We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelly Bennett and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelly, what’s the most important think you’ve done for your children?
By pursuing my dream of being an author–making writing my career–when it was definitely not easiest or most lucrative choice, I’ve shown my children how to live creatively. How to think outside the box and to reinvent that box when need be. And, maybe most importantly, that though rejection hurts, it can’t kill you unless you let it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a wordsmith. I mold letters, usually scribbles on paper, into ideas, images, worlds that, like Brigadoon, only exist if and when one can make a reader see and feel them, too. Every project, be it fiction, non-fiction, an interview, article, memoire, poem, picture book is a puzzle. The challenge, the art, is in deciding the best way to convey the information I want to share. My goal is to choose and organize words—craft a narrative—so compelling readers want to keep reading. And, a children’s book author, I measure success by three words: “Read it again!”
Early on, probably because I had two small children—my son was 4 and my daughter 2—and I was reading to them, I became obsessed with children’s literature. My mission is to create stories that touch and tickle and inspire children to want to read and to keep reading more and more. Because, along with food, love, and security, fostering literacy by sharing songs, poetry, family stories, and books, is the most important thing we can do for our children.
I’ve been writing professionally for more than thirty years—back in the before time: before computers and before the Internet or spell/grammar check. Back then writing meant longhand or tapping away on a typewriter. There was no cut and paste options. Submitting to a publisher meant snail-mailing or hand-carrying the story to an editor. In many ways “getting published” was easier because there was less competition. The physical act of submitting was so time consuming it weeded out all but the most committed (or should be committed) writers. Too, there were more paying opportunities for freelance fiction writers—essays, short stories, confessions, poems, etc. When I began writing, I was a single mom, waiting tables and writing in my spare time. My first writing successes were small—Travel and Parenting articles, Crafts, How-to Tips, True Confessions—but they paid! Those smaller checks made it possible/affordable for me to keep writing, revising, and submitting—and to continue this writing life. At first, perhaps like many, I imagined myself writing the bestseller that would make me rich and famous, or at least successful enough that I could quit my day job. Hah! I hate to burst the bubble, but most children’s authors, me included, make much of our income from school visits and/or teaching—even after we’ve successful published many books. And now in this time of CoVid we are all scrambling to find alternate incomes. On the other hand, the Internet has dramatically increased the need for content. Think of it: every story, every snippet of text, every info-bite, caption, instruction manual etc. etc. is written by someone like me—or you! In short, anyone wanting to be a writer, can. Which is great! But, there’s a down-side to it. Because so many people are providing content for free, there are fewer paid opportunities, for fiction especially, therefore making a living from writing what we want to write, might take more scrambling. But, writing is writing. If you want to be a working writer and you’re flexible about what you are willing to write, opportunity abounds. It may not be writing what you want to write, at first anyway, but it can pay the bills. And it’s good practice.
Here is the best writing advice I can offer: If you want to be a writer: write. As they say, that story won’t write itself. Commit to writing, whether an hour a day; a page a day; a certain number of words per day…or week…or month, when and for how long, and what is up to you. Do the math: If you write one page, five days a week, at the end of the year you’ll have a 250 pages. When I say write, I am not saying “write well” or “write that Bestseller.” The important thing is to get words out of your head and onto the page. What you write and how well you write it—or rewrite it—comes later. I free write every day. No excuses. “Free Write” meaning not for payment, not email, not tweets or other. For the last 1700 days plus—since March 17, 2016—along with a friend, my free writing has been a poem. We call it the 7-Minute Poetry Challenge because we set a timer for seven minutes and write to a prompt. (Why seven? Because five wasn’t long enough and ten seemed too much of a commitment.) If readers are interested in trying the 7-Minute Challenge, they’ll find prompts on my blog: The Fishbowl (https://www.kellybennett.com/
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh my…only a week?! First stop, Smither’s Park where we’d bask in mosaic wonder and plan our route. Nerdy as it sounds ours would be a museum hop—with shopping, eating, wine, and lots of chatter along the way. Of course, we’d pop into the Orange Show Center. (I am writing this imagining a time in the not too distant future—hopefully as you read—when CoVid has vanished and our world is back to better.) After a drive by at the Beer Can House, we’d head to the Museum District to stroll through the gardens and pop in and out of museums—Houston has such a wide variety, 19 in a 1.5-mile radius: Buffalo Soldier Museum, Asian Arts, Children’s Museum, Diverseworks, Contemporary Arts and Fine Arts, The Holocaust Museum, and the Natural History for a dose of butterfly magic! I’m imaging this cooler spring, fall or winter days, so we could stroll from one to the other, stopping for nibbles and to browse the museum gift shops. The Menil and Houston Center for Contemporary Craft alone could take hours depending on how many artists were at work, and what treasures we find in the gift shops. And we’d ride all the Trolleys, both directions, of course. Morbid as it sounds, the National Museum of Funeral History is a must—thrilling, chilling, fascinating! When I have writer friends in town, I always take them there. It’s inspired more than one mystery/crime novel.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
They say it only takes one adult saying “You’re special” to make a positive difference in a child’s life. I’m a writer today because my first grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, pronounced my spider poem “Excellent!” and posted it on the board. And then a teacher after that, praised a story, and another after that…and all those teachers through Miss Reidlinger, in 12th grade English who paid attention. I’m an author because my family and friends encouraged me to keep writing. And especially beholden to Ronnie Davidson, my first writing partner, who provided the writing space, schedule and accountability I needed during those first, lean, scary years when, as a single mother of two, everything–food, rent, child care, parenting–seemed to be pushing me away from being a writer. And, lastly, professionally, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) especially comrades in the Houston chapter. For anyone reading who is interested in writing or illustrating literature for children, the SCBWI is our go-to resource for education and support: scbwi.org.
Youtube: Kelly Bennett Books
Other: Pintrest: @bennett6272
Norman One Amazing Goldfish is illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, published by Candlewick Press, 2020.