Welcome to KidLit Coffee Talk! Grab a cup of coffee and read on. Between purchasing and furnishing a second home on Cape Cod, KidLit Coffee Talk took a backseat. I’m so excited to be back and to have author Rachel Kolar with me today. Rachel and I are agency sisters at Storm Literary Agency and her debut picture book, Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters (Sleeping Bear Press) was released last month. Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters was illustrated by Roland Garrigue.
First off, what kind of coffee do you like to drink?
Pumpkin spice latte. It’s a cliché choice, but it tastes like fall to me. And if other people don’t want to drink it, that leaves more for the rest of us!
Ha ha! I think I’ll stick to my iced coffee. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing journey.
It’s funny—I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eight, but I never thought I’d write picture books. I love science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and I always assumed that I’d write adult fiction in those genres. I’ve published a few short stories for adults, and I still enjoy writing them, but I kept flaming out whenever I tried my hand at novels. Then, my husband pointed out that I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and CW superhero shows; had I considered writing YA? It was a revelation. I love stories with big, epic feelings, and YA tends to be much less embarrassed about wearing its heart on its sleeve. I managed to complete a manuscript for a YA paranormal novel, which I’d never done with any of my adult novels. That was my first foray into kidlit. By that time, I had children of my own, and I’d started coming up with picture book ideas for them now that I no longer thought of myself as an adult writer.
Wow, it sounds like it’s been quite a journey! Tell me about Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters.
Mother Ghost started about four or five years ago, when my son was a toddler. He was in love with his Mother Goose book and would run around reciting random bits and pieces of the rhymes. He also loved Halloween—I’m one of those people who gets way too excited about the season, as evidenced by my taste in coffee, and I passed it on to my kids. Just to be silly, I started inventing Halloween-themed nursery rhymes to make him laugh (I think “Mary, Mary, Tall and Scary” was the first). They were a lot of fun, so I kept going with them.
Even though it’s only thirteen rhymes, it took me about two years to write, because rhyming well is hard. I have several rough drafts for poems that never made it into the book because I couldn’t get the rhymes to work, or because I couldn’t come up with something that was similar enough to the original rhyme to be recognizable, but different enough to be clever. I made it halfway through a variation on “The Queen of Hearts” before realizing that I hadn’t done much beyond replacing “hearts” and “tarts” with “ghosts” and “toast.” That one didn’t get off the cutting room floor.
Also, for anyone else writing a spooky rhyming picture book, let me save you some trouble: nothing rhymes with monster.
I love that this book started out as silly poems to make your son laugh. I find so many of my ideas are inspired by my children. What was the most exciting part of the publication process? What was the hardest?
Other than getting the acceptance letter from Sleeping Bear Press, the most exciting part was seeing Roland Garrigue’s illustrations for the first time. They’re perfect—spooky without being scary, and filled with funny little details and Easter eggs. I laughed out loud the first time I saw the “Zombie Miss Muffet” picture.
The hardest part, surprisingly, is the publicity scheduling. Mother Ghost is a Halloween-themed picture book, so the best times for readings and other events are Saturdays in October. The trouble is that, as I mentioned, Halloween is a huge deal for my kids and me, and hayrides, haunted trains, and fall festivals also tend to be on Saturdays in October. We’ll make it work, but I still feel like I’m a character in a Hallmark movie, juggling work and family at a magical time of year and getting ready to learn a Very Special Lesson.
What else are you working on?
I’m putting the final revisions on that YA paranormal novel, which is essentially Friday Night Lights with werewolves. I’m also finishing up a draft of a YA horror novel about changelings, bullying, and pig farming. The research has been interesting on that one.
For picture books, I recently finished a book about sensory processing disorder. I’m a special needs mom, and I have yet to find a book about neurodivergence that my kids truly love. I’m sure that it’s out there somewhere, but in the meantime, I wanted to write something that would teach them about themselves and make them giggle at the same time.
I’m intrigued by your YA horror novel and can’t wait to see how you tie changelings, bullying, and pigs together. How has life changed for you (if at all) since becoming a published author?
My work ethic has gotten so much better! Before, I felt like a stay-at-home mom who occasionally wrote for fun. Now I’m a writer, and I have a book to prove it. That means I actually have to put my rear end in the chair and write.
Yes, the famous BIC (Butt in Chair). It can certainly be hard sometimes. What’s one picture book you loved when you were little and a more recent one you love now?
I adored the Amelia Bedelia books, and my favorite was Amelia Bedelia Helps Out. It doesn’t stand out too much from the others in the beginning—but at the end, she makes both a regular cake and a “tea cake” out of actual loose-leaf tea. In any other Amelia Bedelia book, the tea cake would be inedible, but the normal cake would be yummy enough to make up for her various mix-ups. In this one, the normal cake was fine, but the tea cake was delicious! I was delighted to have my expectations flipped like that.
My favorite recent picture book is a bit unorthodox. Little Cow, one of Chronicle’s little finger puppet board books, does more in fewer words than any other book I’ve read. The conflict, resolution, character arc, and rhymes are as basic as you get—but they only take eighty words. I’ve seen other books squeeze in a narrative at that length, but I’ve never seen one that managed it in rhyme.
Eighty words?? That’s crazy! I’ll have to check that one out. Right now, I’m reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. What are you currently reading?
The Mabinogion, a book of medieval Welsh mythology and fairy tales, as research for the changeling novel. I was worried that it would be dry—Celtic mythology can be episodic and meandering, and in the hands of a bad translator, it comes across as a random jumble of unconnected events. But Sioned Davies is the translator for this edition, and she does a lovely job of making it readable.
Just for fun, what is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I love Halloween, but I’m terrified of spiders.
Rachel, thank you so much for joining me today, and congratulations on the publication of your debut picture book!
To learn more about Rachel Kolar, visit her website at https://rachelkolar.com.
Connect with Rachel on social media.
Twitter – @KolarRachel
Facebook – RachelKolarspecfic