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May 8, 2015

Katie Schickel on Writing and Her Magical Children

Posted by emily

Former newspaper reporter Katie Schickel's debut novel, HOUSEWITCH, is Practical Magic-meets-"Desperate Housewives"-meets-"Witches of East End," about a stay-at-home mom who is caught between her desperate desire to fit in with the local moms and her new magical talents. Katie admits that she couldn’t have written it without the help of her book-loving kids, whose enthusiasm and insight proved to be invaluable to her writing process. It’s clear that her children are pretty talented themselves --- and that their mother could not be prouder.

In my house, writing is a family affair. Some families ski or watch movies or play board games. We write. (Okay, we play Monopoly, too.) My novel-writing career started shortly after I became a mom. It’s all my kids have ever known. Somehow, I was deluded into thinking I’d have loads of free time on my hands as a stay-at-home mom. Turns out that motherhood is a full-time gig. For the first few years --- when it was all babies and toddlers --- writing was a luxury. It was time I had to steal away from the daily schedule. While my kids watched “Sesame Street,” I typed out paragraphs. While they were happily ensconced in the daycare room at the gym, I’d sneak into the locker room to write. (I’d dress in workout clothes to make myself less conspicuous.)

But as they got older, I discovered something amazing: kids are natural storytellers. They’re wildly imaginative. Fortunately, in my family, they are also incredibly enthusiastic about my books. During the years it took me to write HOUSEWITCH, I often enlisted help from my children. They came to know my characters intimately. They knew exactly what Henry would say when faced with a bully at school, or what kind of snacks Sophie would likely be eating in a scene, or what Gillian dreamed about at night. They helped create magical spells and potions in order to build the fictitious world where I spent so much time. If I was stuck on a scene and needed help, I knew where to go. They’ve spent countless hours brainstorming with me. Our dinner table conversations revolve around normal kid things like school and friends and sports and upcoming superhero movies, but also around books. 

They write for themselves. By the time I completed and sold my first novel, my son had written a 10-book comic series featuring the indomitable superhero Butt-Man. (Interested publishers can direct their queries through me.) Their shelves are lined with notebooks full of stories and poems and reports on everything from lionfish to the Candyman. They have a natural understanding of setting, pace, suspense, conflict and story structure that took me years to learn. Most importantly, they love it. On a camping trip last summer, as we sat around the campfire with friends, hands sticky with marshmallow goo, my son reached in his pocket and pulled out a ghost story he had written specifically for the occasion. In the glow of embers, I watched my child delight in the pure magic of telling an original story.

I love being an author, but the greatest gift for me is seeing the joy writing has ignited in my children.