Welcome to the six hundred and fifty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s / YA author Kathy Petrakis. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Kathy. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Kathy: Hi Morgen. I’m an Australian living in London and publishing her first book. I moved to London without a definitive plan except to enjoy all London has to offer. I never thought I would be publishing a book! I worked in banks and insurance companies all of my twenty year working career but always loved the performing arts – dance, music, theatre and hence the theme of my book. My mother used to always nag me to write more but I never gave it another thought. And then, I decided to write a novel and here I am. Now, I just going and hope to keep on going!
Morgen: Things just have a way of working out; I went to a creative writing evening group at my local college in January 2005 to meet new people (as I’m not from Northamptonshire originally) and was hooked on writing, and am still in contact with most of the group as I ended up taking it over when the teacher, crime writer Sally Spedding, moved away). You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Kathy: My book would definitely be in the young adult genre, aimed at probably the 15 years plus category. To be honest, I didn’t even know the category existed at the time when I wrote the book – it was just the story I wanted to write. As it happened, I discover that it fitted into this young adult category.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Kathy: Passion and Pain (Dancers and Divas) is the first book I have published. Actually, it’s the first anything I have published! At the moment I write everything under my real name but depends on where I go in the future, there may be a need for a pseudonym.
Morgen: Some writers use a different name if they’re known for one genre but it’s tough enough being known for one that I’m sticking to one, although I’ve always written a variety of genres so that helps. What age group do you write for?
Kathy: I hadn’t planned to write for any particular age but as it’s based on teenagers in high school but also contains quite adult themes and sex scenes, I would say the recommended age group is 15 plus.
Morgen: Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Kathy: I honestly have no idea. I read so many different authors and just wrote the way I needed to. I couldn’t tell you if I write like any other author.
Morgen: Maybe if any of your readers are reading this they could tell us. Do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Kathy: I think writing a good book for anyone is hard. I don’t think it matters who you are writing for – building a good story and strong characters is still important. Sometimes writing a good story for a five year old can be more difficult as you need to be concise, clear and simple and yet reveal a message. Writing those effective 1000 words can sometimes be more difficult than writing 80,000 words for an adult with a wide understanding of the world. Even with adults, you have different genres for different audiences, each demanding its own style or level of research.
Morgen: Readers certainly know what they want, and above all they want quality. Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Kathy: I definitely asked for and received multiple feedback for my books from both adults and teenagers and from people interested in the genre and those whose interests lay outside the genre. Feedback, both positive and negative is vital in the creative process and has helped me become a better writer.
Morgen: It’s always great being told someone likes what you write but knowing where you can improve is always useful. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Kathy: I believe you should write the story you want to write. If you particularly want to target children’s books, you need to be specific as to which age group as small children is quite different to middle grade, teens and young adult. Always give your audience credit as well. Children, especially strong readers usually understand more than you give them credit for.
Morgen: They do indeed. The worst thing is to write down to them. Have you self-published? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
Kathy: Yes I have self-published for a number of reasons:
- Firstly, I didn’t have any success with publishers when I first attempted it a few months ago.
- Secondly, I learnt that many publishers, especially American ones, expect you to do your own marketing. If that is the case, I may as well do it myself and retain my publishing rights.
- Thirdly, I found the energy I was putting into getting an agent could be spent marketing myself instead and holding onto my publishing rights. My goal is to have book made into a movie and hence would prefer to find an agent who could provide something I can’t.
Morgen: That’s pretty much why I self-published. Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Kathy: My book is currently available as an e-book on Kindle. I never even owned a Kindle till I published it on Kindle! I have loaded so many books onto it already but have not yet read a book from it – still getting through all my paperbacks! The paperback was available from November 2012 on Amazon.
Morgen: I read both formats although I probably have enough paper books in my house to last the rest of my life. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Kathy: I have only published the one book as yet so it’s definitely my favourite! It would be perfect as a movie but I would love to cast some fresh new talent on it – some talented teenagers who could act and sing or dance as required. I would love to be part of that search. I plan to produce a play version of my book so I will have that opportunity.
Morgen: How exciting. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Kathy: The titles and cover were all my choice and design, though physically created by a third party. The title went through many reiterations and ‘surveys’ with friends without any unanimous favourite but I chose the most popular.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kathy: At the moment, most of my energy is on the promotion of my book. However, I am also working on some short stories, a play and TV comedy scripts, just to keep me writing. The opportunities are endless. Once the book launch is over, I also want to edit my second book for release as it is part of the same journey.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Kathy: While I was writing the book I was writing several hours every day religiously. I hope to go back to that once this book launch is over. I don’t really suffer from writer’s block – something will come out, but not necessarily something worth sharing! Nevertheless, getting something down is always an avenue that can lead to another idea or simply a release of something I’m feeling at the time – it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to keep writing.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kathy: I am a structured person in my life and in my writing. When I wrote my book I had detailed character profiles and timelines of events and the interactions between events and characters. I worked with chapter plans to make sure I knew what was happening in each chapter and worked towards that. As I wrote, sometimes the outcome or the actions of the characters changed according to what felt right at the time but I definitely knew the ending when I started. I found if I didn’t have a guideline, I would not be able to stay on track.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Kathy: My characters often started from someone I knew and evolved from there. Their basic personality was often based on a real person but then I developed them according to what journey they were going on and, in my book, what talent they had and the events they experienced. I found that basing them on real people helped give me a stronger sense of their actions and nuances that is often hard to create in detail.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Kathy: Oh did I edit! Because everything was such a learning curve, I had to edit many times as I learnt more about writing and style and character development. I learnt from writing courses, feedback, self- editing books and finally a professional editor. However, as I edit my second book, I am hoping I can apply everything I learnt from editing the first book and hence make the process much faster and more efficient.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Kathy: Not really. I understand the performing arts world quite well and I know New York city quite well. I had to qualify a few details regarding performing arts school but then it’s fiction, so I didn’t really have to limit myself to anything specific.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Kathy: In my short stories, I find I often write in the first person, but in my book, the third person made more sense especially as I had to change point of views quite often. I think it’s important to use the appropriate point of view for the story.
Morgen: Do you write any poetry, novels, non-fiction or short stories?
Kathy: In addition to my novel, I am now writing short stories, plays and TV scripts. As I develop these, I will be adding them to my personal website kathypetrakis.com.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Kathy: Probably most of my short stories except maybe those I decide to put on my website. But that’s
okay – they may provide stimulus for something else.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Kathy: I was rejected by all the publishers I approached in the UK. At first it was disheartening but now that I understand more about the process, I can completely understand it. I think it has worked out better this way for now.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Kathy: Not at this point as most competitions are for short stories which I’ve only begun to write. I may enter some short story competitions if I find write something I would like to include.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Kathy: Not necessarily but an agent that can have your work published or made into a movie would be very important especially as that is very difficult to do on your own.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kathy: Unfortunately, I’ve had to do it all of it. Even though I have a marketing background, it’s in a different industry and the stakes are completely different. While I understand it’s necessary, it’s a shame it takes so much time away from my writing which is what I want to do more of!
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Kathy: What I love most about writing is the adrenalin I get with a new idea or the ability to live in another world when I am writing the novel. For the time I am writing my novel, I am the main character and I am living their life.
However, the main thing I miss about corporate life, apart from the pay check, is the social interaction – having that light banter between work colleagues or the after work drinks. Writing is often solitary and though that is often peaceful, I do miss the workplace banter.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kathy: Regardless of any financial success, writing is an expression of the soul and will bring benefits to you that nothing else can. Also, like any great artist, always strive to perfect your art both by listening to those before you and forging your own unique style.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Kathy: That’s a tough one! I would definitely not be doing the cooking if I want them to survive the meal. But I think a nice Greek meal would be good – might need to get my mum to help me out. I’m already salivating at the thought. I would have to say the invitees would be:
a) Oprah Winfrey – she has made such an impact on the world and I would love to have a conversation with her.
b) Will i am – I have heard he has done some amazing things to help his community that I find inspirational, as well as being a successful international artist.
c) Michael J Fox – I find inspirational as an actor, as a family man and as a person who has dealt with Parkinson’s most of his life.
