Monday, May 14, 2007

Building a Career Through Kids Activity Books

Today, I'm interviewing Kris Bordessa, an independent writer and author of "Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself," an activity book for kids. This author, who has written about a safari and packed her entire family up for a move to Hawaii for the adventure, tells us how she still manages to never miss a deadline (many times while writing in her jammies):

Tell us about a little about yourself: I've been freelancing seriously since 2001, writing for various regional and national magazines. I have three books out, all of which have a publishing date of 2006. My next book, Great Medieval Projects You Can Build Yourself, is due out in 2008. Personally, I'm a wife and mother to two boys, 11 & 14. The boys are – and have always been – homeschooled. I'm a California native, but two years ago my family decided it was time for an adventure. We put most of our belongings in storage and moved to the Big Island of Hawaii. We are living very simply and doing our best to absorb the culture while we are here.

Tell us about your book: Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself is for kids ages nine and up. The book is an introduction to colonial America, from the founding of the first permanent British colony at Jamestown until the start of the revolution. In sidebars, kids can read about famous colonists like Captain John Smith and Benjamin Franklin, and event such as the Salem Witch Trials. With more than forty activities, the book gives kids the opportunity to experience some colonial style activities first hand.

This looks like a fun book, how did you come up with the idea? Actually, I didn't come up with the idea. It's part of a series put out by Nomad Press. The Build It series covers history and science for kids, and includes hands-on activities, which I think is the best way for kids to explore and learn. In a strange twist, I had pitched my first book Team Challenges to Nomad Press, but they passed on it (it was ultimately published by Zephyr Press). I learned that Nomad Press was looking for authors for this series, so I contacted the editor, reintroduced myself, and landed Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself.

Did you test all of the projects out yourself? Actually, my kids act as in-house project testers! When I'm developing new activities, I'll work out the rough details, and then I work with the boys to test the different projects. They are pretty patient with me, and having them available has definitely helped me to work out a few kinks.

Which in the book is your favorite? Hands down, my favorite activity is the pump drill. Long before I wrote the book, I made a wooden pump drill for my kids to use. When I was developing project ideas for Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself, I thought it would be a fun activity to include, but the whole premise of these books is that the activities should be made with common household items and be easy enough for kids to make with little or no adult supervision. Wood and electric saws don't fit very well into this plan, so I worked out a method to create a pump drill using cardboard, an old CD, and a few other materials. It's not quite as sturdy as the wooden version, but I've been impressed with how well it holds up. And kids love to use it! My publisher has been kind enough to let me include the pump drill activity on my website. You can link over to a PDF excerpt from here:

Your website says you've been on safari as a freelance writer, is that the most exciting assignment you've had and how did you get that? Well, the safari that I wrote about was part of a travel story I did for FamilyFun. Safari West is an exotic animal preserve that allows visitors to tour the facility in lumbering, open-air vehicles. The facility is located in Sonoma County, California , where I grew up. I pitched a travel story about the area, and included Safari West as a possible location; the editor liked the idea of including it, so I found myself learning about gemsbok, cheetahs, and giraffes. It was great fun, and certainly one of the most exciting assignments I've had.

How did you develop your specialty in writing for and about families and kids? By accident! Actually, my first published piece was an essay for FamilyFun. I wasn't even writing regularly at the time; I submitted the essay and then promptly forgot about it. Two years later (yes, two years!), I had a phone call from an editor who wanted to run the piece. I knew that while I had the editor's attention, I should pitch her something else and with FamilyFun, that meant something crafty. With that focus, I pitched ideas until I had another sale, and slowly built clips and contacts from there. But, while I do write a lot about activities for kids, that's not all I write!

Your website says you've never missed a deadline. I'm now worshipping at your feet. How do you schedule your time? There's nothing to worship - I'm actually a very poor manager of my time! It's something I'm working to improve. But, it is important for me to get my work in on time; if I've promised an editor that I'll have a piece done, it will be done. I think that my editors know that if I take on an assignment, I'm committed to finish it on time.

Tell us about your perfect writing spot and writing time. My perfect writing spot would be outside, under a tree with a nice breeze blowing and a glass of iced tea by my side. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting for that perfect situation. Instead, I write in the early morning while my kids are still asleep (often in my jammies) and in between all of the kabillion other commitments I have as a mom. I've learned to work in five minute increments – it's not ideal, but it's reality.

Tell us one fun or quirky habit you have as a writer. I work best when I have a couple things going at once. For instance, in between answering questions for you, I've been researching a couple of different article ideas. I do the same thing when I'm writing an article or working on my books. Every few paragraphs, a take a mental break and escape to a different project, even if it's just for a few minutes.


Blogger Kris said...

Thanks, Kerri!

5:19 PM CDT  

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