Special! An Interview with Author Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull is the author responsible for the fascinating books Fartiste, The Road to Oz, Marie Curie, and many others. We’re thrilled that she was able to answer our questions.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since hanging out at the Wilmette Public Library, looking around at the colorful shelves, and imagining what it would be like to have my name on one of those books. I started writing bad Dr. Seuss imitations in the third grade, and was encouraged by several of my nuns at St. Joseph’s School to keep writing.

If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?

Something else connected with books. Librarian seemed like a good direction, and so in high school I applied for my dream job, getting to work as a shelver at my favorite place, the Wilmette Library. I like to joke that I was fired from there for reading books while I was supposed to be doing my job – but also I wasn’t very good at it, made mistakes, broke rules. Libraries are still sacred places to me, but a good employee I’m not.

What advice would you give to young writers?

Turn off the TV and read, read, read—there’s no such thing as reading too much. For young biographers, I actually have a section on my website called “10 Tips for Students in Writing Biographies”. My favorite tips would be #6 (use only the best information you find, not all of it) and #8 (revise, revise, revise). And of course #10: have fun! And if you can’t have fun, take comfort that you’re learning skills that will be helpful the rest of your life.

What is the hardest part of writing a book?

Can you say “butt” at the Park Ridge Library? The hardest part is what Jane Yolen calls keeping your Butt in the Chair. Just forcing yourself to work… on a nice sunny day in San Diego… instead of playing online Scrabble… instead of doing a million other things.

Most of your books are biographies—is there something about biographies that draws you?

My standard answer is that I’m nosy. But I also think that biographies fill a great need–we read them to find out who we are. Very often, when you ask famous achievers—librarians, celebrities, scientists, politicians, sports stars– what most influenced their direction, they will mention a biography they read when they were young. Biographies give us a safe way of trying on another persona. We read about other people so we can discover all the ways we are and aren’t like them—this tells us something about our own identity, our goals, our possibilities in life. So, if I can help young readers in this search, I feel privileged.

How do you choose a new person to write a biography about? Do you get an assignment from your publisher, or do you get the spark on your own? (For example, how did you learn about Joseph Pujol, the subject of Fartiste—he doesn’t seem like he’d be in most history books!)

My books come about in various ways. Sometimes I get what I think is a cool idea (A WOMAN FOR PRESIDENT: THE STORY OF VICTORIA WOODHULL), sometimes I brainstorm with a cool friend like artist Kathryn Hewitt (the LIVES OF series), sometimes an editor suggests an idea I think is cool (THE ROAD TO OZ: TWISTS, TURNS, BUMPS AND TRIUMPHS IN THE LIFE OF L. FRANK BAUM). Yes, FARTISTE is a departure, and I can blame this whole idea on my husband, Paul Brewer, who co-wrote the book with me. Paul is so cool that ever since he learned about Pujol years ago in a book about bodily functions, he’s been wanting to bring this true story to young readers.

Do you have any ideas for new books right now?

You heard it here first: I’ll be wrapping up the “Giants of Science” series with ALBERT EINSTEIN and CHARLES DARWIN; and next year will have LIVES OF THE PIRATES: SWASHBUCKLERS, SCOUNDRELS (NEIGHBORS BEWARE!), illustrated by the incomparable Kathryn Hewitt, as well as LINCOLN TELLS A JOKE: HOW LAUGHTER SAVED THE PRESIDENT (AND THE COUNTRY), co-written with my husband, the jokester…. with more books to follow.

Do you get to travel to learn about your subjects, or do you do all your research from home?

I do travel, but generally not for research. I’m a heavy, heavy user of the library where I’ve lived for the past 25 years, the San Diego Public Library. I don’t know about Park Ridge, but I found out the hard way that the maximum number of books you can have checked out here at one time is forty.

What’s the strangest fact that you’ve learned when researching a book?

My research constantly jolts me— over and over, I find that truth outperforms fiction. I have a new book this fall called THE BOY WHO INVENTED TV: THE STORY OF PHILO FARNSWORTH. Just about everything Philo did was surprising. How could a three-year-old draw diagrams of a train’s motor? Why, when he finally earned some money from raising lambs, did he buy a violin instead of a bicycle? How could a fourteen-year-old be out plowing the potato fields, look behind him at the rows of dirt, and suddenly picture how to create television using electricity?

Did you like to read when you were a kid? What kind of books?

Around the house we had lots of Little Golden Books and inexpensive editions of classics. The first book I can remember reading is Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. I was a big Dr. Seuss fan. At the library I would head to my favorite spot, the “New Books” section, to look for the latest historical fiction (Laura Ingalls Wilder; Elizabeth Speare’s Calico Captive or The Witch of Blackbird Pond), biography (the Landmark Book series on people like Helen Keller, Elizabeth Blackwell, Susan B. Anthony; anything on queens), mysteries (the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton was thrilling), romance (Mary Stolz, Betty Cavanna), adventure (Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins), fun books like Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking and Beverly Cleary’s books. Above all, fantasy– especially Edward Eager’s magical books, and Carol Kendall’s.

Who is your favorite author or book?

This is an unanswerable question for me. Too many people to pick from. For young readers, some writers I admire are Gary Paulsen, J. K. Rowling, Phillip Pullman, Sherman Alexie, Wendelin Van Draanen, M. T. Anderson, Louise Erdrich, Jim Murphy, Gregory Maguire, E. L. Konigsburg, Christopher Paul Curtis, Garth Nix, David Almond…help, help, I can’t stop!

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

Reading—I try to keep up with adults books as well as children’s, gardening, travel, playing piano.

Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?

I’d tell you, but then I’d have to….I’m a little superstitious about talking about books too far in advance. But I can’t thank you enough for your attention to FARTISTE and my current books!

No, thank YOU! We’re extremely grateful to Ms. Krull for taking the time to answer our very nosy questions! If you’re interested in finding out more, please visit her website: http://www.kathleenkrull.com/
She also blogs at INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids, a fabulous website collaboration by many nonfiction childrens writers.

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