck with me. The essence of that character in the context of a different set of personal hardships related to sailing and whaling gave me my main character and many other supporting characters.
How do you select names for your characters?
In this rhyming story, there are only two characters with names: the young boy and his mother. For the boy, I needed a name that would not have seemed out of place in the time period the story is set. I also need a name long enough with the necessary syllable count to flow well in the story--at least when initially introduced. After the appearance of that full name in the first verse, both Will (and his mother, Maggie), are only mentioned by their common names. Other characters in the story are described by their various jobs--Captain, First Mate, Sailors, the town Mayor. Likewise, the port where the story starts needed an easy flowing syllable count.
Did you hire an illustrator or do the illustrations yourself?
I worked with a terrific artist who had illustrated books for other children's authors when Guardian Angel Publishing was in full swing. She hadn't illustrated any of my books but I had been hoping for an opportunity--and the right story--that would fit her talent set. That artist is K.c. Snider in Oregon.
Are you self-published or published through a publishing company?
For all my other books, I was published by Guardian Angel Publishing. However, for "A Whale Of A Tale", I am self-published as Bill Kirk Writes Worldwide.
From the day you came up with the idea for the story until you were holding your published book in your hand, how long did it take you to complete this book?
It took me four years from start to finish. That included story development, editing, dividing the story into roughly equal length one-page "Chapterettes", working with the illustrator and with guidance through the process from my former publisher who knew the ropes. I also wanted to introduce the story, create a setting with a Prologue, do a final wrap-up with an Epilogue and include a glossary of terms, many of which might not be familiar to grade school children these days.
What made you want to publish a children's book?
My interest in the actual writing of children's stories all started with our grandson who was born back in 1994. We also have three granddaughters who came along later and gave me a few other story ideas. My first book, "There's A Spider In My Sink!", literally burst forth as a story idea when our grandson yelled out that exact exclamation when he was getting ready to go to Kindergarten one morning. The book itself reflects precisely what happened to that little spider--and other spiders we find around our house.
What is one thing you wish you knew before beginning your book publishing journey?
Honestly, I'm not sure I would have wanted to know anything more than I did when I first started--well, maybe except that I would be submitting story ideas and manuscripts to many different publishers for a long time before a story would find a home. In fact, I stopped counting rejections at 165 and a few months after that, my first story was accepted by Guardian Angel Publishing.
Any tips for future children's book authors?
1. Do your homework, 2. Listen to advice/feedback, 3. Pay attention to the details and 4. Stay the course from start to finish.
Where do you get ideas for your stories?
I'd say Life--another word for personal experience. Then let your imagination run wild.
What's your writing process like?
I'm never quite sure when a story idea may materialize or where it might lead. I'm generally open to ideas that are often staring at me. I try to capture the basic story idea in a few sentences. Then I start writing--generally in rhyme for children's stories. The rhyming verses may fall into place easily or I may struggle a bit.
Sometimes, I will set a story aside for a bit--even weeks or months--until I feel strongly about where I want the story to finish. When it feels fairly well constructed with a solid beginning, middle and end, that's when I start zeroing in on rhythm, cadence, balance, sequencing, rhyming precision and the flow of the action. Only when I feel a rhyming story is complete do I start looking for what to do with it. I do the same for free verse poems I have written for an older audience. One day, I hope to publish a book of poetry--or more than one--for adults.
Some of my children's rhymes have been published in Children's Magazines such as Fun for Kidz (a rhyme titled "Picture Day") or on a website such as The Baseball Almanac (a rhyming story called "The Cubs' Last Game"). Both of those stories I thought would make excellent picture books. Maybe one day but that's not how things worked out. Still those stories laid the foundation for other stories that were published in picture book form.
Do you have any other books in the works?
Conceptually, I have been thinking about putting together a book of poems I have been writing for several years. There might be enough for two books of poetry. Either way, I'm probably a year or more away from being at the publication stage. Other than , I have an adult international spy novel that has been in the works for 25 years.... (Doesn't everybody?) :)
On the poetry front, I feel compelled to mention my motivation has sprung forth during National Poetry Month (April) each year. There is a moderator on the Writer's Digest website who offers daily poetry prompts as part of what is called the Poem A Day Challenge. The idea is to use the daily prompts (including two fer Tuesdays) to write a poem each day for the entire month. I highly recommend any writer, especially those interested in poetry, to give those daily prompts a try. Some poems written during the "challenge" may end up in complete form; others may not or may only capture some thoughts and ideas. But it's an excellent way to tap one's potential.
What does literary success look like to you?
Great question; definitely one worth thinking about as success is measured in different ways by different people. On a basic level, success for me is completing a project that satisfies me creatively and which also strikes a chord with others, whether children or adults or both. Some might prefer to measure that satisfaction and appeal in monetary terms. Would I accept compensation as validation? Indeed, that would be gratifying. However, payment is not my primary driver or measure of success.
Do you read all of the book reviews you receive?
Yes, I read every one of them. I consider all feedback to be beneficial feedback as I try to understand where each reader is coming from.
What was the hardest thing about getting your book published?
Hmmm... I'd say, first, letting it go. That is, at a certain point, the book has to be considered finished with no more edits. That can be a hard one. A close second is the waiting during all the various steps of the process--waiting on manuscript acceptance and editing; waiting on the building of the book; waiting on its final release and on how it is received by the general audience.
What's your favorite(s) children's book of all time?
"Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes