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Meet the author – An interview with Stephen Kindland, By N. Mayhue

Photo of author Stephen KindlandJoining us today for an interview is Stephen Kindland, who recently published his story poem for children entitled I Beg Your Pardon, But This Is My Garden! He has graciously shared some details about himself and his writing for other writers and readers of children’s literature.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Jamestown, N.Y., a fairly small town that has produced a number of well-known people. Lucille Ball is probably the most famous, but Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs are from that area, too.

I spent most of my time outdoors as a kid, and I think the natural beauty that surrounded me – as well as playing sports year-round – greatly influenced the way I write, what I write about and the way I view the world. It seems that the older I get, the fonder my memories become of Jamestown and Chautauqua County.

But I’ve always had a passion for meeting new people and exploring new cities and towns, so I moved to Arizona after I graduated from college. From there I moved to Florida, and I spent several years living in different cities in three other states before returning to Florida. I guess I’m one of those restless souls who never stops wondering what else life has to offer.

I’ve also been blessed with opportunities to combine whatever talents and skills I might have with different careers. I started out in life as a social worker, dealing primarily with children. I went on to become a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and photographer; and I parlayed those careers into a 12-year stint as a state public information officer.

Somewhere in between, I spent two years as a  sole proprietor of a start-up coffee house business. I did that for no other reason than to realize a dream I had held since I was a teenager. I named it Annie K’s Coffee House, in honor of my daughter, who was 13 years old at the time. But I’ve never stopped writing, no matter where I’ve lived or what I’ve done to earn a living.  

Mr. Kindland, please share with us why you write for children.
I like to create excitement and share adventures. What better audience is there to do that with than the fresh minds of children? They’re also excellent critics because their reactions are spontaneous and never mean-spirited. They have a way of letting you know where you stand as a writer, an entertainer and an educator.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I remember being thrilled at having one of my poems published in a school newsletter. I was in first grade, and after I saw it in print I thought to myself, “You can do better than that.” So I kept writing poems, sometimes in the form of love notes to Sandy Schultz, my first crush.

But I also began writing fiction stories. Fortunately, my sixth-grade teacher encouraged me by reading my stories to the class. I remember feeling thrilled every time my classmates laughed at the funny parts.   

What is your process, or how do you start a story? And where do you get your inspiration?
I’ve found that the best stories are the ones that start in the middle, then move to the beginning before weaving their way to the end. I have different processes I use, depending on the type of writing. For instance, I can write the “shell” of a newspaper story before I conduct my first interview, or I can thoroughly research it before I write my lead sentence.

Sometimes I list the elements I want to include in a story, just to keep my thoughts organized. I’ve written news and sports stories under some pretty noisy conditions on tight deadlines, but with poetry, I absolutely need to be alone in a quiet place. I also need to still my thoughts — usually by meditating. That helps me to write gently.

Inspiration can hit anytime, anywhere. It could happen after hearing a snappy comeback while watching a sitcom; or it could come after witnessing something visual – like looking at all the different flowers in a big field and noticing that nature’s colors never clash.

Do you write daily?
No, but that’s only because I’ve been writing for so long. When I first started out in newspapers, I wrote every day – sometimes all day!

How do you know when you have a great story idea?

That’s an excellent question, but difficult to answer. Knowing that you have a great story idea when a thought or succession of thoughts runs through your mind is like being presented with the truth about something. It’s an experience more than anything else. You just know, ya know?

Please tell us why you wrote your book, I Beg Your Pardon, But This Is My Garden! in verse instead of prose.
The more experience you gain as a writer, the more you learn about using different techniques to present your message. I was reading something by another author when I had one of those “sudden inspiration” experiences I described earlier. The phrase, “I beg your pardon, but this is my garden!” popped into my head, and since I liked the way it rhymed, I finished the thought by coming up with a bug that was making that declaration to another, smaller bug.

I don’t recall ever starting off a story or a poem with immediate conflict like that, so I just went with it and let the rest of the story unfold by adding more bugs – and more rhymes. Writing dialogue has never come to me with such ease as it did with that story poem. 

What advice would you offer someone wanting to be a writer of children’s books?
I’d give the same advice an English professor once gave me: “You need only take pen in hand and start writing.” We all know the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and that there are countless philosophies about writing out there, but listening to a lot of advice can lead to confusion and wasted time.

For me, it all comes from within. Mental effort defeats itself, so what I’ve found most helpful when writing children’s stories is to relax and let myself be the child that is telling the story. I don’t write to children – I write with them.