Morgen: Three great choices. If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Kathy: I can’t say I have one perfect day that I would want to re-live. Actually, any great days are never the same after the first time – that’s often what made them special.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Kathy: My favourite phrase ever is from Mark Twain: “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like its heaven on earth.”
Morgen: I love that. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Kathy: Yes, I write reviews for London fringe theatre. This gives me access to a wide range of drama. I am also evolving my blog which talks about all things stage and screen – performances I see, shows like SYTYCD or any new tips I discover along the way.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Kathy: I love the performing arts – acting, singing, dancing. I participate and I watch. Living in London means I’m in performing arts heaven.
On a totally different plane, I also like history and politics. I do courses on things like contemporary issues in Africa, the impact of the American election, history of the US post slavery and anything else interesting I can learn about. I also love buildings and houses and considered property development as a career choice at one stage also.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Kathy: Writersworkshop.co.uk has had some useful fundamental information about writing.
http://bookmarketingmaven.typepad.com/book_marketing_maven/fiction for information about marketing fiction books.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Kathy: Not for writing. I am in a writers’ meetup group which is excellent as are the two book clubs I am in – I find readers are just as helpful as writers. I find them great for interacting with people with similar interests and goals and for sharing information.
Morgen: I joined a local meet up writers group but was kicked out (for suggesting a get together when there was nothing on the schedule and meet up prompted me to do so!). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Kathy: I think the opportunity to self-publish has opened a lot of doors. I may never have been published without it. It is also making traditional publishers justify their existence especially those who do not provide marketing support.
With self-publishing options and the amazing world of the internet, I think the successful writers are those who are going to be able to market themselves the best as well as write good stories of course.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Kathy: At the moment, my personal information and my writing can be seen at http://kathypetrakis.com. Here I am including relevant short stories as I write them as well as updates with any play works I am producing.
Morgen: Oh great. I’m always after short stories for my Flash Fiction Fridays slot and welcome those that have been published already, the internet’s a big place. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Kathy: To readers: Continue to read and take whatever you can from every book you read. A book always has a point to make or your imagination to capture so take advantage!
For writers: Keep writing and sharing your ideas, feelings and creativity with the world, one person at a time.
I then invited Kathy to include a synopsis of her book…
Does passion and desire guarantee success? Can friends really be trusted? Can true love be found beneath lust and deceit? These are questions street dancer Elena Martinez faces as she struggles to compete against the most talented students at New York’s top Performing Arts High School. Along with her best friend, the cheeky and mischievous Sebastien Duval, they are determined to make center stage.
But the singing diva Letitia has other plans. Beautiful, talented and popular, her desire for revenge could ruin everything for Elena and Sebastien. Now, they must fight against prejudice, treachery and deceit as Letitia sets out to destroy Elena’s friendships, her romance, her dignity and her dreams. Can Elena win the battle for true love, happiness and success?
And what others have said…
“The perfect package – FAME meets GOSSIP GIRL wrapped up with a touch of GLEE.”
“A compulsive tale of auditions, performances, friendship, first love and life’s lessons not yet learned . . . both uplifting and tragic – completely captivating.”
“Entertaining, engaging drama that covers it all – determination, disappointment, success, love, lust, betrayal, heartbreak and forgiveness.”
Kathy Petrakis was born and raised in Sydney Australia by Greek immigrant parents. She always had a passion for the performing arts – dancing, acting and singing but they were hobbies giving way to a traditional professional career in banking. Before this book, her writing was used to entertain friends with her unusual, and often disastrous travel adventures from around the world.
By the hand of fate, Passion and Pain and Bittersweet were born while unemployed and living in London, heaven for lovers of the performing arts. At the time of publication of Passion and Pain, she was still living in London with plans to prepare for the launch of the sequel in either Sydney or New York.
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