Author Interview – Kathleen O’Dell

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I first came across Kathleen O’Dell’s work during a period of infatuation with silhouette covers, which to me seemed (and seem) perfectly whimsical, creepy, and enticing. Add a mysterious mansion, hyper-intelligent birds, and the ghostly influence of a magician, and you have a perfect mix of the spooky and magical.

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Kathleen has written a number of other books for young readers as well (I encourage you to check out the full list on her Goodreads page, linked to below). I was excited to chat with her about her experience writing and publishing–and was especially interested to hear how she overcame some early, and completely unwarranted, discouragement.


1. What is some of the best advice you’ve received about writing?

This advice is from Ernest Hemingway, and it helped me cope with my fear of long-form writing:

“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time… Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work.”

I was afraid I would run out of gas or lose my place if I attempted to write every day for months on end. When you save a little juice for the next day, you start with a push that sparks your imaginative engine. You live to chug away yet another day.


2. What is some of the worst advice you’ve received about writing?

Before I was published, I once attended a writing group where I presented the beginning pages of a novel. Up until that time, I had been devoted to writing poetry and approached novel writing with trepidation. I’ve forgotten the piece I brought, but I’m sure those first pages weren’t very strong. The writer hosting the group took me aside afterward to advise me that unless I wanted to write and publish a novel more than any single thing on earth, I really should not to continue. The pursuit of publication would only break my heart.

I was wary enough of attempting a novel already, so I listened and kept flogging away, writing poetry that attracted some interest here and there but was always ultimately rejected. I had become tired, bitter and more than a little hopeless. That’s when I broke through and realized, “Hey, my heart is already broken. Can’t get much worse. Why not try a novel after all?” So I wrote one, sent it off to Dial Books for Young Readers and sold it. The moral to that story is: Don’t mind the scary voices; do something scary instead.


3. What is one resource that you think is valuable for writers that not everyone may know about?

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is worth joining. They have online forums for writers’ discussions. They have regional chapters that feature talks with visiting writers and editors.


4. What is something that surprised you about your career path?

That it happened. Seriously. I doodled around for a long time before I got the ball rolling at age 42.


5. What is one book that you would recommend writers pick up?

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It is a slim volume that addresses issues artists have with the “inner critic.” A writer friend of mine recommended it to me, and I’ve passed it along to several other writers since.



Here are the ways you can connect with Kathleen!

Visit her site.

Follow her on Goodreads.


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