Interview with Kathe Gogolewski, author of Tato: A Middle Grade Children’s fantasy adventure ~ Wings Press.
By Tracy-Jane Newton
TJN: Welcome, Kathe. My son and I read your children’s book, and enjoyed it so much we wanted to find out more about you. Would you care to share a little about yourself and your life as an author?
KG:I’d be delighted! It’s a pleasure!
TJN: Thank you! The pleasure’s all ours. Well, we have lots of questions waiting for you, shall we get started? Let us start at the beginning. What sparked off your writing career?
KG: I started writing for kids while I was teaching third and fourth grade in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m now retired, though I still volunteer at a local elementary where I teach science and writing to fourth and fifth graders. I’ve always combined story-telling with teaching different subjects, especially for the drier subjects. I made up tales about alien gremlins eating vowels to explain contractions, stories about arguments that early cave people had over their possessions because they couldn’t count them, and I used baseball analogies to teach multiplication. I’d always pause before a story, building the drama, then I’d hear a couple “uh-ohs” and a bunch of giggling. They were funny. So telling stories has always been my tendency. When my district hired me one summer to write a unit combining literature and hands-on-science, I had so much fun! I told myself, “I’ve got to do more of this!”
TJN: Has being a teacher helped you to write Tato?
KG: Yes, I would not have written Tato if I hadn’t been teaching school. The story evolved through a number of conversations with my schoolchildren.
It started one day when I called my students outside for physical education. “Let’s go, kiddoes!” I called. That soon evolved into “kiddo potatoes” just because the words sounded funny together, and it made the children laugh.
One day soon after, some of the kids asked why I called them potatoes. I said, “Because kids come from potatoes.” No forethought there at all, but it took off. “Well, then,” one smart kid said, “I’m a russet potato! See? I have brown skin.” “Yeah,” said another, “I’m a white potato!” “I’m a French fry!” said a clever third. “What are you, Mrs.Gogo?” they asked. I told them, “I am not a potato. Only kids are potatoes. I am an adult.” “But you were a potato once, because you were a kid, too,” one doubtful child asked. “Nope. I was born an adult.” “Well, I think you’re a baked potato!” the French fry kid informed me. So they asked me more questions, and I invented this story about a kid who brought a potato to life with a magic formula as a way to explain how some people came from potatoes. That’s how TATO got started.
I read TATO to my schoolchildren as soon as I finished it. This helped me to see which parts needed rewriting–a wonderful, fist-hand opportunity to learn where to tweak it. I read the story to five different classes until I felt it was sufficiently polished to submit to a publisher.
TJN: Is writing your full time job now, or do you still teach? I bet the other teachers find it a novelty, but how do the pupils act when you say you are ‘an author’?
KG: I do both. I thought I was retiring and planned to write full-time when I moved to southern California with my husband, but we moved across the street from an elementary school! Some would say I wasn’t trying very hard to get away from it, haha!. Truthfully, I love being in the classroom, and I love my time with the kids. I manage to write, too, and spend most of my hours when I’m not in the classroom plunking away at the keyboard.
TJN: When you wrote Tato for children, did you set out to deal with emotional issues (such as the death of a family member) or did this premise evolve while you were writing a story about a friendly talking potato?
KG: That’s a great question. Am I an out-of-the-mist writer or do I write from a tight outline? I do both, but more the former than the latter. I love suspense, so I write to scare myself. If I know everything that’s going to happen, then I’m not very scared. So to some extent, I allow the story to tell itself that way. In Tato, I knew a boy was going to bring a potato to life, and I knew he’d accidentally bring something else to life, something sinister and evil! I also knew his grandfather would return in spirit form to help him. Beyond that, the story evolved.
TJN: I hear you are writing a science and language arts unit to go with the book. It sounds very interesting, can you tell us more?
KG: I have written an integrated curriculum for teachers to go with Tato. Since the story revolves around a boy and a lot of magic, the curriculum contains science experiments that explain certain illusions in the story. I have also written grants for seven teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area so they may buy classroom sets of Tato along with science materials to perform the lessons. I will travel to the Bay Area in early 2006 to demonstrate some of those lessons in the classroom with the teachers and their students. Teachers can find out more about it here:
TJN: Have you any favourite writing tips for writing stories for children?
