Linda Thieman Interview
Children’s book author Linda Thieman writes the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story chapter book series for ages 7 to 10, and runs the Katie & Kimble blog. http://www.katieandkimbleblog.com
Why did you choose to write books for kids?
I worked for years as an English language teacher. During that time, I wrote a lot of low-level materials for adult learners. At the same time, I was getting into fiction writing, so writing books for kids just seemed like a natural outgrowth of that.
At first, in Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story, Kimble, the ghost of a ten-year-old girl, was going to be kind of impish; a mischief maker. The books were going to be more along the line of picture books. But once the story started developing, I knew I’d have to expand beyond that into the realm of chapter books. So, I did some research and chose to write the Katie & Kimble books at RL3, or reading level 3, a loose system based on grade levels. That allowed me to tell more sophisticated stories and really delve into character development.
What advice do you have for young writers?
This is something a writer can do at any age, no matter how young. One thing I did starting at age 12, which I think turned out to be great practice, was to write stories with neighborhood people as characters, and then later, I did the same thing using TV characters. Since these people or TV characters already exist, it saves a step. You can try to capture their personalities on paper instead of having to create characters completely from scratch.
What authors inspire you?
When I was 11, my teacher read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle aloud in class. I never knew, up until that point, that such fiction could exist. Over the years, I have read and re-read the book, and I am particularly moved by the way L’Engle handled Meg’s grief. At the start of the book, Meg’s dad has been missing for over a year, and that really backs up on Meg. She has problems at school because of it and feels the local gossip keenly. It is that kind of realism that I think is lacking in so much of the children’s literature out there. So, in Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story, I wanted to deal with the topics of death and grief in a realistic but non-fear-based way. If Kimble does not have her grief over the loss of her mother addressed, then I’d just be cheating the reader.
I’ve also been inspired by Georgette Heyer. She was an English author who lived from 1902-1974, and she wrote an enormous number of historical Regency novels. Her characterization is awe-inspiring, and it’s something she is really known for. So, as I was beginning to work on the third Katie & Kimble book, Katie & Kimble: The Golden Door, I was sort of at a loss as to how to portray the character of Danny Garcia, a ten-year-old boy who will be a continuing character. But then I read Heyer’s novel Frederica. In Frederica, Heyer has a character named Felix, who is a 12-year-old boy. He’s bright and enthusiastic and he just lights up the whole book. And then I realized that some of those qualities would work well for Danny and it solved a huge problem for me.
Share a favorite childhood memory with us.
Gladly. On the right sidebar of the Katie & Kimble blog, have written three funny stories about my childhood: one from age 7, one from age 8, and one from age 9. When I was 8, we got a piano for the first time, and I always loved to play songs a little bit differently from how they were written. I relate one story about a joke my dad and I played on my aunt that year. But, since then, any piano just attracts me like a magnet. One Christmas season when I was 14, my mom, my sister and I walked into this nice department store. There, right in the middle of the floor, was a big grand piano! My mom and sister walked away to do their shopping, but I could not move from that piano. There was a very nice young man playing Christmas songs there, and at that moment, he was playing some kind of jazzed up version of Jolly Old St. Nicolas—just my cup of tea! So I waited until he was done with the song and then I asked him if he was playing that as written or if he had improvised the flourishes himself. He told me that he was playing it as written and showed me the little book of sheet music he was using. I memorized the cover and before long, I was at home, at my own piano, playing Jolly Old St. Nicolas to my heart’s content. It was, by far, the best arrangement in the book. That was a beautiful experience.
Linda Thieman has a master’s degree in applied linguistics and is a former English language teacher who has created a set of reading skills activity packets and classroom materials that teachers and homeschoolers can download free of charge from the Katie & Kimble blog. These materials are guided by the national standards set for third grade reading and language skills. Linda lives in Sioux City, Iowa .