Rebecca Koehn Celebrates with a Gift!
I’m doing the “Happy Dance” and tossing confetti for Rebecca Koehn’s debut picture book After the Rain! Rebecca is a talented writer, plus my dear friend and critique partner. She knows the patient hard work behind good storytelling and is fearless—a role model for us all!
Amazon writes: “… After the Rain puts a new twist on the rainy-day picture book about sharing and learning to work together.”
ME: Thank you, Rebecca, for squeezing in time to talk! Your days must be SUPER busy parenting two young boys while writing stories. I’d like to start by asking you about yourself.
ME: Who are some of your favorite children’s authors?
REBECCA: Thank goodness you asked for only “some.” There are sooo many! I’m a big fan of Tammie Sauer and Ame Dykman. Newer authors I love are Alastair Heim, and co-authors Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie. We’ve been eating up Stacy McAnulty’s nonfiction books on celestial orbs at my house. As for classics, my boys still love a good Curious George or Ezra Jack Keats when we sit down to read. I could keep going. Do you have a word limit?
ME: What sparked your interest in writing for children?
REBECCA: My story is pretty typical. I rediscovered children’s books after I had my first baby. I loved the mixture of colorful artwork and vivid words. I remembered books I’d forgotten and discovered new ones. I was a middle school teacher before having children, so I’d already been into the middle grade and YA lit scenes. Once my boys came, I was addicted! I ran into an artist friend of mine, and yours, Mary Ann Hendrix (a beautiful water colorist), and we got to talking about how we both wanted to work on a children’s books. As with a lot of things, once you have a friend who shares your interest, you start moving quickly. That’s what happened with us. We started moving: me writing; her painting. And we learned about the business and the craft as we went. It’s been a ton of fun!
ME: What was your inspiration for writing After the Rain?
REBECCA: I actually have the photo that inspired this story sitting on my piano. We live in southwest Kansas, and at the time were suffering from a severe drought. Then, one day the rain came. Because of how the street drains are situated around our house, the gutter can fill up fast and become one massive puddle with little rivers leading away and feeding into it. The photo captures my boys and nephew running barefoot through the gutters after the rain. Such a fun day. Such wonderful inspiration.
ME: As a published author, what do you know now that you wish you did when you wrote your first story?
REBECCA: Excuse me a moment. I have to laugh until I cry because there’s SO MUCH! Then again, I’m pretty sure it was important for me to be completely clueless when I started out. My ignorance gave me the stamina and ability to learn, grow, and stick with it. So my answer is probably “nothing.” Except, it might have been good, and it still is good, to realize that this journey requires patience…and the ability to complete something, and then to walk away from it. You can’t sit and obsess indefinitely, or you’ll remain unpublished. You also have to reach a point where you’re willing to take risks. Most importantly, you need to know (and having been an English major I already knew) how to take criticism. While this is vital for writers, I think it’s an important skill to have in life—no matter what career or art path you choose.
ME: Is there a helpful tidbit that you can offer Kidlit writers who are starting out?
REBECCA: Well, there is the all-important READ. Read what you want to write. Read the classics, yes. Read the new stuff. Use our technology-based world to your advantage. Research, learn, take classes. Be open-minded and listen. Not everything will work for you, but if you ignore the experience and wisdom of those who have gone before, you’re failing yourself. And as I said earlier, embrace and learn patience, and how to accept criticism. You don’t always have to agree with and utilize others’ comments. But accept them with grace.
ME: Since you’re a parent of two young children, how do you find time to write?
REBECCA: Whew. Well, I have many answers since my writing time has changed with the age and stage of my children. When I first started, I thought only the time I spent writing stories counted as “Writing Time.” I was constantly disappointed in myself. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I’d snatch writing time during naps or when family was around to help. Nap times were my writing times. I learned quickly how to write with distractions or in quick bursts. As my boys got older, I structured our days so I would have time to write. Now, that they’re older, my boys are used to having a “quiet time” in the early afternoons. They spend that hour in their rooms playing quietly with Legos, reading, doing activities, etc. They know when Mommy sits at her desk typing, she’s NOT to be disturbed unless there’s a fire or blood! When you’re a new writer, you also need to count the time you spend reading about writing, reading books in your genre, following author/publisher blogs, and interacting and learning about writing on social media as “Writing Time.” It’s essential for your growth in knowledge and craft. You don’t need a dedicated hour each day. Though having dedicated writing time would be ideal, it isn’t necessary to progress as a writer. You just need to make the time to write some time. The writing does need to happen.
ME: As a parent and author, do you have advice for adults when they read aloud picture books to children?
REBECCA: Here are my four favorite tips:
- Use different voices when you read! You don’t have to be good. Just distinguish between characters. You may feel silly, and your kids may giggle, but what you’re doing is teaching kids HOW to read and how to think of the words on the page as characters, people, and story. My husband, bless him, does the most horrendous accents. But his voices are great! And it’s so fun to hear the boys mimic Dad. It’s wonderful to hear them attempt different voices because they realize what the words represent. As a teacher, I can tell you, not all kids realize this. Many children don’t visualize or connect the words with the characters.
- Make sound effects, even if they aren’t written into the text. With Eric Carle’s Brown Bear book, we always growled, tweeted, etc. Kids love this! Kids can participate by doing sounds with you. Sound effects add to the learning and makes reading fun!
- Let kids read to you even if they’re “reading” the pictures or reciting from memory. It’s part of the process of learning to read, an important step in their journey.
- Read every day. Picture books are so short now. Some can be read in less than a minute! All parents can spare a minute. Read aloud each day and don’t stop when kids can read on their own. Our oldest is 9 and still looks forward to us reading to him before bed. The books we read have changed but not the habit.
ME: As you know, I’m “over-the-moon” in joy for your debut picture book! We’ve traveled many miles together to meet with our critique group and to attend writing conferences. In celebration of your book’s birthday, I’m offering a copy of After the Rain to one of our bloggers. To enter, leave a comment below. A winner will be randomly selected during March 2020 when Rebecca’s book is released. So please, have patience!