KG: Kids’ books need to stay packed with action. Kids need those page turners – every page should leave a nugget for them to follow. No one will put a book down faster than a kid. Adults will often give a book a chance to kick in. Not so with children! You can’t fall into lengthy descriptions with them. It pulls them from the action, and you’ll lose many of them. Also, the language should be simplified, but not “dumbed down” to the point where there are no new vocabulary words. If the story is good, the kids will absorb the new words. If you have any children around you, use them to read the story and offer their honest impressions. If kids feel safe, they will tell the truth, so be sure to tell them that you need to know what they really think – that you don’t need for them to be polite.
TJN: And for those budding young writers, do you have any tips for them too?
KG: If you love to write and read stories, then keep writing and reading them. I know that sounds like silly advice, but it’s true! It’s so simple, but the best thing that you can do is to keep doing it! You should write things that you like, that entertain you. It’s important to love what you’re doing.
TJN: Please suggest three children’s story ‘prompts’.
KG: Here’s some Tato prompts:
Dreams seem so real. When you’re dreaming, you think it’s really happening to you, don’t you? Write about either a good dream or bad dream that you have had. Most of the time though, we do not finish our dreams. Go ahead and write and ending for your dream. Make it up!
Pretend that you are a reporter and you are doing an interview with one of the characters in Tato for a newspaper article. Ask the character questions about who they are, what happened to them and how they solved their problems. Then write a newspaper article using some of the character’s quotes.
There is a recipe for a formula in Tato. The formula uses peach fuzz, walnut pulp and other ingredients. On a recipe card, write the recipe for it. List the ingredients and write instructions on how to put it all together. If you want, write a recipe for how to make something happen, like making your mom happy or getting your dog to shake paws. Treat it just like a recipe! List the ingredients (the dog in this case), and give instructions on how it’s done.
Do you have a grandparent who is special to you? Can you describe what he or she is like and some of the things that you do together? Do one of both of your grandparents teach you things? Write a story about it.
Here’s a fun one:
What if you were an alien child who got lost in the galaxy and landed on earth by mistake? You are all alone and looking for help. Who will help you? Another child? What will they say to you? How will you get back home?
What if you wandered into a magic park where time stood still while you were inside? You could wish for all kinds of things that would come true in the park, and when you left it, no time will have passed on the outside. So you could play in it for as long as you wanted. What would you find in your park?
TJN: You also co-teach a series of audio classes on writing. Can you tell us more about this, and where we can find it?
KG: This project started from a group of online author friends who banded together under a group called Authors’ Coalition to help each other promote their books. We share resources and network together. We have created promotional CDs, goodie bags, raffles, participated in book fairs, conventions and more together. Three of our members, Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Marilyn Peake and Allyn Evans, started teleclasses for writers. Marilyn presented the idea to Deron Douglas, owner of Double Dragon Publishing, and he contracted with us for 30 teleclasses, which he sells as audio classes on his site. So far, we have done two of them with three more to come in January. There are five of us now involved with the project. Joyce Faulkner and I joined the group before we contracted with Deron. There are three threads for the classes: writing, promotion and technology for writers. I wrote most of the curriculum for writing and organized the threads, and everyone signed up for the classes they wanted to teach. We’re having a great time with it! If anyone wants to check out our group, you can at this URL:
You can find out more about the Audio Classes here:
TJN: Readers may be interested to know you also wrote another book, ‘A Promise to Keep’ under your pen name Ann Durrand. What’s this about?
KG: A Promise to Keep is about a schoolteacher (no, NOT me!) who falls in love with a man who professes his undying love for her one day before he disappears! Two detectives show up the next day asking her all kinds of questions. She is shocked to learn that he is wanted for murder. Refusing to believe he did it, she embarks on this mission to find HIM and any clues that might lead her to the murderer. She finds both. It’s a wild and reckless ride into the jungles of Mexico and north to a small town south of Sacramento.
TJN: Do you find writing for the younger audience is harder than writing for adults or the other way round?
KG: People ask me that question a lot. No, I can’t say that one is harder than the other – they’re both just different.
