‘Regarding’ the Craft: Kate Klise on Writing as a Profession, Art, and a Form of Magic

Interviewed by: 

Phoebe Doscher​

Date of Interview: 28 September 2020

Stories from our childhood transcend time. We clearly remember certain lessons and images from the books we read as children, and feel particular pangs of nostalgia when returning to the same pages that used to dominate our lives. Kate Klise’s books left that particular mark on my heart as a child. I devoured Klise’s primarily epistolary-style books as a pre-teen, from Dying to Meet You to Regarding the Fountain. Her novels read so smoothly, and have attracted a young audience of voracious readers that soak up her witty stories, chock full of beautiful illustrations by her sister, illustrator Sarah Klise. I had the privilege of meeting Klise in 2011 at an author visit to my elementary school. She was bright, bubbly, and an awe-inspiring role model to hopeful young writers. Almost a decade later, Klise is just as charming as I remember her. We promised to meet up a decade from now to discuss our paths again; perhaps by then I will have also found a way into the “magic shop.”


You’ve been a children’s book author for over twenty years now. How did you find a style and groove that works for you?

I figured out that epistolary worked for me. I had tried to get stuff published for 10 years with, straight up, third person, middle grade picture books, and they just weren't working at all. And then I wrote Regarding the Fountain in one week. And this is after having so little success and getting frustrated. And, for years I didn't tell people that it took 10 years to get published, and then I found out, not many years ago, that's about the average. So, you got to have a day job and you've got to keep your wits about you.


Ten years is a long time to be repeatedly rejected by publishers. What pushed you to keep going?

The thing is, everybody talks about how long it takes to get published, but I feel like what people don't talk about is that it's not like I was trying to get the same thing published. The reason it took me 10 years is that I got better. It wasn't like I kept trying to sell the same manuscript for 10 years. It was that I’d get rejected, and I’d say, ‘Okay, I’ll try something else.’ And then I’d try that again, submit it to three places or five places. It gets rejected. ‘Okay, let me try something else.’ You do get better the more you do it, and you learn more about the market and the genres.


Do you have any tips for someone hoping to pursue writing?

Whatever job you get out of college, make sure that you let everyone know that you're the writer in the room. You know, even if you're just writing menu copy. Just make sure that you're always pushing sentences around, because that's what we do as writers, even if you're not writing the novel you want to be writing. I think it's important for us to know that other people look at us as writers. And you do that by making sure that everybody knows that if there's a report to be written, if there’s something that has to go to the media, you're the best one to do it. So, people look at you like you're a writer, and then you start thinking, ‘Well, I'm a writer,’ and then you start thinking, ‘Hey where's my book? Now I'm going to write a book.’ It’s kind of a mind game.


Can you explain your routine as a writer?

I write first drafts as fast as I can. If I'm writing a novel, I try to get the whole thing down in 30 days, just because you want to stay in the same frame of mind. But then I edit slowly—you know, they say ‘write hot, edit cold,’ meaning, write when you have a lot of heat for the story and you're really into it, and you kind of have to say to yourself, ‘This is so good. Oh my god, this is the best book ever.’ And then, when you're editing, you have to say, ‘Okay, this is shit, and this whole thing has to get cleaned up.’ So, you have to have these two voices in your head.


What do you enjoy about writing children’s books? 

If I'm feeling stuck, I'll pick up Stuart Little or Charlotte's Web. I mean, E.B. White’s stories are just so charming and his sentences are just so clean and crisp. It was like I just rinsed my mouth with Listerine and everything. There's just a kind of tingly feeling, and, there's a lot of writing now that just feels kind of mushy and not clear. So I think writing for kids, kids won't put up with mushy writing. They want a story, and they don't want a lot of bullshit. They don't want a description of the summer day. They just want story, story, story. So, it forces you to write really tight.

Are there any other books from your childhood that still stick with you?

I was really lucky, I grew up with the masters, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I just wanted to climb inside that book, I loved it so much. It was such a world. It just transported me, so there's something about the books you read as a kid. I think they just imprint, or we imprint on them. I also think, when you make the leap between being a reader and being a writer, part of it is, you’re like ‘Oh, I want to join. I want to do that.’ And part of it is, ‘I want to be like that. I want to be a part of a club where they're making that stuff. I want to work at that factory.’


Yeah, sort of like, ‘I want to be part of making the magic.’

Yes, exactly. ‘I want to be in the magic shop.’