Kathleen Schrenk’s Writing Journey
This is the first, in what I hope, will become a series about authors’ journeys through the roller coaster ride that we call publishing. Our first author is Kathleen Schrenk. Read on and get an insight in what it takes to achieve a lifelong goal that many of us dream of.
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I spent summer vacation catching toads, building subterranean clubhouses in vacant lots, and wading barefoot in streets flooded by afternoon thunderstorms. At the age of twelve, I discovered greater adventures—and air conditioning—at my neighborhood library. I practically camped out between the stacks to finish reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-tiki and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach.
After receiving a B.S. in education, I worked as a speech and language therapist in the public schools. I took a twelve year furlough to be a stay-at-home mom to our three sons. When the youngest entered kindergarten, I became certified as a classroom teacher and taught middle school science and language arts for twenty years—quickly discovering that sixth graders are some of my favorite people!
I left the classroom in 2001, but continued to work with children—as a volunteer tutor in Start the Adventure in Reading and as a docent for school groups in the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park. In 2005, following the devastation of my hometown from Hurricane Katrina and the floods that inundated the city, I focused my volunteer work on the recovery of New Orleans and on coastal restoration.
I serve on the board of the Louisiana SPCA, am a founding member of NOLA City Bark, New Orleans’ first off-leash dog park(2010), and the creator of Bark Bits, the dog park’s monthly e-newsletter. I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Women’s National Book Association.
My travel articles about European carnival celebrations have been published in Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide, and my personal essay on Katrina recovery, Coming Home, appeared in Six Hens Magazine (http://www.sixhens.com/issues/2/). A Dog Steals Home, my debut middle grade novel, will be released by Pelican Publishing Company in March, 2017.
My husband and I share our home in New Orleans with our rescue dog, Lola, and accidental cat, Whodatcat.
My Writing Journey:
My first attempt at writing a children’s book has been like the many dogs and cats that find their way into my home and heart—serendipitous. One of those dogs, Dingo, was a slow-moving thirteen year-old when my first grandchild was born in 2011. As soon as my grandson could lift his head and focus his eyes, his gaze followed Dingo as he moved around the room. He liked to reach for Dingo’s plumed tail and eventually crawl to him. Dingo died before my grandson was two, but he missed him and often asked for him.
Inspired by their relationship, I decided to write the text for a picture book about a very young child and an old dog. I sent the manuscript off for a free evaluation to an independent editor I had met at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. She replied that I had definitely established the relationship between the boy and the dog, but that I needed dialogue, plot, and conflict. How I wish I had kept that email! She went on to suggest that I join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and participate in a critique group.
Since she hadn’t dismissed me completely, I decided to take her advice and move forward with the book. I joined the Louisiana/Mississippi Chapter of SCBWI. There I connected with other writers of children’s books. I’ve been a member of SCBWI for four years now, and the support, knowledge, and advice I have received from fellow writers has been invaluable.
Although I benefited from critiques at SCBWI meetings, I felt the need for a more in-depth approach. I met regularly with an open admission critique group at the public library for about a year. I grew from those meetings and made some helpful contacts, but because I was the only children’s writer, the group wasn’t a good fit for me. I formed my own group with two friends—one a musician and lyricist, the other a poet. We had a great time, but I’m not sure how much either of us helped the other! Almost two years ago, I joined a writers’ group that was forming in New Orleans. We are strictly middle grade/young adult fiction and are in the process of whole manuscript critiques of each member’s work.
After eighteen months of writing, sharing in critique, and revising, my picture book had grown up into a middle grade, coming-of-age novel, A Dog Steals Home, which explores the themes of family and friendship. It remained tucked away in my computer while I decided what to do with it. I didn’t want to self-publish, but did not have the confidence to submit to a publishing house. I decided to send it to the editor who had originally rejected it and see what she thought. This time she was interested, and I hired her to work with me on the book. The editing process took six months and multiple revisions until we both felt it was ready for submission.
Then began the query process and my crash course on the business of getting a book published. I studied agents’ websites, sought advice from my fellow SCBWI members, and read books on the subject. I researched agents and publishers to find a good fit for my book and began to submit. In February, 2015, Pelican Publishing Company requested the full manuscript to review. In October of that year, I signed a contract with them. A Dog Steals Home will be released in March, 2017, almost five years after I began the project.
Meanwhile, I took a class in fiction writing at the University of New Orleans, attended writing workshops, and completed my second middle grade novel, Mystery at the Bitternut Inn. I have received the full manuscript critiques from my group and hope to finish revisions and submit it to Pelican Publishing before A Dog Steals Home is released in March.