TJN: Are you working on any other projects, you’d like to share with us?
KG: I have just finished a paranormal romance called Flight of the Gryphon. I signed with Double Dragon recently, but haven’t heard yet when the book will come out. It’s about Katera, a woman from the past who, in an effort to end her suffering under the harsh rule of Askinadon, attempts to dive into a dangerous waterfall. Against her will, she is rescued by a handsome stranger, and then she learns that he hails from the same world as Askinadon, The stranger, Mikolen, is trying to escape this world by building another stargate in his secret hideout. He does not want any distractions, but of course, Katera is irresistible. Soon, he finds himself wrapped up in more trouble than he ever bargained for! Ferocious beasts, time warps and parallel worlds complicate his mission as he works with Katera to rescue her twin sister, Adrella, and her nephew from the grip of Askinadon, who has taken Adrella as one of his slave wives. You can read the prologue and first chapter here:
TJN: Can you please describe your most favourite designated writing area, if you have one?
KG: My husband, Ray, and I sit at desks on adjoining walls in our office. Outside, we have a lovely view of palm trees and tropical flora, but we rarely get to visit. We pretty much hole up indoors and write most days of the week. He is a writer, too, and edits all my work for me. He has just contracted with Double Dragon Publishing for a book of short stories called Flashes in the Pan, 50 Short Stories for the Impatient. We are very, very comfortable in our office. To give you an idea, we do not heat any other rooms in the house during the winter: just the office!
TJN: Do you have a set writing routine?
KG: Yes, I write every day (chuckle). In the morning, I do my email and handle promotional activities. After lunch, I write.
TJN: Who are your literacy influences, and how have they influenced you, and your writing style?
KG: That’s a hard one, because I read so many different genres and love so many different authors. I pick up my husband’s books, too, when he’s done with them, which gets me reading geopolitical stuff. I’d never pick these books up on my own, so it broadens my tastes and interests. Right now, I am reading Thomas Wolfe. Before that, I read a couple books by Nora Roberts, the romance writer. Before that, I was reading books by Anne LaMott and Mary Oliver. So, as you can see, I’m all over the map. I think it’s useful to enjoy a wide exposure of books and genres. It allows for more possibilities when it comes to generating your own ideas.
TJN: Where can we buy your book?
You can purchase the book here:
TJN: My son has asked me if you are planning on bringing Tato back to life in a sequel!
KG: If boys like your son keep asking me that question, the answer is yes!
TJN: And finally, if you could have one wish in the world, what would it be and why? (My son’s second and last question!)
KG: My wish is corny, but it’s real. I wish for peace in the world. It’s the same wish I hear from so many of my schoolchildren. Maybe because I’ve worked around children for so many years, I am able to think like them. They don’t see any problem with making a wish like that. They think it’s entirely possible, because there is room in their own hearts for this to happen.
So I wish everyone would stop fighting and start helping each other more. I wish people would let others be who they are, without trying to change them. I want everyone to be happy, because if everyone is happy, they won’t want to hurt anybody else. Don’t’ you think I sound like a cogent nine-year old? I also wish that Santa Clause was real, and I wish I had a dog, or maybe another cat. Oops, he said just one wish! Oh well, too late!
TJN: Both my son and I would like to thank you for your time. It has been a most enjoyable interview.
KG: This has been MY pleasure! Thank you AND your son for giving me a wonderful interview with lots of great questions!
About the Kathe Gogolewski:
For a long time, teaching upper elementary school children was Kathe’s passion. She especially enjoyed writing stories and reading them to the children. TATO was one of those stories. She loves writing stories that appeal to both boys and girls, as well as children of different academic abilities. In February of 2004, she signed with Wings Press and is now writing an educational supplement to TATO for schoolteachers to use with their classes. The supplement includes components for language arts and science. Kathe retired from teaching three years ago when she and her husband moved to Southern California. She hoped to begin writing full time but did not account for the lure of the bells that buzzed in the elementary school across the street from their new home. She soon found herself volunteering in fourth and fifth grade classrooms as a science teacher. Now, she enjoys both writing and teaching. And of course, she is still reading stories to the children.
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