Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff - For Writers

Interview by Gita Mallya

Q. What inspired you to start writing?

A. Although Iíve always loved writing, I never thought I could do it professionally. When I had a baby, I decided I wanted to take time off from teaching to stay home with him. What could I do at home while he was taking naps? What could I do as a toddler while he was playing and at preschool? As soon as he would go to sleep, I would pick up my pen.

2. Where do your ideas come from?

I get my ideas from my imagination and playing ďwhat if.Ē What if someone suddenly had all of her wishes come true? What if she abused her powers?

I also use my own life. Many of the Louise the One and Only stories originated in my sonís kindergarten classroom. Some of the funny anecdotes in Help! My Life is Going to the Dogs came from MY life, growing up in Wisconsin.

My dreams during the night help me solve my writing problems. I go to sleep wondering how my character will find a clue or fix something in her life. I will actually dream myself into the story and setting. Sometimes Iím more creative during my sleep than during my waking hours!

3. What is your favorite book? Why?

My favorite book is Charlotteís Web by E.B. White. Every time I read that book Iím lured into the magical world of Wilbur, Charlotte, Fern and the other farm animals. He makes the writing very smooth and it all looks so easy! Read the first page. It is the PERFECT first page! It is the best first line of all. It tells the reader what the entire book is about. He uses wonderful verbs, terrific characterization, and you just donít want to put the book down. To this day, I really have a fondness for spiders.

4. When was your first book published? Curtain Call, a book of drama games, came out in 1989.

5. What is the best/worst thing about being an author? The best thing about being an author is that I have the freedom to write all day long in my old blue bathrobe with my dog at my feet. I LOVE writing and I love staying at home. The worst thing is that childrenís writers benefit from being around children all the time. School visits is one good way. I try and have friendships with kids and my friendsí kids so that I donít lose touch too much.

6. Do you work from an outline?

No. That would be one sure way to give me writerís block! I only work from an outline if I have to write a nonfiction article or a book. For fiction, I have an idea of where the book is going and I MIGHT have a rough plan of chapters but I let the character and story take me places. If itís too structured it just wonít work for me.

7. Do you stick to a regular schedule when you write?

When Iím working on a book I will begin work around 9 am and work on and off through the day until itís time to make dinner. I say on and off because I take Zoie out, check email (as a reward for finishing a chapter or writing a business letter), and I throw in a load of laundry or answer the doorbell. However, sometimes those breaks are when the best ideas hit.

Then when Iím deep into a fiction project, I turn off the telephone and close my door and turn off the Internet. Those are the days that my husband comes home, Iím still typing, I havenít even noticed itís dark outside!

8. Do you base characters on people you know?

Sometimes. The kindergarten teacher in Louise the One and Only was based on a real kindergarten teacher at my sonís school. Wish Magicís Morris was based on a combination of my son and my cousin. But most of the time, I make up the characters completely.

9. Do you like writing non-fiction or fiction better? Why?

Oh, thatís a tough one. Iím going to waffle here. I like writing both. I like writing creative nonfiction, which is the type of nonfiction like Jackson and Budís Bumpy Ride. I take a true event in history and choose the most important parts in research for a book for kids. Then a terrific illustrator (thanks to the publisherís choosing) like Wes Hargis, creates fun illustrations for the book.

10. Have any books inspired you to write one of your own?

Any time I read good books Iím inspired to write more. And sometimes when I find there ISNíT a book on a subject, then Iíll want to write one to fill that gap. When I discovered there wasnít a book of good advice compiled from childrenís authors for writing for kids, I did The ABCs of Writing for Children.

11. Do you have any tips for writers my age?

Yes.

  1. Read, read, read!
  2. I wish someone had told me when I was young that I could get published at ANY age. I have a list of places that will publish kidsí work on my blog: http://lizbooks.wordpress.com/ as well as the guidelines for the California Writers Club Young Writers Contest. Tons of tips are there too.
  3. Iíve never kept a daily journal, but I do keep a journal where I write down funny things people say, or funny things that happen to me. I also keep a dream journal and write down all my dreams. Itís a lot of fun and helps keep my ideas flowing.
  4. Do something creative every day. Even if itís for only 5 minutes! Sketch something. Write one line or two of your thoughts. Write a little poem. Play music. Listen to soft music before you go to sleep. All of this helps you remain creative!

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