Today on Tuesday Tours I’m excited to share the writing room of Kate Messner, which overlooks Lake Champlain. Kate creates beautiful books written in multiple genres, and she also blogs on her website about a variety of topics. Some of my favorite posts from her site include Picture Book Math, Bullet Journaling (Children’s Authors Version), and Owning Our Words. Kate also gives her time and expertise for free to teachers and librarians interested in learning how to write for children in her summer series Teacher’s Write! And she helps her fellow authors connect with schools by showcasing the listing of Authors Who Skype on her blog.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I write books for kids of pretty much all ages – from picture books to chapter books to novels for older readers. My best-known picture books are HOW TO READ A STORY, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, and UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT, all from Chronicle Books. I have three series with Scholastic Press – the Marty McGuire books, the Silver Jaguar society mysteries for middle grade readers, and the Ranger in Time chapter book series about a time traveling golden retriever. And I also write stand-alone novels with Bloomsbury, including THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE, EYE OF THE STORM, WAKE UP MISSING, ALL THE ANSWERS, and coming this June, THE SEVENTH WISH. I draft all my books on my MacBook Pro, using Scrivener, but I also do a lot of brainstorming, off-draft pondering, planning, mapping, and outlining using colored markers on big sheets of paper.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process
Several years ago, when I transitioned to writing full time, we built a separate writing room in the back of the house, overlooking Lake Champlain, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. The room is tiny – just enough space for a big desk, a chair, and a wall of bookshelves – but it’s soundproof, which means that I can work quietly no matter what’s happening with my family upstairs. I also love that I have to go down to the basement, step out into an unheated storage area, and then go back in another door to get there. That really gives me the feeling of “going to work” when I transition to the writing part of my day.
Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I generally wake up at about six, get my daughter off to school, check email, and try to settle in to my writing. I used to work out first thing in the morning and write later on, but lately, I’ve been writing from about 8 to 11:45 and then taking a break for a noon fitness class at the gym. I’ve found that after an hour of boot camp or kickboxing, I find a second burst of creative energy, so I’ll usually take a quick lunch downstairs and go back to writing until it’s time to pick my daughter up from sports practice after school.
Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a shell full of incredibly smooth, polished pebbles on my desk. I picked them up on a magical little beach during a family trip to California a couple of summers ago. They are fabulous rocks, and I play with them when I’m stuck. I’m also lucky enough to have art from illustrators Brian Floca and Mark Siegel on my walls, which just makes me happy to be in the room, even when it’s not the easiest writing day.
If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, whom would you pick?
My day to day writing habits are probably too weird for me to share a studio with anyone. I talk to myself constantly and sometimes act things out in my little room so that I can find the right words to describe what a character is doing. Yesterday, for example, I was writing a scene where a girl has to lift a heavy wooden shelf that’s fallen during an earthquake to free her brother, who’s trapped underneath. I was struggling to describe how she did that, so I pretended I was lifting the (attached) bookshelves in my studio and used that experience to think about what my body was doing and what it would look and feel like for my character. Also, I take little exercise and yoga breaks while I write, so it’s not unusual for me to stop working for two minutes to plank or stretch or do jumping jacks. I’d be a terribly disruptive studio mate, but I do love writing when I’m on retreat with other writers. There’s something about the collective creative energy.
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Personal space for creativity doesn’t have to be a huge space – mine is tiny – and if you can’t swing even a small dedicated space right now, it’s always possible to carve out temporary sanctuaries. I know people who set up desks in corners and closets and laundry rooms, and I think just the act of saying, “I go to this place to write” can be helpful.
What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I have two books coming out in June and I’m super excited about both. The first is THE SEVENTH WISH, a retelling of the old fairy tale where a fisherman catches a magical, wishing fish. My version is set in an ice fishing community on Lake Champlain and is about not only ice fishing and wishes, but also Irish dancing, addiction’s impact on families, and the limits of magic. The lovely, lovely Anne Ursu read an early copy and called it “An empathetic, beautiful, magical fiercely necessary book that stares unflinchingly at the the very real challenges contemporary kids face and gently assures them they are not alone.”
My other June 2016 title is book 4 in my Ranger in Time series, RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE, in which Ranger travels to early 20th century Antarctica with a Maori-Chinese boy who’s stowed away on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova, hoping to be part of the first expedition to reach the South Pole. You can find me on Twitter or my website.
Thank you for sharing your writing room with us, Kate! It’s great seeing where you work. I’d also like to personally thank you for sharing your thoughts on gender issues in kid lit and speaking up about sexism in the industry. Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, or on your blog, you’ve given us all some food for thought. Best of luck on THE SEVENTH WISH!
Tuesday Tours will be return in May when illustrator Christina Forshay shares her newly-moved-into studio in California. If you’d like to get updates on Tuesday Tour guests, please subscribe to my mailing list.