Meet Mentor Catherine Bailey

Catherine Bailey is the author of Lucy Loves Sherman, Hypnosis Harry, Mind Your Monsters, and the forthcoming Lucy Loves Sherman’s Beach and Harbor Bound. She lives in Florida with her family. As a big fan of Lucy Loves Sherman, I am thrilled Catherine is participating in Writing with the Stars this year.

How did you begin your foray into kidlit? What was the catalyst that started it all for you?

I fell in love with writing in the first grade when I met the very inspiring James Howe. He signed two books for me, and I still whip them out at school visits today. By middle school, I was writing family newsletters and short stories. In high school, I earned an internship at a local paper. In college, I answered fan mail while working at the Cartoon Network. In law school—well, there was research AND writing—even better!

But it wasn’t until I had my first daughter in 2009 that I thought of writing as a profession. With a baby at home, I’d left my job and rediscovered Roald Dahl, The Grumpus Under the Rug, and a zillion other kidlit wonders, new and old. I also discovered I could write in the middle of the night after feedings because everyone was finally asleep. Plus, I’d been published in the educational and legal markets, so how hard could this be, right?

HA, HA, HA! Silly Catherine.

I had no clue how competitive the industry was, nor how difficult it was to write for children. But what I lacked in knowledge I made up for with persistence. And in addition to writing, I spent hours online learning about the publishing industry, from slush piles to agents to contracts. I subbed poetry to children’s magazines and worked up from there. I signed with an agent in December 2012, and finally my first book debuted in 2015 (that’s just about 31 years after I met James Howe).

But I promise, getting published is worth the wait! 🙂

What was the best thing you did to educate yourself about the industry when you started?

(1) Join SCBWI and (2) become active on Verla Kay’s “Blueboards”—an online forum for kidlit writers. The Blueboards have since become part of the SCBWI website, so now it’s a super convenient one-stop resource for writers and illustrators.

Do you have any writing rituals? What is your process?

I (try to) keep office hours, and I have a fairly defined “process” for writing.

After I have a specific idea, or I pull one from my files, I sit at my desk and write what I call a “vomit draft” in one sitting. It’s quick and awful and needs to be cleaned up—but at least the worst part is over. I have a beginning, middle, end, and title. Then I ignore the manuscript for at least two weeks before editing it. After I polish it up, I begin the critique stage. Then I  ignore it some more. Then rewrites and more critiques, etc. It usually takes at least 4-6 months of this before I will send my agent a draft.

Lucy Loves Sherman is getting a sequel in March, 2019: Lucy Loves Sherman’s Beach. Was that always the plan when you wrote the first book or was it a surprise?

It was a surprise! I thought Lucy would be one and done, but Lucy disagreed—LOL! Her personality turned out to be so strong, and her temperament was so sassy and fun! I just had to think of what else she might love; something that aligned with the tone and subject of the first book.

Was writing a sequel easier or harder than expected?

Writing the sequel for Lucy Loves Sherman was surprisingly easy. I drafted, edited and submitted it in about a week, and it sold almost immediately. This is definitely NOT the norm for me!! I think it was so simple because I already knew Lucy’s voice and I quickly came up with an idea for her next adventure. In book #2, Lucy tackles pollution at her friend’s beach, which is something my seaside town happened to be struggling with at the time.

You have another book releasing in May 2019 (Disney-Hyperion) called Harbor Bound. Can you tell us a bit about this one?

Happily—thank you! Harbor Bound is a rhyming bedtime book about boats coming home through a storm, and it is inspired by personal experience. I grew up in a coastal town, I spent time working on sailboats in Greece, and I live in a house by the sea. So I knew eventually I would write a boat book! Early on the book was a lyrical list of vessel types. Cute but not exactly a “wow!” book. So I added in a storm and paralleled the action with how a child ends their day (coming home, bath time, bedtime, etc.). I was able to include nonfiction boat facts at the end, so there’s a nice balance of entertainment and education. The best part was that a good friend and crit partner was also working on a boat book, and she sold hers too! And I must give a shout out to the illustrator, Ellen Shi, and my captain—er, editor—Rotem at Disney Hyperion. They turned my little poem into a beautiful book. It sets sail in Summer of 2019, so keep a weather eye out!

How often do you get new picture book ideas and how many of those actually turn into a viable manuscript?

I’d say I have, maybe 20ish ideas a month, which turn into about 6-8 actual manuscripts I might consider editing.

What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you on an author visit?

I discreetly keep my phone out during school visits so I can check the time and stay on schedule. Once, smack dab in the middle of a presentation to a HUGE group of kids, I saw a missed call from my daughter’s school. Then another. And another. Then a text saying something to the effect of, “This is not an emergency, your child is safe, but you need to call us as soon as possible.” That was quickly followed by another message that read, “Your daughter has a bead up her nose and we can’t get it out.” And then something like, “It is really up in there!” So there I am, trying to focus and entertain a room full of squirmy kids—all while this crazy nose drama is unfolding on my iPhone screen. “We aren’t sure if it is a bead!” “We called your husband who says she will be fine!” “It may be a berry!” And so on and so on … Long story short I sped up the presentation, called the school, hopped in the car, zoomed into a Target and bought a Nose Frida (excellent nose-sucking device if you ever need one BTW!), and rushed to my child where I successfully removed the bead (not a berry). Everything ended well, I still get invited back to that school, and their wonderful media specialist still asks about my daughter—ha!  

Thank you, Catherine, for your time and for mentoring one lucky writer in 2019. All information about how to apply to Writing with the Stars is on the WWTS Contest tab. Applicants, please remember to support these mentor authors. Buy their books, review them online, and tell your local librarians how awesome they are.