Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 13, 2012

Kate DiCamillo & Harry Bliss

It looks like Harry Bliss will be stopping by the New Jersey SCBWI Conference on June 9th to sign book with Kate DiCamillo and Holly McGhee. Just think you can get LOUISE, THE ADVENTURES OF A CHICKEN signed by both of them. Still time to register, but time is running out.

This article first appeared in Sprouts Magazine and was written by Nanci Turner-Steveson.  Thought I would share it with you, since it talks about Kate.

Kate DiCamillo is my favorite children’s author. She writes like I want to write, she breaks the barrier of what is “in,” and her books end up on the same shelf where I dream mine will someday be — nestled between Charlotte’s Web and Black Beauty .

You know what they say: Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars. That’s me, all starry-eyed and full of big dreams. After hearing Kate speak at a book signing, I realized we had a lot in common. I left feeling hopeful and happy.

I arrived an hour early and found myself at the end of a long line of very excited people. I asked a staff person if we could take pictures and was told Kate would not look up when signing books “because she’s so shy.”

When Kate bounced into the room she didn’t appear shy at all. At the podium she said, “There are two things I can do: I can read, and I can talk. Which should I do first?”

“Read!” was the unanimous answer.

Kate read from The Magician’s Elephant . She had me hooked and wanting to open the copy I’d purchased before she put the book down. I wondered if my book would ever make someone feel that way.


After the reading Kate answered questions. Children asked about the inspiration for certain characters. A friend gave her a giant rabbit as a gift. It was so big Kate thought it was “creepy.” She sat it in a chair, but every time she walked past she jumped because it was “so there.” A few nights later she had a dream that the rabbit was on the bottom of the ocean, face down, without clothes. Kate joked, “What kind of a person has naked rabbit dreams?”

But she took that dream and wove it into a wonderful, emotional book that is my personal favorite. The son of another friend told her of a character he’d invented which he described as “an unlikely hero with rather large ears.” When Kate asked him what happened to the character, he said, “I don’t know, that’s why I want you to write the story!”

Th e Tale of Despereaux was born.  A man asked, in regard to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: How did Kate decide to allow Sarah Ruth to die, and what kind of feedback has she gotten about that?  Kate said each story has a life of its own. When she tries to veer off course, it never works. She’s been told that kids don’t cry for Sarah Ruth, adults do.  Children cry at the end, when Edward says, “Yes, yes, yes, it’s me.”

In explaining this, Kate choked up and jokingly called out, “Next question!” During the presentation, Kate pointed out an irony to her books. When she was young she was devastated by the tragedies in Black Beauty.

Afterwards, when she saw books with animals on the cover she thought, “Oh no, not that again, can’t read that book!” She didn’t read Charlotte’s Web until she was an adult. Now she’spublished thirteen books with animals on the cover.

When asked if DiCamillo follows “picture book rules,” she answered a solid “No.” She’s aware of them, but doesn’t think in those terms because “nothing would ever get done.”

DiCamillo doesn’t outline because the real story would stay hidden. “People think if you’re a good writer, you sit down and lovely words spill onto the page…that’s simply not true.” It’s so hard that every day when DiCamillo prepares to write her two pages, she feels like Despereaux going into the dark dungeon. But she says, “Let the story come out, then revise, because it just isn’t going to come out beautifully at first.”

One little boy said he’d heard she wrote ten books before being published. Kate said that wasn’t true.  The boy quickly added, “I didn’t mean to be rude, it’s just what I heard….” Kate laughed and said he looked too nice to be rude. Here’s the truth: The first book she wrote was Because of Winn Dixie. Prior to that she wrote short stories and had four hundred seventy-one rejections in her drawer, which might explain the misconception. When asked if she thought those stories should have been published, she rolled her eyes and said, “Absolutely not!”

Finally someone asked, “How did Winn Dixie get published?”

It took reaching way outside DiCamillo’s comfort zone when the opportunity arose. After she wrote Winn Dixie, she worked for a bookseller. When arepresentative of Candlewick Press visited, Kate took a deep breath and said, “I have a book I want you to publish, but you don’t accept manuscripts from unagented authors, and I don’t have an agent.”

The person told her to send it directly her, and the rest is history.

After the Q&A session I was surprised to see Kate looking up for photos when signing books. When it was my turn, the Community Relations Manager, Debra Lampert-Rudman, introduced me and said I was interviewing for a job at a different Barnes and Noble. I asked Kate if she had a contact page on her web site and she said to reach her through her publicist.

Kate’s editor pulled out one of the publicist’s cards and, while handing it to me, I hesitated and thought, “This is your moment! You are standing in front of her, just like Kate said you had to…. Speak! Tell her about your book! Do it now!”

But I couldn’t. A lifetime of my mother’s manners lessons wouldn’t let me hold up the line waiting behind me. So I took the card and walked away with more of Kate’s hopeful words ringing in my ears:

“Things happen for a reason.”

About Nanci Turner Steveson:

Nanci Turner Steveson is the founder of The Literacy for Hope Project ( ) and writes short stories and novels about horses for middle grade readers. She is represented by Al Zuckerman at Writer’s House.  She can be reached at:

A day that celebrates all mothers is the best kind of day!

    “Thanks!” says Hans to every mom,
    “For the great job you have done,
    ‘Cause little kids always need books,
    On paper, kindle or on nooks!”


    Hogs and kisses,

 Author/Illustrator Hans Wilhem sent this to me.  He decorates his pig for every holiday.  I always have wanted to put a cow in my yard to decorate like that.  Probably got the idea from the cow that Chicago decorated and placed all over the city years ago.  Believe me, my neighbors would freak if I ever did follow through with that desire.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. We have SO much amazing stuff happening at our conference, it’s truly salivating! lol

    P.S. Nanci’s email was mispelled. It’s actually ponywriter without the “e,” not poneywriter.


  2. Thanks for the wonderful writing tips and interview.


  3. I’ll be first in line to get a copy of LOUISE, THE ADVENTURES OF A CHICKEN 🙂 My son is obsessed with the word chicken, and just look at that cover! Can’t wait for the conference . . .


  4. What a writer. And such unusual ideas that work. Sometimes we as writers are forced to look deep into ourselves for the ultimate characters. They’re in there.


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