Interview with author Kelly Milner Halls

A few weeks ago, I post­ed this review of Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls’ most recent book, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH. Kel­ly was kind enough to fol­low up that review with an incred­i­ble inter­view about the book and her writ­ing career. Please help me wel­come author Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls!
photo of Kelly Milner Halls with her iguana
LT:  Hi Kel­ly, and thank for com­ing! I guess I have to start with the obvi­ous, though I’m fair­ly con­fi­dent I know the answer from read­ing the book: Do you believe in Sasquatch?
KMH:  I do not believe, 100%, that Sasquatch is real. I tend to be skep­ti­cal by nature—the jour­nal­ist in me. But I believe there are some very con­vinc­ing bits of evi­dence that sug­gest SOMETHING is out there—an ani­mal we haven’t yet defined and don’t real­ly under­stand. Too many reli­able peo­ple have wit­nessed too many amaz­ing things to ignore them.
LT:  What was/were the hard­est things about research­ing and/or writ­ing this book? How did you deal with that?
KMH:  I want­ed to be sure my wit­ness­es and experts were seri­ous peo­ple, not peo­ple who want­ed fame or glo­ry. There is noth­ing wrong with fame or glo­ry, but I want­ed peo­ple who were fact-cen­tered, so that required some hard work. I think I found good inter­view sub­jects to meet that stan­dard. Hope so.
LT:  Dur­ing your research, did any­thing sur­prise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
KMH:  The fact that Scott Nel­son believes Sasquatch may have its own lan­guage absolute­ly blew my socks off. His rea­son­ing is so clear and log­i­cal, it almost make my head explode. If that’s true, that’s a rea­son to pro­tect the “maybe” primate.
LT:  Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
KMH:  I took a num­ber of the pho­tos, but a won­der­ful Sasquatch inves­ti­ga­tor named Paul Graves from Yaki­ma, WA, was extreme­ly gen­er­ous about shar­ing his field pho­tographs for the book. He is also a musi­cian who writes Sasquatch songs, and he’s fea­tured in the book. But he was very gen­er­ous, and I’m grateful.
LT: How do you man­age all of your research for a book like this? What’s your orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem? Does it evolve over the course of a project?
KMH:  I keep elab­o­rate, well-backed up com­put­er files about each sub­ject, each top­ic, each chap­ter, so I can find my notes with ease. And there are so many notes. I read a dozen books, did more than two dozen inter­views and col­lect­ed dozens of images for this book. It was hard but amaz­ing work. It’s what I love to do.
LT:  How have your research and writ­ing process­es evolved over the course of your career?
KMH:  As my chil­dren have grown into adult­hood, I have been able to trav­el more to get my infor­ma­tion first-hand, rather than on the tele­phone. Hav­ing both field and phone time real­ly adds rich­ness to the books I write and the pre­sen­ta­tions I give.
LT: How much time did you spend research­ing this par­tic­u­lar book over­all, and how long did it take to write the book? Is that typical?
KMH:  Most of my books take between three and five years to research, then anoth­er year to write. I don’t like to rehash mate­r­i­al that already exists. I like to present new infor­ma­tion when­ev­er pos­si­ble and that takes time and effort.
LT: How do you know when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent or editor?
KMH:  The book isn’t even close to done when I send it to my edi­tors or agent. It’s a pro­pos­al. It maps out how I see the book once it’s com­plete and gives us all a place to start. But the book evolves con­sid­er­ably as we work togeth­er as a time. I’m sell­ing a con­cept that will change and improve as we all work on it, and that’s the mag­ic of the edi­to­r­i­al process.
LT:  Are there any oth­er tips you would like to share with aspir­ing children’s book writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those writ­ing non­fic­tion for kids?
KMH:  Watch for the top­ics that YOU find most engag­ing and con­sid­er offer­ing them up to young read­ers. Your excite­ment, your sense of won­der will show through every word you write and the kids will feel the human con­nec­tion. If you are not excit­ed about your top­ic, that lack of enthu­si­asm will be just as clear to the young read­ers. So write about things the excite you. You’ll give the kids a rea­son to be excit­ed, too.
LT:  I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
KMH:  I have learned that we for­get our human­i­ty when it comes to ani­mals at times. But we can also renew it. The more you know about even an unknown crea­ture, the hard­er it is to sim­ply dis­re­gard or dis­re­spect it. It’s like my pet chick­ens. I can eat grilled chick­en with­out a blink of an eye. I love chick­en din­ner. But I could nev­er even con­sid­er eat­ing my pet chick­ens. You work hard­er not to hurt the things you under­stand well. Knowl­edge, explo­ration, is the key to more love, less hate. That is con­firmed every time I write a book and share it with kids.
LT:  I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define suc­cess? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
KMH:  I used to yearn for the day when I’d win a major non­fic­tion book award. Years went by, and it did­n’t hap­pen. Then I start­ed meet­ing kids—many of them boys, but girls too—who loved my books, kids who said I was their favorite author. I start­ed hear­ing sto­ries about kids who clung to my books like life jackets—kids who drew com­fort from MY books, award-win­ning or not. After that starts to hap­pen reg­u­lar­ly, you real­ize awards are love­ly, but the real mea­sure of suc­cess are those read­ers and their abil­i­ty to feel a lit­tle less alone because of some­thing you’ve giv­en them. That’s how I mea­sure suc­cess. If I have made your child’s life a lit­tle kinder, a lit­tle safer, I am the luck­i­est writer on earth.
LT:  What do you like to do when you’re not research­ing and/or writing?
KMH:  I am always writ­ing, so that’s a hard ques­tion. I do a LOT of school vis­its, which I love. I paint, I meet with friends, I work for my friend Chris Crutch­er, I walk my dog and take care of my lizard. I sleep now and then, when time per­mits. : ) Life is crazy busy, but good.
LT:  What are you work­ing on now?
KMH:  I’m fin­ish­ing a book on ani­mal res­cues for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic called TIGER IN TROUBLE. I’m putting togeth­er anoth­er YA anthol­o­gy for Chron­i­cle Books—just got that news yes­ter­day. I am research­ing the his­to­ry of video games for a new book project. And I’m going to write a book on ghosts for Mill­brook. I have two oth­er pro­pos­als under con­sid­er­a­tion at Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, too, but they aren’t firm yet, so I bet­ter not talk about them.
LT:  What would you most like peo­ple to know about you?
KMH:  That I don’t have a mean bone in my body, that I live to make life a lit­tle eas­i­er and kinder for the peo­ple I meet. I’d like them to know that I am exact­ly who I say I am, with no need for deceit or ani­mus. Life is too short for cru­el­ty and anger. Like the Bea­t­les said, all we REALLY need is love. I hope my human­i­ty shows, even in my quirky works of non­fic­tion for kids. Kids need love, most of all.
LT: Well, Kel­ly, I have LOVED inter­view­ing you! Thank you so much for so gen­er­ous­ly shar­ing your exper­tise and heart with us, in your books as well as on this blog. 
Stay tuned for an upcom­ing review of Kelly’s new book, ALIEN INVESTIGATION, com­ing from Lern­er Pub­lish­ing on April 1, 2012 (no fooling!).

8 thoughts on “Interview with author Kelly Milner Halls”

  1. Thanks for shar­ing! Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls is com­ing to our school this week and the kids will be so excit­ed to read some infor­ma­tion on her!


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